Fire 'roll with the punches,' earn clean sheet against Dallas


Fire 'roll with the punches,' earn clean sheet against Dallas

The Fire extended their winning streak against FC Dallas to four consecutive games Sunday night, topping Óscar Pareja's side, 2-0, in front of 14,209 at Toyota Park.

David Accam's sixth goal in his 13th regular season appearance for the Men in Red and Shaun Maloney's 85th minute penalty kick proved to be the difference on the night, as Frank Yallop's men claimed their first league victory since a 1-0 triumph over then-Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC, leaving Dallas winless against the Fire since October 13, 2011.

"Fantastic win for us," Yallop told reporters after the match. "To get a clean sheet in the end was important, under a bit of pressure at the end. I thought we did enough to win the game. We were dangerous on the break and could've scored more.

"We rolled with the punches tonight against a good team that is going to attack us and open us up, but I thought we could've scored five goals on the break. ... It proved tonight that we're not a bad side against a very, very good team in Dallas. We deserved to win."

Following last week’s 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution, the Fire showed three changes. Adaílton, whose blunder resulted in the Revolution’s second and game-tying goal, made way for Jeff Larentowicz to reclaim a starting position at center back alongside Eric Gehrig. After missing the last three matches to regain fitness, Lovel Palmer made his return to the side to replace Matt Watson, meaning Matt Polster was restored to the center of the midfield to partner with Razvan Cocis. Jason Johnson rounded out the alterations, standing in for Kennedy Igboananike up top.

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The hosts got off to a dream start, seeing Jason Johnson and Accam combine in the fourth minute to give Yallop's outfit a fourth-minute lead. Johnson released the Ghanaian into space, who beat defender Matt Hedges to the ball and slotted a low shot through the legs of Dallas 'keeper Dan Kennedy and into the back of the net for a team-leading sixth strike of the campaign. 

Despite gaining early momentum, the tide appeared to have shifted as the visitors reclaimed a majority of possession. In the 27th minute, Dallas nearly caught the Men in Red sleeping. A free-kick delivery fell to Victor Ulloa, who hooked his shot from the top of the 18 narrowly wide of Sean Johnson's right post, the most worrying of a string of half chances that Yallop's group was able to safely fend off going into the halftime interval. 

Emerging from the opening 45 with just 38 percent of possession, the Fire continued to be pinned back by Dallas, but saw the better chances fall their way. Three minutes either side of the hour mark, it was the presence of Johnson, the nifty footwork from Maloney and the unrelenting play of Accam that unnerved the visitors.

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Accam wrestled the ball off a Dallas defender in the box and found himself with only Kennedy to beat, but fired a tame effort into the palms of the Dallas netminder. Maloney dribbled a ball toward the endline six minutes later, cutting back for Johnson, who blasted an effort off Kennedy's chest.

In the 77th minute, Cocis slammed a one-time shot from distance that forced another save from Kennedy, before the Fire were reduced to 10 men following a studs-up challenge from second-half substitute Matt Watson on Rolando Escobar at midfield.

The shorthanded Men in Red displayed a different level of fight from games past, however, getting the most out of substitute Kennedy Igboananike, who, five minutes from time, was brought down in the penalty area by Kellyn Acosta. The Nigerian's tenacious work rate allowed Maloney to step up to convert his second spot kick in as many matches to help the Fire top a Western Conference foe for the second time in three weeks, and climb out of last place in the Eastern Conference.

"The back four and four midfielders in front of them were excellent," Yallop added. "We worked a lot on shape, getting in the right spots and staying with runners, especially against a team like Dallas who have tons of pace and ability. ... We defended very well tonight as a group."

Next up is a trip to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Portland Timbers on Aug 12. The match is slated for a 10 p.m. CT kickoff from Providence Park. 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer (Matt Watson, 68'), Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Razvan Cocis, Matt Polster, Shaun Maloney; David Accam (Patrick Nyarko, 88'); Jason Johnson (Kennedy Igboananike, 66'). 

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.