Fire sign homegrown players Joey Calistri, Drew Conner


Fire sign homegrown players Joey Calistri, Drew Conner

The Fire made the first player acquisitions of the offseason by signing homegrown players Joey Calistri and Drew Conner to professional contracts.

Calistri, a 22-year-old forward from Deerfield, was a four-year starter at Northwestern. He tallied 30 goals and 10 assists in 68 appearances, 65 of which were starts. As a freshman in 2012 he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was a first team All-Big Ten honoree. Calistri was also first team All-Big Ten in 2013 and earned second team honors in 2014 and 2015. He was a two-time all state selection for Deerfield while playing all four years in high school.

Calistri represented the Chicago Fire Academy team when he was in high school and later the PDL squad when he was at Northwestern.

“Coming up through the Fire youth system, the dream has always been to play for the first team,” Calistri said in a club statement. “It’s an incredible honor to play for my hometown club. With the new technical staff in place, this is a fresh start not only for me but for the club, and I can’t wait to get going with this new team and see what the future holds.”

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Conner, a 21-year-old midfielder from Cary, was also a four-year starter in the Big Ten. He tallied six goals and 12 assists in 73 matches, all starts, for Wisconsin. Conner was named Illinois Gatorade boys soccer Player of the Year in the 2011-2012 school year after playing his only year of high school for Cary-Grove. He was an All-Freshman team pick in the Big Ten in 2012 and followed up with second team All-Big Ten honors a year later.

“It's exciting to play for the club that invested so much in my development as a player over the years,” Conner said in the statement. “I remember going to Fire games ever since I was a kid, and it's awesome that this moment is here and I'm getting this opportunity. Hopefully I can be an inspiration to younger players in the Fire youth system.”

Calistri and Conner join current homegrown players on the Fire roster Harry Shipp, Patrick Doody and Collin Fernandez. The club has now signed eight homegrown players in its history.

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They are the first additions since the hiring of coach Veljko Paunovic.

“We're very excited to have Drew and Joey with us,” Paunovic said. “I like their personality on the field and their overall character. They have a great desire to learn, improve and give their best. They share the same values and passion as our community and we can't wait to start working together. We welcome them to the Chicago Fire family.”

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.