The Fire announced the signing of MLS free-agent midfielder Nick Labrocca on Wednesday.
Labrocca, 31, comes to the Fire with nine years of experience in the league. He last played with the Colorado Rapids from 2013 to 2015, which was his second stint with the club. Labrocca has also played with Toronto FC and the now defunct Chivas USA.
Labrocca is the 20th player under contract with the Fire, which does not count the three unsigned draft picks taken after the first round. He is the second oldest player on the Fire roster after recently re-signed Razvan Cocis. Michael Harrington, the other MLS free agent signing for the Fire this offseason, also came from Colorado. The contract is a one-year deal with a second-year option.
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“Nick’s experience, versatility and comfort on the ball make us a better team,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the team’s press release. “He also has a terrific work rate and will be an important role model within the locker room.”
As for where he will fit in with the Fire, Labrocca is a central midfielder, which means he will likely compete with Cocis and Michael Stephens most directly for playing time. Of course, that depends on how the Fire plan to line up tactically. In 2015, Labrocca made 13 appearances, six of which were starts, in MLS regular-season play for a Rapids team which had the second worst record in the league. He is likely more of a depth signing than an expected regular starter.
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.
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.