Fire still finalizing roster in final week of preseason


Fire still finalizing roster in final week of preseason

It's the final week of the preseason, but there are still a number of questions surrounding the Chicago Fire's roster.

While it doesn't sound like there will be any new major signings of players not currently in camp, there are decisions to make regarding trialists and potential loans to affiliate Saint Louis FC.

For example, even after John Goossens has been a standout performer in the preseason, coach Veljko Paunovic remained mum on his status.

"Obviously you saw the game, he performed very good," Paunovic said during his weekly conference call with media on Monday. "What I can say right now is his status as a trialist is still the same and if something changes about him, we will let you know.”

[MORE: Must-see: Goossens' volley goal]

The Major League Soccer roster compliance date of March 1 sets a firm deadline for teams, but Paunovic did tease that there could be some announcements in the next week ahead of that date. He added that there will "probably" be some players loaned to St. Louis, but that they want to see how players perform this week. Other than that the first-year coach didn't give much away.

"Obviously we have some guys and trialists who we will try in different positions for the games to come so we can have a better insight of what they can bring to our team," Paunovic said.

Paunovic was complimentary of the central defense pairing of Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira. Both players are new to the league and are from different European countries, which made their first game together a challenge. Paunovic said they did well against Vancouver on Sunday given the circumstances.

On the tactical side, Paunovic spoke about the team's high press. It created the first goal against Vancouver, with a Matt Polster takeaway giving Goossens the ball just outside the box before he scored.

"There were a couple of times where we had sets of two or three minutes of the high pressing and where we scored one goal," Paunovic said. "We scored the first goal and we pushed Vancouver a couple of times into an uncomfortable zone with the possession they tried to have. That was very, very good. We have to work on that still.”

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Brazilian newcomer Rodrigo Ramos has joined the team in Portland and Monday will mark his first full session with the team. Paunovic said he wants to see him play in at least one of the two remaining preseason games, but that will depend on his fitness.

Also, David Accam sat out the game on Sunday due to illness. Paunovic addressed his status.

“He has some issues and we didn’t want to make him push hard for this game even though he is recovered now," Paunovic said. "We are working on his fitness and he is doing great. He is very engaged this preseason and we have a special approach for him knowing that he had issues earlier."

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.