Fire survive in U.S. Open Cup via penalty shootout

Fire survive in U.S. Open Cup via penalty shootout

In the lead up to the Chicago Fire's U.S. Open Cup opener, both coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez talked about how important the tournament was for the club.

Paunovic backed that up by selecting a nearly full strength lineup Wednesday against Indy Eleven. Johan Kappelhof, who has played every minute of Major League Soccer play this season, was the only healthy regular that did not start and even he came off the bench to play right back from the 74th minute on.

Despite fielding a near full strength lineup at home against a second tier side, the Fire needed penalties to get the win after it was tied 1-1 after 120 minutes of play.

David Accam, who leveled the match in extra time, had the clinching penalty kick to send the Fire to the final 16 of the tournament after winning 4-3 in the shootout.

"I believe that for us having this tough test was actually a test of our mentality," Paunovic said. "We knew from the very first start that it was going to be the most important skill to have today, was mental toughness. I think in the end we did well, especially when we were down."

Kennedy Igboananike opened the penalty shootout ominously for the Fire by skying his attempt over the bar, but Matt Lampson stopped Indy Eleven’s third and fourth attempts to give the Fire the lead.

“As a goalkeeper you want to make one save out of five," Lampson said. "That’s your goal when you go into penalty kick shootouts. With us missing the first one I knew that we needed more than one save. Luckily I had the opportunity to do it and help our team win.

"To go down a goal in extra time and actually get another one, that does not happen a lot and that shows the character of this team so I’m really proud of these guys.”

In addition to Accam, Khaly Thiam, Brandon Vincent and Nick LaBrocca converted penalty kicks for the Fire.

Accam also played the hero in extra time by cancelling out Justin Braun’s 105th minute go-ahead goal. Accam was able to weave through a pair of defenders and score on a deflected shot in the 111th minute.

"We need this win for our confidence, to have the fans behind us," Accam said. "I think going down one in extra time is difficult, but I think we have a strong mentality. To come back and win on PKs is huge for us.”

The Fire got off to a slow start, looking like a team that hadn't played in two-and-a-half weeks. After about 20 minutes, the Fire started to create more chances and finished with 26 shots, eight on target. The closest chance was when Thiam played a low cross to Accam, which Accam hit off the crossbar with his first touch.

Indy's output towards goal was about half the Fire's, with 14 shots and four on target.

“I think just poor finishing from us in the 90 minutes we played," Accam said. "For us, we need to do better on our finishing. There’s no excuse today. We have to finish our chances."

Matt Polster, who was subbed off at halftime, suffered a concussion according to Paunovic. Paunovic said the team still needs to determine how severe it is to give his availability going forward.

The draw for the next round of the U.S. Open Cup will take place Thursday at approximately 11 a.m.

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.