Fire

Fire take on Timbers with Gilberto 'in very good shape'

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Fire take on Timbers with Gilberto 'in very good shape'

Not long ago, beating a Western Conference opponent quickly became a millstone for the Chicago Fire. After succumbing to five consecutive defeats, a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo revitalized Frank Yallop’s men, propelling them to their first-ever win over Seattle Sounders FC on July 11, and, most recently, a spirited 2-0 triumph over then-Western Conference leaders FC Dallas at Toyota Park.

The Fire (6-11-4, 22 points) will find themselves entangled in their second-to-last cross-conference clash of 2015 on Friday night, squaring off against the Portland Timbers (9-8-6, 33 points) with momentum in their favor and a new addition to possibly call on to deliver the goods within the raucous confines of Providence Park.

Speaking to reporters through a translator Thursday afternoon, the club’s newest Designated Player Gilberto – fresh off his loan stint with Brazilian outfit Vasco de Gama – is raring to go and ready to be called upon. After successfully acquiring his P1 visa and meeting up with the team late Wednesday, he passed a physical Thursday morning, rendering himself available for selection against Caleb Porter’s side.

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“I’m in very good shape,” he said. “I’ve been practicing, I’ve been training. I’ve only been away from training for a couple weeks, but I feel I’m good to go for the next game already. Hopefully I can get in and contribute and help the team get a win.

“This is a very qualified group from my first couple days here. I hope to use my experience that I had in Brazil for the last year to help the group and hopefully contribute with my strengths to help the group win games.”

The task won’t be insurmountable, as the Fire demonstrated in their first win against Seattle in 10 attempts. But the challenges presented by one of the league’s more ear-splitting atmospheres, along with a winless record against the Timbers in five previous meetings and without a win on their travels in league fixtures since last July, will warrant another dutiful and wholehearted effort from the Men in Red if they have any hopes of continuing their ascent up the Eastern Conference table.

[MORE FIRE: Defender Daneil Cyrus joins Fire on loan from W Connection]

A more manageable schedule between Friday and next Sunday’s visit to Philadelphia to face the Union, however, leaves Yallop more at ease considering the recent stretch of five matches in two weeks in which the Fire emerged with a 2-2-1 record.

Quick turnarounds and midweek games – one of which saw the Men in Red secure their passage to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals – made for difficult transitions from match to match. This time around, more breathing room means more room to focus on maximizing production in MLS play, while bearing in mind next Wednesday’s momentous Open Cup bout.

“What I like about the schedule is that we play Friday night, Wednesday, Sunday, so it’s a big spread between the games," Yallop said earlier this week. "It’s better than Saturday or Sunday with a Wednesday, Saturday sort of schedule. We’ll be rested and ready to go in all three of those games. Focus-wise it doesn’t change. Three points Friday, a final to get to Wednesday, and another three points on Sunday. That’s the only focus we have is getting points in those two leagues games and trying to get to a final in another game. Not an easy week but it could be a good week if it all works out.” 

Viewing information:

Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 10 p.m. CT

Where: Providence Park; Portland, Ore.

TV information: UniMás 

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.