Fire

Fire taking shape after preseason win against Vancouver

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Fire taking shape after preseason win against Vancouver

After an offseason that has resulted in wholesale changes for the Chicago Fire, Sunday's preseason match against the Vancouver Whitecaps finally gave a glimpse of what the 2016 season could look like.

The Fire kicked off the Simple Invitational in Portland's Providence Park with a 3-2 win. Unlike in the club's two preseason matches in Florida, coach Veljko Paunovic had almost all of the first team at his disposal. The starting lineup he chose could closely resemble the starting lineup for March 6's season opener against New York City FC.

Only David Accam, who was out with an illness and missed training on Saturday, and Rodrigo Ramos, who just joined the club on Saturday, were not available. Eric Gehrig also is still rehabbing and returning to full fitness after surgery late last season. Accam and Ramos could end up starting on March 6, but other than that don't be surprised if the team looks similar.

John Goossens continued his standout preseason trial with the Fire with an early goal. The Fire's high pressure caused problems for Vancouver throughout the early going and Matt Polster forced a turnover just outside the box. Goossens ran onto the ball and finished in the fifth minute.

Goossens later setup Gilberto for an open chance with a killer through ball that bent around the defenders and hit Gilberto in stride. Gilberto's hard shot was saved for a corner. Goossens showed technical ability, strength and defensive instincts. Him and Polster were arguably the Fire's two best players on Sunday.

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

Much has been made of Harry Shipp's departure and what that means for the central attacking midfield spot. At least in a meaningless preseason game, Goossens showed he is more than capable of playing that role. For that matter, a central midfield trio of Goossens, who brings possibly the best technical ability on the team, Polster, who showed good technical skills of his own to go with his usual strong physical play, and Razvan Cocis, who is a steady veteran presence, could end up being a strength of the team. Who knows how things play out during the season, but at least on Sunday this group stood out.

It wasn't all rosy though. Vancouver tied things up in the 24th minute when a cross from Fraser Aird on the right side landed at the feet of Christian Bolanos. Bolanos could only flick it with his heel and the ball went backwards directly into the stride of Fire defender Johan Kappelhof, who knocked the ball into his own net.

The Whitecaps definitely struggled with the Fire's high pressure early, but controlled the later part of the first half and eventually took the lead. Sam Adekugbe's low cross from the left wing was tapped in by Cristian Techera in the 38th minute.

The Fire's defense didn't inspire much confidence. That said, the starting back line of Michael Harrington, Joao Meira, Kappelhof and Brandon Vincent are all new to the team. Learning how to play with each other will take time.

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The Fire maintained better control in the second half and converted two penalty kicks. The first came in the early minutes of the second half when an Arturo Alvarez through ball found Gilberto in the box. He was taken down and then converted the penalty himself.

Later, Collin Fernandez was tripped in the box and Kennedy Igboananike converted the penalty in the 81st minute. Both players had subbed on shortly beforehand.

The Fire return to action on Wednesday against NASL side Minnesota United FC with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

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.