Fire

Fire try to play spoiler against Crew

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Fire try to play spoiler against Crew

It’s been nearly four weeks since the Chicago Fire played a home game. Now the Fire will finish the home schedule with two matches at Toyota Park in the next four days.

The first of the final two home games of 2016 will be Thursday against the Columbus Crew. The match will be televised on CSN Chicago with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. Kickoff is set for just after 7:30 p.m.

These two teams played on Oct. 1 before taking a break for international games. The Crew won 3-0 in Ohio.

“What I expect is a reaction, a reaction from the last game,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I think the last game, losing against one of our rivals that are very, very important for our supporters, the performance wasn’t good, especially in the second half.”

This is the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. The first was a scoreless draw on March 19 at Toyota Park. The Fire (6-16-9, 27 points) knocked the Crew (8-12-11, 35 points) out of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win also at Toyota Park on June 28.

The familiarity plus the most recent meeting being the last game for both teams means there shouldn’t be many surprises at this point.

“We’re pretty much expecting what they threw at us in that last game,” Fire defender Jonathan Campbell said. “It worked well for them. Obviously you don’t want to do the exact same thing, you’ll maybe change a few things, probably see a few different people, but I imagine the tactics would be about the same. I wouldn’t expect too much of a change from them.”

[MORE FIRE: Young midfielder Collin Fernandez in search of playing time]

The Fire have no names on the injury report, but could be without David Accam. The Ghanaian is returning from national team duty. He came off the bench and played the second half in a 1-1 draw at South Africa in a friendly. Traveling over an ocean the day before a game to return means Accam will likely be limited, if at all available, for Thursday against the Crew.

Harrison Afful, Columbus’ right back and Accam’s teammate with Ghana, scored the opening goal against the Fire on Oct. 1 and could also miss out.

Columbus is still alive in the playoff race, although anything other than a win at Toyota Park would end those chances. In addition to being able to eliminate their rival, the Fire are pushing to avoid becoming the first team to finish last place in MLS in back-to-back seasons. Paunovic said he expects his team to play with pride in an effort to finish the season “on a positive side.”

“I know it’s tough, we’re not going to make the playoffs, but I think we’re just trying to build something for next year,” Campbell said. “You never know who’s going to return, but if you have a core group of guys returning we can build something in these last three games. When we come back for next season that’s what we’re looking to build upon.”

Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew

TV: CSN

When: 7:30 p.m. (coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

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.