Fire

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town

The Chicago Fire had its biggest, most important win of the season on Saturday. The next step is proving it wasn’t a fluke.

The Fire finally snapped that road winless streak Saturday in Montreal. Wednesday against the LA Galaxy the Fire won’t be on the road, but the game is still a chance to prove the Fire have actually improved.

The match will be televised on CSN+ at 7:30 p.m. with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

It may be hard to believe given how poorly the Fire started the season and that they’ve been in last place for most of the season, but a win would go a long way to putting the Fire (5-11-7, 22 points) within striking distance of a playoff spot. Chicago sits six points out of the final playoff spot with 11 matches remaining and four teams to catch.

Picking up that win won’t be easy because the Galaxy (9-4-11, 38 points) have the second fewest losses in the league. One of those losses came Saturday, a 1-0 defeat at New York City FC.

“We have to take advantage of this momentum,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We are playing against one of the best teams in the league.”

The Galaxy feature a number of big names, but Fire fans may recognize Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz before some of the stars. Both players return to Toyota Park for the first time after playing multiple seasons for the Fire.

The 31-year-old Magee has made 13 starts in 24 appearances and has six goals and four assists in 2016. Larentowicz has made 10 starts in 15 appearances.

The focus tactically for the Fire will likely revolve around the Galaxy’s talented attacking players. Beyond Magee, who won the 2013 MLS MVP with the Fire, Robbie Keane (7 goals in 13 matches this season), Gio Dos Santos (8 goals, 8 assists) and Gyasi Zardes (5 goals, 5 assists in 17 matches) are a handful.

The Galaxy have some similarities to the Fire’s last opponent, Montreal, in that they have big-name, high-producing forwards. In the case of the Impact it was Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. However, Paunovic doesn’t see the Fire’s approach changing regardless.

“The similarity would be for sure the attitude and the approach to win the game we had against Montreal,” Paunovic said. “That’s going to be similar, but I believe even if we could play again the same game against Montreal it would be impossible to repeat. What I’m trying to say is that every game is different even if you’re trying to play the same lineup, even if you’re playing against the same lineup, the same everything, every game is different. Even if there are some similarities in their style in having experienced and quality guys in their team, it’s going to be different.”

Eric Gehrig will miss his second straight game due to a hamstring injury. Nick LaBrocca, who sat out against the Impact, was back in training this week, but not as a full participant. LaBrocca (quad), Arturo Alvarez (knee) and Razvan Cocis (knee) are all listed as questionable as of Monday. Fullback Robbie Rogers and goalkeeper Brian Rowe are questionable for LA.

Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy

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

TV: CSN+

Where: Toyota Park

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.