Fire, Union settle for point in dramatic draw in Philadelphia


Fire, Union settle for point in dramatic draw in Philadelphia

Whether Sunday night's match will be slammed as a spurned chance or an impressive resurgence come late October - when the playoff picture is cemented - may be up for debate.

What is certain, though, is that after recording a 3-3 draw away to a Philadelphia Union team that had secured their passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final four days prior, the Fire would've certainly preferred to walk away with all three points from PPL Park.

"Three points are vital at this point in the season, but you take what you get and to be honest, a point was good for us to get with the chances that Philadelphia had," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "It's a tough place to come after a disappointing game Wednesday night. That was very tough and our guys dug deep and got something out of the match in the end."

The Men in Red faced adversity once more: showing the pluck and mettle that was nonexistent in recent matches; seeing their second-half lead quelled and ultimately settling for a road point against Jim Curtin's side. A Patrick Nyarko strike, supplemented by Kennedy Igboananike's two goals and backed by Sean Johnson's heroic performance helped the Fire salvage a result from an absorbing, back-and-forth and end-to-end encounter that left Yallop's group rooted to the foot of the Eastern Conference table on 23 points, five back of a playoff spot heading into the final third of the MLS regular season.  

[RELATED: Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union]

Yallop made four changes from the side that fell to the Union midweek, giving Matt Polster, Harry Shipp and David Accam a rest, with Michael Stephens, Nyarko and Igboananike taking their place, respectively. Shaun Maloney reverted to a wider role, while Igboananike partnered Jason Johnson - who replaced the injured Gilberto - up front.    

The Fire (6-12-5, 23 points) were hoping to rebound following their exit at the semifinal stage of the Open Cup midweek and procure anything and everything they could from their second straight bout with the Union (6-13-6, 24 points). Despite conceding an early goal in the first half, the Union forced Johnson into making eight spectacular saves - many of them late on - and were perhaps unfortunate to see just three goals ripple the back of the net on the night.

First half proceedings saw both sides struggle to grasp a firm foothold before Jason Johnson released Patrick Nyarko down the right flank. The Ghanaian whipped in a ball to an onrushing Igboananike in the six-yard box for the redirect, which skipped past Union 'keeper John McCarthy in the 10th minute.

Despite gathering some steam and retaining possession, the Fire fell victim to another set piece, their seventh of the season. Cristian Maidana's corner-kick delivery in the 21st minute found Fernando Aristeguieta, who got in front of Lovel Palmer and poked past Johnson to level the score at 1-1.

Ten minutes later, Maidana, who had tormented the Fire defense frequently during the Open Cup semifinal, pounced on a loose ball in the Union's defensive half and was sent on the counter attack, eventually picking out a streaking Fabinho on the left side. After cutting in on Palmer to his right foot, the Brazilian unleashed a sizzling shot that deflected off the Jamaican's foot and past a helpless Johnson to give the hosts a 2-1 lead heading into the halftime interval.

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After latching onto Nyarko's service for the opening goal, Igboananike turned provider in the 54th minute, taking Union defender Ray Gaddis to the end line before sliding the ball across the face of goal to an unmarked Nyarko at the back post, who notched his second goal of the year to level the match at 2-2.

The frenetic pace of the match reared its head late on, with Johnson earning full marks. A double save to deny Maidana and C.J. Sapong in the 81st minute, and again four minutes from time, batting away efforts from Brian Carroll and Sébastien Le Toux.

Le Toux's persistency paid dividends, rolling a shot past the outstretch arms of Johnson in the 90th minute with what was sure to be the game-winner, but Igboananike scored deep into stoppage time to help the Fire emerge with a point. Next up for the Fire is their final cross-conference clash of the campaign, which pits them against the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park on Saturday.

"That was big time from Kennedy," Johnson said. "I'm happy for him. I think the confidence that that pumps into those guys, especially going forward in this last stretch, we really need to press. We have two home games coming up that are big for us and we'll need those guys to step up. And not just them, but across the pitch. Everybody has another gear, including myself, and we can really push ourselves to get to that point and really make these last 11 games meaningful for our club." 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Mike Magee, 84'), Razvan Cocis (Matt Polster, 74'), Michael Stephens, Shaun Maloney (Harry Shipp, 68'); Kennedy Igboananike, Jason Johnson.

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.