Fire wrap up draft with defender Campbell, midfielder Morrell


Fire wrap up draft with defender Campbell, midfielder Morrell

The Chicago Fire have included all the MLS terminology in the club's draft day trades.

After dealing top pick Jack Harrison for No. 4 pick Brandon Vincent and general allocation money, the Fire dealt a player to be named later to Seattle for the No. 15 pick and more allocation money. The Fire then flipped that No. 15 pick, the No. 33 pick and the top spot in the league’s player allocation order, used for incoming U.S. national teamers and former MLS players returning from foreign leagues, to Colorado for the No. 12 and 22 picks and the second spot in the player allocation order.

Colorado likely had a player in mind by trading up, and the Fire may not have been interested or been able to acquire that player. In essence, the Fire were able to move up a bit in the draft without giving up an asset they were going to be able to cash in on. Once Colorado takes a player from the allocation order, the Fire will move back up to the No. 1 spot.

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At No. 12, the Fire drafted North Carolina defender Jonathan Campbell. Campbell is a 6-foot-2, 188-pound center back who was the first UNC player to earn both first team All-American and Academic All-American honors in the same season this fall. He spent this past summer playing with the Seattle Sounders U-23 PDL squad.

With all the moves Campbell admitted on a conference call with media that he didn’t know where he was going to be drafted. Even as his agent was texting him updates, Campbell didn’t see them because he had his phone on silent. He had talked to coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez in advance of the draft.

“We had a good talk at the combine,” Campbell said. “We talked a lot about player development. We also talked about some situational things, but I thought the player development talk was good. He talked to me briefly about setting up individual plans for the players to see them grow, but then also in broader terms.”

On the live draft stream Matt Doyle of said Campbell struggled during the MLS Combine, but had proven enough throughout the college season to warrant a spot in the first round. He played as part of a three-man back line for the Tar Heels, which Campbell said helped improve his versatility.

[MORE: Fire trade No. 1 overall pick Jack Harrison to NYCFC]

“I think they drafted me as a center back, but it does show that I can be a versatile player,” Campbell said. “We played three in the back. I played on the outside of that, in the middle of that. I think that kind of speaks to my athletic ability that I’m not just a big guy in the middle and I can’t really move. For me I think it will help. It always helps to be versatile.”

Campbell was the third UNC player taken in the first round, following Omar Holness (No. 5 to Real Salt Lake) and Jordan McCrary (No. 10 to New England). The Fire previously drafted UNC players Logan Pause and Jalil Anibaba.

At No. 22, the Fire took North Florida midfielder Alex Morrell. Morrell has a smaller build at 5-foot-7, 135 pounds, but is noted for his speed. He picked up Atlantic Sun First Team All-Conference honors this season. He had four goals and seven assists in 18 games this fall and finished his career with eight goals and 19 assists.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.