Fire

Fire: Yallop wary of 'well-balanced' Orlando City

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Fire: Yallop wary of 'well-balanced' Orlando City

With just over a third of the 2015 MLS season gone, all four of the Chicago Fire’s victories have come against Eastern Conference opponents. Having played one more game, each of Orlando City SC’s three wins have come against Western Conference opponents. 
 
Despite jumping out to a 1-0 first half lead, the Men in Red crumbled in a disappointing second half display in the 3-1 midweek defeat to D.C. United and saw their three-match unbeaten run come to an end. The Lions, meanwhile, had to rely on late heroics from Pedro Ribeiro to help salvage a 2-2 draw against Columbus Crew SC last weekend, which helped them extend their unbeaten streak to three games.
 
Nestled in seventh and eighth position in the table, respectively, and on relatively equal terms with 14 points apiece, the two sides fittingly converge for their first-ever league encounter on Saturday (7:30 p.m. on CSN) at Toyota Park.
 
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An earnest Frank Yallop, who described the 3-0 drubbing of the Montreal Impact as a game his side “had to win," alluded to his comments made earlier in the week, imploring his side to produce a carbon copy performance against Orlando while reiterating the importance of winning at Toyota Park.
 
"Any time you're at home, you want to win," Yallop said after training on Friday. "We're the same as every other team in this league - we have to win home games. I think we've played well enough to maybe win a couple more, but in the end, we've looked pretty good at home. We're pretty dynamic, especially lately, and [we've] push teams to their limits."
 
Saturday's clash against Adrian Heath's outfit marks the Fire's fifth in a string of seven consecutive matches against conference adversaries. The visitors will be without midfielder Brek Shea, among others, who was summoned by Jurgen Klinsmann to compete in upcoming international friendlies for the United States. The Fire will also be without the services of Designated Player Shaun Maloney, who won't return from international duty with his native Scotland until after the Men in Red's away fixture at the New England Revolution on June 13.
 
Still, Yallop was pleased with Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp's cameo in the No. 10 role underneath forward Quincy Amarikwa, who ran onto an exquisite through ball supplied by the Lake Forest native to eventually set up David Accam for the Fire's opener at RFK Stadium. It was another sign of the 23-year-old's awareness in the final third and guileful movement that continues to ask questions of the Men in Red's opposition.
 
"Harry plays infield anyway, he's never wide," Yallop said. "So whether he starts from a wide position, he slides and plays his football inside. Harry's done fine."
 
[MORE: Igboananike named to Team of the Week; Shipp up for Goal of the Week]
 
If the Fire have any hope of rekindling the conviction harvested from two separate unbeaten streaks this season, Yallop knows the drop-off in pressure that resulted in the three-goal swing against D.C. must be rectified against Orlando.
 
"The plan was to keep doing what we were doing [in the first half]," he said. "We didn't have good movement off the ball [in the second half] and made poor decisions on the ball. It cost us. We had a crazy 20 minutes where they scored three goals.
 
"That's football. They're a good side, and we couldn't handle what they were doing. It's about us now. We've got to make sure we let that one go and learn from it. All around, it's never easy. It's a growing process, but we've done okay."
 
Leading the firing line for the Lions will be 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká. The Brazilian midfielder leads the team with six goals and two assists, and will be accompanied by Eric Avila and Danny Mwanga either side of him, along with 2015 MLS SuperDraft first pick and Canadian international Cyle Larin. The 19-year-old out-and-out striker has notched four goals in eight starts and complements an attacking force that is hitting its stride.
 
"Attacking wise, they're a good side and a well-balanced team," Yallop said. "But we've got some good attacking players, too."
 
Hear what else Yallop had to say after training Friday in the video above ahead of the match vs. Orlando.  

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

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.