Fire's Matt Lampson hopes familiarity will help against Crew


Fire's Matt Lampson hopes familiarity will help against Crew

Playing against a former team can stir up some strong emotions in professional athletes.

Some go about their business as usual, some get too excited and fall short of expectations and some fire up in a positive way and deliver consistently in that scenario.

Chicago Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson will face his former team, the Columbus Crew, on Saturday (4 p.m. CSN+) and find out how he will be affected when the game kicks off.

“I certainly want to play well, but I need to go out and perform to the utmost of my capability every game regardless," Lampson said. "It’s fun because you get to go against the guys you were playing with for four years, but nothing malicious, nothing deep-seated or anything like that. It’s going to be a fun experience and hopefully I can go out and show them that I can still play.”

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Lampson signed as a homegrown player for the Crew after a collegiate career at Ohio State. He played with the Crew for four years and made 16 appearances with the club. However, he wasn't in Columbus' plans going forward so both parties moved on after last season.

The 26-year-old said he holds no ill will towards his old team, but still talks about having something to prove.

“I think it was mutual from both sides that they didn’t see me in their plans and I needed to go somewhere and be able to play," Lampson said. "Certainly I think I’ve earned the opportunity here and hopefully I’ll go out on Saturday and show that I’m more than capable of playing at this level.”

While Lampson is saying all the politically correct things about taking it like any other game, his current coach, Veljko Paunovic, boasted about how he performed when playing former teams.

“I think it depends on how you manage that emotion that you may have in a game against your former club," Paunovic said "I’m sure that he has a lot of friends there and first we are professionals. If you manage those emotions in the right way it could be very helpful for you, for the team. It can motivate in the best possible way in order to perform well for our team. I’ll tell you in my career, almost every time I played against my former teams I scored goals. For me it was very motivational, but we have to manage it.”

[MORE: Fire's David Accam called up to Ghana's national team]

The Crew have started 0-2, but after making it to the MLS Cup final in December, expectations remain high. There's also plenty of attacking talent in the form of Federico Higuain, one of the top playmakers in the league, and Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay, who are both coming off All-Star seasons.

Lampson's familiarity with these players could come into play when he faces one of them charging in on goal.

“I think it helps," Lampson said. "Tendencies don’t really change player to player and everybody scouts so we know what they want to do, what they try to do. They’re a very good team and we need to respect our opponent, but we also need to show them that we’re just as good and hopefully we’ll come out with a win.”

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.