Fire

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

If you build it, they will come.

The Chicago Fire have built a competitive and interesting team, full with a big name star in Bastian Schweinsteiger. So when the Fire played against the defending MLS Cup champs on one of the first nice Saturday nights of the spring, a big crowd came in the form of a sellout.

The announced crowd of 20,153 witnessed a 4-1 Fire win against the Seattle Sounders. It was the Fire’s first sellout since Sept. 19, 2015 when Kaka came to town with Orlando.

The three-goal victory was a good advertisement by the team to get some of these fans to come back. The players also noticed the boost it gave them on the field.

“It was a great atmosphere today at the stadium,” Schweinsteiger said. “As you could see it helped us. I hope for the next home match it’s going to be the same.”

Matt Polster, who made his season debut off the bench after missing the first two months of the season due to injury, is one of the team’s longest tenured players. He said he has not many crowds this good in his three years with the Fire.

“I think that was the best crowd in quite some time,” Polster said. “I think the fans are always good, but I think this was a different level tonight.

“It’s easy when the fans are chanting and they’re just cheering you on. I think that gives us an extra little bit of energy. I think it showed tonight in the result.”

The Fire have recently been looked at as one of the team’s lagging behind compared to other franchises in Major League Soccer. The on-field results have dipped (back-to-back last place finishes and one playoff appearance in the last seven years) and attendance has ranked in the bottom five each of the past four years.

That's not a good look for a team in the third biggest market in the country when more teams are drawing big crowds and the league’s average attendance has gone up each of the past four years. Saturday showed a step in the right direction, both in the stands and on the field with a 4-1 win.

“The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It’s not only one game. This is the general feeling that our team has in the locker room, outside of the locker room, when we are downtown in the city, wherever we are we can feel there is a passion about the team.”

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.