Five things from Fire vs. D.C.: One chance is all it takes


Five things from Fire vs. D.C.: One chance is all it takes

For just the fourth time since 1997, the Chicago Fire completed a sequence of four consecutive losses - two at home and two away - in MLS play. It began in the nation's capital with a 3-1 defeat to D.C. United on June 3, and resumed three days later with a crushing 3-2 setback to Orlando City SC

Without David Accam, Shaun Maloney and Joevin Jones - all fulfilling international duty - the Men in Red then stumbled in a 2-0 loss at the New England Revolution on June 13.

Against Ben Olsen's side once again, Frank Yallop's group flubbed the chance to climb up from the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, leaving them without an MLS win in June.

Before the Fire wrap up the month and shift their attention to a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 fixture against Charlotte Independence next week, let's look at the five things to take from Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat to the Black and Red.

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1. "The belief is there, the result and the product isn't." Those were the words of defender and captain Jeff Larentowicz following the Fire's second home defeat of 2015, a 2-1 decision against Western Conference outfit Real Salt Lake on May 9. Nearly seven weeks later, the same rings true. Barring the raw, season-opening performance at the LA Galaxy and uninspiring pair of defeats to Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, the Men in Red have largely measured up to their opposite numbers through 15 games, but have had little to show for it in the points column.

2. 1-4-2. In a seven-match stretch against Eastern Conference opponents - which opened with a 2-2 draw to Jason Kreis's New York City FC on May 15 and culminated in Wednesday's downfall - the Fire pried four points from 21 available. It's led to a six-point gap between themselves and the coveted fifth playoff spot currently occupied by the New York Red Bulls, who sit on 20 points.

3. Detrimental absence of Shaun Maloney, David Accam. Let's face it. All three of Yallop's Designated Players haven't exactly hit their stride this season. But through 15 regular season matches, in only six have they all featured alongside each other. And, not to mention, not once have they all done so for a full 90 minutes. It's been a small component of the greater, niggling dilemma for the last-place Fire, who, needless to say, have yet to discover a like-mindedness.

Between Maloney, Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, the newly acquired trio may be at the forefront of some of the criticism directed toward the team in the latest spate of results, but Yallop insists on, first and foremost, getting his team to full strength. "We've got to keep going and I feel like we have enough talent on the roster to get it going, once we get everyone healthy and feel better," he said. "If, buts, and maybes don’t get it done.”       

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4. Sean Johnson in fine form. An infected right arm, eye laceration and injured hand kept the 26-year-old from securing a starting spot a third of the way through the season. Since veteran net minder Jon Busch took over the reins following the Fire's visit to the bronx mid-May, Johnson was in fine fettle as he recaptured the No. 1 jersey in the Men in Red's fourth-round Open Cup triumph over Louisville City FC. Yallop entrusted him with the responsibility against D.C., and the unfortunate injuries that hampered the beginning of his season seemed to be a thing of the past.

His flurry of first-half stops to deny Facundo Coria and Jairo Arrieta in the 19th and 24th minutes, followed by a diving save to thwart Bobby Boswell's header early in the second stanza kept the Fire in the game. That alert play, however, was blighted by an unstoppable bullet from Conor Doyle in the 73rd-minute.

5. One chance is all it takes. Doyle's goal rippled the net like arguably nothing anyone in attendance had seen for quite awhile at Toyota Park. And, regrettably for Yallop & Co., it was all that was needed for the visitors to walk away with three points in their pocket. It's another grating and familiar reality that continues to plague the Men in Red, which Yallop alluded to in his post-match press conference.

"D.C. is a group that sort of grinds through everything, they got some talent obviously but don’t get flustered with whatever happens in the match," he said. "I think they had one header and the goal. They didn’t have a ton of chances but that didn’t really matter to them. Our group seems like they need a lot of the chances to get one goal. I think we didn’t create enough to get that one goal."

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.