Four Fire players wrap up international duty Tuesday night


Four Fire players wrap up international duty Tuesday night

Fire interim coach Brian Bliss will welcome four of his key players back to Chicago on Wednesday. 

David Accam (Ghana), Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), and Matt Polster (United States Under-23s) all went the full 90 minutes with their respective national teams on Tuesday, the final day of the FIFA international window. Accam featured in the 1-1 draw with Canada at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Cyrus and Jones featured 35 and 77 minutes, respectively, in the Soca Warriors' 2-1 win over Panama on Oct. 8, and were also involved in the team's scoreless draw against Nicaragua at Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Meanwhile, Polster and the U-23s avenged their disappointing 2-0 defeat to Honduras in the semifinal round of the Olympic qualifying championship with a 2-0 win over Canada in the third-place game in Sandy, Utah. Only a two-game, home-and-away series against Colombia next March now stands in the way of earning a berth in next summer's Olympics in Rio.

Polster helped Andi Herzog's men notch a perfect 3-0-0 record in Group A and featured in all five matches. The Fire rookie played the full 90 minutes in group stage wins against Canada and Panama, and the loss to Honduras. The 22-year-old also started and played 60 minutes in the U.S.'s 6-1 throttling of Cuba, and recorded an assist.

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“I’ve watched three of the four games so far that he’s played in in these qualifiers, and he's given a good account of himself," Bliss told reporters via teleconference Tuesday. "He’s shown a little bit of flexibility just like he has with us, and where he can play. He can play internally, he can play right back. They even used him in the last game in the second half as a right midfielder at some points. I’m not saying that’s his strong suit, but it’s showing a little bit of flexibility in his game, and he’s done well. So, kudos to him.”

The quartet's absence allowed Bliss to evaluate a batch of USL players during the bye week, and a couple of younger players from the Fire's youth ranks as well.     

“These first two days – yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) – have been light in terms of, not the work load, but the actual bodies in training," Bliss added. "We’ve supplemented with one or two guys we brought in from our Academy team that do well, and have earned that opportunity to come in and help us. It just was dumb luck that this early part of the week has coincided with a break in high school with Columbus Day and the teacher's workshop. ... Those kids have done well, and the level of play in general has not dropped off with those guys added in."

[RELATED: Bye week allows Bliss to fine-tune Fire, observe trialists]

Bliss said he would closely monitor Tuesday's matches, and is hopeful that Accam, Cyrus, Jones and Polster will all return to Chicago without any injuries. The team will have a day off on Wednesday before reconvening on Thursday and Friday to prepare for the final road match of the season against D.C. United.

“His game is being played in D.C., so that’s great for us," Bliss said of Accam. "The travel time and the distance to get back to Chicago is light compared to when he has to travel to West Africa for games. ... Hopefully he performs well, and comes out of it injury-free. He’ll be expected to be back here tomorrow, and then we’ll get him into a [regeneration] program with the other guys on Thursday. ... We’re expecting that to be the model.”

NOTE: After succumbing to an 8-1 defeat at the hands of Germany on Oct. 6, Homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez and the U.S. U-20s concluded the Four Nations Tournament with a 2-2 draw against Scotland (Oct. 9) and 3-3 draw against Mexico (Oct. 12).    

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.

Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan


Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan

With the recent trade of David Accam and injuries to two players who logged key minutes last season, the Fire’s attack has looked significantly shorthanded since the start of the preseason. Help is on the way.

The Fire announced a loan move for Serbian midfielder Aleksander Katai on Tuesday. Katai joins from Spanish La Liga club Deportivo Alaves. The loan is through June 30, according to Alaves’ website, although the Fire have an option to buy at the end of the loan.

If the Fire continue to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, Katai can play all three attacking spots in support of Nemanja Nikolic. He typically plays at right wing. In addition to trading Accam, the Fire also traded winger Arturo Alvarez and will be without Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic until around July or August as those two recover from ACL tears.

The short-term loan should at least cover the time until those two start to return, but also allows the Fire some time to evaluate the player before spending a transfer fee to add him permanently.

Katai, whose 27th birthday coincides with the day of the move, played in Serbia and Greece before making the move to Alaves. He joined Alaves in August of 2016 and has made 30 appearances for the club, but just four appearances and no starts this season. A move to the Fire gives him a much better chance at regular playing time, hooks him up with Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic and could potentially increase his chances of making the Serbian World Cup roster. Katai has played six times for Serbia.

The high point of Katai’s career was taking the scoring crown of the Serbian Superliga with Red Star Belgrade in the 2015-16 season when he scored 21 goals. That prompted the move to Alaves the following season, but Katai only scored three goals in 20 La Liga matches that season.

The Fire likely still need more help in the attack or the team will have to trust some young talent to log heavy minutes. Even if Katai plays underneath Nikolic or moves Luis Solignac to that spot, Accam’s vacancy at left wing is still there unless second-year player Daniel Johnson can step in.

Katai will join the Fire in the middle of the preseason. The Fire already beat the University of South Florida, the Fire’s host through this portion of the preseason, 2-0 with goals from Nikolic and third-round pick Elliot Collier. The Fire’s next preseason game is Thursday against Accam’s new team, the Philadelphia Union.