Frank Yallop dismissed as Fire head coach


Frank Yallop dismissed as Fire head coach

In what was seemingly a foregone conclusion, the Fire announced the firing of head coach Frank Yallop on Sunday afternoon after less than two seasons in Chicago, among a slew of changes to the technical staff.

The club also appointed Nelson Rodríguez as general manager, and parted ways with assistant coaches Marc Bircham and Clint Mathis. Technical Director Brian Bliss, who will remain in his position, will serve as the head coach on an interim basis with former Fire captain Logan Pause joining him on the sideline as the assistant coach. Rodríguez will join the Fire on Oct. 19, all other changes are effective immediately. Goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde will stay on to work with Bliss and Pause.

Yallop, who took over from Frank Klopas on Oct. 31, 2013, was dismissed a day after the Men in Red's narrow 1-0 defeat to conference rival Orlando City SC - a league-high 16th of 2015. It brought to an end a tumultuous tenure during which the two-time MLS Coach of the Year amounted a 13-26-24 record in his time in Chicago.     

Saturday night's loss was the last straw for California-based owner Andrew Hauptman.

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"I share our fans' frustration and, while we've enjoyed success off the pitch, I'm obviously not happy with the results on it. I felt the need to make changes now in order to better position ourselves for the off-season and beyond," Hauptman said in a statement. "I have tremendous confidence about the future of this club in Nelson's hands and am beyond thrilled to bring him to Chicago. 

"Nelson is a proven leader with a stellar national reputation, an exceptionally skilled soccer mind and has extensive experience working alongside players and coaches. He is uniquely qualified to build and manage our technical team and lead our club, while more closely aligning our on field efforts with the activities of our dynamic front office led by COO Atul Khosla."

Said Rodriguez: "It is with great pride and excitement that I am joining the Chicago Fire. I have tremendous respect for Andrew and his vision for the future of this club and thank him for this opportunity. I have always enjoyed Chicago and admired its great sports fans. I consider leading the Fire to be more than just a responsibility, but also a privilege. I will work hard to uphold the club's tradition, protect its honor and help raise more championship banners. I look forward to working alongside the great club staff assembled at Toyota Park. I also wish to thank U.S. Soccer for the privilege I had to serve with them and in particular Sunil Gulati, Dan Flynn and Jurgen Klinsmann."

After adopting Klopas' roster for much of the 2014 campaign, this season presented an opportunity for Yallop, who was in the second year of a three-year contract, to make a playoff push following a substantial player turnover in the offseason. 

But after a series of losses and having been glued to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table for much of the year, the inconsistency ran its course.

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.