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Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington

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Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington

For the first time in his nine-year Major League Soccer career, Michael Harrington had some control over where he wanted to play.

Negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement a year ago led to the first intraleague free agents in MLS this offseason. The 30-year-old defender was a part of the first MLS free agency class.

After going through that process for the first time and talking to multiple teams, Harrington landed with the Chicago Fire, which is his fourth MLS club. His first journey through free agency left a good impression.

“It was awesome,” Harrington said. “I’ve moved around a little bit here, but it was nice to be able to choose, to talk to different teams, listen to different things and make my own choice.”

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General manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic were part of the draw to Chicago, but Harrington said he talked to “quite a few teams.”

“Just trying to get as much information as you can to make the best decision possible,” Harrington said. “There’s a ton of different factors that go into making that kind of decision. One of the bigger reasons was just the conversations that I had with Nelson as well as Pauno. It seemed like I’d be a good fit for what they’re trying to do. My versatility and things like that. They like that I can play in multiple spots.”

Versatility has definitely been something that both Rodriguez and Paunovic have repeated as one of the things they have looked for in players this offseason. Players who can comfortably play in multiple spots on the field create extra depth and allow for tactical flexibility during a match, which is another thing Paunovic has vocally prioritized.

“You want to go somewhere where people value you for the good things that you possess, the good qualities that you have,” Harrington said. “It seemed like they had done the research and done their homework on me. They knew what they were getting and that makes you feel good, it makes you feel comfortable.”

The Fire’s draw to Harrington was a need for experience at outside back. the four other outside backs currently in camp with the Fire have a combined seven MLS appearances. In addition to his experience, Harrington brings some versatility having played at both left and right back.

[MORE: Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line]

As someone who has moved from club to club a few times in his career, Harrington has a sharper view of the business side of the game. After sticking with Kansas City for six years, Harrington admitted to developing a skewed perspective. Two shorter stints with Portland and Colorado followed and gave Harrington a different view.

“I was in Kansas City for six years to start my career so I maybe had an almost false sense of how things are a little bit,” Harrington said. “Obviously I was in Portland for two good years and I thought I was going to be there for much longer and it ended up not working out. Then Colorado just for one season. It’s been a lot lately. A lot more moving than I anticipated, but I intend to make it stick here.”

He’s a veteran of the league, but was a rookie to being a free agent. Still, when he entered into free agency, nothing caught him off guard.

“No big surprises,” Harrington said. “General managers have their job that they’re trying to do and us as players we’re trying to do the best that we can for ourselves so it’s a bit of a battle there. It’s a business. That’s the business side of the game.”

As the Fire continue their preseason, Harrington appears to be in line to get plenty of playing time this season and could be the first choice right back. His MLS experience will also be important considering that even the experienced professionals at center back that just joined the club, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof, are new to the league.

“At the end of the day, Chicago was the clear option,” Harrington said. “Chicago is a good soccer town, a good city and I just thought it was the best fit.”

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

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.