Fire

Full-strength Fire visit short-handed Toronto

Full-strength Fire visit short-handed Toronto

The Chicago Fire have back-to-back wins for the first time this season and will try for another first on Saturday: a road victory.

The Fire head to the renovated BMO Field to take on Toronto FC at 6:30 p.m. on CSN (Fire Pregame Live airs at 6 p.m.).

The last time the Fire won a road game was July 12, 2014, in New England. A loss or draw in Canada would mean the Fire will have gone more than two years without a road victory.

However, unlike recent road defeats at Philadelphia and Colorado, where the Fire entered as significant underdogs against teams that were leading their respective conferences, there is reason to think the Fire (3-7-5, 14 points) have a chance in Toronto (5-6-5, 20 points).

The Reds will be without Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Will Johnson and goalkeeper Clint Irwin. All four are notable or better names in Major League Soccer and will drastically alter what Toronto will try to do on Saturday.

“We are focused only on our team,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said when asked about Toronto’s injuries. “Now on the road again it’s another opportunity to break down that negative record that we have in the last couple of years. We will focus on our team. We will do our best, we will prepare and we really wish the next game to be successful for us.”

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In the Fire’s two straight wins they have hosted teams dealing with significant injury lists in Columbus and San Jose. Toronto keeps that streak going.

This one also could be one of the more interesting tactical matchups for the Fire. With all those key names missing, Toronto will have to get creative tactically. There’s always the threat with reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco, but beyond that there’s a lot of questions.

As for the Fire, how Paunovic inserts new forward Michael de Leeuw into a fully-healthy squad will be intriguing. Both the Fire’s formation and how long de Leeuw plays will be worth watching for. Paunovic said earlier this week that de Leeuw will be in the matchday roster, but gave no further details.

[MORE FIRE: Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut]

No matter how de Leeuw ends up fitting in, he is joining a team that is arguably playing as well as it has all season.

“I noticed that the confidence is building,” de Leeuw said. “The last two games we won. We played good, we created chances and that’s the most important thing. Of course to score the chances because then you can win. I feel a lot of confidence. We have a good group.”

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday (coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN Chicago

Where: BMO Field, Toronto

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.