Gilberto brace not enough as Toronto FC rallies to beat Fire


Gilberto brace not enough as Toronto FC rallies to beat Fire

For glimpses of Saturday's encounter between Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, Brian Bliss' group appeared to show the endeavor necessary to procure the team's first away win from home since July 2014. 

For large stretches of the first and second half, however, Greg Vanney's delegation showed why, amid a pressure-filled season, it is in contention to secure its first postseason berth in club history. A first-minute strike from Gilberto and another from the Brazilian on the other side of halftime was canceled out by tallies from Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore as the Fire (7-18-6, 27 points) fell, 3-2, to Toronto (13-13-4, 43 points) in front of 22,513 at BMO Field.      

The defeat - the Fire's 18th of 2015 - leaves them rooted to the foot of the Eastern Conference table and officially eliminates them from playoff contention, while Toronto remains in fifth place, two points back of fourth-placed D.C. United and five points clear of the playoff red line with four games to play. 

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

Bliss showed three changes from the side that lost to the Montreal Impact midweek, with Mike Magee earning his first MLS start since July 15 in place of Kennedy Igboananike. Daneil Cyrus and Michael Stephens rounded out the alterations, deputizing for Ty Harden and Razvan Cocis, respectively.

The visitors got off to a dream start, with Stephens making an immediate impact and supplying Patrick Nyarko for the Fire's first attacking sequence. Nyarko took a few touches before threading an inch-perfect pass behind the Toronto defense for Gilberto, who, making his first appearance against his old team, powered home a left-footed effort past goalkeeper Chris Konopka for an early 1-0 lead.

In the ensuing 44 minutes, the hosts heaped on the pressure, outshooting the Men in Red by a 10-1 margin and maintaining 67 percent of possession. Sebastian Giovinco was the crux of several of Toronto's attacking moves before finally breaking through a compact Fire back line a minute shy of the half-hour mark.

After muscling Cyrus off the ball to earn a corner kick, the Italian delivered a moment of magic, curling a cross with the outside of his boot for Osorio to meet at the back post, which was headed in from close range to send both sides into the halftime break level at 1-1.     

[RELATED: Fire battle Toronto FC]

Seven minutes into the second stanza, Gilberto came back to haunt Toronto once more. After Bradley overcommitted in the hosts' defensive half, Nyarko was allowed to turn and connect with Magee, who, with one touch, sprung the Brazilian down the middle. Gilberto made no mistake, burying a well-placed, right-footed shot off the inside of the post and in to help restore the Fire's lead in the 52nd minute.

Seven minutes later, following a chested clearance off the line from Marco Delgado and another goal-bound effort from Gilberto that creeped by Konopka's left post, Toronto pulled level at the other end. Bradley waltzed into the area and evaded challenges from multiple Fire defenders en route to dispatching a deflected shot past Busch.

Ten minutes from time, Toronto sealed all three points with a near post flick-on from Altidore.  

With three matches in seven days in the books, the Fire will have a full week to gear up for their third and final meeting against the New England Revolution on Oct. 3.  

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1) - Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Daneil Cyrus, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Joevin Jones, 55'), Matt Polster (Razvan Cocis, 67'), Michael Stephens, David Accam; Mike Magee (Jason Johnson, 74'); Gilberto.  

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.