Fire

Igboananike named to Team of the Week; Shipp up for Goal of the Week

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Igboananike named to Team of the Week; Shipp up for Goal of the Week

Kennedy Igboananike's goal and assist in the Fire's 3-0 dismantling of the Montreal Impact merited a place in Major League Soccer's Team of the Week on Monday, while Harry Shipp's 13th-minute bullet is in the running for Goal of the Week. 

On the heels of their sixth home game of the Major League Soccer regular season, the Fire procured their fourth win on Saturday thanks to the Nigerian's Man of the Match performance and the Homegrown midfielder's opener, his first goal since March 22 vs. San Jose.

Since collecting two assists in the Fire's 3-2 win over Toronto FC eight weeks ago, Shipp's productivity in the goals and assists columns has fallen flat in recent matches. But the Lake Forest native's star-studded outing corroborated head coach Frank Yallop's overt predilection for entrusting the 23-year-old with free rein in the middle of the park.     

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"The last couple games, I got kind of caught in the routine of being outside and just being aware of defensive responsibilities, and kind of blindly running up and down the right side," Shipp said after the match. "This week, I really wanted to focus on going back to getting all over the field. 

"I think you saw that in the first half: when the ball was in the left side, I came across and got the ball in the middle, because I'd much rather have the ball in the middle of the field near the goal than on the outside. So I think I did a better job of just finding little spaces to receive the ball."

Meanwhile, Igboananike translated his industrious play from setting up the 2014 Rookie of the Year finalist to converting a strike of his own - a composed finish in the 72nd minute and his first for the Men in Red - which aided in pacifying some of the scrutiny directed at the forwards' impotence in front of goal of late. 

"His best thing he did today was probably pressure and work hard," Shipp added. "You saw that on the goal I scored: he won the ball off Baky [Soumare] and played it in. He's an unselfish guy, and I'm happy to see him get a goal; it was long overdue and well deserved.

"I think we were playing all right without him, but having him is another weapon going forward. I think if you can get him and David [Accam] and myself and Shaun [Maloney] clicking on the same page, we'll hopefully be pretty hard for a front four to stop."

[MORE: Shaun Maloney called up to Scotland, will miss trio of Fire matches]

That front four has accounted for six of the Fire's 14 goals, on par with the six scored by three defenders: Jeff Larentowicz (4), Joevin Jones (1) and Adailton (1). Despite stomaching a rocky start to his Fire career under Yallop's watchful gaze after joining from Swedish outfit AIK Stockholm last December, Igboananike hinted his second half goal might've just been the springboard for what lies ahead in his ongoing transition to life in Chicago and MLS.   

"I never played my best game yet," he said. "I think more is about to come, so just starting to get used to the players and getting used to everything around me so I think I’m getting better and better every day.”

Hear what else Shipp and Igboananike had to say in the video above. Also, be sure to cast your ballot for Shipp's goal in the Week 13 Goal of the Week here. Voting runs until 11:59 pm PT on Thursdays. The winner will be announced on Friday. 

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.