Influential Johnson gives Fire momentum amid difficult stretch


Influential Johnson gives Fire momentum amid difficult stretch

Following last week’s confidence-boosting result against the Dynamo amid harsh conditions in Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium, Patrick Nyarko’s instant impact off the bench helped the Chicago Fire walk away with a deserved point. This time, the influence of Jamaican forward Jason Johnson lifted the Men in Red to their first-ever win over Seattle Sounders FC.

The 24-year-old entered proceedings in the 65th minute, replacing the Ghanaian and linking up with fellow second-half substitute Michael Stephens to produce a stoppage time winner and lift all 18,528 at Toyota Park to their feet. It was the Fire’s first league win since a 3-0 mauling of the Montreal Impact back on May 30. 

“It was a good ball from Mikey Stephens and a good counter attack,” Johnson told reporters in a buoyant Fire dressing room. “I had one thing on my mind and that was to shoot. Even before the ball was played, my mind was set and I’m thankful it went in for me tonight.”

[RELATED: Jason Johnson's late goal gives Fire late win over Sounders]

Since joining from the Dynamo in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Alex on April 13, Johnson’s seven appearances with the Men in Red — six as a substitute — manifested glimpses of what the Virginia Commonwealth University standout is capable of: imposing himself onto defenders, utilizing his speed and, against Columbus Crew SC on May 22, using his head.

A 92nd-minute equalizer to secure a second consecutive draw against an Eastern Conference opponent at the time was his first goal in a Fire jersey. For Frank Yallop, Johnson's display Saturday night to prevent the Sounders from standing alone atop the Western Conference was liberating, and it all went according to plan.

“I said get on the right wing, cut in and shoot it in the far corner,” Yallop joked, after being asked what instructions he gave Johnson before his insertion. “No, I just said, “Make a difference, get up and down wherever you’re playing. Get dangerous; we need a goal. Do whatever you need to do to get it onto your left foot and get a strike off.”

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“We were going to go with three in the back, but we decided to go with JJ up front. Great run. For us this season, it was a wonderful goal. We’re very happy for him, he’s a lovely kid as well.”

The team enters the second half of the MLS season with next week’s home fixture against the Crew, which signals the first of 14 remaining matches against Eastern Conference foes to close out the campaign. As for what a first win in nine previous attempts against Sigi Schmid’s delegation can do for a still struggling Fire, Johnson believes an uptick in form could follow after taking a solitary point from their last five league games.

“What does that do for the team? I think it’s great; a great team effort tonight to get a win and get us back on track for the next couple of games. It’s good momentum for the team to get a few more wins in the next week." 

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.