Fire

Interim head coach Brian Bliss looks to bring stability to Fire

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Interim head coach Brian Bliss looks to bring stability to Fire

Brian Bliss has been down this path before.

As he did in Kansas City in 2006 and in Columbus seven years later, Bliss – a former United States international and MLS defender – will step out of his wonted technical director role and into the technical area once again as the Chicago Fire look to salvage an inkling of hope – and points – in the few remaining regular season matches.

Tasked with domestic and international scouting, negotiating contracts and supervising cap management for six years as the Crew’s first-ever technical director, Bliss has upheld those same responsibilities since being recruited by Frank Yallop shortly after his hiring in 2013.  

But following the announcement of drastic coaching changes over the weekend – which signaled the departure of Yallop, and assistant coaches Marc Bircham and Clint Mathis, and the introduction of General Manager Nelson Rodríguez – Bliss was phoned by club owner Andrew Hauptman on Sunday and presented with the job of leading the Fire into the final stretch on an interim basis, alongside fellow interim assistant and current Vice President Logan Pause.

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“I’m just looking to get a little bit more direction, a little bit more stability, and focus on these next five games, and get a style and an atmosphere generated that can hopefully generate some wins,” Bliss said after training on Monday. “There’s no magic wand at this point, but there’s a formula to how I work and I believe it will breed some success. However, it’ll take a little bit of time to get it indoctrinated and get us going in the right direction.”

That formula will have to wait until Wednesday to be critiqued – the Fire march into Montreal to face the Impact at Stade Saputo – but the 49-year-old made no mistake in making his presence felt during his first training session. Bliss oversaw practice in its entirety, barked out his orders, offered constructive criticism to players and even allowed Pause to turn back the clock and join in the team’s full-sided scrimmage.

“I’m more hands-on,” Bliss said of his proactive approach. “I like to get in the middle of it. I think they need to hear my voice to be able to play as an extension of how I want them to play. That’s how I work.”

[RELATED: Frank Yallop dismissed as Fire head coach]

Though he remained noncommittal in regard to the potential of making the move from interim to full-time, Bliss was receptive to idea. Whether results in the next month warrant Hauptman and Rodríguez to put the opportunity on the table is another story.

“I’m here to try to help the club move forward in these next five games,” Bliss added. “If they think that I’m doing a good enough job and want to talk about a future role in this position, I’m open to it. I’ve always said that I’m comfortable in either role, coaching or as a technical director.

“I’ve spent more time over my career in a locker room and on a field than I have in an office, and I still think that’s where my skillset lies. However, I’m not averse to doing what I’ve been doing the last five or eight years. … In the end, it’s up to them, what they see and believe and feel that I’m capable of doing.”

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.