Jason Johnson's last-gasp goal gives Fire win over Sounders


Jason Johnson's last-gasp goal gives Fire win over Sounders

After gaining much-needed confidence from a visit to the Lone Star State last Friday, the Fire beat their first Western Conference opponent of the season, knocking off Seattle Sounders FC, 1-0, in front of 18,528 at Toyota Park Saturday night.  

It was a night of firsts, as head coach Frank Yallop made a trio of changes from the side that snatched a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo last Friday.

Following his 72nd-minute equalizer at BBVA Compass Stadium - entering as a second-half substitute - Patrick Nyarko stood in for Jason Johnson, and earned his first MLS start since Oct. 10, 2014 at Sporting Kansas City and his 135th regular-season appearance. Meanwhile, a first-ever league cameo was granted to Patrick Doody, who returned from a loan stint at Saint Louis FC to deputize for Greg Cochrane. Mike Magee also reclaimed the captain's armband and slotted in alongside Kennedy Igboananike to lead the firing line for the Men in Red.

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The Fire began just as Yallop preached prior to the match, on the front foot despite Magee spurning the game's first clear-cut opportunity in the third minute, heading a delightful cross from Nyarko over Perkins' goal.

Seven minutes later, a cheeky 1-2 between Harry Shipp and Nyarko had the makings of a stellar opening goal, as Shipp's low delivery found Kennedy Igboananike, whose one-time effort went wide before being flagged for offside. It was the first of three missed opportunities for the Nigerian, as he continued to put himself in positions to score all night, but failed to slot home past Perkins in the 34th minute, blazing a shot wildly off target and again in the 58th minute, with an attempted back-heel flick rolling safely into the palms of the Sounders 'keeper. 

Yallop's side continued to apply pressure on the visitors, coming close to opening their account in the 19th minute. This time, it was Magee and Shipp who linked up, the latter providing an expertly weighted ball to the back post, which met the head of Nyarko, who was denied by an alert Perkins once again.

Former Fire forward Chad Barrett endeavored to get Sigi Schmid's outfit on the board in the 37th minute, as his one-timed, left-footed side volley was struck firmly at Johnson. Cristian Roldan hit the woodwork just shy of the halftime whistle, marking the visitors' best chance in an opening 45 minutes that saw tensions flare up as Barrett and Eric Gehrig tussled before walking off the field.   

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Ten minutes into the second stanza, the Fire were lucky not to concede a penalty as Nyarko appeared to have brought down Thomás, but referee Allen Chapman let play go on.

The Rave Green resisted well despite the Fire continuing to inflict pressure on their counterparts, and, in the 67th minute, almost found their breakthrough. Substitute Andy Craven came close to making an instant impact after Tyrone Mears' free kick fell to the forward, whose volley was hounded down by Johnson.

In the 78th minute, substitute Guly do Prado nearly converted his headed effort past Perkins, who was up to the task yet again. Jason Johnson, a late substitute, took the Fire's last chance of the encounter with an arrow to the back post in second-half stoppage time to give the Men in Red a deserved victory, and first in league play since a 3-0 drubbing of the Montreal Impact on May 30.

Next up for the Fire is a midweek fixture against Columbus Crew SC on July 15 at Toyota Park. The Sounders host Colorado Rapids on July 18 at CenturyLink Field.   

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Adailton, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Jason Johnson, 65'), Razvan Cocis, Matt Polster, Harry Shipp; Mike Magee (C) (Guly do Prado, 70'), Kennedy Igboananike (Michael Stephens, 83'). 

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.