Fire

Joao Meira left Portugal for something different in Chicago

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Joao Meira left Portugal for something different in Chicago

After playing his entire professional career in Portugal, Joao Meira was ready for something different.

The 28-year-old defender had been a professional playing in various levels of Portuguese soccer for 10 years. His most recent stint was with Belenenses from 2012-2015, helping the club earn promotion to the top league in Portugal during that time.

“I finished my contract with Belenenses and didn’t renew because I wanted other things in my career outside Portugal,” Meira said. “I had an agreement with one club in Spain, but the financial problems killed the contract.”

As a result, Meira was stuck without a club for six months, waiting until the next transfer window opened in January. While he admitted training alone with a personal trainer was difficult, he was able to stay in shape and the Chicago Fire eventually came calling.

Having gone several months without playing organized soccer, the Fire made sure to push him in their tests when evaluating him in person.

“We were aware that Joao hadn’t played competitively for a while,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “I think this speaks to Joao’s character; we ran him through a battery of tests on the field, and physical, and he was great about all that.”

Rodriguez spoke highly of Meira’s versatility and said the fact that Meira helped a team earn promotion in Portugal was another selling point.

“We liked that he helped a lower level team ascend,” Rodriguez said. “That leadership, that experience of making an impact against a previous weaker team is something we thought could translate well for us.”

[MORE: Improving time of possession is next target for Fire]

Meira also speaks English and can speak Portuguese to Brazilian teammates Gilberto and Rodrigo Ramos. Ramos, another offseason acquisition of the Fire, doesn’t speak any English yet so Meira can act as a translator on and off the field.

Moving to MLS was something Meira insists he wanted in his career. He was unsure of when it could happen, but when the Fire approached him, it became a reality.

“Sincerely it’s a goal of mine,” Meira said. “It is a good opportunity for me, to show myself in America and MLS.”

He has played every minute of the Fire’s first three matches. He has already noticed differences in how the game is played in MLS as opposed to in Portugal.

“Here you play more with your heart,” Meira said. “The game is open. In Portugal you think the game a little bit more and more tempo in possession, the ball. It’s different. More tricks.”

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Off the field, Meira is getting used to a new apartment he just moved into in the West Loop. He had been staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago.

His answer to what his first impression was of the city may not surprise any Chicagoans.

“The life is fantastic, but the wind and the cold, it kills me,” Meira said. “It’s very different than Portugal, which has fantastic weather.”

Meira said he doesn’t miss much from Portugal yet. He is able to talk on Skype with his parents and family everyday.

However, one thing he does miss is Portuguese food, which Meira has not yet found in Chicago. He said Chicago has good restaurants, but laughs when saying they are very expensive.

“Very different restaurants, I try to know a little bit the Greektown,” Meira said. “It’s good… The Greek is similar, a little bit different.”

When talking about Portuguese food Meira lights up just a bit more.

“It’s more healthy, like Mediterranean,” he said. “You have big plate in Portugal and it’s fantastic food. The traditional food of Portugal is not the best, but in the top five best of the world.”

This is not Meira’s first time in the U.S. He has vacationed in Miami and New York on multiple occasions, which was made easier because his wife is a flight attendant.

Now, Meira is trying to make the most out of his more permanent stay, both on and off the field.

“It is good for me," he said. “I am very happy.”

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.