Joevin Jones named Man of the Match in T&T win over Guatemala


Joevin Jones named Man of the Match in T&T win over Guatemala

Chicago Fire midfielder and defender Joevin Jones scored his first international goal for Trinidad and Tobago, capping off a 3-1 rout over Guatemala in their CONCACAF Gold Cup curtain raiser at Soldier Field and putting in a Man of the Match-worthy performance.

Three first-half goals from Sheldon Bateau, and MLSers Cordell Cato and Jones sealed all three points for Stephen Hart's side as the Soca Warriors' secured their foothold in Group C.

"In the first half, we controlled the game," Hart said after the match. "We pressed well, we covered the ball in good areas of the field, we got the goals and we kept possession well. We made Guatemala chase, which they weren't comfortable with.

"In the second half, we dropped too deep. We allowed Guatemala to play. They made us run and played a little more direct and forced us to defend around the penalty box. It caused us problems." 

Thursday's undercard - preceded by Mexico vs. Cuba - got off to a flying start, as Khaleem Hyland's corner-kick delivery met Bateau, who finished past Guatemala 'keeper Ricardo Jerez to give Trinidad a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.

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Three minutes later, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Cato put his stamp on the match, capitalizing on a series of defensive miscues from Ivan Sopegno's outfit to extend Trinidad's advantage to two with less than a quarter of an hour played.

In the 25th minute, Jones was the beneficiary of some fine link-up play. The 23-year-old combined with Kenwyne Jones in Guatemala's half before slipping a ball behind the defense for Cato to run through on goal. Jones pounced on a loose ball from Cato's initial strike to convert the Soca Warriors' third goal.

"I thought he had a fantastic first half," Hart added. "He did exactly as we like him to do: to penetrate with his dribbling, to deliver good crosses and good passes into the penalty area. Offensively and defensively he did very well, but in the second half, his game went down. He was caught out of position on several occasions." 

Guatemala would eventually pull a goal back in the second half through captain Carlos Ruiz just past the hour mark, but it was not enough as a commanding 3-1 victory catapulted the Trinidadians to first place in Group C standings for the time being.

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Jones, making his 39th career national team appearance, is playing in his consecutive Gold Cup cameo after helping Hart's delegation advance to the quarterfinal of the 2013 edition, where they were edged by 10-time champions Mexico, 1-0.

"It was very important for us tonight," Jones said. "Every team wants to win their first game in the group stage. We're happy we got the three points tonight.

"Teams will be looking at us seriously now, keeping their eye on certain players, like me. It feels great getting Man of the Match. Obviously, I'm home (in Chicago), so I had to show what I could do. I just want to say thank you to Chicago Fire and my country." 

The Soca Warriors head to University of Phoenix Stadium next to face Cuba at 5:30 p.m. on July 12, before wrapping up the group stage against Mexico at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on July 15 (7:30 p.m. CT). 

Trinidad and Tobago Starting XI (subs):

Jan-Michael Williams, Aubrey David, Sheldon Bateau, Daniel Cyrus, Radanfah Abu Bakr, Khaleem Hyland (Andre Boucaud, 77'), Joevin Jones (Lester Peltier, 80'), Cordell Cato, Kevan George, Kenwyne Jones (C), Atualla Guerra (Willis Plaza, 63').

Guatemala Starting XI (subs):

Ricardo Jerez, Moises Hernández, Enoc Vasquez, Wilson Lalín, Kendel Herrarte (Edgar Chinchilla, 70'), Stefano Cincotta (Carlos Mejia, 46'), Jorge Aparicio, Jonathan Márquez, Jose Contreras, Marco Pappa, Carlos Ruiz (C).

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.