Fire

Jon Busch, Frank Yallop react to USOC Round of 16 draw

jonbuschusoc06192015.png

Jon Busch, Frank Yallop react to USOC Round of 16 draw

After edging past one USL side in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Chicago Fire will meet another third-division club in the next phase of the fabled tournament.

The Men in Red will host Charlotte Independence in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park. 

Led by U.S. men's national team Press Officer Michael Kammarman, Thursday morning's draw, hosted by the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago, was conducted by U.S. Adult Soccer Association Executive Director Duncan Riddle and Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller.

[RELATED: Geographic groupings for Round of 16 USOC draw announced]

Frank Yallop's depleted group advanced with a 1-0 victory over first-year outfit Louisville City FC in extra time Tuesday night, while Charlotte stunned the New England Revolution 1-0 in Boston to move forward.

"They've gone into a very tough environment and won," Yallop said after training on Friday. "[We] take no game lightly; we're at home, which is great for us. We want to do well in this competition and we grinded ourselves through the last round."

Jon Busch, who sat out of Tuesday's match to make way for Sean Johnson's first start since May 15, knows the feeling of being on both sides of a MLS vs. USL fixture and the competitive spirit that comes with being the underdog. The 38-year-old played for Hampton Roads Mariners and the Hershey Wildcats, who dissolved in 2007 and 2001, respectively. 

"We've got to match their intensity," Busch added. "They're going to come out here; they want to upset us; they want to prove people wrong. That's the biggest thing going into a game against a lower-division club: the soccer may not be at the level we think it should be, but they're going to come after us full bore and we've got to be able to handle that."

[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]

Charlotte head coach Mike Jeffries, meanwhile, will return to his old stomping grounds. His first MLS gig was as an assistant to Bob Bradley during the Fire's first three seasons. Jeffries was a part of the inaugural side that won the Open Cup in 1998 and 2000, before returning as an assistant coach once more from 2008-10, and as Director of Player Personnel from October 2010 through September 2012.

The Jacks, a new addition to the USL, were formerly the Charlotte Eagles, whom the Fire faced once before in Open Cup play. A 2-0 triumph on the campus of Winthrop University on May 29, 2013 - with goals from Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe - sent the four-time winners to a fourth-round meeting with Columbus Crew SC, which saw the Men in Red prevail and later trounce Orlando City SC in the Round of 16 that year before falling to D.C. United in the semifinal.

The path appears very similar in 2015. Should the Fire come out on top, they will also host the quarterfinal matchup on July 21 or 22 and face the winner of Crew SC and Orlando City. The winner of the South Region will then travel to face the winner of the East Region in the semifinal Aug. 11-12.         

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

schwein-not-playing.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.