Kennedy Igboananike goal leads Fire to first win of season


Kennedy Igboananike goal leads Fire to first win of season

The weather outside was frightful, but the Chicago Fire finally have a win in 2016.

The Fire beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Saturday at Toyota Park. It was the Fire's first win of the season.

Kennedy Igboananike scored the match's only goal in the 51st minute, just a few minutes after Philadelphia's Warren Creavalle was sent off for a harsh tackle from behind on Razvan Cocis.

With strong wind, occasional snow and cold temperatures, some fans from Section 8 started singing "Let It Snow" with some help from a trumpeter. The conditions definitely impacted the fans in the stands, but the field remained in decent shape when the snow wasn't swirling over the field.

The win gave the Fire (1-1-2, 5 points) the first win under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic.

“It means a lot for me and for this locker room, who works very hard so far," Paunovic said. "I think winning this game gave us more confidence now and believe we are on a good path, which we always knew that we were."

The game could have gone very differently with the Union (2-2, 6 points) hitting the goal frame three times in the match. Union forward C.J. Sapong headed off the crossbar in the 29th minute and drilled a shot off the post in the 41st minute.

Meanwhile, the Fire were unable to put a shot on goal in the first half.

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Early in the second half a long shot from Ilsinho went through goalkeeper Matt Lampson's hands and ricocheted off the bar. A minute later Creavalle was sent off with a red card and the match changed almost immediately. Creavalle had picked up a yellow card in the first half.

“The sending off obviously changes the game," Union coach Jim Curtin said. “We talked about to Warren about being careful and not leaving his feet so a little bit silly in the area of the field. I think he should just let him turn there and we live to fight another day.”

It took less than five minutes for the Fire to turn the man-advantage into a lead. Michael Harrington slotted a pass in the box to Igboananike, who was able to quickly turn and slide a low shot just inside the far post.

“That’s a really, really good finish to turn and quickly shoot it like that," Fire midfielder Michael Stephens said. "It was a good team goal and it came off a big sequence of passing, which is something we worked on this week.”

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The Fire held on for a second straight shutout at home while returning to a four-man back line. Harrington returned from his red card suspension to take Brandon Vincent's spot at left back. Rodrigo Ramos earned his second straight start at right back and Jonathan Campbell paired with Johan Kappelhof at centerback. Campbell's start is a sign that he may have passed up Joao Meira, who played every minute of the Fire's first three matches, on the depth chart in Paunovic's mind.

“I think it’s gotten better every week," Kappelhof said. "We train hard and we communicate good. It’s getting better. We are improving. We are not there yet, but we are working hard.”

Next up for the Fire is an April 10 match at New York City FC, who beat the Fire 4-3 in the season opener at Toyota Park.

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.