Fire

Khaly Thiam showing progress after solid performance Wednesday

Khaly Thiam showing progress after solid performance Wednesday

Lost amidst David Accam’s late heroics for the Chicago Fire on Wednesday was the solid performance of midfielder Khaly Thiam.

In the Fire’s penalty shootout victory against Indy Eleven at Toyota Park, Thiam had his most assertive and positive performance since joining the club on May 4.

The Fire’s 22-year-old Senegalese midfielder completed 51 out of 59 passes in the match, good for a solid 86 percent completion rate. Those 51 completed passes were the third most on the team and included three “key passes” that signified a chance created. Thiam also probably should have had an assist when he slid across a ball to David Accam at the far post in the first half, but Accam hit the open shot off the crossbar.

“I think Khaly did very well,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “For us it was very important to see that he is starting to get the speed of the game, to execute and play fast.”

Thiam also converted his penalty kick, which came in a tough spot. Kennedy Igboananike skied the Fire’s first attempt over the crossbar and Indy Eleven had converted each of its first two spot kicks. Thiam stepped up in the shootout with all the momentum against the Fire and converted.

“What was very, very good for him also to score that goal, the penalty,” Paunovic said. “We believe we are building and giving him the right support and the right pace of getting games in the league and in this competition, too. He is improving well and we will do everything to support him and take the best of him.”

In Thiam’s first three outings with the Fire, he had failed to make an impression in midfield. In fact, the 51 completed passes in his 120 minutes against Indy Eleven are more than the 35 he completed in his 151 minutes of MLS play.

Thiam had a high completion percentage in his debut against New England, completing 17 of 21 passes in 64 minutes, but a central midfielder needs to be more involved than that. In his second appearance, Thiam played 62 minutes at the New York Red Bulls and was even worse, completing just 11 of 19 passes.

Wednesday’s performance, even if it came against an NASL side, was Thiam’s best showing in a Fire shirt so far. Having a similar game against an MLS team is the next step, but at least Thiam showed his ability more than he had previously.

“I feel more comfortable,” Thiam said. “It was a very difficult match.

“We could have killed this game earlier, but it’s football.”

Thiam hadn’t played a full 90 minutes yet with the Fire and Wednesday’s game was 120 minutes followed by the pressure penalty on a hot summer night.

“I think everybody was tired, but we were just going,” Thiam said. “Everybody wanted to win this game so we went until the end. We were successful.”

The Fire learned what’s next in the U.S. Open Cup when the draw was held on Thursday morning. The Columbus Crew will visit Toyota Park on Tuesday, June 28. The winner will host the winner of the Orlando City/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers match in a quarterfinal.

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.