Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes


Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes

After atoning for a 0-3 start to the 2015 MLS regular season with three consecutive home wins, the Chicago Fire faltered on the road for the third time this season and slipped to its fourth loss on Sunday, leaving them hovering above the red line by a whisker in the Eastern Conference standings.

Their trendsetting winless record against Western Conference opponents, made worse with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Kansas City, is gaining unwanted attention. The lack of incisiveness and ruthlessness in front of goal has been duly noted as of late, with all six of the Fire's goals supplied by all but the forward position in Kennedy Igboananike (two shots on target in 221 minutes), Quincy Amarikwa (five shots on target in 446 minutes) and Guly do Prado (one shot on target in 192 minutes) through the first seven games.

"We just didn’t quite execute in the final third," said head coach Frank Yallop during his weekly media conference call on Tuesday. "We’ve just got to figure out our play away from home being goal dangerous and being clinical because we had chances. We’re not quite there yet and we didn’t execute when we should have. That was the story of the game."

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As Yallop prepares to alleviate the issue ahead of Real Salt Lake's visit to Toyota Park on Saturday, matching the intensity of their counterparts, in addition to being bereft of conviction in the attacking third, has also been a bit of a soft underbelly for the Men in Red while scoring just one goal and conceding five in three away matches. 

"We weren’t sharp in the first half, I thought," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "The second half we started to get our wind and get into the game. I said, Kansas City always starts very strong at home and they get at you. Once the level dropped down to par level, I thought we played well. I thought we matched them."

On Tuesday, he expanded on the slow start against Sporting KC, a resemblance of the Fire's prior performances at the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes in March.    

[RELATED: Fire rue missed chances in loss to Sporting Kansas City]

“It’s a weird one because we talk about it, about coming out quickly, that they’re going to come out at us,” Yallop said. “We didn’t look confident (at Sporting KC) in the first 20-30 minutes. That could have cost us the game -- (Dom) Dwyer had a free header and should've scored. They could have been two-nil up at halftime."

With Salt Lake's visit in the offing, Yallop is already taking initiative to resolve the team's road setbacks, citing a refined strategy on the coaching staff's behalf as the precursor of better things to come ahead of the Fire's trip to New York City FC on May 15.

“I’m going to talk next week about maybe just changing something in training or maybe the days off to get us into the mode of a good start in an away game,” he said. “What I like about my technical staff is we’re forever trying to fix it through video, through sleeping patterns, and different things like this. We’ve got a pretty good team that can win games (on the road), so (starting slowly) was a frustration on Sunday.”

Stay with Comcast SportsNet for complete coverage ahead of the Fire's home contest against Real Salt Lake, slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday 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.