Fire

Larentowicz: 'It's the players' obligation to get things done'

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Larentowicz: 'It's the players' obligation to get things done'

The Chicago Fire's start to the 2015 MLS regular season has been anything but smooth sailing thus far. The Men in Red hit back at the three-match losing streak to begin the campaign with a run of three consecutive wins. Two straight defeats to Western Conference opponents - Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake - in a span of six days last month were followed by successive draws away to New York City FC and Columbus Crew.

Despite inflicting their most impressive win in recent memory on the Montreal Impact at the end of May, Frank Yallop's side has let two, crucial leads slip to D.C. United and most recently Orlando City SC.   

With thirteen matches gone, captain Jeff Larentowicz contends it's time for the players to take ownership of their late defensive breakdowns, beginning with Saturday night's match at New England Revolution. 

[RELATED - Tonight on CSN: Fire battle second-place New England in Foxborough]

"It hasn't only been this week, it's been for a few weeks now," Larentowicz said Friday. "Those times when we lose leads and fall back on ourselves in games are when we do lose the team shape; we get pulled apart. It's been a several-week process. It is getting better, but it takes discipline; you have to stay patient with it."

Following back-to-back losses against Eastern Conference sides, the Fire slipped to ninth place in the standings only above New York City FC, who've played one more game and currently sit on 11 points.

Larentowicz, a 10-year MLS veteran, insists the gravity of the match against his former team - regardless of the Men in Red's form - is no different, however. Jay Heaps' outfit, lodged in second place and seven points back of table-toppers D.C. United, poses a unique, attacking threat that's seen it procure the joint-most goals (20) in the East along with D.C. and Columbus.  

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"Everybody's focused for Saturday," he added. "Coming off two losses, you have to get out there and produce a good game. Not only are we in that situation where it's two losses, but we're playing on the road against one of the top teams in our conference.

"It was always going to be an important game whether we were on a five-game win streak or two-game losing streak. Everyone's extremely focused for the game and we want to turn things around.

"They have a lot of weapons in the front, however they line up. Even guys that come off the bench are dangerous: a guy like Diego Fagundez, who wasn't playing all the games, but can come on and score a goal. For us, it's going to be about managing the game."

[MORE FIRE: Magee to miss New England match; Doody recalled from STLFC]

A former MLS Cup winner with the Colorado Rapids and three-time finalist with the Revolution, Larentowicz is no stranger to success in the league. The only player to have played every minute for the Fire in 2015, the 31-year-old is in prime position to impart some of his wisdom onto the current and raw batch of players, who've experienced the parity of the league first hand. 

"Once the week of training is over, the coach's job is pretty close to finished; it's the players' obligation to get things done," Larentowicz added. "Everybody has to be a leader on the field and do their part. 

"If it's very early in the year and you've got a lot of new guys, you can blame cohesion or understanding of your role, but at this point the roles are pretty defined. The formation hasn't changed, the personnel has been pretty consistent. Everybody needs to lead themselves and lead the guys around them."

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.