Fire

Late deflected goal sends Fire to another road loss

Late deflected goal sends Fire to another road loss

Of the Chicago Fire’s now four-game losing streak on the road, Saturday’s loss was probably the most expected.

How it happened is what will disappoint the Fire.

Joey Calistri had equalized in the 81st minute and the Fire were a handful of minutes away from getting a road draw in tough circumstances, but Marco Pappa scored against his former team in the 89th minute off a big deflection to give the host Colorado Rapids a 2-1 victory.

Pappa took a curling shot with his left foot and Fire defender Jonathan Campbell stuck his foot out to block the shot. Instead, the ball changed direction, leaving Sean Johnson no chance in goal, and went into the net.

The Fire (2-6-5, 11 points) were playing in high altitude just three days after playing 120 minutes in the U.S. Open Cup and entered with a winless record in five road matches. Meanwhile, the Rapids (9-2-4, 31 points) have the best record in Major League Soccer and entered with a 6-0-1 record at home.

The Rapids were missing a few key players in Jermaine Jones (playing for the U.S. in the Copa America Centenario), Shkelzen Gashi (playing for Albania in Euro 2016) and Bobby Burling (injury), but still had enough to get the win on Saturday. The Fire were without midfielder Matt Polster, who suffered a concussion in the U.S. Open Cup match.

After a dull first half in which the Fire were unable to get a shot on goal and the Rapids had just two, Kevin Doyle was able to breakthrough in the 57th minute. Joao Meira was dispossessed after a short goal kick from Sean Johnson. Doyle took advantage with a shot on goal, that went under Sean Johnson’s arm.

The Fire didn’t look threatening in attack for most of the match, but were able to get level through Calistri’s first professional goal. David Accam sent in a cross from the left, which Rodrigo Ramos headed to Calistri in the box. The Northwestern product controlled the ball and scored to put the Fire in position for a quality road draw.

Pappa’s late goal ended those hopes.

Three of the players in the starting lineup, Sean Johnson, Michael Harrington and Joao Meira, didn’t play in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against Indy Eleven. Four players, Khaly Thiam, David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Jonathan Campbell, played all 120 minutes in that match and those four played all 90 minutes.

The Fire return to action Wednesday at the Philadelphia Union.

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.