Fire

Late goal dooms Fire to another road loss

Late goal dooms Fire to another road loss

Sean Johnson had made a number of big saves late in Saturday’s match at New England, but one mistake was costly.

Johnson had three saves on well-struck shots in a span of less than two minutes. On a third corner kick during that period of sustained pressure, New England finally got one past the Chicago Fire goalkeeper.

Je-Vaughn Watson headed in a Chris Tierney corner kick in the 85th minute after Johnson came out to punch away the corner and failed to reach it. Johnson totaled 10 saves, but ultimately played a role in New England’s lone goal.

The 1-0 win for New England (6-7-8, 26 points) is a blow to the Fire’s already dwindling playoff hopes. The Revolution, which currently sit in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are now nine points ahead of the Fire (4-10-5, 17 points), which remain in last place in the league.

The Fire’s league-record road winless streak trudges on, now at 35, and the team has now lost eight straight away from Toyota Park.

While Johnson was busy making 10 saves, the Fire didn’t register a shot on target. For periods of the second half the Fire had the better of the play and created some chances, but the Revolution’s finishing kick ended up being the difference.

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The Fire’s best chance came in the 57th minute when David Accam’s low cross from the left almost resulted in an own goal. Bobby Shuttleworth was able to save the deflection, his only notable action of the night, and then John Goossens missed the bouncing ball on the rebound.

On the CSN+ broadcast, coach Veljko Paunovic was asked early in the second half about any possible tactical changes he might make and Paunovic said he liked how things were going. He backed that up by not making any subs until the 76th minute and only used two in the match.

Paunovic gave a slightly different look defensively with Johan Kappelhof, who has been a staple at centerback, starting at right back. Joao Meira took his place in central defense. Offensively, Michael de Leeuw, David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and John Goossens started together for the first time.

The Fire return home for a Sunday match against the New York Red Bulls.

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.