Fire

Logan Pause leading trophy-winning Fire PDL team

Logan Pause leading trophy-winning Fire PDL team

The Chicago Fire’s first team hasn’t had much success yet this season, but the club’s PDL squad is off to an impressive start to the summer.

The Fire PDL, an under-23 club comprised of Fire Academy products in high school and college as well as other college players from the region, recently won the Hank Steinbrecher Cup. The tournament was contested last weekend between four invited teams from different amateur leagues across the country.

The tournament was hosted by defending champion Chattanooga FC. After the Fire beat West Chester United 6-1 in the semifinal, the PDL squad knocked off the hosts 2-1 in extra time. Mark Segbers, a forward for Wisconsin, scored in regulation and current Fire Academy player Mauricio Pineda tallied the game-winning goal.

“It was a great experience for the players to be in a competition like that, to lift a trophy and to play in front of 3,500 fans in the last game,” Fire PDL coach Logan Pause said. “It’s part of the players’ development as players, learning how to win is an important piece.”

The PDL (Premier Development League) is all about developing players to become professionals. Obviously not all of them will make that jump, but Matt Pearson, the Fire’s head of scouting, and Pause picked a collection of some of the club’s best academy products and other college players.

Some could even become homegrown signings for the Fire. Current rookies and homegrown signings Joey Calistri and Drew Conner both played for the PDL team. Not every player on the team is eligible to sign with the Fire.

“It’s a combination of continuing to further develop our current player pool and then also getting an idea of what else is out there,” Pause said. “This is an important part of their development and allows us to see kids everyday over the course of two and a half months. It definitely helps, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s guaranteed to produce after this homegrown players.”

Two of the Fire Academy players, Pineda and Djordje Mihailovic, are high school age players who are going up against players that already have college experience. Both have also trained with the first team this season.

Pineda graduated from high school a semester early and is set to enroll at North Carolina in the fall. Mihailovic is only a junior in high school. Both have also earned youth national team call-ups from the U.S.

“I think that they have done well with the challenge,” Pause said of Pineda and Mihailovic. “I think it also shows the areas that they need to get pushed and get high level games and get games against bigger, stronger, faster players and faster tempo. I’ve been pleased with the response from those players and other young players that have come through and are participating with the PDL. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to continue to push and push these guys and hopefully continue to be a part of their development over the next course of these years.”

Pause, who is an assistant coach for the first team, is getting experience as well. This is the first time he has been the regular head coach of a team.

“Having my own thing so to speak has definitely been a first,” Pause said. “It’s been a great experience for me to see how to find my voice as a coach and to plan accordingly and run player meetings and organize things and all of those things that are really important for me to learn as I grow in my coaching ability.”

The Fire PDL team is currently 2-1 in league play. The final regular season match is scheduled for July 9 and then postseason play begins.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.