Fire

Magee, Nyarko set their sights on facilitating the Fire attack

fireusocqf07012015.png

Magee, Nyarko set their sights on facilitating the Fire attack

As far as camaraderie between a pair of players among the ranks in Major League Soccer is concerned – on and off the field – Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko could make a case for being the pick of the bunch.

Two of the Chicago Fire’s household names, the 2013 MLS MVP and Ghanaian winger have been sidelined for the better part of the last year with hip and knee injuries, and have endured lengthy rehab stints, looking on together as the Men in Red sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table in recent weeks.

With the help of the technical staff and fitness coach Adrian Lamb, though, Magee and Nyarko made an instant impact in the Fire’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 victory over the Charlotte Independence on June 30th. 

Magee appeared as a substitute against Orlando City SC and D.C. United last month before making his first start of 2015 against the USL outfit, bagging a brace and playing the full 90 minutes. His 82nd-minute goal was a direct result of Nyarko’s first touches of the ball after coming on as a substitute, splitting two defenders and teeing up Magee for a clinical finish.

[RELATED: Fire approach halfway point of 2015, face stern test in Sounders]

Since then, the two helped the Fire snag a late 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo last Friday. Nyarko, a halftime substitute, was the beneficiary of Magee’s hold-up play this time, getting on the end of Greg Cochrane’s cross to log his 20th goal for the club.

Now, several months on from watching the attacking duo suffer season-ending injuries, head coach Frank Yallop is excited to finally be able to call on both as the Men in Red approach the halfway point of their MLS campaign, marked by Saturday’s home bout with Western Conference co-leaders Seattle Sounders FC (7:30 pm CT; CSN).

"We were desperate to get them back on the field, but we didn't want to push it where we set them back a few days or a few weeks,” Yallop said of their recovery Thursday. “It was a plan to not get them re-injured and I think it's worked. Both of them look, maybe not quite at their best, but quality on the field helps and both Mike and Patrick have tons of quality. It's good to have them back and they'll slowly get better as the games go by.

"Mike's a leader that's been there and done that with the teams he's been with and with us. He's a big presence. Patrick's a quiet presence where he doesn't say too much in the locker room, but everyone respects him; opponents respect him and it's good to have him back."

[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]

Yallop, who feels both Magee and Nyarko are primed for a place in the starting lineup against Sigi Schmid’s group, faces the considerable challenge of addressing a combined six absences to injuries and national team duty that have beset the Fire as of late. The team’s style of play going forward, however, will undoubtedly reap the benefits of the return of Magee and Nyarko, who are champing at the bit to rekindle their on-field connection.

"Me and him have always found it pretty easy to play together," Magee said of Nyarko. "When I first got here, it helps a friendship very well when a guy gives you goals. It came pretty easy for me to try to get as close as I could with him, and, a couple years ago when I got MVP, a large part of that was due to Pat. A majority of my success with this club has been in large part due to him."

"Ever since he came from LA, I noticed something special about him," Nyarko added. "The guy is a really smart soccer player and for a creative guy like me, it makes my job a lot easier. We formed a partnership right away. I take a lot of advice from Mike; he's been there and won championships. I'm glad I was a part of his rehab and now, we're ready to help this team get back to winning ways."

[MORE: Joevin Jones named Man of the Match in T&T win over Guatemala]

The assurance gained from earning a point from a difficult environment at BBVA Compass Stadium – the Fire’s third draw on their travels – will surely have to carry over to a third-to-last clash with a cross-conference foe. After Saturday night, 14 of the Fire’s final 17 games are against Eastern Conference opponents.    

“I think our mentality has changed, we're going to play to win,” Magee said. “At times we've said that and not played that way, but Houston is a good example of even in harsh conditions, with a lot of guys who haven't been starting, we tied the game and then we played to win it." 

"From last week's result, confidence is really high," Nyarko added. "We just need to take that mentality onto the field against Seattle and try to dictate the pace of the game." 

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
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

schwein-not-playing.jpg
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.