Fire

Matt Polster adopts utility role in rookie season with Fire

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Matt Polster adopts utility role in rookie season with Fire

Matt Polster has had a banner year in his rookie MLS season.

On Friday, the 22-year-old – nearly seven months on from inking his first professional contract with the Chicago Fire – was duly rewarded with his first invitation to the United States Under-23 men’s national team setup.

“When I got the email, I was pretty excited,” he said. “This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was young. Finally to get the call-up to go represent the country is something huge, and I’m pretty excited.”

Added head coach Frank Yallop: “Matt should be in the squad, he’s a very good, young player and I’m very happy for him. He’s had a great season so far. Good things happen to guys that play well, and he’s certainly that. He’ll do well for the U.S. for sure.”

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Through 26 regular season games, Polster – who’ll train with Andreas Herzog’s group in Manchester, England from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8 and could feature in friendlies against England on Sept. 3 and Qatar on Sept. 8 – has appeared in 25 with the Men in Red, started 23 and missed just one altogether through yellow card accumulation.

Plying his trade predominantly as a holding midfielder, the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville product has become a surprise package among Yallop's offseason acquisitions. Polster has prided his play on protecting the back four with his physicality, switching the point of attack with his vision and distributing and maintaining possession with his poise on the ball, facets that justifiably garnered deserved praise at the player combine and led to his seventh selection in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft in January.

The shift from the collegiate to professional level has certainly had its share of teaching moments arise since.

After cementing his place in the center of the midfield in 14 consecutive matches between early March and mid-June, Polster retreated to a center back role – a position he occupied for two years at SIUE – in a pair of U.S. Open Cup fixtures. The Milwaukee, Wis. native was then selected at right back in a three-match span in July, and most recently in the Fire’s last three consecutive games.

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“I want to play center mid, that’s my favorite position,” he said. “Right now, for me, just getting on the field, getting minutes and working as hard as I can in any spot they need me is what I’m going to do.”

Growing pains? Sure. But for Polster, who’s posted six starts at right back, the transition is all part of his coming-of-age.

“In the Colorado game, we wanted to be high and wide as wide-backs," he added. "Against New York, I didn’t do that as much; I let Pat [Nyarko] do his thing. The up-and-down I didn’t do as much in the New York game because I thought that benefitted us a little more.

“Right back isn’t ideal, but I’ll work really hard, do the simple things and be as simple as possible in that position.” 

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.