Fire

Matt Polster looks to build on strong rookie season

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Matt Polster looks to build on strong rookie season

Representing your country is one of the highest honors in sports.

Matt Polster had that chance while training with the U.S. National Team during the annual January camp. Now the Fire’s second-year midfielder is hoping to improve upon his positive debut season.

Polster didn’t get to play during the two friendlies the U.S. played to conclude the training camp, but he still figures to be a part of the U-23 squad that hopes to qualify for the Olympics via a two-leg playoff against Colombia in March.

“It was a great experience being with all those players,” Polster said. “I think the caliber of coaches made the experience very good obviously. I was able to learn a lot. I picked up some things from veteran players like Michael Bradley and how they prepare themselves before training and games.

“I picked up some things on how they prepared, how they work during training and how mentally engaged they were through everything.”

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Polster initially received an email saying he was being considered for the camp. He later got the call from manager Jurgen Klinsmann to make it official that he would be a part of the group. Polster said he immediately called his parents and some friends to share the news.

Despite not playing in a match, training with a select group of players was something that Polster, who had not represented the U.S. at any other youth level, was honored by.

“That’s the highest thing you can do is play for your national team so to get that opportunity to play for the national team and put the shirt on and represent the country I think is a huge step for my career,” Polster said. “I think I did well in camp, which is a little bit of a confidence booster as well. I think each part of camp was slowly building confidence, getting a rhythm and building up for Chicago.”

Polster was joined by Fire teammates Sean Johnson and Brandon Vincent at the training camp. The trio joined the Fire midway through the club’s stay in Tampa for the preseason.

Upon arriving in Tampa, Polster noticed changes under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic.

“He’s very hands on,” Polster said of Paunovic. “He’s always engaged. He likes to stop sessions, let us know what we’re doing wrong, what we can do better or even sometimes stop and say that was good. I think he’s tactically very smart. I think we’re going to have an idea of how we want to go forward, how we want to defend, how we want to build out of the back.”

[MORE: Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp]

Individually, Polster admitted he has some things to sharpen up. On the team side, Polster said the returning Fire players have something to prove after a disappointing season last year.

Polster’s desire to improve is something that stood out to Paunovic.

“He is a really young guy full of potential, full of energy, which we have to channel,” Paunovic said. “We have to channel his passion, his will to give his best in every session, in every game, which is very, very important. At the same time we have to put that under control and that control has to come from him. That’s what we are working on from him. We really think he has potential and a big value in our club and our league.”

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.