Tuesday was a busy night for U.S. Soccer.
After the senior men's team picked up an important 4-0 win against Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, the U-23 Olympic qualifying team, which features Chicago Fire midfielder Matt Polster, played Colombia in the decisive second leg of its playoff.
Polster earned the start for the second straight match, but the U-23 team was not able to replicate the senior team's success earlier in the night. Colombia came away with a 2-1 victory to earn the Olympic berth, winning 3-2 over the two matches after the 1-1 draw in Colombia.
Colombia's Roger Martinez redirected an off target shot in the 30th minute for the opening goal. The U.S. equalized via an own goal in the second half, but Colombia regained the lead when Martinez scored his second in the 64th minute.
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Polster played the full match, but did pick up an injury in the 71st minute. It appeared like it was a cramp, but Polster was on the ground in pain and received treatment on the sideline before returning. He finished the match, but this could affect his availability for the Fire's match against Philadelphia on Saturday.
Like in the away match, Fire defender Brandon Vincent was not among the group of available substitutes.
From the Fire's perspective, no U.S. men in the Olympics means Polster and Vincent won't have to miss MLS games during the Olympics. The men's soccer tournament at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics will run from Aug. 4-20 (the group phase concludes on Aug. 10) so Polster and Vincent would have missed anywhere from 1-4 matches for the Fire if they were selected to the final Olympic team depending on how long the team made it in the tournament. The Fire won't have to worry about that now.
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.
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.