Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

After a long courting process and a few weeks of training with the Fire before he could play, Michael de Leeuw is set to make his Fire debut on Saturday.

The Dutch forward became eligible once Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window opened on the Fourth of July. Now de Leeuw can join the Fire attack for the match in Toronto.

“I’m excited,” de Leeuw said after training on Wednesday. “This is what the last weeks I trained for. I knew that after Fourth of July I was capable of playing so now I’m available and I hope to make some minutes Saturday and show my skills to MLS.”

The 29-year-old has been training with the Fire since the middle of June, but has been forced to watch the team’s past five matches. He said this week’s training has been different for him because he knows he can suit up to play the next match.

“That’s frustrating, but I knew it before I signed,” de Leeuw said. “So I knew how it was, but still it’s frustrating because you trained the whole week before you prepare for the game. If you can’t play then you train different. This week was different. I know I can play so I want to give a hope Saturday that I can play and give everything for the team.”

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Coach Veljko Paunovic said on Tuesday that de Leeuw will be in the team’s roster, but wouldn’t give a clue as to how much de Leeuw will play or how he will be used. Will he start? Will he come off the bench? How will he line up in the Fire’s formation?

“We are working on that,” Paunovic said. “It is good for us to have options and for sure we will use all our resources offensively in order to improve our performance in attack.”

The bigger question in the long-run will be how de Leeuw fits in tactically. The team is as healthy as it has been all season with every player expected to be available in Toronto.

David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the two other forwards on the roster. Neither is a true hold-up type forward and Accam is more of a winger. If you ask de Leeuw he will say he isn’t either. In his introductory press conference he described himself as a cross between a playmaker and a true striker.

Does that mean de Leeuw will slide somewhat underneath Igboananike with Accam still playing wide? Will Igboananike go the bench to make way for de Leeuw? That may not be answered even on Saturday with de Leeuw probably not at full match fitness.

“I don’t know, that’s a decision the trainer has to make,” de Leeuw said. “I think I always can play so for me it’s no problem, but that’s a choice the trainer has to make, not me.”

[MORE FIRE: John Goossens scores first MLS goal in Fire win]

As for de Leeuw’s off the field adjustment, he has an apartment in Chicago and is settling into the city. He also spent the Fourth of July with Dutch teammates John Goossens and Johan Kappelhof.

“Me and my girlfriend went to the beach,” de Leeuw said. “After that we went shopping in the city and then with Johan and John we watched the fireworks with their families.”

Fire fans will be hoping de Leeuw can create some fireworks of his own on the field starting Saturday.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


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


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.