Fire

Michael de Leeuw joins Fire as potential solution to scoring woes

Michael de Leeuw joins Fire as potential solution to scoring woes

The Chicago Fire are last in Major League Soccer with 10 goals scored and are one of two teams in the league averaging less than a goal per game.

That’s why the arrival of Michael de Leeuw is coming with some extra fanfare. The 29-year-old Dutch forward had an introductory press conference at Toyota Park on Tuesday.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire identified de Leeuw as a target after scouting his former FC Groningen teammate and current Fire defender Johan Kappelhof.
“In watching Groningen several times our attention kept being drawn to Michael,” Rodriguez said. “What excites us the most is we think we’ve added another important piece to the championship program that we’re trying to build.”

After a lengthy recruitment process that involved waiting for de Leeuw’s season with Groningen to end just after the initial MLS transfer window closed, the Fire hope he can team up with David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to make a more potent attack. Rodriguez wanted to calm any expectations that de Leeuw can turn around the last place Fire by himself though.

“I want to be clear, while we have high hopes and expectations for Michael and for his play with our club, he’s not a savior,” Rodriguez said. “He is just an important piece to what we’re trying to build through a deliberate and thoughtful process.”

Rodriguez warned against the transition to MLS being tough for new players to the league. Currently, de Leeuw is in the second week of a five-week preseason type schedule set by the club to get him ready for when he is first eligible to play on July 9 at Toronto.

He said he is fit and ready to go, even if he has to wait and be limited to practice for a few more weeks. Monday was de Leeuw’s first training session with the team.

“I can adapt and I get to know the players, I get to know everyone, the city,” de Leeuw said. “I want to play tomorrow because I want to show Chicago, show everyone what I can do, what my capabilities are. I feel fit so I think it’s no problem to blend in.”

As for how he fits in positionally, both de Leeuw and coach Veljko Paunovic said he can play in any attacking position. Paunovic said de Leeuw is a good fit for any of the front three positions in a 4-3-1-2 formation which the Fire used in recent games while de Leeuw called himself a 9-and-a-half, a mix between a true striker No. 9 and a playmaking No. 10.

After playing for four years in Groningen, de Leeuw said he wanted a new experience. He joined the Fire on a two-and-a-half year contract.

“It’s good to get a new environment so you stay hungry,” de Leeuw said. “With Groningen everything was the same so now I got a new environment. Also it’s a good way for me to develop in another country.”

Kappelhof was a source of information for de Leeuw in his process of joining the Fire.

“I spoke a lot with Johan,” de Leeuw said. “He told me that it’s more physical than in Holland. Of course the level with players like Drogba... and now Pirlo. There are big players in the league so the level is of course high.”

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.