Fire

New homegrown signing Joey Calistri has long history with Fire

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New homegrown signing Joey Calistri has long history with Fire

To say Joey Calistri has some history and ties to the Chicago Fire is putting it mildly.

The Northwestern product and Deerfield native joined Drew Conner as brand new homegrown players to sign professional contracts on Thursday, but it merely continues years of being in the club’s system for Calistri.

Calistri started playing soccer around four or five years old and after playing for a local club, he moved to Fire Juniors. He has stayed with the club ever since.

[RELATED - Fire sign homegrown players Joey Calistri, Drew Conner]

“You can check off all the boxes,” Calistri said. “I went through Fire Juniors and Fire Academy. In college summers, I went through Fire PDL. I actually even interned with the Chicago Fire front office last summer. I’ve been around the club for a while now.”

Calistri graduated from Northwestern two quarters early with a degree in communications with a concentration in marketing. Last summer, he was a communications intern with the club, practicing in the morning and working in the afternoon. He graduated with a number of academic awards, twice being named Academic All-Big Ten and earning a 4.0 grade point average in his final quarter.

As for his play, Calistri finished his four-year career at Northwestern second in the program’s all-time goal-scoring list with 30. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound forward also notched 10 assists in 68 appearances and was an All-Big Ten honoree all four years, earning first-team honors as a freshman and sophomore and second-team honors as a junior and senior. In his time with the Wildcats, Northwestern made the tournament three times, including a first round loss to new Fire teammate Matt Polster’s Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in 2014.

"Joey's whole career has been a testament to hard work," Northwestern head coach Tim Lenehan said in a press release from the school. "He leaves Northwestern as one of the best players we have ever had here … That same work ethic that has helped Joey have such success at Northwestern will no doubt serve him well at the professional level.”

When describing his play, Calistri emphasized that work ethic.

“I know that the main reason why I’ve gotten where I am is because of my work ethic,” Calistri said. “That’s something that’s very apparent in my game, whether that’s tracking back defensively or chasing down defenders. I think that’s something I always pride myself on. In addition to that, attacking wise, I like being dynamic and trying to make runs off the ball and trying to get behind defenses and making them uncomfortable.”

As for how Calistri will fit into the Fire’s plans in 2016 remains unclear. The club currently only has 15 players under contract and Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike are the only true forwards on the roster.

Calistri had kept in touch with technical director Brian Bliss, who coached the PDL team Calistri played on in the summer. Coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez reached out a few days ago by phone to give Calistri the good news.

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“They seem very dedicated to turning this club around,” Calistri said. “Obviously you can tell that they have a lot of energy and they definitely seem like they have some good ideas going forward. I know they’re going to put a lot of work into making this a successful club.”

For now, Calistri is preparing for the upcoming season. He already had a workout at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch after the signing was announced on Thursday.

“I’m just excited to get started,” Calistri said. “It’s still a bit surreal right now. It’s something that I’ve worked for ever since I was a kid. I can’t remember when it was first a dream, but it’s always kind of been where I want to be. For it to actually happen is a dream come true. That’s kind of an understatement.”

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

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.