Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Matt Polster's first start and Bastian Schweinsteiger the release valve

Notes from the rewatch: Matt Polster's first start and Bastian Schweinsteiger the release valve

Coach Veljko Paunovic made just one change to his lineup from the 4-1 win against Seattle last weekend.

Matt Polster stepped in at right back, replacing Drew Conner, to make his first start of the season in Wednesday's win against Colorado. He helped the Fire earn a shutout against the Rapids and had an assist.

Here's a look at how Polster fared and some Bastian Schweinsteiger gifs.

Polster's first start

Polster came on as a sub against Seattle to make his season debut. Given the Fire’s logjam in central midfield, where he played exclusively last year, Polster played at right back. He played the full 90 minutes at that spot against the Rapids.

He completed 54 out of 62 passes, assisted on the second goal and was credited with three more “key passes” on top of that.

Polster at right back gives you the skills and mind of a midfielder, but not the crossing ability expected of a wide player.

After the Seattle game, Polster said about playing right back, "I think there will be moments where I might look like I haven’t done it.”

In terms of his crossing that may be true. He missed a couple crosses on Wednesday, one badly, but was still able to contribute to the attack by playing more like a midfielder. On the second goal, his 1-2 pass and movement was reminiscent of a midfielder cutting through a defense. It worked in his favor after he set up David Accam for the goal.

Schweinsteiger the release valve

There's not much more that needs to be said about Schweinsteiger, but it does seem like the team is starting to get on the same page when it comes to how the German likes to play. Since his debut against Montreal where he put on a passing clinic, he has not made many killer passes to directly create chances.

However, he is settling things down and making sure the Fire keep possession. With Nemanja Nikolic leading the league in goals and David Accam (5 goals, 4 assists) also putting up good scoring numbers, the Fire's attackers can score enough goals as long as they are given the ball. Schweinsteiger has settled into the role of calming influence, often slowing things down to make sure the Fire keep the ball.

He has also showed off his ability to keep the ball and get out of pressure. Here are some examples:

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.