Nyarko, Igboananike send Fire to U.S. Open Cup semifinals


Nyarko, Igboananike send Fire to U.S. Open Cup semifinals

Thanks to Patrick Nyarko's third-minute strike and a late brace from Kennedy Igboananike, the Fire eclipsed MLS expansion side Orlando City SC, 3-1, and secured their passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The Men in Red came out of the gates flying, catching the Orlando City back line napping. Jon Busch's long ball forward to Nyarko was brought down well and coolly finished past 'keeper Tally Hall, before Canadian international Cyle Larin leveled in the second half. Two late goals from second-half substitute Igboananike, however, proved to be the difference between the sides in front of an announced crowd of 4,723 at Toyota Park Wednesday night.

“I can smile! Yes!" Yallop replied when asked to submit his opening statement to reporters after the match. "Massive, I've sat here long enough and said to you (reporters), when we have our guys on the field, that we are pretty good. I think that showed tonight, we had the difference-makers out there."

Frank Yallop made a trio of changes from the side that experienced a second consecutive loss to Columbus Crew SC over the weekend. Busch earned his first start in goal since the Fire's 2-0 defeat away to the New England Revolution on June 13. Joevin Jones returned from Gold Cup duty to replace a cup-tied Patrick Doody, while Shaun Maloney's entry allowed Harry Shipp to retreat to a wide role in place of David Accam.

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Maloney -- making his first cameo since emerging with what was diagnosed as a bulging disc in his back in the Fire's 1-0 win over USL's Louisville City FC on June 16 -- looked lively in his No. 10 role: demanding the ball, creating for his teammates and moving fluidly. The Scotland international came close in the 16th minute, knuckling a free kick toward Hall, forcing the Orlando City netminder to parry over the bar.

Shipp generated a couple of solid looks himself, his most dangerous coming just shy of the quarter-hour mark. After combining well with Maloney, the Homegrown midfielder curled a cheeky effort past the reach of Hall and just wide of the right post. A nifty one-two between Nyarko and Razvan Cocis -- sporting the captain's armband -- 10 minutes later led to the Romanian's shot trickling wide of Hall's left post.  

The Men in Red, who outshot the Lions 8-2 in the opening 45, had their slim advantage canceled out 11 minutes into the second stanza. A swift counterattacking move -- ignited by right back Rafael Ramos -- sent winger Eric Avila bursting down the right side before delivering a pinpointed cross for rookie Cyle Larin to head past Busch.   

Substitutes Accam and Igboananike ran the Orlando City defense ragged -- the former showing flashes of his speedy brilliance -- keeping defenders on their heels and forcing a wary Hall into a number of saves as the sides went back and forth as the second half wore on.

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With extra time looming, the two Designated Players put matters into their own hands. Three minutes from time, Matt Watson sprung Accam down the left side before releasing a shot that clanked off the post, falling to Igboananike to tap in and restore the Fire's lead. The Nigerian was on the mark again in the 91st minute, dribbling his way around Hall and scoring on an unguarded net to eliminate the visitors from the quarterfinal stage for the second time since 2013. 

"Hopefully this win, although it's in the Open Cup -- it was against a very good opponent -- lifts our spirits and we have a great performance on the weekend and win," Yallop added. "I think we have done well to get to this stage and we have had a couple tricky ties at home, forget the opposition. If you look at some of the results in the Cup, a lot of teams go through that are lower in the league. We stuck to it, got through it and did well."

The victory sets up an away visit to face the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Aug. 12 in the Open Cup semifinals, four days before the two sides meet in Philly again for a MLS regular-season fixture on Aug. 16.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):

(4-4-1-1): Jon Busch; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Adaílton, Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (David Accam, 59'), Matt Watson, Razvan Cocis (C), Harry Shipp; Shaun Maloney (Kennedy Igboananike, 66'); Jason Johnson (Michael Stephens, 90').  

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.