Fire

Nyarko: 'We found something special at the end of the game'

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Nyarko: 'We found something special at the end of the game'

Three days following his storming return to match action with an assist in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Patrick Nyarko capped off a memorable week with a game-tying goal against the Houston Dynamo Friday night.

With two impactful cameos off the bench, the Kumasi, Ghana native returned following a nine-month layoff resulting from an ACL tear/MCL sprain sustained at D.C. United on Oct. 18, 2014. The 29-year-old dedicated his goal to his grandmother, who passed away in Nyarko's native country, in a heartfelt post-match message.     

"First of all, I dedicate this to my grandmother. She’s being buried tomorrow, so rest in peace," Nyarko said. "I’m proud. I’m proud of the guys. I think we found something special at the end of the game. How we reacted after we gave up the goal is how we need to play every game. The guys realize that.

"I’m glad I was able to help, but kudos to the guys, they came out fighting and they know now this is what it takes to win games in this league. Every single game, this is what it will take to win it."

[RELATED: Fire end losing skid, earn hard-fought point in Houston]

The Ghanaian's 72nd-minute tally at BBVA Compass Stadium was his first in the regular season since May 10, 2014 against the New York Red Bulls. This time around the sequence began with a dexterous ball from Harry Shipp to Mike Magee, which made its way to Greg Cochrane, whose cross exposed the Dynamo defense and found the onrushing Nyarko. The midfielder emerged from the goalmouth skirmish and turned the ball into the back of the net, helping the Fire secure just their third road point of the campaign and help quash the threat of a fifth league defeat on the trot.

"It’s special," Shipp added. "I’ve never had to go through an injury recovery process like that, fortunately. Just seeing him every day - kind of the ups and downs with his emotions and his attitude - and to finally come back, be playing well and making a difference is something you hope for during those last six months of recovery."

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Shipp, along with head coach Frank Yallop, sang the praises of Nyarko's play in the dressing room, and rightly so. In a game in which chances were few and far between, Nyarko and Magee's second half introductions paid dividends, as the duo provided a different dimension to Yallop's team.

Asked if the 1-1 draw could be a turning point in a transitional season thus far, Nyarko is certainly optimistic about the group with 18 games remaining in league play, and three wins shy of reaching a seventh all-time U.S. Open Cup final to boot.  

"I hope so," Nyarko said. "It’s been a difficult season with injuries; one person comes up, one person goes down. I’m really excited to get everyone back to see how the depth that we’ve been talking about and how we’re going to coexist. I think it’s going to be great. I’m curious and excited to see everyone healthy and us coming back in the second part of the season."

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.