Offseason news and notes: No additions yet for Fire


Offseason news and notes: No additions yet for Fire

All is still quiet on the player addition front for the Chicago Fire this offseason, but there has been some activity for the club.

Thanks to the Fire’s league-worst record in 2015 the club has the first pick in not only January’s SuperDraft, but also in the waiver draft, the re-entry draft and the allocation order.

The Fire passed in the waiver draft, which took place on Dec. 9. Only one player was selected in the draft with Colorado taking midfielder Michael Azira from Seattle.

Next up was the re-entry draft on Dec. 11. The Fire traded the top spot to FC Dallas for general allocation money and Dallas’ spot in the re-entry draft. Dallas used the pick on Portland forward Maxi Urruti. Dallas had a need at forward after parting ways with Panamanian international Blas Perez and the Fire clearly didn’t have anyone they were targeting since they passed with Dallas’ 17th pick. If nothing else, the Fire gained more salary cap flexibility while giving up only an asset that had no use to them.

The only other player taken in the re-entry draft was former Fire goalkeeper Alec Kann, who was selected by Sporting Kansas City. Kann, 25, joined the Fire in 2013 and made his first team debut in the 2015 season finale against the New York Red Bulls.

The second stage of the re-entry draft takes place Thursday. The key difference between the first stage and the upcoming second stage is that in the first stage teams must pick up the player’s 2016 contract option while in the second stage teams are allowed to negotiate a new contract at a lower price. More moves are expected in the second stage. The Fire again kick things off with the first pick. The full list of eligible players is on the MLS website (minus the since selected Urruti and Kann).

[MORE: Mike Magee leads class of Fire free agents]

In other news, academy director Larry Sunderland is headed to Portland for a similar job, as first reported by Fire Confidential. Sunderland has been with the Fire since 2008 and headed an academy that helped produce four players on the 2015 roster. The club’s U-17/18 team won the Development Academy national championship in July.

Sunderland’s departure means the Fire could have new faces in every major leadership role within the technical staff at the start of the 2016 season. General manager Nelson Rodriguez joined the club in September, coach Veljko Paunovic was hired in November and technical director Brian Bliss’ future is still to be determined after the SuperDraft.

Meanwhile, MLS has its first free agent signing. Former Fire midfielder Justin Mapp left Montreal to sign for Sporting Kansas City on Monday. Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz, Jon Busch and Ty Harden are the Fire’s first free agent class. None have picked a new home yet.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.