Palmer hopes Fire can use Open Cup as "springboard" to MLS success


Palmer hopes Fire can use Open Cup as "springboard" to MLS success

The rejoicing that accompanied Alex Chilowicz's final blow of the whistle Tuesday night signaled the Chicago Fire's passage through to the quarterfinal stage of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It provided some respite for a team that hadn't had its way in June, losing all four of its matches in league play while only having a marginal fourth-round Open Cup win against Louisville City FC to drawn on.

For Lovel Palmer, sauntering to Toyota Park's Harlem End to greet Section 8 Chicago supporters immediately following his Man of the Match performance, the victory was telltale in more ways than one.       

"For the past couple of games, we've been trying to find a spark and trying to kickstart our season," Palmer said Thursday. "We've been in a bit of a rut, so I'm just happy we got the victory and moved on in the Cup. Hopefully that can springboard our season going into Houston."

[RELATED: Fire travel to face Dynamo in the Houston heat]

The 30-year-old, who notched a goal and assist in Tuesday's 3-1 Open Cup Round of 16 win over the Charlotte Independence, has endured a challenging second full season as Frank Yallop's first acquisition back on Dec. 13, 2013. The Mandeville, Jamaica native's grown accustomed to accommodating Yallop's needs, often switching between left and right back positions and waging a competitive battle with Eric Gehrig for sole possession of the starting role at right back.

"I expect this a lot; I'm a professional player," he said. "We all want to be in the starting lineup, but the players who are on the bench are just as important as the players who start the game, and even the guys who are not in the 18.

"The way you train, you either help to prepare the starting lineup for the game on the weekend or you show the coach that you're ready to play. Personally, I've been working hard, in the gym and on the pitch. I put in the work just to show the coaches that I'm ready. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the Chicago Fire back to winning ways."

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That frame of mind will be crucial as the Men in Red get set for a Friday night, cross-conference clash with the Houston Dynamo (8 p.m. CT on Univision Deportes), Palmer's first MLS club.    

From 2010 to 2011, Palmer made 45 appearances for the Dynamo before venturing west to feature for the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake in 2012 and 2013. The Jamaican defender, however, credits all of his success to now former head coach Dominic Kinnear, who left the Dynamo for the San Jose Earthquakes this season, but introduced Palmer to the league on March 19, 2010.    

"First and foremost, Houston will always hold a special place in my heart, along with Dom Kinnear" he said. "He kickstarted Lovel Palmer's career. Dom is a unique coach and he had a style that he wanted to play for many years in Houston. The team has changed a lot; the players and coaches we all know during Dom's time.

"They're always hardworking and the humidity there works for them also. We just have to play Chicago Fire soccer, concentrate for 90-plus minutes, not give up on any play; see every play out, and be committed to the team."   

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.