Fire

Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener

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Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener

One of the major storylines from Sunday's Fire opener was goalkeeper Matt Lampson.

That may have been the case regardless of how the game turned out because he was starting instead of the longest tenured Fire player and national teamer Sean Johnson. After a 4-3 loss, though, Lampson's performance was amplified.

With a couple days to rewatch the season-opening defeat, Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was able to give a clearer view on what worked and what went wrong. Paunovic spoke to media during his weekly conference on Tuesday and had more to say about the defensive lapses and Lampson's performance.

[MORE: Fire remain hopeful after disappointing opener]

As he did in the postgame press conference, Paunovic defended Lampson because he executed the game plan, which was to play out of the back. Paunovic admitted some blame for an ill-fated strategy while playing into the wind and also said his teammates put Lampson in tough spots.

“I watched the game several times because I wanted to be sure of everything," Paunovic said. "Regarding Matt I think the team didn’t help him. He could do better. Everyone could do better than we performed in building out of the back, but he tried and tried and tried to develop and to play our plan.

"When that wasn’t possible he tried to play those long balls to our fullbacks, which didn’t work. He tried to do that so this is what we have to understand. He was trying to do that, and that is obviously my responsibility. He tried to do the plan that we wanted to play against New York. At some point we also have to understand that sometimes anyone else on the field, sometimes it was a midfielder, sometimes it was a center back, sometimes fullback, they played the ball back to him when it wasn’t necessary, when we didn’t need that. Having the weather conditions like we had, the wind against us, it wasn’t the best decision."

Those words in defense of Lampson might hint that he is still in line to start Friday at Orlando, but Paunovic said the staff is still deciding on who will get the start. He also quashed any notion that Sean Johnson was hurt by joining the team later in the preseason following a stint with the national team.

“Playing for the national team is always important and we are happy that our players are called for the national team and we will always support that," Paunovic said. "I think for sure it was beneficial for him and beneficial for the national team and for us, too. I wouldn’t relate the current situation with Sean with being with the national team the first part of the preseason."

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As for other lineup question marks heading into Friday, Gilberto's availability is unknown. The forward picked up a calf strain in the second minute of the loss to New York City FC and was subbed out at halftime.

Meanwhile, John Goossens has his visa and is flying back from the Netherlands on Tuesday. Goossens wasn't available for the opener.

“He had a very short period to fly a long flight and changing time zones so we will see how he feels," Paunovic said. "We will try to prepare him to be available for the game. We will decide obviously on Friday if he is ready or not.”

It's worth noting the story that Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez previously told about Goossens' arrival for his trial. The team offered Goossens some time to settle in before playing, but he wanted to play right away and did. If that's anything to go by, Goossens is probably more likely to play Friday than Paunovic led on.

The only other injury in the team remains Eric Gehrig. Gehrig, who is still recovering from surgery late last season, is still expected to be unavailable for a week or two, according to Paunovic, but has been a full participant in practice.

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.