Fire

Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp

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Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp

As the Fire start the final leg of the preseason in Portland, the minds of fans might be in Montreal.

That’s where fan favorite Harry Shipp is after being traded on Saturday.

However, the club has moved on and coach Veljko Paunovic updated the status of the team during a conference call with the media on Tuesday morning. Paunovic didn’t give the full nitty-gritty details of the trade, but did offer some insight as to why the Fire made the move.

“At a point we had the situation with Harry where we had to decide because there was a team very, very interested in him,” Paunovic said. “We can’t say at that point we could guarantee for Harry that he was going to have the role that everybody and he expected. We had to decide obviously and make the best possible decision. Harry will have a better opportunity to play soccer, which he obviously always wants. That’s basically the main situation.

“I’m going to repeat it thousands of times: he’s a fantastic kid. He handled it very well and it was very difficult for him and I can tell you for us, too. He’s moving forward and we’re going to root for him. He’s a great guy and we appreciate everything he did for Chicago... I think we made the best possible decision for all parties.”

Paunovic makes it sound like Shipp was not going to be a regular in the lineup. The next question then is why Paunovic and the Fire came to that conclusion.

“I think that the first reason, the technical reason, is why we decided to do that,” he said. “For the style of play and for what we are looking for in that position is something that we decided was very important.”

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The Fire have played with a 4-2-3-1 formation in the two preseason matches so far. Shipp played in the central attacking midfield role, in the center of the three, in both matches. Collin Fernandez also played in that position.

The 19-year-old has shown flashes of talent, but has only one MLS appearance, a six-minute substitute appearance. He is the most obvious candidate to receive playing time at that position unless a new player comes in. Paunovic stayed mum on possible new acquisitions, but did talk about the competition for a now open spot left vacant by Shipp.

“We have guys on the roster we are looking for and they have an opportunity to show up and prove themselves now that there is an open spot,” Paunovic said. “That’s where we are with the guys we have on the roster we are looking if they will take this opportunity and win this spot. I think I said that everybody has to earn their spot. For everybody in the position, everybody has to earn it.”

When asked about which players have stood out to Paunovic in camp so far, he took a broader view of the team.

“I want to see in our team guys who will take advantage of the situation now and earn the hearts of our fans and obviously our staff and our other players,” Paunovic said. “This is what we are looking for in this situation. We want to convert this situation into a positive, dynamic situation where the players will be eager to play in the way the fans love and obviously win for our team.”

[MORE: Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans]

Paunovic also commented on the status of trialist Arturo Alvarez. Paunovic said he has been happy with Alvarez and his will to accomplish everything the team asks of him. However, no decision has been made on whether to sign him to a contract.

Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof joined the team in Portland on Monday. Paunovic had words of praise for the Fire’s new addition.

“What I love in the interview that Nelson and I had with him before we decided to sign him, he said, ‘I love to defend. I love the challenge of playing 1v1. I’m really engaged in defending our goal,’” Paunovic said. “We saw the soccer player who wants to play, build out of the back and who is committed to possession of the ball and progression. He has a very good, quality pass, his decisions are good. He is a defender and that defensive mentality that he has, that defensive attitude is contagious and that’s what we are expecting from him. When we have to defend because that’s part of the game what we expect from him is to be one of the leaders in our defensive line and contain everyone in front of him.”

The Fire’s first game in Portland is against the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4:30 p.m. CT.

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.