Fire

Paunovic: Fire's draw against Red Bulls 'tougher than any other defeat'

Paunovic: Fire's draw against Red Bulls 'tougher than any other defeat'

Sunday’s 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls felt like a loss to Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

Actually, Paunovic said it felt worse than a loss.

“Losing these two points for me is tougher than any other defeat we had this year,” Paunovic said. “It’s very difficult for us after a great response from the team.”

Paunovic’s postgame demeanor naturally mimics the team’s result, but this was as dejected as he’s been after a home game all season.

The Fire blew a chance for a come-from-behind home victory by allowing the Red Bulls to score in the 90th minute. The Fire took a 2-1 lead into halftime even after giving the Red Bulls an early lead through an own goal. The team’s positive response to the early setback was why Paunovic felt so disheartened that his team could not come away with the win.

“When we tied the game and took the lead in the game, [that] was a great response,” Paunovic said. “This is what we learned, but we have to get better. It’s still the same issue with conceding goals in the last minutes of the game where I think the maturity and mentality comes in play. I think we did most of the things very well, but I think we have to learn how to win games.”

The Fire lost at New England on an 85th minute goal last Saturday, costing them a chance to earn a point on the road. That makes two games in a row the Fire have dropped points in the final minutes of a game.

Paunovic lamented his team’s inability to find a third goal to put the match away in the second half.

“We have to learn now either to score the third goal, which was something that we were looking for in the second half, especially with a good start of the second half,” Paunovic said. “That was our goal. Then if you don’t see that then you have to go and keep the score, especially in the last five, 10 minutes. We had to keep the score and that’s something we have to learn and improve.”

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The Fire’s playoff hopes were already slim at this point in the season. The Fire sit eight points below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, but a win could have at least moved the team out of the cellar and provided a confidence boost.

Instead, Paunovic seemed to be hit by the reality of a frustrating and disappointing season.

“I think it’s obviously disappointing,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “Going down a goal, giving up an own goal by myself is unfortunate, but I thought we did well to battle back and go up 2-1 and then to give up a late goal is not ideal. To have three points right in front of you and to lose [the lead] is disappointing.”

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson offered the positive side that the team’s performance was good. Even though the Red Bulls dominated possession, they only managed two shots on target. Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch even said his team was lucky not go to down 3-1.

“I think it was a valiant effort today, obviously disappointing to lose [the lead] late on, but we’ve shown some good things today and we can’t hang our heads too low after this,” Johnson said.

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.