Fire

Paunovic: Jonathan Campbell has national team potential

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Paunovic: Jonathan Campbell has national team potential

The Chicago Fire have a lot of young players on the roster and a few of them are already earning regular playing time, but none seem to have settled in as quickly as Jonathan Campbell.

The rookie has worked his way into a center back trio for the Fire and his coach is taking notice of the 22-year-old’s potential.

“I think Jonathan is doing well with his adaptation to the league,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It only took two or three games. It’s amazing how intelligent and how well he is handling this first year as a rookie.

“I truly believe that he can be not only a very good player for Chicago Fire, which we all work on that, but also for the national team. I think that he has that capacity to become a great player for this country.”

Paunovic’s heavy praise comes with some numbers to back it up.

The Fire’s revamped defense was shredded for three goals in the first half of the season opener against New York City FC. Campbell came on at halftime of that match and has played every minute since. The Fire have given up two goals in the 225 minutes Campbell has been on the field.

[MORE: Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson]

As a center back Campbell wasn’t expecting to come on as a sub against NYCFC, which added a bit to the nerves of making his professional debut.

“I was nervous, but I was think nerves can be good,” Campbell said. “In that game I was ready to go in, but I wasn’t expecting to come in at halftime just as a center back. You only get three subs and you’re not really expecting to change things much in the back. That’s what we did and we changed formation.”

The formation change has stuck so far and part of the improvement in defense is simply down to the extra body. The Fire have played with five defenders since Campbell’s inclusion and Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said in his postgame press conference that the Fire defending in numbers made it tough for the Crew.

The shutout in that match was the Fire’s first since Aug. 2, 2015. The club had gone 15 matches without a shutout.

“I think we marked up well in the box and were a lot cleaner with our clearances,” Campbell said after the match. “We didn’t give them really many chances. The shots that they took were far out of the box so I think we did a good job with that.”

Campbell played a big part in limiting Crew forward Kei Kamara, a physical presence coming off a 22-goal season, as the central most of the three Fire center backs.

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That’s not to say Campbell is a finished product. He made a few errant passes against Columbus and was at least partially at fault for Cyle Larin’s goal in the match at Orlando. Campbell gave Larin too much space after a Fire turnover and although Campbell was able to recover and block Larin’s first attempt, the loose ball fell back to Larin for the goal.

It appears Paunovic and the Fire will put up with some rookie mistakes, especially if Paunovic believes so strongly in Campbell’s potential.

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.