Fire

Paunovic says Fire need to improve through preseason

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Paunovic says Fire need to improve through preseason

The usually very optimistic Veljko Paunovic had a slight tone change during Monday’s conference call with the media.

The Chicago Fire coach still maintained his upbeat words about the players and the upcoming season, but also emphasized how much improvement the team needs to make.

“I think it’s very good in pace, in how we control the game,” Paunovic said when asked about the team’s strengths. “I think that we still have to improve our mechanisms for getting in the final third, but it’s still early. We haven’t worked on that so it’s something that’s normal. In this point in the preseason we are still not working on merging it all together so those pieces are still missing. As I said, we are going to step up. Right now I think the good point is to understand the possession and the advantages of the possession and to improve the mechanisms of finishing and getting in the final third."

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The Fire landed in Tampa on Sunday for the second phase of the preseason. The first preseason game will take place on Feb. 6 against the University of South Florida. The club announced that the South Florida game will be streamed on the Fire’s website.

Nick LaBrocca, whose free agent signing was finalized on Jan. 27, joined the team on Sunday. Winger Arturo Alvarez has also joined the the team on trial. Alvarez, 30, played nine years in MLS before playing in Portugal and Hungary since 2012. Both players are behind in fitness, but will train with the team in technical and tactical training.

The most notable quote from Paunovic’s conference call was probably his take on Harry Shipp. When asked what Shipp’s best position was, Paunovic gave a somewhat deeper evaluation of Shipp.

“As an attacking midfielder, either behind the striker or on the wing,” Paunovic said of Shipp’s best role. “I think that he has that quality that he can switch positions with another teammate. I think his main quality is that he is very, very good on the ball. Good technique, but I think that he still needs to improve, especially improve that hunger to score goals, to assist, to create general space and impact in the game.”

[MORE: Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line]

Fitness was the main focus for week one of the preseason and that will still be true this week. The focus will shift to anaerobic work.

“We are working on improvement our anaerobic threshold, which is very important in order to play a high intensity style of play that we want to develop,” Paunovic said. “We are working on that on the physical level. On the technical and tactical, always continue to improve our technique and our understanding of the style of play which we want to be the team who controls the game.”

As for Saturday’s first preseason game, Paunovic said he plans to give as many players an opportunity as possible. The game will kickoff at 4 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.