Fire

Preview: Fire hope to get back on track against Vancouver Saturday on CSN+

Preview: Fire hope to get back on track against Vancouver Saturday on CSN+

Winning was starting to become a habit for the Chicago Fire this season.

Since Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival in April, the team took some time to coalesce but had turned into a well-tuned machine through May and much of June, going through 10 matches without a loss (8-0-2).

However, Wednesday’s setback in the U.S. Open Cup at Cincinnati presents a new challenge for the team. A team which had gotten used to winning now has to regroup after a long game and just a few days of rest.

The Fire’s response against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at Toyota Park could be telling for what’s ahead this season. The match will be live on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The game in Cincinnati represented a second time in June that the Fire were unable to score against a team that was defending deep. Coach Veljko Paunovic brought up the comparison between the Cincinnati loss and the scoreless draw in Orlando on June 4 and said the team spoke about that during halftime in Ohio.

“What we learned is the importance of one play, one single play,” Paunovic said.

Vancouver may not defend in the same manner as a minor league team (Cincinnati) or a team playing with nine men (Orlando), but the Whitecaps (6-6-3, 21 points) do have one of the better defensive records in the league with 21 goals allowed in 15 matches.

“We just got to make sure we’re a little bit more clinical in front of goal,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “This game is cruel, it’s unfair so whenever you don’t put those chances in at the end you’re kind of wishing you had those back or what not. At that point it’s too late.”

The Fire (10-3-4, 34 points) have won seven straight at home, but have a few factors going against them on Saturday. For one, David Accam and Dax McCarty are still away on national team duty and will go up against each other on Saturday in a friendly between Ghana and the U.S. that should finish less than an hour before the Fire kickoff against Vancouver.

On top of that, the Fire will be playing for the third time in eight days, including the 120 minutes plus penalties they endured at Cincinnati. Most of the Fire’s regular starting lineup, including Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, played all 120 minutes.

The Whitecaps will be without standout center back Kendall Waston, who had surgery on his right hand a week ago, and midfielder Christian Bolanos is questionable with a shoulder sprain after sitting out the last two games.

Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (10-3-4, 34 points), Vancouver (6-6-3, 21 points)

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.