Fire

Preview: Fire square off against Orlando City SC

chivorl09182015.png

Preview: Fire square off against Orlando City SC

At this point in the MLS regular season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach more fixated on scoreboard watching than Fire head coach Frank Yallop.

In the weeks since handing the New York Red Bulls a 3-2 defeat on Aug. 26, results elsewhere around the East have - to some degree - kept the Fire's playoff prospects in check.

Beginning Aug. 29, the Men in Red embarked on a pivotal three-game road stint, which featured in-conference clashes with Orlando City SC, Montreal Impact and the Red Bulls. Yallop’s men emerged with one point, six goals scored and eight conceded.

Conceding ill-timed goals - soft ones, Yallop would admit - has hurt his side of late, however. It’s a stark reality, and one that - through 28 games - has led to dropped points and allowed Montreal to stretch their point-gap over Chicago to six points. It also prompted the second-year head coach to sift through statistics and get to the root of the problem himself.   

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

“I looked at a stat yesterday: we’ve been leading in eight games, and out of those we’ve lost four and tied four,” he said. “(If) you see two or three of those games through, then right now we’re sitting here and saying, ‘We’re doing well.’ It’s a fine line, and we can’t lose (sight) of what’s gone on in our season.”

Of those eight, in only two of them did the Fire relinquish points at home after going in front: against Orlando City (a 3-2 loss on June 6) and against the New England Revolution (a 2-2 draw on July 25).   

Before returning north of the border for another road swing against Montreal and Toronto FC, the Fire (7-15-6, 27 points) return home to face Orlando City (8-13-8, 32 points) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+), one of three remaining fixtures at Toyota Park.

“It’s huge,” Yallop said Thursday of the importance of home-field advantage, where the Fire have won 22 of their 27 points this year. “We’ve got to win this game to give (ourselves) any chance of getting even a look at the playoffs.”

[MORE FIRE: Matt Polster to represent U.S. in Olympic qualifying]

Though slim and perhaps convincingly out of the question in the eyes of a frustrated fanbase, a postseason berth to Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp is a feat that, while not mathematically out of reach, will necessitate a considerable deviation from the mentality that has seen the Men in Red fixed to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table for much of the campaign.      

"It's going to be tough for us," Shipp said of the team's playoff aspirations. "We're going to have to get on a roll, and do something we haven't done so far this year. For us to say, 'We've got to just keep doing the same things we've been doing and it'll turn around' isn't really the answer because it hasn't worked when we're 80 percent of the way through the year."  

Injury notes:

- Adaílton (core muscle repair surgery) jogged around the field at training on Thursday, and engaged in some separate, individual drills off to the side (ladder work, planks).

- Kennedy Igboananike (ankle strain) did not train fully until Friday. Gilberto (back/hamstring tightness) trained fully on Thursday and Friday. Both are expected to be available for selection vs. Orlando City on Saturday.

- Eric Gehrig has been dealing with a plantar fascia issue - essentially heel pain - and has been receiving treatment on it throughout the week. His availability for Saturday will be determined closer to kickoff.

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC

Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.

Broadcast: CSN+       

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

schwein-221.jpg
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

polster-217.jpg
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.