Fire

Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

After an undefeated three-game homestand, the Chicago Fire now head on the road for three straight.

The first of the three road games is at Toronto FC, the defending Eastern Conference champions, on Friday. Coverage is on CSN Plus 2 starting at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Check out CSN's channel finder for where CSN Plus 2 is available for you. The match will air on Cozi TV. The Fire released further broadcast information for the match, including re-airs on CSN+ (11 p.m. Friday) and CSN (1 p.m. Saturday).

Toronto (1-1-4, 7 points) is out of the playoff positions for now, but has had just two matches at home. Both of those matches have been draws. The Fire (3-1-2, 11 points) 0-1-1 on the road so far this season.

The two teams met in the final preseason match in Florida. The Fire won 4-1. That result shouldn't have any bearing on Friday's match, but does provide some familiarity for some of the Fire's new players.

"This is for me, one of the best teams in MLS, for sure," Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We played against them in Florida. OK, this was the friendly game, but in that game we played really good and we can show some things. They have a lot of good players, a lot of individual players who can finish the game alone so we need to watch out on these things and to be prepared."

The trio of forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore and midfielder Michael Bradley lead the way for TFC. Altidore has gotten off to a hot start with three goals and two assists while Giovinco has scored one goal.

Both Giovinco and Altidore will provide a tough test for a Fire defense that has recorded back-to-back shutouts.

"Just don't let him breathe, put pressure on him," defender Michael Harrington said. "These guys are good players, but they're very good players when you don't have pressure on them and you don't take care of them. Also when we have the ball we got to make sure that we're aware of where they are on the field so when the ball turns over, they don't get the ball in dangerous spots. These guys are good players, but it's nothing we can't handle and it's something we prepared for."

Last season Toronto swept the season series with three one-goal victories against the Fire. Giovinco had a goal and two assists in those games while Altidore had a goal and an assist.

"We will do everything to stop him," coach Veljko Paunovic said of Giovinco. "Great player, obviously with Giovinco in attack, a very difficult attack for all the teams around the league. We played against difficult teams in the past. Just last week against (Juan) Agudelo and (Kei) Kamara was also good attack, and Lee Nguyen also, so we are used to it. We have to know that there aren't easy games in this league. There are not easy attackers and we have to do everything to stop them. We will find a way."

A win would be a statement that the Fire are in the upper echelon of the conference, but even a draw would be a positive result. Despite a relatively slow start, Toronto is still one of the most talented teams in the league and has lost just once so far.

Midfielder Matt Polster's season debut for the Fire has continued to be pushed back. Polster has returned to training, but was still limited this week. After coming off a knee injury, Polster is listed as questionable with "right hip flexor tightness." Daniel Johnson, who has come off the bench each of the last three games, is also listed as questionable with a left adductor strain.

Toronto's injury report is lengthier. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin is out for the third straight game. Alex Bono has started in his place. Starting centerback Drew Moor is also out.

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

Where: BMO Field, Toronto

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

TV: CSN Plus 2/Cozi TV (channel finder)

Records: Fire (3-1-2, 11 points), TFC (1-1-4, 7 points)

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

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USA TODAY

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

When the Fire announced that three goalkeepers, Jorge Bava, Matt Lampson and Stefan Cleveland, all had their options picked up for 2018 and the team was negotiating a deal to bring back Richard Sanchez, something had to give.

It appears that has been sorted out with the news that Sanchez is in fact back with the Fire, but also that it appears Bava has left the team.

On Monday the Fire announced Sanchez signed a contract guaranteeing him for 2018 and 2019 with a club option for 2020. The 23-year-old made two starts with the Fire in 2017 after he was brought in on Aug. 11.

As is fairly common practice in MLS, the option on Sanchez's initial contract with the Fire was for more than what he signed for on this new deal, according to a source. This is similar to what happened with Razvan Cocis and Luis Solignac in the past two years. Those players both had their options declined only to be brought back for a lower salary number.

Sanchez had mixed results on the field, making one of the better goalkeeper performances the Fire had in 2017 in his debut in San Jose, but then struggled in the regular season finale in Houston. He's young enough to believe he can improve, especially at goalkeeper where players tend to hit their peak older than field players.

As for Bava, it seems all but official that he has joined Liverpool FC Montevideo in his home country of Uruguay. The team's official account tweeted out a welcome to Bava, although there has been no word from the Fire yet.

Bava, 36, made eight starts before being benched in favor of Lampson and missed the second half of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. Once Bava's exit is finalized the Fire will have three goalkeepers instead of the overloaded four.

When Bava was hurt and Sanchez was brought on as a late-season replacement, Lampson and Sanchez emerged as the two candidates for starting goalkeeper. It appears that battle will continue in 2018.

Lampson has far more professional experience with 51 MLS appearances while Sanchez only made sporadic starts in lower divisions in the U.S. and Mexico before joining the Fire. Sanchez was a fairly well-regarded prospect having played with Mexico's Under-17 and U-20 teams at youth World Cups.

Not counting Bava, the Fire have 19 players under contract. Bastian Schweinsteiger's situation remains unofficial, although reports have said he is likely to return. The MLS combine has completed two of three rounds of matches with the draft taking place on Friday.

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

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USA TODAY

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

For the past two offseasons, Cam Lindley’s name has popped up as a potential key addition for the Fire.

The North Carolina sophomore has been one of the top midfielders in college soccer the past two seasons and has established himself as a good MLS prospect. The Fire held his homegrown rights after he traveled from Indianapolis to play with the Fire’s academy in high school, even helping the U-18 team win the Development Academy national title in 2015.

The Fire failed to sign him last offseason, with Lindley electing to return to college. When the college season ended and negotiations started up again this winter, Lindley turned down the Fire’s homegrown offer. Initially, it was expected that meant he was returning to school, but now Paul Tenorio has reported that the Fire traded Lindley’s homegrown rights to Orlando.


In Tenorio’s reported deal, which he said was still being finalized, the Fire receive right back Rafael Ramos and allocation money from the Lions. The move means Orlando gets the exclusive rights within MLS to negotiate with Lindley and if he signs he will still count as a homegrown for Orlando.

Lindley did not train at all with the Fire in the past year, instead electing to stay in North Carolina when he played in the PDL (a summer league for college players). In 2016, Lindley played with the Fire’s PDL team. The Fire’s three other best homegrown prospects who played in college this past season, Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman and Mauricio Pineda, all spent some time in training with the Fire in 2017. Pineda stayed after practice multiple times with coach Veljko Paunovic in one-on-one drills. Lillard, the only senior of the four, signed his homegrown deal with the Fire earlier this week.

On the one hand, the Fire get a player in Ramos, who is 23 years old and could help provide depth at both right back and left back. The Portuguese player made 39 MLS appearances in three years with Orlando, including 24 starts in 2015, but injuries contributed to a lack of playing time last season when

Ramos played 55 MLS minutes. A hamstring injury limited him in 2016 and again in the 2017 preseason when he was expected to be the starter at right back. Once he returned, Scott Sutter had established himself at the position.

Ramos vented his frustration at a lack of playing time in an Orlando Sentinel story in October.

On the other hand, Lindley is a player who was racking up the accolades at UNC. As a freshman he tallied seven assists and was named national Freshman of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer and a first team All-ACC pick. This season, he had seven goals and 13 assists and was a first team All-American by United Soccer Coaches, Top Drawer Soccer and College Soccer News in addition to being named ACC Midfielder of the Year. The Tar Heels made it to the College Cup semifinals both years.

The midfielder could be good enough to receive interest from European teams, which could make it good business for the Fire to get something from within MLS for him instead of letting him go for free.

If the trade materializes, it will be a failure on the Fire’s part to convince a talented young player who spent time in the team’s academy to sign, but also a success in getting something of value in return for a player who may not want to sign with the team.