Fire

Return of the Fire? Fire hope for redemption on Star Wars Night

Return of the Fire? Fire hope for redemption on Star Wars Night

The Chicago Fire are currently licking their wounds like the rebels at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and are hoping Saturday’s game against Minnesota will be the Fire’s version of Return of the Jedi.

The Fire have lost three straight and five of six, but a look at the standings show that a home game against Minnesota may more closely resemble a bunch of hapless stormtroopers than a duel with Darth Vader. The Loons (6-14-4, 22 points) have the fewest points in the league, are winless on the road and have allowed the most goals in the league (51).

Despite facing a bottom-dwelling opponent, the Fire are going to trust their Jedi training and avoid overlooking Saturday’s game.

“MLS is built on parity so you cannot take any team lightly,” goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. “We know they’re a good team. They went to Seattle this past weekend and gave them a hell of a game. We’re going to come in ready for a fight and we just got to play the way we have been playing, the way that we know we can play and it’s going to be really important for us to get three points.”

The game will be live on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. It is Star Wars Night at Toyota Park, thus all the references in this preview.

A disturbance in the Force has hit the Fire's defense in the form of injuries lately. Those injuries have played a role in the Fire’s recent slide with three regular starting defenders going down. Brandon Vincent (quad) and Joao Meira (calf) are out yet again, but Matt Polster (left knee) was training with the rest of the team this week and is listed as questionable. Vincent is back in training, but was limited and worked out on the side.

David Accam, the Fire player most likely to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, is also listed as questionable with a hip injury. He had the same injury entering the Toronto game last weekend and played all 90 minutes.

Minnesota’s leading goal-scorer, Christian Ramirez, has missed the last two games. He sat out training on Thursday, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and is day-to-day. Another talented Force wielder, Ethan Finlay, scored on his debut for the Loons after being traded from Columbus. His goal gave Minnesota an early lead at the Western Conference leaders, but Minnesota ultimately succumbed to the Dark Side when Clint Dempsey drew and converted a penalty kick in the 94th minute.

“We have a chance to make three points at home against Minnesota and we have to,” Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “We will not make the mistake against Minnesota. They also played in Seattle a very good game away so we will give everything to get three points at home.”

The Fire (12-8-5, 41 points) are in third place heading into this weekend’s action and the schedule presents a good opportunity for the Fire to make ground in the standings. Not only are the Fire hosting last-place Minnesota, but the two New York teams face off Friday night. New York City FC is five points ahead of the Fire for second place while the Red Bulls are three points behind the Fire. A win against the Loons means the Fire will gain ground on at least one of those teams.

Midfielder Dax McCarty’s message heading the Minnesota game was more along the lines of “Do or do not, there is no try.” He does not expect an easy game.

“It’s actually the worst time to play Minnesota,” McCarty said. “We’re not playing well and they’re going to come in here with even more confidence that they can get a result.

“There are no easy games in this league, I can promise you that. Just because they’re where they are in the standings, they have talent and they’re well-coached. They have a lot of guys that can hurt you.”

Chicago Fire vs. Minnesota United

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-8-5, 41 points), Minnesota (6-14-4, 22 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.