Second half goals help Fire atone for "edgy" start vs. Charlotte


Second half goals help Fire atone for "edgy" start vs. Charlotte

The Fire were able to regroup following an "edgy" start against a USL delegation Tuesday night to secure a berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal for the 12th time in their history.

Charlotte Independence forward Tomasz Zahorski opened the scoring early, with Mike Magee answering in the 37th and 81st minutes and Lovel Palmer's long-distance strike in the 50th minute ultimately sealed a 3-1 victory over the third-division side.

The Men in Red will host Orlando City SC - 2-0 winners over Columbus Crew SC - in the quarterfinal at Toyota Park on July 22 at 7:30 p.m. CT.

"It's great to be through to the next round," head coach Frank Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "Coming from behind is always important, but the highlight of the game was seeing Patrick [Nyarko] and Mike back on the field and contributing. It's been a long way back for them, and I'm happy for the way the team kept going and got the result." 

Yallop made a quartet of changes to the side that dropped its fourth consecutive league match to Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United just six days earlier.

[RELATED: Open Cup a chance for Fire to get 'ship straightened']

As Sean Johnson retained his position for a third successive outing, the netminder saw a duo of swaps along his back four. Lovel Palmer started in place of Eric Gehrig at right back, while Matt Polster replaced veteran defender and captain Jeff Larentowicz at center back for his second start in a defensive role in as many Open Cup appearances.

In the midfield, Englishman Matt Watson deputized for Razvan Cocis alongside Chris Ritter. Finally, the much-anticipated expectation of Mike Magee's return was met as the forward partnered Designated Player Kennedy Igboananike to compliment Yallop's 4-4-2 formation. Nyarko, also making his way back from a long-term injury layoff, was a welcome sight on the bench, going on to make a 13-minute cameo. 

Zahorski, running between Matt Polster and Greg Cochrane in the fifth minute, collected the ball from Alex Martinez and strode through on goal as he finished past Johnson at the far post to score his fourth goal of the tournament and give the visitors a shock lead.

The Men in Red gathered a bit of steam shortly after and came close around the 20-minute mark, as Charlotte's Richard Gilstrap was required to come up with a pair of fine saves. Nifty combination play in the 19th minute from Cochrane and Magee led to a one-time chance for Joevin Jones, but the Trinidadian's effort was palmed away well by Gilstrap, before Magee nearly opened his account in the 22nd minute. A low cross from the right flank was met by the 2013 MLS MVP, whose first-touch chip was met again by Gilstrap and spun just wide of the frame.

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In the 37th minute, the Fire found their breakthrough courtesy of Magee, who, following a deft interchange between Igboananike and Palmer, made a perfect run to cut off Gilstrap and reach Palmer's cross, chipping it home to send both teams into the halftime interval on level terms. It was his first goal in all competitions since Aug. 10, 2014, and his sixth career Open Cup goal.

The hosts emerged from the locker room with a greater sense of belief and began on the front foot, applying pressure early on and finding a second goal in the process.

Palmer would latch onto a ball following a corner kick, unleashing a 30-yard screamer past Gilstrap in the 50th minute. With just under 10 minutes remaining, Nyarko's first touch of the game after coming on 13 minutes from time translated into an assist, setting up Magee for his second goal of the match and securing a 3-1 win in front of 3,617 at Toyota Park.

"The great tradition of this club is to do well in the Open Cup," Yallop added. "I'm no different to that; I want to do well for the fans, the club and everybody involved." 

Yallop's group faces another quick turnaround with a visit to Houston Dynamo Friday night in MLS action.   

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer (Eric Gehrig, 81'), Adailton, Matt Polster, Greg Cochrane; Harry Shipp (Patrick Nyarko, 77'), Chris Ritter, Matt Watson, Joevin Jones; Kennedy Igboananike (Jason Johnson, 71'), Mike Magee

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.