Fire

Sepp Blatter re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term

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Sepp Blatter re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term

ZURICH (AP) — Sepp Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term on Friday, chosen to lead world soccer despite separate U.S. and Swiss criminal investigations into corruption.

The 209 FIFA member federations gave the 79-year-old Blatter another four-year term after Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan conceded defeat after losing 133-73 in the first round.

Prince Ali's promise of a clean break from FIFA's tarnished recent history was rejected despite the worst scandal in the organization's 111-year history.

"I like you, I like my job," Blatter said to cheering voters. "I am not perfect, nobody is perfect, but we will do a good job together I am sure."

The election went ahead Friday after U.S. and Swiss federal investigations struck at the heart of Blatter's "football family" this week. Two FIFA vice presidents and a recently elected FIFA executive committee member were still in custody Friday as the votes were counted.

Still, soccer leaders worldwide stayed loyal to their embattled president of 17 years, even though Prince Ali pushed the election to a second round by getting a surprising 73 votes.

Before the second round started, Prince Ali stood before the congress and conceded.

"I want to thank all of you who were brave enough to support me," said the prince, who previously spoke of a culture of intimidation at FIFA. "It's been a wonderful journey in terms of knowing you, working with you."

Blatter has blamed others for bringing shame and humiliation on the sport. In a pre-election address to voters on Friday, Blatter said it was "impossible" for him and FIFA to "keep an eye" on everyone and be responsible for everything that happened in world soccer.

[RELATED: US, Swiss looking at top FIFA executives in corruption probe]

Blatter won despite calls for his resignation from UEFA president Michel Platini and others. Platini said Thursday that UEFA could pull out of FIFA and withdraw from the World Cup if Blatter was re-elected.

FIFA's big-money sponsors have also called for change within FIFA. Visa warned Thursday that it could pull out of its contract, which is worth at least $25 million a year through 2022.

In what appeared to be warning to UEFA, Blatter pledged to change the representation of his influential executive committee, where Europe currently has eight of 25 voting members.

Platini sat still and did not clap during Blatter's post-victory speech.

Blatter also said he would retain a 32-team World Cup and resist expanding what is FIFA's cash cow.

The defeated 39-year-old prince was a FIFA vice president for the past four years with a close-up view of Blatter's previous scandal-hit mandate.

Blatter was re-elected unopposed in 2011 after promising to fight corruption and support key investigations of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests and a bribery scandal which removed his Qatari opponent from the presidential ballot.

Those probes were conducted in-house by FIFA's own judicial bodies. The latest investigations promise deeper trouble for FIFA with federal law enforcement agencies delving into soccer's affairs.

Raids on FIFA's favorite luxury downtown Zurich hotel and its own headquarters were launched early Wednesday by Swiss police.

Senior FIFA officials were among seven men arrested at the request of American federal prosecutors investigating bribery, money-laundering and wire fraud. The 2018 and 2022 World Cups — awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively — are the focus of a separate Swiss federal probe of suspected financial wrongdoing.

Last November, Blatter and FIFA filed a criminal complaint with the Swiss attorney general's office against non-Swiss nationals.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.