Fire

On short rest, Fire head to D.C. in search of first road win

On short rest, Fire head to D.C. in search of first road win

In the first answer of coach Veljko Paunovic's press conference after Wednesday's win against Colorado, Paunovic was already looking ahead to the next game.

"We want to win the next game," he said. "That’s the attitude we were looking for for a long time and the guys are confident. The guys are really happy and enjoying soccer and winning games. I believe we are doing a good job with the team and the team believes it so now we have to keep it up. We just have to think about the next game against DC, how to recover, how to prepare well and go and compete there.”

Part of the reason to look ahead so soon was that the next game was coming so soon after the Chicago Fire beat the Rapids 3-0. The Fire will play for the third time in eight games in a match at D.C. United on Saturday.

The Fire also have another midweek game after traveling to the nation's capital, Thursday against undefeated FC Dallas. This could be squad rotation is in order, but Paunovic tends to stick with similar lineups after good performances. He made just one change in the starting lineup from the Seattle game to the Colorado game (Matt Polster started in place of Dre Conner). Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam were both subbed out in the second half on Wednesday, likely in anticipation of having them start in this upcoming road match.

Either way, the Fire (5-3-3, 18 points) have played two of its best games of the season in the past two matches and D.C. (3-5-2, 11 points) has been shutout in its past two home matches. The Fire enter 0-3-2 on the road.

"We make 18 points until now so it’s a fantastic job," Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "To keep doing this we need to improve our game away so the chance is going to be against D.C. We need to prepare. We don’t have too much time for this, but we’ll try to give our best and be 100 percent for that game.”

Luciano Acosta leads United with three goals, but will be serving a red card suspension against the Fire. Former Fire winger Patrick Nyarko will miss the game with a hamstring injury. Regular starters Sean Franklin and Nick DeLeon are also out injured.

Even though D.C. comes in with a full week of rest and the Fire are not, D.C. is shorthanded and struggling at home. This appears to be a good opportunity for the Fire to get a first road win in 2017. Multiple players on the Fire have said some of the recent road performances have warranted better results than they have received.

"In away games we need to improve," Nikolic said. "We played really good against New York, against LA, so we need to keep doing the same things and start getting points in away games.”

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.