Fire

Star power was the difference in the Fire's loss to Montreal

Star power was the difference in the Fire's loss to Montreal

For a half it looked like the Chicago Fire might extend its unbeaten streak and pick up a key early season result against the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact.

Then the Impact's, well, impact players stepped up and turned the match around.

The Fire led 1-0 at halftime, but Didier Drogba was able to even the match five minutes after subbing on. Then Ignacio Piatti, who has four goals and two assists already, scored the match-winner in added time.

Sure, Drogba's goal was created by a poor Matt Lampson clearance that led directly to a 2-on-1 situation, but Drogba finished the chance that he was given and did so with a nice flick. The point is that him and Piatti are elite attacking talents in Major League Soccer and the difference on Saturday was that Montreal had those players and the Fire didn't.

"You have Didier Drogba, obviously who is a big presence and was able to score a key goal for us and a great goal by (Piatti) at the end," Montreal coach Mauro Biello said. "These are the types of players who can make the difference in a game and they did that tonight."

Maybe David Accam can be that type of player for the Fire, but he's missed four straight matches and it has showed. The Fire's attack has struggled to put shots on goal and had just two on Saturday.

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has talked about two players who are expected to join the team in May. Neither is official, but Khaly Thiam, a 22-year-old central midfielder from Senegal and currently playing in Hungary, is expected to be one. Dutch attacker Michael de Leeuw is rumored to be the other, with him admitting in an interview in The Netherlands that the Fire have offered him a contract.

Perhaps those players can provide the Fire a boost, but the attacking spark hasn't been there. After the Fire had a four-match unbeaten run despite scoring only two goals, it finally came back to bite them against Montreal.

"We are working on that," Paunovic said of the Fire creating more chances. "Obviously we have to improve in that. We are emphasizing every time in our sessions and in our meetings that we have to finish actions. We have to score goals, we have to take shots."

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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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

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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.