Fire

Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans

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Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans

In professional sports, players leave and trades happen. That’s part of the business side of sports.

However, when the Chicago Fire traded Harry Shipp on Saturday, the business side caused some tears to be shed.

Shipp tweeted out a statement Saturday afternoon explaining what the Fire meant to him as a childhood fan of the team and thanked fans for his time with the club.

“When I was told out of the blue that I would no longer be a member of the Fire, I immediately broke down and started crying,” Shipp said in the statement. “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past two years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago. I know this is a business and nothing is personal, but this is inherently personal for me.”

Those words and feelings likely echoed throughout the fanbase. Take one look at the responses to the Fire’s tweet announcing the trade. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

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Shipp may not be the star fans thought he would be after a strong rookie campaign. He could also see his production skyrocket this season in Montreal with Didier Drogba leading the Impact’s attack.

Regardless, the reason many fans are probably upset is because Shipp represented something the Fire haven’t had enough of in recent years. He was a talented young player with local roots and on top of that was a genuinely nice person. Shipp was becoming the face of the franchise and, whether or not his play on the field warranted it, Shipp was the most well-known Fire player within Chicagoland.

When Shipp emerged as a star at Notre Dame, led the Fighting Irish to the national title in 2013 and became one of the top rookie prospects in Major League Soccer, it gave the Fire some much-needed buzz that he could sign as a Homegrown Player. After he was Rookie of the Year runner-up, Fire fans had a player to latch onto as someone to be proud of.

Everyone loves a local kid makes good story and the Chicago Fire had one of its own. As Academy players continue to sign with the Fire, and more are on the way, none have made the impact Shipp has had.

Fire fans have become skeptical in recent years. That’s what happens when a team makes the playoffs just once in six years in a league where more than half of the league makes the playoffs. Shipp cut through that to give the team and fans something positive and it’s hard to put a price on that. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday.

“Unfortunately all I was able to contribute was two of the statistically worst seasons in Fire history, and that genuinely breaks my heart more than you could imagine,” Shipp said. “I’m sorry that I was unable to do more for the city, because if anyone understands what this city deserves in a soccer club, it is me.”

[MORE: Paunovic praises Fire's young players]

The Fire don’t yet have something tangible to show for the trade of Shipp. That said, general manager Nelson Rodriguez is surely not ignorant to the situation. He knew what this trade meant and what Shipp meant to Fire fans. Rodriguez obviously believes this can make the club better.

A move like this is likely the set up to another move and that move may heal all wounds that Fire fans are feeling now. However, this signifies something else for Rodriguez. The patience he has had every right to ask for earlier this offseason just got thinner.

Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic have put an emphatic stamp on the club before the season opener. This is their team. Of the Fire players currently on the roster, only Sean Johnson was with the team at the start of the 2014 season. Razvan Cocis, who signed midway through that season, is now the second most tenured player in the club.

It’s easy to explain why that kind of rebuild was needed for a team that has struggled for so long. However, Rodriguez stepped up with a bold move on Saturday. For his sake, and for Fire fans, hopefully it works out.

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.