Fire

With two road games looming, Fire move on from disappointing draw

With two road games looming, Fire move on from disappointing draw

Fresh off the disappointment of conceding a goal in the 90th minute that turned a win into a draw, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic returned to his optimistic self.

Paunovic talked with reporters on Tuesday during a conference call and said the team has moved on from the disappointing tie with the New York Red Bulls, which he again said felt like a loss.

“You can permit yourself that night to be disappointed, but then you have to stand up the next day,” Paunovic said. “This is how we are working this week, facing two very important games. One on the road against Real Salt Lake [on Saturday] and the second one, the semifinal against New England [on Aug. 9], obviously the Open Cup. The challenge for us will be to recover the guys.”

Joao Meira, who suffered a hamstring strain against the Red Bulls, won’t be available in Salt Lake. Paunovic kept the possibility open that he could play in New England.

Part of the team’s preparation this week involves a scrimmage on Tuesday. Paunovic said the extra game-action will benefit players who have not played as much recently. Rookie Joey Calistri won’t participate due to a lingering ankle injury.

The Fire haven’t won a game on the road in more than two years so facing two road games in the span of four days will be a tough test.

“It’s something that we are dealing with the whole year and we believe,” Paunovic said of the team’s winless road streak. “We believe it will come. We prepare for every game in order to win and we will do our best in the game against Real Salt Lake. We know it’s going to be tough. A lot of adjustments are there, playing in altitude and all the stuff.

“We believe that we are having huge improvements in our team in the last month, especially when we are playing at home. I think that’s the process. As I said many times, we started with building our solid defense, now we are very competitive playing our games at home.”

Paunovic reiterated the need for the team to improve on the mental side. While he applauded the team’s ability to turn a deficit into a lead against the Red Bulls, giving up the late goal and not being able to close out the game is partially on the mental side.

The summer transfer window closes on Wednesday and Paunovic teased reporters that they should stay ready with one day remaining. The Fire have been connected to Armenian forward David Arshakyan.

Another move that the Fire have reportedly been connected to is U.S. national teamer Alejandro Bedoya’s move to the Philadelphia Union. The Union are No. 2 in the league’s allocation order, which Bedoya is subject to, and the Fire hold the No. 1 spot. The Fire may be able to get some compensation, likely in the form of allocation money, from the Union for the top spot.

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.