Fire

U.S. Soccer faces must-win at Soldier Field

U.S. Soccer faces must-win at Soldier Field

It’s must-win time for U.S. Soccer.

The men’s national team takes on Costa Rica at Soldier Field on Tuesday in the Copa America Centenario and, after dropping a 2-0 game to Colombia in the opener, it will be a must-win game.

No one is denying that.

“I think we all do understand what’s at stake,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said at his press conference on Monday. “It’s a must-win situation when you lose your first one. There’s only two games left so you got to get your first three points and then you see how things will play out in the third game. Tomorrow night we are full of energy, full of optimism to get those three points.”

Costa Rica is coming off a scoreless draw with Paraguay so they sit just one point ahead of the U.S. With Colombia looming in Costa Rica’s finale, Tuesday’s game is crucial for both sides.

“I think it is going to be a defining game in our group,” Costa Rica manager Oscar Ramirez said through a translator.

There is pressure on both teams, but it’s not hard to make the argument about how there could be more for the Americans. A loss would eliminate the U.S., but even a tie would require the U.S. to get some help from other results to get out of Group A.

The last time Costa Rica beat the U.S. on American soil in something other than a friendly was 1989. That’s a different era for U.S. Soccer, back before the U.S. started making every World Cup.

“In a tournament like this if you don’t get points in the first game, right away in the second game it’s important to turn around and get a result,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We certainly understand that.”

Much has been made of how Jurgen Klinsmann spoke about the team’s performance against Colombia. Despite the 2-0 loss, Klinsmann again repeated that he thought it was “a good performance.”

Defender Geoff Cameron stuck to that tune as well on Monday.

“We watched video, we see things, we know as players we can do things better, but we can take positives out of the game,” Cameron said. “Colombia is No. 3 in the world, they’re a very good team, they have a lot of good players, but they didn’t play us off the pitch. Two goals, a penalty and a set piece. That’s not saying they dominated us or crushed us.”

Regardless of how the performance against Colombia is viewed, the U.S. has to play better or else it could be the first team out of the tournament.

“We need to play better,” Bradley said. “There’s no question about that. To win big games you need a lot of guys to have good days.”

Bradley is the son of former Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley and as a result spent some of his childhood in the Chicago area. After playing in front of a crowd that appeared to have more Colombia fans than U.S. fans, Bradley was asked if Chicago would have a more pro-U.S. crowd.

“We certainly hope,” Bradley said. “But the reality is that we never know exactly what to expect in terms of the makeup of the crowd.”

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.