Fire

USMNT wins to preserve bragging rights over Mexico

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USMNT wins to preserve bragging rights over Mexico

A pro-Mexico crowd inside the Alamodome was silenced after Stanford University's Jordan Morris and New England Revolution's Juan Agudelo scored in the 49th and 72nd minutes to lift the Americans to a 2-0 'Dos a Cero' victory over their noisy neighbors.

When the two teams last met a year ago, Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando and LA Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez were in the starting lineup on April 2, 2014 in the 2-2 draw in Glendale, Ariz. A 2-0 lead was cancelled out with two Mexico goals in the second half, a corresponding theme in this year's side, with the Americans routinely falling victim to conceding late goals.

Ahead of Wednesday night's clash, Jurgen Klinsmann's side has shipped eight goals in the 80th minute or later, but the U.S. kept their lead intact and were scarcely threatened.

Another installment of the historic rivalry between the bordering nations, equipped with political and economic overtones in years past, played out in San Antonio, albeit much of the narrative in the buildup to the clash chiefly surrounded the poor state of the pitch, and rightly so.

[RELATED: U.S. Soccer headlines ahead of match vs. Mexico]

Both sides were bogged down with a bobbly and unkempt surface, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann and Miguel Herrera's outfit with limited, half chances in the opening 45 minutes.   

Early, positive pressure from the Americans penned the Mexicans in their own half early on. With Beckerman at the base and Bradley at the point in Klinsmann's 4-4-2 diamond setup, the U.S. midfield remained plucky and resolute throughout, but struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities by the time the halftime whistle blew. 

As they emerged from the halftime break, the U.S. were aided with three second-half substitutions. The NASL's lone representative Miguel Ibarra was sent on for Joe Corona, while Greg Garza and Nick Rimando made way for Brek Shea and William Yarbrough.

The immediate changes gave a fresh look to a side that struggled to establish a rhythm in the first half, and the tide turned quickly.

[MORE: Klinsmann names 22-man roster for U.S. vs. Mexico]

In the 49th minute, Morris instinctually latched onto a fortuitous play with one touch and a nice finish all that was needed to slide the ball under the sliding Mexican 'keeper.

Less than a quarter of an hour after notching the eventual game-winner, Morris made way for Agudelo, making his first appearance for the U.S. since a five-minute cameo against Ukraine in March 2014.

The Revolution forward latched onto a superb, floated and trademark delivery from Bradley and with a sublime first touch, tucked away his shot to double the Americans' advantage and see the game through. 

With the victory, the U.S. improved to 15-11-8 against Mexico on home soil and 10-8-2 all-time in Texas venues, all while extending its unbeaten streak against El Tri to six games.

U.S. Starting XI (subs):

(4-4-2): Nick Rimando (William Yarbrough, 46'); DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Ventura Alvarado, Greg Garza (Brek Shea, 46'); Kyle Beckerman (Perry Kitchen, 63'), Mix Diskerud (Brad Evans, 80'), Joe Corona (Miguel Ibarra, 46'), Michael Bradley (C); Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris (Juan Agudelo, 65')

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.