Fire

Venezuela tops Jamaica in Soldier Field's Copa America opener

Venezuela tops Jamaica in Soldier Field's Copa America opener

For the first act of Soldier Field’s Copa America Centenario games, Jamaica-Venezuela was a good appetizer.

The match had an early goal, a number of chances for both teams, the tournament’s first red card, what will go down as one of the best saves of the tournament and even had one of the managers sent to the stands..

The Venezuelans beat Jamaica 1-0 in front of 25,560 in Chicago in the Group C opener for both teams.

Josef Martinez scored a 15th minute goal and Jamaica’s Rodolph Austin was given a red card in the 23rd minute, which changed the dynamic of the rest of the match.

Jamaica hit the goal frame in each half, a Je-Vaughn Watson header off a corner kick in the 12th minute and a Michael Hector curling shot in the 48th, but was unable to score.

“I think it shows our camaraderie and our team spirit that we didn’t concede another goal and we kept on going,” said Jamaica forward Giles Barnes, who plays for the Houston Dynamo. “We still went forward, we still created chances.“

Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union played his part to keep the Jamaicans in it with an impressive diving save after a diving header from Wuilker Angel in the second half. Blake and Barnes were two of five Jamaican starters who play in Major League Soccer.

One of the big storylines for the match was the status of Wes Morgan. The Jamaican defender captained Leicester City to the English Premier League title this past season, but was a late arrival to Jamaica’s training camp.

Neutral fans were probably hoping to see a Premier League-winning captain in person. They had to wait until the 40th minute when he replaced Kemar Lawrence, who left with a groin injury.

“I only trained twice since I joined up with the squad and the boys have been together in camp for over a week and they had a performance against Chile,” Morgan said. “I feel like I could have done with a few more training sessions definitely. The manager asked me how I felt so I said I felt OK. I let him make the decision.”

As for that manager, Winfried Schaefer was sent off by the referee after halftime, which added an extra unusual element to the match.

Jamaica didn’t allow any goals after Morgan entered the match, but the damage was already done.

“By the time Wes Morgan entered the match we were already in control,” Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said through a translator.

Both Jamaica and Venezuela are underdogs to advance from Group C with Mexico and Uruguay as the heavy favorites to take the top two spots. Jamaica is in a deeper hole and will next take on Mexico at the Rose Bowl on Thursday in a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup final. Venezuela faces off against Uruguay in Philadelphia on the same day.

As for what’s next for Soldier Field, the U.S. will take on Costa Rica on Tuesday. The Americans are coming off a 2-0 loss to Colombia while Costa Rica drew 0-0 with Paraguay. It is virtually a must-win if the U.S. is to advance out of the group.

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.