Fire

Weighing the chances of other Fire players making the MLS All-Star Game

Weighing the chances of other Fire players making the MLS All-Star Game

The Chicago Fire already have two All-Stars in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, but more may be on the way.

Nikolic and Schweinsteiger were voted into the Fan XI for the August 2 All-Star Game at Soldier Field. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic will select 11 more players and commissioner Don Garber will add the final two to make up a 23-man roster.

Who else might make that group for the Fire? Here’s a look at the chances at some other candidates for the Fire.

Dax McCarty, midfielder

Schweinsteiger is the bigger name and has the better career resume, but a strong argument can be made for McCarty being the Fire’s MVP this year.

McCarty has helped provide key defensive cover for the backline. The Fire’s defensive personnel is almost identical to last year with only Matt Polster, who has started just under half the team’s games, different from the defensive unit a year ago. Despite having similar personnel, the Fire have gone from a team that allowed the second most goals in the league in 2016 (58 in 34 matches) to one of just four teams that is allowing a goal or less per match. McCarty should get a lot of credit for that.

In the attack he has added three assists from a deep position in midfield and is regularly one of the highest-percentage passers on the team. He has helped turn the Fire into a team that was last in the league in possession last year to one that typically has a majority of the ball now.

On top of his two-way contributions, McCarty has been a positive voice in the locker room, always raising expectations and demanding more of the team in postgame comments. Plus, he has become a national team regular under coach Bruce Arena, giving him more cachet.

All-Star Game chances: Lock

David Accam, winger

Accam was good with the Fire his first two years, but he is having a breakout season. He has 10 goals and seven assists, putting him in elite goal-production territory.


Attacking positions have more competition to get on the All-Star roster in MLS, but Accam’s numbers are hard to leave off. Nikolic leads the league in goals plus assists (19) and second place is another Fan XI selection in New York City FC’s David Villa (18). Accam and Portland’s Diego Valeri have identical totals in both stats and both are safe bets to be included on the final roster.

All-Star Game chances: Near-lock

Brandon Vincent, left back

Vincent got a dubious All-Star selection last year as a rookie due to the simple fact that there aren’t many good fullbacks, especially left-sided ones, in MLS. This year, Vincent has turned into a weapon in the attack, contributing a goal and three assists, while continuing to show improvement on the defensive side. McCarty called him one of the top three left backs in the league earlier this season.

The potential downside for Vincent is that the Fire should have at least four others on the roster, meaning his inclusion would give the Fire nearly a quarter of the roster. In Vincent’s favor is that the game is being played in Chicago, which means his coach is picking almost all of the remaining players, and the Fire are tied for the best record in MLS. Going against him is that three of the Fan XI picks were fullbacks (former Fire player DaMarcus Beasley, Greg Garza and Graham Zusi), meaning only one or two more might be picked while center backs take up most of the spots going to defenders.

All-Star Game chances: Bubble selection

Matt Polster, right back

Fire fans have shown appreciation for Polster’s play of late and his name has been started to come up in All-Star discussion. There are a few problems for Polster’s chances though.

For one, he has started only nine matches for the Fire after missing the first two months of the season due to injury. On top of that, he was a bit shaky in those first few starts at right back as he readjusted to a position he hasn’t played consistently in his career.

Polster has four assists, including three in the last three matches, which is a very good return for 10 appearances as a right back. He has gotten better at positioning and service from attacking positions. He may be playing at a near All-Star level lately, but he doesn’t have the same body of work as Vincent and faces the same problems Vincent does in regards to having a bunch of teammates and three fullbacks already on the roster.

All-Star Game chances: Unlikely

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

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USA TODAY

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

Due to an early playoff exit, the players of the 2017 Chicago Fire have begun to disperse around the country to see family and friends back home during the offseason.

It’s not hard to make an argument that injuries played a significant part in the team’s playoff defeat. Michael de Leeuw went down on Sept. 30 with a torn ACL, Bastian Schweinsteiger played only 19 minutes in the last seven games of the season and Juninho wasn’t quite back to 100 percent when the playoffs rolled around. De Leeuw’s absence especially seemed to change the way the team played.

“Michael is loved by everyone in the locker room,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That’s off the field, but on the field he also put his best always. His quality, his mentality, character, leadership. He’s a winner, he wanted to win. That piece maybe we missed.”

More than five weeks after suffering the knee injury against New York City FC on Sept. 30, de Leeuw had his surgery on Thursday morning. Teenager Djordje Mihailovic suffered an ACL tear in the playoff loss nearly a full month after de Leeuw’s, but still had his surgery a week before the Dutchman.

“It was also my MCL,” de Leeuw said the day before his surgery. “It was a little bit sprained so that’s why they had to wait a little bit longer. Djordje only had his ACL, that’s why he already got surgery. When I saw he already got surgery I was like ‘S***, when is my turn? When can I go to the table?’ My knee is fine. It was a couple weeks longer, but it’s good now. It’s calm.”

De Leeuw said he was “a little bit” nervous going into the surgery because it was his first surgery. He had already been building his muscles, specifically quad strength, in advance of the procedure. The 31-year-old, who shared the team lead in assists with eight, will stay in Chicago for the rehab process.

He is under contract through 2018 with a club option for 2019. When asked about his long-term future, de Leeuw is confident he can return to 100 percent next season.

“I know my body,” he said. “I will be back for sure and I will be back stronger because I can do a lot of stuff in the gym now. That’s one thing I’m sure about. I will be back and I will be back stronger.

“I’m not done with the club and things I want to do here and accomplish here.”

[RELATED: Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason]

His, and Mihailovic’s, absence for the first part of 2018 will also have an impact on how the Fire approach this offseason. De Leeuw established himself as a regular starter and Mihailovic was starting to become a regular in the lineup towards the end of the year, especially after de Leeuw’s injury.

“We, for a while, had believed we had good depth, we had emerging talent on the attacking side,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “We could maybe disproportionately focus our attention in other areas, other lines of play, but we have to be realistic. They each could miss a large portion of the season so we have to reconsider our initial thoughts and revise our plan a little bit. For sure now, I think we’ll need to look to add some attacking piece because that’s a lot of minutes that we planned on that will need to be filled.”

Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason

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USA TODAY

Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason

It was locker clean out day for the Fire and while there was definitely a last day of school feel in the locker room, a number of the players left Toyota Park on Wednesday not knowing their immediate futures.

Just seven of the 30 players that finished 2017 on the roster have guaranteed contracts for 2018: Johan Kappelhof, Christian Dean, Jorge Corrales, David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Nemanja Nikolic and Luis Solignac. A healthy number more can safely head into the winter knowing they will have their team options picked up (Dax McCarty, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster to name a few), but plenty more face uncertainty.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the front office is “still discussing” which players will be brought back and which won’t. Rodriguez added that he is about halfway through exit interviews with the players and expects to finish them by the end of the week.

“The rules allow us to not to have to make that decision until late November, early December, the first day of December, so we won’t,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll take our time in doing that and we’ll explore internal options and options that may present themselves from the international market.”

The big question mark is German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 33-year-old is out of contract and is currently in Serbia with his Serbian wife, Ana Ivanovic.

“Our conversations I would characterize are going very well, very positively,” Rodriguez said. “We remain optimistic that Basti and we will reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

“I won’t put a timeline on it. I think Basti has proven his importance to our club and to our team and that remains a priority to bring him back.”

Along with Schweinsteiger, center back Joao Meira is the only other player not already guaranteed for 2018 that the Fire do not hold an option on.

Rodriguez admitted injuries will also play a part in the decision process. Accam had surgery to repair two hernias in his hip on Tuesday and is expected to be fully healthy by December, but de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic will miss a significant chunk of the 2018 season. Mihailovic already had his ACL surgery while de Leeuw's ACL surgery is scheduled for Thursday morning. The absence of those two players, who figured to be regulars next season, for what could be around half of the season alters Rodriguez's plan for 2018.

After a much-improved regular season, which saw the Fire finish with the third best record in the league, was followed up by a one-and-done playoff exit, the key this winter will be how much things should change.

“The arc of this offseason will be that delicate balance,” Rodriguez said. “We know we need to improve. We know we like our core, but change is inevitable. You can’t have both. We can’t fully retain this group and add pieces.”

While coach Veljko Paunovic, who denied any connection to the open Serbia national team job at the start of the press conference, has already been on a scouting trip and has others planned in Europe and South America, he said his first choice is to have the current players come back improved for next season.

“The guys that we decide to come back, they have to come back better than they left,” Paunovic said before calling adding other players Plan B.

So while there are only hints to go on for now, the first dominoes of the Fire’s offseason will take place in about three weeks time.