Fire

What to watch for in the Fire's preseason opener

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What to watch for in the Fire's preseason opener

The Chicago Fire open up preseason play on Saturday with a match against the University of South Florida at 4 p.m. CT.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Fire after a busy offseason. Figuring out what this team will look like is no easy task giving the large number of unknowns and new players. The preseason, let alone the first preseason game against a college team out of season, won’t answer those questions.

With that said, here are some things to watch for if you tune into the web stream of Saturday’s game:

How does the team line up?

The Fire are missing six players in camp. Sean Johnson, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent are still with the national team and are expected to join the Fire on Monday. New acquisitions in the defense, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos, are not yet with the team either. That means there won’t be a first view of a true starting lineup, but somethings can be learned from who plays where positionally and what the starting formation is.

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How do the rookies look?

Vincent may be gone, but Jonathan Campbell and homegrowns Joey Calistri and Drew Conner are both already signed. With Meira and Kappelhof not in camp, Campbell should get an extended look. In addition, fellow draft picks Alex Morrell, Vincent Keller and Vincent Mitchell have an opportunity to make an impression.

Who plays out wide?

The Fire don’t have many wide midfielders on the roster. David Accam plays out wide, but more as a winger than a midfielder. Morrell and trialist Arturo Alvarez are more naturally wide midfielders, but neither has a guaranteed roster spot at the moment. Saturday’s match could provide a view into how the Fire plan to create width with a roster thin at that position.

Will the Fire build out of the back?

Against a college team the Fire will be expected to control the play, but will the emphasis Paunovic has put on building from the back be evident? The way the Fire build up in attack could be a telling sign of how Paunovic plans to have the team play, even if a number of key personnel will be missing.

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What will the attack look like?

The defense may be missing a number of key players, but the attack is intact. How will David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, Gilberto and Harry Shipp play together in Paunovic’s system? Without any additions at forward this offseason these four players will be asked to carry the team’s attack, yet they were on the field at the same time for just 28 minutes last season. Gilberto made 10 appearances with the Fire after making his debut on Aug. 22, but by the time he started playing a full 90 minutes Shipp and Igboananike were not used as regular starters. How this group lines up and plays together will be one of the key storylines of the preseason.

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.