Yallop implores Fire to show 'fight and spirit' in Columbus


Yallop implores Fire to show 'fight and spirit' in Columbus

The rivalry -- bound by geographical proximity and hostility -- between the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew SC has produced some memorable encounters since its inception in 1998.

History has favored the Men in Red, who've registered 24 victories in 54 league encounters between the two sides. But the Black & Gold have gradually stemmed the tide of the Fire's dominance in their last five MLS meetings -- notching three wins and two ties -- most recently demonstrated in Wednesday night's 1-0 triumph at Toyota Park. A 41st-minute goal from Kei Kamara sealed Crew SC's first win away from home all season, leaving Fire head coach Frank Yallop bemused by a grim first-half performance.        

"You've got to address Wednesday and then let it go," Yallop said Saturday. "We allowed a good team to play at our place and we can't let that happen again. It's a little different now, we're away from home, it's going to be baking hot. I want to see fight and spirit, not just from the start, but for the 90 minutes."

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On Sunday, Crew SC and the Fire converge for the third and final time in 2015, crowning the back end of their home-and-home series at Mapfre Stadium in front of a national audience (4 p.m. CT; ESPN2). The victory in midweek propelled Gregg Berhalter's group to second place in the Eastern Conference table, six points adrift of first-placed D.C. United and a comfortable seven points above the red line. Meanwhile, the Fire -- 11 points behind Crew SC -- are hoping to draw on a 2-2 draw against Columbus on May 22 as motivation to perhaps emerge from the Arch City with another result.

The Black & Gold have compiled a 6-2-2 record at home, losing out only to the New York Red Bulls in late March and the Montreal Impact on June 6. Moored to the foot of the standings on 18 points, the Men in Red know full well the task that lies ahead as they seek to buck the possibility of giving in to another losing trend.    

"I think it's been pretty solid," Yallop said when questioned about his team's leadership. "It's never easy when you're not winning and it's never easy when you haven't got the same lineup. You can't lead from the treatment room. It's about being on the field and doing it, and we've not had our most experienced players -- Jeff [Larentowicz], Shaun [Maloney] -- that much. It's hurt us a little bit.

"Leadership grows. You can't just snap your fingers, sign one guy and all of a sudden everyone gets led by him. It's got to grow and mature. I think we're in a position now where we're still behind, but we still have a chance. We're getting some of our guys back, and if we add to the squad -- which we're trying to do -- and get everyone on the field, we have no issues with it. In the meantime, when you're not winning it's tough."

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With matches coming thick and fast, the prospect of a quick turnaround -- pending Sunday's outcome -- could bode well for Yallop's delegation, which is relishing the opportunity to do a number on their counterparts and exact revenge for Wednesday's aftermath. 

"I'm excited about it, the guys can't wait to get after it," Yallop added. "They know that that [Columbus game] wasn't us. There's nothing better than a few days later, you get a chance to put it right. Columbus are a good side, I've said it all along. They're a good side at full strength. 

"I'm going to change our lineup just to be fresh. It's game management with our squad. With a Saturday-Wednesday schedule, bodies break down and we can't afford that right now. Guys will get a chance to play and hopefully it gets us a good result." 

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.