Fire

Yallop lauds Fire win over RBNY: 'That's the kind of football I like'

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Yallop lauds Fire win over RBNY: 'That's the kind of football I like'

During a season that's materialized as more streaky than steady, little can be said about the Fire's ability to stifle some of MLS' more powered and potent teams within the confines of Toyota Park.

The Men in Red have defied the likes of Seattle Sounders FC and FC Dallas en route to shutout victories in July and August, a gratifying feeling felt once again Wednesday night in Bridgeview as Frank Yallop's side overcame an early deficit against the high-flying New York Red Bulls to record a 3-2 win in front of an announced crowd of 11,196.

Two goals from Kennedy Igboananike and a strike by Patrick Nyarko - with two assists from Designated Player Gilberto - helped the Fire (7-13-5, 26 points) extend their home unbeaten streak against Jesse Marsch's outfit to 14 games since 2005. The result effectively ended the Red Bulls' (11-7-6, 39 points) run of six unbeaten in MLS regular season play heading into Wednesday's contest. 

"Great result, that's the big thing for me," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "Good performance, too. I was very happy with all the guys tonight. We dug deep tonight, and got a great result against a good team.

"MLS is built on parity and it showed tonight. We beat Dallas, who were on a five-game winning streak. ... We beat Seattle when they were pretty hot, too. This league's even, and it's tiny little things that make the difference in games. Tonight, we got the rub of the green, or the bounce of the ball, if you like. ... That's the sort of football I like. I want to go out and attack teams, get at teams and I thought we did that."

[RELATED: Fire to persevere in final stretch: 'Our leaders have not quit']

Yallop made two changes from the side that fell, 1-0, to the Colorado Rapids Saturday night with Razvan Cocis and Gilberto making their return to the starting lineup, replacing Matt Watson and Harry Shipp, respectively.

After engaging in some back and forth during the early stages, the visitors struck first, with Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz hauling down Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga in the box, leaving referee Allen Chapman with no choice but to award a spot kick, which was coolly slotted home by Sacha Kljestan in the 10th minute.

From there, Yallop's group responded with might, forcing Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles into four, big first-half saves. Nyarko had an effort from close range forcefully palmed aside before Cocis had a header parried away in the 20th minute.

Two minutes later, the Men in Red found their equalizer. Matt Polster stepped up from his right back position to expertly dispossess New York in the midfield, allowing a composed Gilberto to find Igboananike darting into space, who dispatched past Robles.

The Fire kicked on, seeing another header by Gilberto denied before Nyarko delivered the hosts' second goal. With Gilberto at the heart of the move once more, the Brazilian pinged a driven cross to Michael Stephens, who chested down for Nyarko at the top of the box. The Ghanain spun well and fired his effort past a helpless Robles to give the Fire a deserved lead heading into the halftime interval.   

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In the second stanza, the Red Bulls fired back, pulling a goal back through a cheeky restart on a corner kick, allowing Kljestan to carry out of the corner and set up defender Ronald Zubar to stab home for the equalizer in the 49th minute.

With just over 15 minutes remaining, the Men in Red's determination paid dividends. Second-half substitute Harry Shipp linked up with Stephens, whose lovely outside-of-the-boot pass found a streaking Accam down the left side in the 73rd minute. The Ghanaian slid a ball across the face of goal to Igboananike, who buried past a diving Robles to seal all three points, the Fire's first since the 2-0 victory over Dallas on Aug. 2.

"I'm forever optimistic," Yallop added when asked about the team's playoff potential. "We've got a big, big hill to climb to make the playoffs, but we've got to keep going, keep moving on. We can't worry if we're playing away or at home, but we've got to maintain our focus, and make sure that we try to play the right way.

"Tonight was a good example of a good-spirited win. ... [It's] good momentum for our tough run coming up."

Next up for the Fire is a trip to face Orlando City SC at the Citrus Bowl on Saturday - the first of a three-match road trip - which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT on CSN+.   

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones (Lovel Palmer, 76'); Patrick Nyarko (Harry Shipp, 72'), Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens, David Accam; Gilberto (Jason Johnson, 62'), Kennedy Igboananike. 

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.