Fire

Yallop: 'Naive' Fire lament second half performance vs. D.C.

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Yallop: 'Naive' Fire lament second half performance vs. D.C.

In his weekly conference call Monday afternoon, head coach Frank Yallop forewarned his side of D.C. United’s knack for churning out results while occasionally not performing at their best. On Wednesday, Ben Olsen’s bruised and battered group proved precisely that, and why they deserve to sit atop the Eastern Conference.

After a 3-0 thumping of the Montreal Impact, the Chicago Fire reverted to losing ways with a 3-1 defeat to D.C. United at RFK Stadium, their first loss since stumbling to Real Salt Lake on May 9 and first against an in-conference opponent.

"For whatever reason we stopped playing in a certain part in the game and started trying to soak up pressure when we can’t do that," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "We were naïve a little bit tonight I think in the big picture and D.C. United kept going and were stronger than us.

"I haven’t seen the goals, so I have to look at them again on tape, but it’s never good to concede three goals at home or away but especially when you’re away and one goal up."

A hushed beginning to the match saw the Fire (4-6-2, 14 points) silence the home crowd in the 28th minute as Designated Player David Accam found the net for the third time in 2015. But a second-half brace from Jairo Arrieta and an insurance tally from Conor Doyle in the 75th minute secured all three points for the unflustered hosts, who extended their home unbeaten streak to 20 games, while the Men in Red slipped to seventh place in the standings.

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The Ghanaian found it difficult to establish a rhythm in the early going, but left back Joevin Jones’ darting run to elude multiple D.C. defenders in the fifth minute provided Frank Yallop’s side with the impetus to impose a similar strategy deployed against the Impact at Toyota Park five days earlier.

It was D.C., though, who would generate the first meaningful attack of the match, as Nick DeLeon was released into space behind the Fire back four, firing his cross-shot across Jon Busch - making his third consecutive start - only for the ‘keeper to palm comfortably wide.

Accam nearly produced the breakthrough in the 20th minute following Matt Polster’s break-up play in the midfield. The rookie collected the ball and darted toward D.C.’s defense to find the winger, but his sliding effort trickled inches wide of former Fire ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra’s goal.

In the 26th minute, D.C. defender Steven Birnbaum’s clumsy hand ball was whistled for a penalty kick, but Dykstra kept out skipper Jeff Larentowicz’s effort, before Accam struck a minute later.

Harry Shipp’s early recognition to find a sprinting Quincy Amarikwa - one of a bevy of changes to the Fire lineup - down the left flank resulted in a surprise 1-0 advantage to the visitors, as Accam latched onto a one-time, low driven cross from Amarikwa to bury past Dykstra and muzzle the 11,218 onlookers.

[MORE: Igboananike named to Team of the Week; Shipp up for Goal of the Week]

The second half saw a determined D.C. outfit take the game to the Men in Red, as substitute Fabian Espindola profoundly put his stamp on the match. After withstanding a quarter of an hour’s worth of pressure, Olsen’s delegation eventually breached an absorbent Fire defense.

Espindola’s corner kick delivery in the 61st minute was met by Arrieta, who lost his marks and headed past Busch to level the match at one apiece. Arrieta would inflict further damage eight minutes later, pouncing onto a loose ball in the box to fire past a stranded Busch once more.

Despite sending on the rested Razvan Cocis and Kennedy Igboananike in hopes of salvaging a third straight 2-2 draw on their travels, it was D.C. who struck again, this time via Conor Doyle, who provided the insurance goal with a tap-in in the 75th minute.

"For us, conceding three goals in any match is not good so we’ve got to look at it again, dig deep and get ready for Saturday’s game because it’s a big game for us," Yallop added.

For D.C., the victory cemented the team’s position at the summit of the Eastern Conference, while the loss marks the 15th game in which the Fire have failed to win on the road.

Next up, the Men in Red return for another quick turnaround with a home bout against expansion side Orlando City SC on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. on CSN.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Eric Gehrig, Joevin Jones; Michael Stephens (Razvan Cocis, 62'), Matt Polster, Matt Watson (Kennedy Igboananike, 70'), David Accam (Guly do Prado, 77'); Harry Shipp; Quincy Amarikwa.

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.