Yallop: Open Cup a chance for Fire to get 'ship straightened'


Yallop: Open Cup a chance for Fire to get 'ship straightened'

Leading up to the Chicago Fire's fourth round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against Louisville City FC on June 16, the challenges of confronting a first-year USL side were perhaps somewhat underestimated.   

Second and third round victories over Lansing United (NPSL) and Indy Eleven (NASL) built momentum for James O'Connor's outfit, which nearly stunted the Men in Red's progress into the Round of 16. It was an aggravating performance that didn't sit well with head coach Frank Yallop, who, in his post match thoughts, was of the opinion that the Fire "were sleep walking through it and not applying ourselves."  

The Fire will have another go at a third-division club - the second in two weeks - as Mike Jeffries's Charlotte Independence visit Toyota Park Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. For Yallop - with an eye on Friday's MLS clash with the Houston Dynamo - deploying the strongest possible lineup will be troublesome while having to bear the brunt of a depleted group.

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"With our injury situation, there's not a lot of guys we can choose from right now," he said Monday via teleconference. "We'll have a strong lineup. We're trying to win the match; we want to do well in this competition. We'll lick our wounds and get ready for Friday, which will be a tough game for us going into Houston.

"Nothing changes. We're just trying to get the ship straightened and going in the right direction. It starts tomorrow night. We'll have strong lineups in both games to try to win them."

Since returning from international duty, David Accam's hamstring strain has kept the Ghanaian out of training and, along with fellow Designated Player Shaun Maloney (bulging disc), remains out of contention for Tuesday's fixture and is doubtful for Friday's trip to Houston.

Meanwhile, Patrick Nyarko, who last featured on October 18, 2014, will likely be on the bench Tuesday. Mike Magee, who's appeared in two of the Fire's last three MLS matches, "should be starting" against Charlotte, according to Yallop. Before departing for CONCACAF Gold Cup duty with Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday, Joevin Jones will also be available for selection. 

[MORE: Fire trade Quincy Amarikwa to San Jose, acquire Ty Harden]

With a route similar to that of Louisville's - wins over NPSL and NASL opposition in the previous stages - the Independence enter Tuesday's fixture fresh off a fourth-round triumph against the New England Revolution and are one of two non-MLS sides remaining in the competition.     

Led by captain Jorge Herrera, the midfield pivot and architect of the half-volley that sunk the Revolution, and former Polish international forward Tomasz Zahorski, Charlotte boast an ensemble of several players with MLS exposure. Among them is University of North Carolina standout Enzo Martinez and University of Connecticut product Carlos Alvarez, one of four Colorado Rapids loanees at Jeffries' disposal. Ryan Finley, a teammate of Harry Shipp at Notre Dame, has also found his form with a team-leading four goals.        

Yallop, commending USL's pedigree and Charlotte's resolve to come away with a win at New England, knows the talk of stringing results together has yet to manifest itself concretely. Progressing to the quarterfinal, however, could do well to help quell the pain of four consecutive league defeats.

“It’s a game that we want to come out and be on the front foot and push and try and get an early goal if we can,” he added. “Talking about it and doing it are two different things. I’m just excited to see how we come out and our demeanor. We’ve chatted a lot as a team. We’ve got to now start to dig deep and start to get results. I keep saying it, but we’ve got to start doing it.”

The match, slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, will stream live on with the broadcast tandem of Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan on the call.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.