Yallop’s second half substitutions pay dividends in Fire’s draw with Crew SC


Yallop’s second half substitutions pay dividends in Fire’s draw with Crew SC

In its second consecutive fixture against an Eastern Conference opponent, the Chicago Fire snatched a late equalizer to earn a vital 2-2 draw against Columbus Crew SC Friday night.

Kei Kamara’s strikes in the eighth and 55th minutes - his eighth and ninth of 2015 - catapulted him above Clint Dempsey to the top of the MLS goalscoring chart, but goals from David Accam and Jason Johnson capped off a late surge from the Men in Red.

"Any time you can come back in a game like this is huge, against a very good team too," said head coach Frank Yallop after the match. "So, you got something out of the game and you come back, and I think the boys are really happy. I felt we, to be honest, we could’ve won it. We had the chances I thought late, but Columbus had a few as well so it was a pretty even game."

The brute, attacking force of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara was felt early on as the latter’s nonstop running kept the Fire’s back four on its toes. And it didn’t take long before the Sierra Leonean’s persistence paid off.

Following some skillful interplay, Meram was able to find a hint of space to thread a ball to Finlay, who unselfishly squared the ball to Kamara only for the in-form striker to tap in to give Crew SC an early 1-0 advantage.

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For the remainder of the first half, it was Crew SC who piled on the pressure while complacency began to set in just before the halftime whistle. Spurned opportunities and key saves from Jon Busch - who became the fourth player in MLS history to hit a 300-game milestone - left a pedestrian Fire somewhat relieved as Frank Yallop’s side went into the break still within arm’s reach.

Despite showing more gumption at the start of the second half, the Fire fell victim to Kamara yet again. In the 55th minute, an Higuain corner kick found the head of Kevan George, whose redirected effort landed at Busch’s back post for Kamara to nod home for his third brace of the season and give Crew SC a comfortable 2-0 lead.

The 35 minutes that ensued demonstrated flashes of the Men in Red’s collapse at the hands of New York City FC last week, when Yallop’s outfit succumbed to a late rally from the expansion side to only come away with a 2-2 draw. Only against Gregg Berhalter’s delegation, it was the Fire who took on the role of the aggressor and seized control of the match.

Three minutes after Kamara found the back of the net, Accam got on the end of a Kennedy Igboananike cross to nod home from close range, pulling the Fire back within a goal.

[RELATED: Fire seek to quell Crew SC's home form with three points]

With sustained pressure, second half substitutions from Yallop proved to be the difference on the night. As Crew SC sat back in their defensive half, Quincy Amarikwa and Jason Johnson provided the spark that perhaps went missing in a lax first half outing.

Just as it appeared as if luck was not on the Fire’s side - as Amarikwa ringed shots off the post and woodwork - it was Johnson who came to the Men in Red’s rescue. The former Houston Dynamo forward latched onto a cross from Eric Gehrig to head past a stranded Steve Clark in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time to give Yallop’s outfit a deserved point from Columbus.

"[I’m] very happy," Yallop said. "You put them on for a reason ... I said to the guys, well done to the team that started, but well done to the subs. They really made a difference in the match, seeing them sort through and could’ve won the game. So very happy with the all-around squad today."

It wasn’t pretty, but the Fire likely won’t be too bothered. After last week’s 2-2 draw elicited feelings of disappointment and regret, Friday’s 2-2 draw at MAPFRE Stadium will feel more like a win as the Men in Red return to Toyota Park next week to face the Montreal Impact.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-2-3-1): Jon Busch; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Joevin Jones; Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis (Quincy Amarikwa, 71'); Harry Shipp (Jason Johnson, 67'), Shaun Maloney, David Accam; Kennedy Igboananike (Guly do Prado, 83')

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.