Fire

Young Red Stars hope for title push in 2016

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Chicago Red Stars

Young Red Stars hope for title push in 2016

One look at the Chicago Red Stars roster will show something a bit unusual: the oldest player on the team is 27 years old.

The Red Stars, which begin their fourth season in the National Women’s Soccer League Saturday at Houston, had four players over 30 last season. All four of them departed in the offseason, including U.S. Women’s National Team players Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx to retirement.

“I would not say 26 is old, but apparently it is,” joked midfielder Alyssa Mautz, who is entering her fifth season with the Red Stars. “I think it’s more so we’re able to cover more space. We have more athletes.”

The oldest player on the team is national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who turns 28 on April 20. Naeher, who was on the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster for the U.S., was acquired in the offseason.

“She is a huge addition for us,” forward Jen Hoy said. “She brings a lot of experience and composure to our team and our back line.

“She’s definitely a really great presence at the back.”

Naeher joins two teammates, forward Christen Press and defender Julie Johnston, from that World Cup roster. Press led the team with 10 goals in just 11 games last season.

Sofia Huerta had six goals in 2015 and will support Press in the attack along with Hoy, who had four goals and four assists. Those two will have to carry the offensive load while Press and the national teamers compete in the Olympics in August.

A few local additions will get to play in front of friends and family during home games at Toyota Park, where the Red Stars moved back to this season. Katie Naughton, a defender from Elk Grove and Notre Dame, was the Red Stars’ first pick in the draft. Fellow Chicago area products Courtney Raetzman and Sarah Gorden, both from Conant High School, are also rookies this year.

The Red Stars are hoping the youth movement will pay off and the team can improve on last year’s 8-3-9 record and go deeper in the playoffs. In 2015 the Red Stars made the playoffs for the first time in the NWSL before losing to eventual champion FC Kansas City in the semifinals.

“We’re happy we finally broke that barrier of getting to the playoffs,” Mautz said. “Our goal is to make the championship game.”

The home opener is April 23 against Western New York.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

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

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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.