Fire

On the eve of playoffs, Fire drawing eerie similarities to 2012

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USA TODAY

On the eve of playoffs, Fire drawing eerie similarities to 2012

The last time the Fire made the playoffs was 2012 and there are a few striking similarities between that year’s Fire team and the 2017 version.

In 2012, the Fire had a second-year coach (Frank Klopas) and were coming off consecutive years of missing the playoffs. The Fire missed the postseason in 2010 and 2011, but stormed through the regular season with 17-11-6 mark. That was the best points per game record since the Fire’s Supporters’ Shield-winning 2003 team.

The ‘12 Fire began the season with a so-so record, going 5-5-3 to start the season. During that period, the Fire lost on the road to a minor-league team, the Michigan Bucks, in extra time in the U.S. Open Cup.

Then the team got hot with an 11-3-2 run through summer and into the early fall. The Fire were as high as second in the Eastern Conference standings, but lost a big showdown with conference-leading Kansas City before dropping a home match to a Philadelphia team well out of the race the following match.

The Fire went 1-3-1 in the final five matches of the regular season and fell to fourth in the standings, just missing out on a first-round bye (this is when five teams made the playoffs from each conference so there were three byes on each side as opposed to the two now). In the playoffs, the Fire hosted a Houston team in the first round that had lots of playoff experience and had made the MLS Cup final the year before. Houston won 2-1, ending the Fire’s season earlier than expected.

Entering this year, the Fire had a second-year coach (Veljko Paunovic) and were coming off missing the postseason for the previous four years, but easily qualified for the playoffs with a 16-11-7 record. That’s the best record since that 2012 season.

This year’s Fire began the season with a so-so record, going 3-3-3 to start the season. Then the team got hot with an 8-0-2 run through late spring and into the middle of summer. During that period, the Fire lost on the road to a minor-league team, FC Cincinnati, in penalty kicks in the U.S. Open Cup. The Fire were leading MLS at the peak, but dropped off a bit and lost a big showdown with league-leading Toronto before dropping a home match to a Minnesota team well out of the race the following match.

The Fire went 5-8-2 in the final 15 matches of the regular season and fell to third in the standings, just missing out on a first-round bye. In the playoffs, the Fire host a New York Red Bulls team in the first round that has lost of playoffs experience, having made it to now eight straight postseasons.

Will the end result be the same?

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.