Fire

Fire 'barely put up a fight' in beginning of playoff exit

Fire 'barely put up a fight' in beginning of playoff exit

The Fire’s playoff run was over less than 15 minutes after it started so what the heck happened?

From the run of play the Fire were competitive with the New York Red Bulls with both possession and total shots being fairly even. However, two defensive blunders, with multiple players at fault on each of the early goals, put the Fire down 2-0 in 11 minutes.

There was no coming back from that and once the team sent numbers forward late in the second half to try to come back, New York put the game away. The 4-0 loss was a sour way for the Fire’s season to end.

“I thought we got outplayed all over the field,” said midfielder Dax McCarty, a former Red Bulls player. “That’s a team that’s been battle tested in the playoffs now for five, six years. They’ve experienced a lot of hard games, a lot of tough games in the playoffs. They’ve experienced a lot of disappointed in the playoffs and we aren’t quite there yet.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger didn’t start and played only 25 minutes after coming off a calf injury. While the German said he felt good, there wasn’t much he could do. Five minutes after he entered the match, the Red Bulls took a 3-0 lead.

Coach Veljko Paunovic wasn’t angry or despondent in his postgame press conference. He tried to stay upbeat while looking towards next year. He also took the blame for the ugly 4-0 loss.

“It’s my fault,” Paunovic said. “Obviously it’s my fault. If there is somebody to blame it’s my fault because I think we all could do better.”

[RELATED: Even after playoff failure, Fire's season marked significant progress]

The Fire finished with the third best record in Major League Soccer, but laid an egg in the postseason. There’s plenty of ways to look at that. The team didn’t have enough experience, they were shorthanded due to injuries, they played tight.

Throw any excuse out there, all that matters is the team made a quick exit out of the playoffs and now the offseason has begun.

“It’s just frustrating that we lost and we lost in such a frustrating manner,” McCarty said. “We worked hard, we showed heart, but realistically we barely put up a fight there in the beginning. I thought the first 20 minutes we were struggling to feel like we were in a playoff game. You can’t do that if you want to win.”

Schweinsteiger’s future, along with the futures of many players, will remain in question for the coming weeks. The German’s final words of his first year with the Fire were all positive. He spoke positively about the coaching staff and the teammates, but admitted the team wasn’t good enough yet to win a title.

“I think it was a great success, achievement, what we did this season,” Schweinsteiger said. “I think you need to add one or the other piece. If you have 10 steps, I think we took seven. Eight, nine, 10 those are the hardest ones.”

McCarty echoed Schweinsteiger’s sentiment.

“A lot of guys took a big step forward, but we just weren’t quite ready to make a real realistic push at a championship and that showed in our performance tonight,” McCarty said.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

schwein-221.jpg
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

polster-217.jpg
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.