Fire

Fire learn home opener, first three games of 2018 schedule

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USA TODAY

Fire learn home opener, first three games of 2018 schedule

The full 2018 schedule will wait, but for now we know the first three games the Fire will play, including the home opener.

Major League Soccer announced the home opener for all 23 teams on Tuesday and the Fire will begin the season March 3 at the Colorado Rapids. The home opener at Toyota Park will follow the next weekend on March 10 against Sporting Kansas City. The Fire will also travel to play Minnesota on March 17 for the Loons' home opener.

Kickoff at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, will be 8 p.m. on the opening Saturday of the season. Colorado is 14-3-5 is home openers all time and the two teams also opened the 2010 season in Colorado, which was a 2-2 draw.

Kickoff times for the Fire's home opener and the game in Minnesota remain unannounced. The Fire's trip to Minnesota will be the team's first with the only meeting between the 2017 expansion team and the Fire coming at Toyota Park.

This opening slate of games gives the Fire a good opportunity to get a strong start to the season. Colorado was one of the worst teams in the league in 2017. Minnesota also failed to make the playoffs, although the Loons did win in Toyota Park in late August.

Around the league, a pair of notable matchups during the opening weekend include an Eastern Conference final rematch between Toronto and Columbus, which will be the first game of the season, and the debut of Los Angeles FC, which will take place Sunday, March 4, at Seattle.

The rest of the schedule will be announced in January.

As the offseason marches on, the Fire avoided losing any players in the expansion draft for LAFC and also passed in the waiver and re-entry drafts. Stage 2 of the re-entry draft takes place Thursday and the next notable date on the offseason calender it the draft combine, which begins Jan. 13.

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.