Fire

Fire trade up in draft, select Hermann Trophy winner Jon Bakero

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USA TODAY

Fire trade up in draft, select Hermann Trophy winner Jon Bakero

After trading down in each of the past two drafts, the roles were reversed for the Fire and general manager Nelson Rodriguez.

The Fire traded up to the No. 5 spot, sending $75,000 of General Allocation Money, $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money, the Fire’s natural first round pick at No. 15 and goalkeeper Matt Lampson to Minnesota. With that pick the Fire took Jon Bakero, an attacking player who won the MAC Hermann Trophy, college’s soccer version of the Heisman Trophy, this fall.

Bakero comes in with a heck of a resume and a background. The Wake Forest forward scored 37 goals and had 26 assists in four years. As a senior he had 16 goals and 14 assists in 23 games.

"Jon Bakero was, for us, the player who fit both some needs that we had in our proposed style of play best in the draft," Rodriguez said after the draft. "Our character assessment of him came back with a very, very high score. We also thought that his personality, competitiveness, his desire and drive to improve would fit well in our environment. When he was still there at five, we saw an opening to try to take advantage of that. We know that there were some teams between five and 15 that had targeted Jon as well and we felt we needed to be bold in making that move.

On top of his college accomplishments, Bakero is the son of Jose Mari Bakero, who played for Barcelona for a decade and played in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. The Spanish-born player will count as an international on the Fire’s roster, but offseason moves have cleared out international slots.


Bakero is noted for his technical ability on the ball and his ability to create chances for himself and his teammates. He played as a striker in college, but in coach Veljko Paunovic’s system he could be used as the attacker underneath Nemanja Nikolic, a role that Michael de Leeuw played in 2017 before getting hurt. With de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic expected to miss at least a few months of the 2018 season, Bakero should have a chance to start right away based on the current roster.

“I think Jon has some versatility to his game," Rodriguez said. "We feel he can play beneath Nemanja, alongside Nemanja, instead of Nemanja. He doesn’t have the pace to play as an out and out winger, but he’s a very mobile player. So even if he starts centrally he can get out wide, get isolated against defenders. He has a very, very high soccer IQ and a very good ability to play one-touch.

Bakero was named MVP of the combine leading into the draft. Last year the Fire took Daniel Johnson in the first round after Johnson caught some eyes by standing out at the combine.

Not longer after dealing for Bakero, the Fire traded up to the No. 10 spot. Real Salt Lake gave the Fire the pick in exchange for $85,000 of GAM. The Fire then took Syracuse midfielder Mo Adams.

Adams is a Generation Adidas player, meaning he left college early (after two years) and won't count against the salary cap as a rookie. Adams is from England and plays a defensive midfield role. He could play as a backup to Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty as a rookie.


"With Mo Adams we had inquired about acquiring Real Salt Lake’s selection, 10th overall, a few days ago when we were in Florida," Rodriguez said. "At that moment in time we came back to them, increased our offer and were pleased to be able to select Mo as well.”

In the second round, the Fire added Clemson attacking midfielder Diego Campos with the 38th pick. Campos had 10 goals and nine assists this fall as a senior. Campos was born in Costa Rica.

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.