Fire

What’s in the future for the U.S. national team? Perhaps two Fire players

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USA TODAY

What’s in the future for the U.S. national team? Perhaps two Fire players

In the aftermath of the U.S. national team failing to qualify for the World Cup, fans are somewhere in the stages of grief.

Past that is a chance to look ahead to the future. The U.S. men don’t play a competitive game at the senior level until the 2019 Gold Cup. There’s always a long gap after a World Cup, but add another eight months to that by missing out on the World Cup and that becomes a very long time between truly meaningful matches.

What that gap should provide is an opportunity for younger players newer to the national team setup to get more chances in the coming months. Two players that may be given those chances are Fire fullbacks Brandon Vincent, 23, and Matt Polster, 24.

Vincent, the Fire’s second-year left back who has shown notable improvement from his rookie season, has already been capped with the senior national team. He appeared as a substitute against Canada in a friendly in February 2016. He was a part of the annual January camps where a group of mostly MLS players in their offseasons join the national team while the European-based players remain with their clubs while those seasons hit the midway point.

Polster has moved between a central defensive midfield role and right back in his three seasons with the Fire. He was a part of the failed Olympic qualifying team in 2016 and also took part in that same January camp as Vincent, but did not play. Polster was included in the preliminary roster for this summer’s Gold Cup, but was not selected to the final group.

Both have been key to the Fire’s success this year with the Fire’s streak of six losses in seven matches happening when both were out injured.

Vincent’s reaction to the American failure was more from the fan’s perspective than a player's.

“I don’t know if I’m even close to being in the conversation so it’s more of a fan type view for me,” Vincent said. “It’s gonna be weird not watching them.”

Polster related to some of the younger players on the team he has played with.

“I think the biggest thing is it’s just disappointing for all the guys,” Polster said. “They put a lot of effort in and obviously it didn’t go in their favor. To go through the entire hex and not qualify is disappointing, especially for the young guys like (Christian) Pulisic, (Kellyn) Acosta, (Paul) Arriola…. To not get that experience at a young age is disappointing.”

Polster played right back in Olympic qualifying, but was still playing midfield with the Fire at the time. This season, he has moved to right back and looked better at that spot than he did when he played there as a rookie. Fullbacks have always been hard to come by for the U.S. so Polster could at least be in the conversation going forward. He even had his own ambitions for trying to squeeze into this World Cup roster.

“The ultimate goal was that they’d qualify and hopefully I could make January camp and then I could turn some heads,” Polster said. “That was my thought process and I really wanted to give it a go. Hopefully I can do what I can to maybe help and be a part of it one day.”

If Polster has extra value for playing right back, Vincent may get double points for being a left-footed left back. His national team prospects may be greater than Polster’s for that reason.

“I’ll do everything I can to play as well as I can and improve as much as I can, but getting in that group is out of my hands,” Vincent said. “It’s not really my thing to worry about as long as I produce on the field here in Chicago, that’s all I can focus on.”

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

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USA TODAY

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

Whenever a famous couple in the world of soccer has a child, there are always jokes about what national teams the kid could play for.

The latest such addition to the gossip columns is the announcement from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic that they are expecting a child.

Ivanovic, a former tennis pro who won the 2008 French Open champion, announced the news on Twitter with a sponsor-heavy photo.

Schweinsteiger, who played with the Fire this past season, also took to Twitter to share a photo and the news.

Schweinsteiger's future with the Fire remains unclear, but him and Ivanovic seemed to be happy living in Chicago, making various appearances at sporting events in the city. If he returns and the child is born in Chicago, does that mean we could one day see a Schweinsteiger repping the U.S. national team in 20-something years? Maybe the men's team won't be a national embarrassment by then, but then again, if it's a girl she'd be able to pick between the only multiple-time World Cup winning nations (U.S. and Germany).

Perhaps the child would take after Ivanovic and hit volleys with a racket instead of a foot, or maybe he or she will not take after the professional athlete parents.

In all seriousness, congratulations to both Schweinsteiger and Ivanovic.

USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

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USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

Stadium talk is always circling around Major League Soccer and that goes double for the Chicago Fire, which has been criticized for playing in suburban Bridgeview since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

That's why the Chicago Tribune's story about a United Soccer League expansion team playing at a proposed 20,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in Chicago is such a big deal. According to the report and confirmed by a USL spokesperson, real estate developer Sterling Bay has purchased the rights to a USL expansion team. The stated goal is to begin play in 2020.

The details of the stadium are not finalized so the features and capacity could still change.

The proposed location of the stadium is along the North Branch of the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Kennedy Expressway. The stadium was previously mentioned as part of Sterling Bay's bid to bring Amazon's second headquarters to Chicago. A spokesperson for Sterling Bay confirmed that the stadium being built is not contingent on Amazon coming to Chicago, it will happen regardless.

Further information from Sterling Bay said that "announcements on ownership and team structure will come at a later date." The team does not yet have a name, but fans will be included in the naming process.

A 20,000-seat stadium and a retractable roof will make for a fancy and impressive, but also expensive venue and a USL team as a primary tenant may prove difficult to justify the cost. The location itself would be an easier sell to draw in fans than Toyota Park out in Bridgeview. However, minor league soccer may not excite local residents in large number.

The USL had 30 teams in 2017 with eight more teams planned to join by 2019. This past season, only two USL teams averaged above 10,000 in attendance: FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. Both of those are prime MLS expansion candidates and Cincinnati beat the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup in front of 32,287 fans in June.

Many USL clubs are either owned/operated by MLS teams or are affiliated with an MLS team. The Fire switched from Saint Louis FC to the Tulsa Roughnecks as its affiliated club in 2017, sending players to Tulsa to gain playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench with the Fire.

According to the Tribune's story, the stadium would also try to attract other events such as international soccer matches, college football, college basketball and concerts. Rugby and lacrosse were also named in documentation sent by Sterling Bay. Sterling Bay has also yet to present formal plans and still needs to gain zoning approval.

At the Fire's end of the season media availability on Nov. 7, general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about the proposed stadium and if he or MLS had been contacted about it.

“I can’t speak about MLS," Rodriguez said. "I don’t know if they have or have not. I have not. I haven’t spoken, been approached by anyone. I’m not sure I would be the person they approach or speak to, but I’m not aware of any conversations.”

The Fire moving to this stadium could be an ideal solution for both parties. An MLS team with an existing fan base would have an easier time drawing big crowds. Boosted by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Fire drew crowds of 20,000 or more six times in 2017. The regular season average of 17,383 was the highest since moving to Toyota Park and highest since the club's inaugural, championship-winning season in 1998.

However, things aren't that simple. The Fire are locked into a 30-year lease with Bridgeview and Toyota Park, which the Fire have played in since 2006. Getting out of that would require a significant buyout or a breach of contract.