Dax McCarty

Fire's Dax McCarty makes first World Cup qualifier appearance in dominant American win

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ESPN

Fire's Dax McCarty makes first World Cup qualifier appearance in dominant American win

Everyone can take a deep breath: the U.S. is going to the World Cup.

In what was nearly literally a must-win, the Americans dominated Panama to the tune of a 4-0 win Friday night in Orlando. The win didn't lock up a World Cup berth for the U.S., but it put the U.S. back in one of the three automatic qualifying positions from CONCACAF with one game remaining, which will be at last place Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

Borussia Dortmund teenage midfielder Christian Pulisic stole the show with an early goal and set up the second goal with an assist to Jozy Altidore. With the game in hand by halftime, Pulisic was taken out 10 minutes into the second half. The man who replaced him is familiar to Chicago Fire fans.

Dax McCarty entered in the 56th minute for Pulisic and finished the match. McCarty is an Orlando native, which meant the game was a homecoming for him.

He nearly had an assist when he set up Paul Arriola in a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, but Arriola was denied in the breakaway in the 80th minute.

McCarty has been called in to every World Cup qualifying roster since Bruce Arena took over as coach, but hadn't got off the bench. This marked his first appearance in a World Cup qualifier.

International call-ups will be homecomings for two Fire players

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USA TODAY

International call-ups will be homecomings for two Fire players

Dax McCarty continues to get consistently called into the U.S. national team, but he wasn't the only Fire player to receive a call-up for the upcoming international window.

Arturo Alvarez will be rejoining El Salvador for an Oct. 8 friendly against Canada. Alvarez had been a mainstay for El Salvador with 43 caps in his career, but hasn't appeared for the national team since Oct. 2015.

As an added benefit for Alvarez, the game will serve as a homecoming. The game will be played in his native home of Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Houston Dynamo. Alvarez, 32, is American born, but of Salvadoran descent and has represented El Salvador since 2009.

McCarty joins the U.S. for the final two World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF. The U.S. still hasn't clinched a spot in the World Cup and needs to get points in the final two qualifiers. The U.S. hosts Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, McCarty's native home, before traveling to Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10

The Fire don't play again until Oct. 16, a home game against Philadelphia, so neither player is expected to miss time with the Fire.

Fire go cross-country while Bastian Schweinsteiger's injury looms

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Fire go cross-country while Bastian Schweinsteiger's injury looms

On Saturday the Fire played at Philadelphia, a team out of the playoff race with an average home record, and lost. Now the Fire head to San Jose, a team with plenty to play for and only one loss at home this year.

The Earthquakes are 8-1-5 at home this season and square on the playoff bubble with less than a month remaining in the regular season. San Jose (11-13-6, 39 points) is tied with Houston on points for the sixth and final playoff spot, but the Dynamo hold a game in hand.

The Fire play at San Jose Wednesday on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Both teams played three times zones away from San Jose on Saturday. While the Fire lost at the Union, the Earthquakes got smoked 4-0 by D.C. United in RFK Stadium’s second to last MLS game.

The long travel on short rest makes the game tricky for both, but that’s not how Fire midfielder Dax McCarty sees it.

“I think it’s good to have a lot of games back-to-back,” McCarty said last week. “You want to continue to gain positive momentum. The more games you can play and the less you can train, the better the players feel.

“Obviously this is crunch time now. This is the most important part of the season where you want to have the right balance between getting guys games, getting guys fitness, making sure the results are there, but also making sure guys are getting rest because this is where you start to see heavy legs if you have a team that hasn’t rotated a lot. I think we’ve done a good job of getting young guys on the field, getting a lot of guys minutes and rotating.”

Much of the rotation within the Fire’s lineup recently has been due to injury. The team had three starters on defense come back from injury in the past four games and is currently without midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has missed the last three games, and Juninho, who has missed the last two games.

Juninho’s knee injury has kept him out yet again. Schweinsteiger was listed as questionable on the injury report. The Athletic’s Guillermo Rivera reported that Schweinsteiger will miss the game.

Schweinsteiger has had multiple minor injuries, which is why his status has been so unpredictable. He initially left the Aug. 16 game in Montreal due to a right thigh injury, but also had a nasty bruise on his calf on a hard foul. The calf injury was the primary reason he missed the next two games, but the thigh injury appears to have gotten worse and kept him from being at training in the leadup to the game at Philadelphia.

With a big game against New York City FC, which is in second place and four points ahead of the Fire, coming up on Saturday, the Fire will want Schweinsteiger back by then.

“Now, this is where you need your big players to step up and perform,” McCarty said. “Your leaders and your older players and your guys that are on the higher end of the salary spectrum. They have to step up and start to really prove their worth because this is the time of the season where it really counts and where it matters most so we’re going to need all that to fall in place for us if we’re going to have a special playoff run.”

Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

Where: Avaya Stadium (San Jose, Calif.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-10-6, 48 points), Earthquakes (11-13-6, 39 points)