Fire

Fire's preseason finale shows potential season-opening starting lineup

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USA TODAY

Fire's preseason finale shows potential season-opening starting lineup

While most MLS teams were beginning the 2018 season on Saturday, the Fire finished off the preseason with a game against USL affiliate Tulsa which provided a sneak peek at what the 2018 Fire will look like.

Preseason results are meaningless, especially when against a minor league team, but the starting lineup that coach Veljko Paunovic sent out in front of a crowd of hardcore fans at Toyota Park could be the same 11 that start against Sporting Kansas City in next week’s season opener.

There were few surprises in the back, although injuries have limited the options. Stefan Cleveland got the start in goal while Richard Sanchez, the presumed starter, is dealing with a hand injury. The back four was Brandon Vincent, Christian Dean, Johan Kappelhof and Matt Polster. Dean was in the only spot that wasn’t certain going into camp, but he will get the job by default in Week 1 due to injuries to Jonathan Campbell, who still had bruising around his right eye after suffering a facial fracture earlier in the preseason, and Grant Lillard, who has a knee injury and did not play Saturday.

The midfield is where things get interesting. Luis Solignac and Daniel Johnson were both out of action, which left few attacking options to support striker Nemanja Nikolic. Newly acquired Tony Tchani played next to Dax McCarty in the deep central midfield roles while Bastian Schweinsteiger played higher up the field with rookie Jon Bakero and offseason addition Aleksandar Katai playing in wide attacking roles.

Tchani was traded to the Fire on Wednesday and joined the team Thursday. His addition provides more flexibility in the Fire’s midfield and allows Schweinsteiger to play in a more advanced role while not entirely stripping the team’s central midfield depth (rookie Mo Adams can still come off the bench in this lineup).

Schweinsteiger has played in a more attacking role with the Fire, mostly early in his stint with the team last year, but that’s not his usual position. However, a lack of playmaking options elsewhere on the roster may necessitate this move.

“Basti obviously he knows the game perfectly,” Paunovic said after the game. “He knows where to find the rights spots and gaps in between the lines to organize, to be the open man and then to bring the ball to the opponent’s end. That’s the free role that he almost always played for us. Sometimes more specific against some opponents. We will look always to take advantage of all the qualities he brings on the field. As I said, playing as a No. 10, No. 8 in some moments or even as a six. So for sure we will rotate these roles.”

So while general manager Nelson Rodriguez continues to search for a No. 10, Schweinsteiger may be the team’s playmaker in the meantime.

Bakero struggled to assert himself for much of the preseason, but showed flashes of the technical ability that made him the Hermann Trophy award winner this past college season. Him and Katai swapped on the wings frequently and Katai dropped deeper into the midfield than David Accam, the player he is most directly replacing. Katai doesn’t have top line speed, but will be more fluid in the Fire’s attack. He also took corner kicks from the right side and could be a much-needed option to take set pieces after the Fire failed to score from a dead ball situation last year.

The returns of Solignac and Johnson could change things and possibly push Bakero to the bench, but they may not be ready to play starting minutes by Saturday.

“They’re kind of in the last phase of the recovery so we expect them, at least one of them to be back,” Paunovic said. “But we still cannot say. We have to see in the next couple days how they improve and if they can start on Tuesday with the rest of the group.”

Oh, by the way, the Fire won 2-1 with second-half goals from Nikolic and rookie Elliot Collier after falling behind on a passing mistake by Cleveland in goal gave Tulsa a 1-0 lead in the first half.

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.