Mo Adams

2018 Fire preview: Midfield


2018 Fire preview: Midfield

The Fire’s midfield underwent a major restructuring in 2017 and it went from being a weakness to a strength. As a result, the unit didn’t see much change entering 2018.

Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger will once again form one of the best central midfield pairings in the league. There are a couple new faces, but the team will still run through them.

Returning players (2017 MLS regular season stats)

Dax McCarty (28 games played, 28 starts, 2,465 minutes, 5 assists)

Bastian Schweinsteiger (24 GP, 23 GS, 1,993 minutes, 3 goals, 6 assists)

Drew Conner (21 GP, 8 GS, 882 minutes, 1 assist)

Djordje Mihailovic (17 GP, 7 GS, 732 minutes)

Brandt Bronico (4 GP, 53 minutes)


Mo Adams (No. 10 pick)

Tony Tchani (trade with Vancouver)

There might be improved depth in this unit with Tchani replacing Juninho and rookie Mo Adams showing signs of being a contributor in preseason. Mihailovic being out for a significant chunk of the season while he recovers from his ACL tear does take away a somewhat different option in midfield, but it’s not clear how he will fit into this lineup when healthy.

Conner got a decent chunk of minutes last season when injuries hit the team hard, but it doesn’t look like they will be easy to come by for him this year. The addition of Rafael Ramos as a backup right back takes away one spot Conner earned minutes in last year. Tchani and Adams coming in with only Juninho leaving means Conner could be further down the depth chart in central midfield unless he beats out Adams for playing time.

Schweinsteiger’s role could see some variation this year. At times in 2017 he played higher up the field and he also played a sweeper/libero role on occasion, but he settled into his more traditional defensive midfield spot by the latter part of the season. With no playmaker on the roster (as general manager Nelson Rodriguez has mentioned the team is still looking for), it appears Schweinsteiger will be one of the players to step into an advanced role in midfield.

Coach Veljko Paunovic said Schweinsteiger will play higher or deeper depending on what he thinks they can take advantage of, and even said the phrase “No. 10” in that context unsolicited after Saturday’s preseason finale.

Tchani and McCarty can be the defensive stalwarts while Schweinsteiger can have more freedom to join in on the attack. If one of them is unavailable, Adams seems like the first choice off the bench given how extensively he played in preseason.

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Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.

Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire


Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire

The growing investment in and importance of MLS academies have taken away much of the best domestic talent out of the league’s draft, but international talent that stands out in college can still be plentiful in the draft.

Three of the first five picks and six of the first 12 in the 2018 draft were foreign-born players. The Fire traded up to snag two of those players, Jon Bakero and Mo Adams. Both went through the academy systems in their native countries before journeying across the Atlantic to college and now in MLS. Not counting Jack Harrison, who was traded within minutes of being the top pick in the 2016 draft, the Fire hadn’t drafted a player born outside the U.S. in the first round since 2008 (Patrick Nyarko).

Bakero’s story has received more attention because the Spanish-born player is the son of a former FC Barcelona and Spanish national team player, Jose Mari Bakero. He joined Wake Forest after not having any pro prospects in Spain and turned into a Hermann Trophy winner this fall, capping off a four-year career that included an appearance in the College Cup final in 2016.

“I think I’ve been able to learn the Spanish system, the American system and I think that having three and a half years in college allowed me to fully develop as a player, as a person and I think I’m ready now to start my professional career,” Bakero said during the first week of the Fire’s preseason training.

Bakero completed his college career, but Adams left after two years at Syracuse, another ACC powerhouse program. The defensive midfielder played for the academies of Nottingham Forest and Derby County before being offered a professional contract at Blackburn. However, Adams was unable to sign the deal due to injury.

“That was kind of a point where I didn’t know what to do next,” Adams said. “There’s different agencies that sort of release players with scholarships in the States. I kind of decided to take that route. It’s something different, a new chapter that you can learn from. Two years at Syracuse and now I’m here on the professional level.”

When asked about Dom Dwyer, Orlando City’s English-born forward who played collegiately and has since played for the U.S. national team, Adams said Dwyer was someone who helped him make the decision to come stateside.

Adams noted the differences between the way the English and American games are played. He said in the U.S. the game is “more aggressive and intense” but has shortcomings in other areas.

“I think in England the speed of play is maybe quicker, but I think is less intense in that aspect,” Adams said. “The guys think quicker, but not necessarily move as quick. Here you can see the ball and you’ve got two, three guys closing you down straight away. You’re playing against guys who are a lot bigger, more physical and stuff like that. I think that it’s good that I’ve experienced both sides of things.”

As the Fire’s roster currently stands, both players should have a good opportunity to snag regular minutes. Bakero is likely in line to be the first choice attacking midfielder behind, or even potentially alongside, striker Nemanja Nikolic if the Fire don’t add any players at that spot in the next month. Adams could be a leading candidate to fill the minutes lost with Juninho’s departure after his loan expired at the end of 2017.