Chicago Fire

Fire announce loans of three players to USL affiliate Tulsa

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USA TODAY

Fire announce loans of three players to USL affiliate Tulsa

The Chicago Fire changed USL affiliates from St. Louis to Tulsa in the offseason and officially announced on Monday the first three Fire players to go on loan to Tulsa.

Two homegrown players and a rookie will head to the Tulsa Roughnecks. Third-year midfielder Collin Fernandez, second-year midfielder Joey Calistri and rookie defender Matej Dekovic will head to Oklahoma.

All three players spent time with Tulsa in the preseason, including in a match Saturday against Saint Louis FC, the Fire's previous affiliate. Fernandez played 75 minutes, Calistri played 65 minutes and Dekovic entered as a substitute in the 78th minute.

Fernandez's loan comes after the 20-year-old has made just three MLS appearances for a total of 14 minutes in his first two seasons with the Fire. General manager Nelson Rodriguez has talked about the importance of getting Fernandez consistent playing time at any level after two years mixed with injuries, time spent with the under-20 Peruvian national team and USL loans. Fernandez was on loan in St. Louis for part of last season.

While Fernandez has struggled to earn playing time as a pro, Calistri's loan move was a bit of a surprise as it surfaced that he would be headed to Tulsa. Calistri made two starts in MLS play and had 12 more off the bench for a total of 348 minutes played as a rookie and scored against Colorado on June 18. He also played 40 minutes in three sub appearances in the U.S. Open Cup.

Dekovic was the Fire's fourth round pick in the draft. The Croatian product of the University of Charlotte won't count as an international player on the Fire's roster as long as he is on loan. With John Goossens on the disabled list, the Fire currently have seven international players with one more slot available.

The Roughnecks' season begins against Colorado Springs on March 25.

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

The Fire have gone three games without a loss so Shane Murray (MLSsoccer.com) and Dan Santaromita discuss the team's recent performances and if the team is back to its best form.

Next, hear from Dax McCarty as he talked to reporters after training on Tuesday.

Finally, Dan and Shane give the latest on the lengthy Fire injury list and look at the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: