Injury to de Leeuw a concern for Chicago Fire
If Saturday night's match was a playoff preview, the Chicago Fire didn't learn much.
If the game was about playoff positioning and momentum, the Fire didn't gain much with a 1-1 draw against possible playoff foe New York City FC.
"Today obviously we don't feel good about the tie," said Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, whose team bunkered for the draw the final minutes of the game. "We don't think that we played a good game."
If it felt like a loss, that had a lot to do with the knee injury forward Michael de Leeuw suffered in the first half.
"It doesn't look good," a somber Paunovic said of the hardworking Dutchman. "Everyone is concerned."
De Leeuw's injury had a lot to do with the Fire's disappointment in its performance because it forced the team to change the way it played. It didn't help, of course, that the Fire was playing its third game in eight days, including Wednesday's 4-1 victory at San Jose.
If there was good news for the Fire, it was the return to action of German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had missed the last four games due to a leg injury.
"Weird, because I was not used to it," said Schweinsteiger, who drew a roar from the capacity crowd when he entered the game in the 71st minute. "I actually only trained once with the team, but I felt OK, and now we have two weeks until the next game so it's perfect to get back in a rhythm. That was a great reception from the stands."
The second-place Fire (15-10-7, 52 points) -- which clinched a playoff berth Wednesday -- kept pace with second-place NYCFC (56 points) and third-place Atlanta United (53). Fifth-place Columbus (50) made up ground with a victory to pull within 2 points of the Fire.
While Paunovic wasn't happy with the way the Fire played, Schweinsteiger was a little more optimistic.
"I think we were actually the better team," Schweinsteiger said. "We had very good chances in the first half, although obviously New York City is also a good team."
The view was different in the New York City locker room.
"On the night they had a spell in the first half for about 20, 25 minutes where they were clearly the better team," added NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, traded from the Fire in the off-season. "We were the better team for the last 30 or so minutes. They had some chances in the open field on the counterattack.
"But for me I think it was a pretty evenly matched game."