BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop admitted he’s “kicking himself a little bit” over Shaun Maloney’s recent injury setback, but he remains hopeful of a much-needed win against Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United at Toyota Park on Wednesday (8:30pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Maloney was summoned from the bench as a halftime substitute in Chicago’s 1-0 US Open Cup win over Louisville City on June 16, but he had to leave the action in the seventh minute of extra time with spasms in his lower back. The injury came on the heels of Maloney's return to Chicago following a two-week international stint with Scotland.
"Not sure [it was] preventable, with his travel, but he’s had it before, and he said it didn’t matter and he felt good for the game," head coach Yallop said of Maloney on Tuesday. "I’m kicking myself a little bit for playing him, but if a player’s ready to go and he says he’s physically fine, then you play him. I wouldn’t say it’s just that, but maybe it’s part of the travel that he had, but it’s done."
"It’s a big loss,” he added. “I think Shaun’s a great player and he’s done very well for us and we’ll miss him, him and David [Accam], in this game, but hopefully we can get through it, get those guys healthy and welcome them back when they get fit."
Maloney’s injury, which will see him take five days’ rest after receiving injections from a specialist on Monday, is one of several absences the Fire will be dealing with. Accam is out due to a hamstring injury, while influential rookie Matt Polster is serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
That robs Yallop of three of his core players, but he is confident that their replacements will fill-in well against United.
"That’s soccer; that’s sport," Yallop said. "Sometimes you have a lot of guys out injured, and sometimes you have nobody injured. We’ve just got to deal with it and be ready to play at our place on Wednesday and get a win. Whoever’s playing, and we have a good squad, so it’s not like it’s dropping off any. Yes, you like to have your better players or your marquee players playing, but it’s time for our club, as a group, to go and win this game."
The trio's absence gives players like Michael Stephens, Matt Watson and Chris Ritter in the midfield and Quincy Amarikwa and Guly do Prado closer to goal a chance to stake a claim for more minutes, while Harry Shipp and Kennedy Igboananike will be entrusted with more responsibility to create in the attack.
"Sometimes freshness is good: They can’t wait to get out there and play and prove themselves, not just to me, but to themselves and the team,” Yallop said when asked about the potential replacements. “So I expect us to play well on Wednesday. I want us to not worry about the occasion; we just need to win the game."
The Fire do get some injury relief, as Mike Magee has recovered from his hamstring injury and is expected to take his place in the 18-player gameday roster on Wednesday.
Yallop also dismissed recent speculation linking the club with Canadian international and former Coventry City striker Simeon Jackson, who has been training with the Fire this past week. Similar to the situation that saw Queens Park Rangers center back Anton Ferdinand train with the club for two weeks, Jackson has a relationship with assistant coach Marc Bircham and is with the club to work on fitness. Signing him outright would be complicated, as the Vancouver Whitecaps hold a discovery claim on the player and would need to be compensated by Chicago in order for the Fire to bring him in full-time.
With the Fire (4-8-2, 14 points) languishing at the bottom of the East, Yallop knows his team need a win against the runaway conference leaders to jumpstart a playoff push. With several games in hand on some of the teams above them, Yallop is confident a run of victories could put them back in contention.
“If we win on Wednesday, it catapults us further up the table, gives us momentum,” Yallop said. “I think we have three out of the next four at home, so we just need to get going. It’s disappointing we’ve got a couple of guys out, but that shouldn’t make a difference.”