Athletes

The Fire's Christian Dean is easy to spot on the soccer field.

The Fire's Christian Dean is easy to spot on the soccer field.

Acquired from the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 9, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound defender started in his first home game Saturday, a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC at Toyota Park.

Dean appeared stunned when asked this week if his athletic background included basketball. His half-brother, Josh Huestis, is a 6-7 forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"My entire family is a basketball family," Dean said. "I grew up playing basketball, but (soccer) is something I fell in love with. When I was (about) 16, I realized I really wanted to play soccer. I went into college thinking I was just going to enjoy my time playing in college and I started playing well there and got an opportunity."

When asked if he could dunk, Dean confidently answered: "Oh, yeah. I can hoop a little bit."

His basketball skills aside, Dean's ability to shore up an injury-filled back line will be a major factor in the Fire's quest to earn a playoff berth after consecutive last-place finishes in Major League Soccer. The No. 3 selection in the 2014 draft, Dean is healthy again after dealing with foot and knee injury the last two seasons. He sat out all of 2016.

"I'm very happy that the (Fire) wanted me," Dean said. "The guys are very welcoming. ... I really enjoy it here. I'm feeling really good. This is the healthiest I've felt in the past two years."

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez expects Dean to be an integral player for the Fire — immediate and long term. Dean, 24, is signed through 2018, with team options for 2019 and 2020.

"(Christian's) a player that we have eyed and scouted for a long time," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes it just doesn't work in a certain environment and we know Vancouver put a lot into Christian and had high hopes for him and worked hard with him. He had a rash of injuries that probably hurt his time there, but he's still very young.

"We still believe he has a lot of high-level qualities. He's very good on the ball and a very good decision maker. He's got great athleticism. He has a hunger for the game and he's a good person. Time will tell. We didn't acquire him with just six months in mind, but how long that extends will in large part be determined by how we interpret his performance."

Uncharted territory: German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger made no attempt to downplay the team's recent struggles. Playing Eastern Conference leader Toronto in front of a Toyota Park-record crowd of 21,891, the Fire missed a prime chance to move up the standings.

The Fire (12-8-5, 41 points) have lost three straight and five of six to drop to third place in the East. They are host to expansion team Minnesota United FC (6-14-4, 22 points in the West) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. It will be the clubs' first meeting.

Considered one of Germany's greatest players, Schweinsteiger was only the second reigning World Cup champion to move to MLS after being acquired from Manchester United in March. He played in three World Cups and four UEFA European Championships. Losing streaks, Schweinsteiger admitted, are foreign to him.

"We have to win this match," Schweinsteiger said. "(Losing) is very frustrating, very disappointing. I absolutely don't like it, and it's new. … We played the first half of the season (better) than expected. We did a great job.

"Now we have to see what we're missing in our game and have to find a way to come back and win a game. We have to play on a better level."

Corner kicks: Defender Matt Polster (knee) practiced this week and is nearing a return. Defenders Brandon Vincent (quad) and Joao Meira (calf) remained limited. … With nine games left in the regular season, the Fire have a 95 percent chance to make the playoffs and 19 percent shot to earn a first-round bye, according to the Soccer Power Index. The top six teams in each conference qualify for the postseason; the top two teams in each have a bye.