With preseason about to kick off, how will the Fire line up?

The Fire arrived in the United Kingdom this morning after a seven hour delay due to weather. The team spent the first week of preseason training locally at the Bridgeview Sports Dome and the Private Bank Fire Pitch. They'll practice at Norwich City's Colney Training Centre from February 2-10 with a match against their hosts sandwiched in on the 5th. They'll then head to London for training at the Queens Park Rangers Training Centre from the 11th through the 13th. They'll face QPR on February 12 before returning to Chicago the following day.

The match against Norwich City is a closed door scrimmage and streams won't be made available for the first two preseason games so we'll have to wait until the 2015 Simple Invitational Tournament begins in Portland on the 22nd to get a live, competitive look at what Frank Yallop is planning tactically this season. Yallop has indicated that he's looking to institute some form of a 4-3-3 alignment which could morph into a more conservative look incorporating two holding midfielders for road games and/or against certain opponents.

The acquisition of Shaun Maloney was the key piece in making his vision work. The 5'-7" attacking midfielder will serve as the playmaker or catalyst while operating from a central position just behind two front runners. Maloney made sure to mention that he also wanted to contribute defensively whenever he could last week and the Fire will certainly need to improve on last year's defensive effort to truly challenge in an improved Eastern Conference. David Accam is the other key piece in the new attack Yallop is looking to test MLS defenders with but he's still with the Ghanaian National Team until at least February 7. Ghana has advanced into the semi-finals of AFCON and Accam won't be available until some time next week at the earliest, after the final weekend of play in the tournament.

Sean Johnson won't join the team until they return from the UK. He is with the US Men's National Team and they compete in a friendly against Panama in California on February 8. If he's selected to the Gold Cup squad this summer he'll likely miss more time away than he has in previous seasons.

The general feeling among fans and media is that the new attack will yield some exciting moments at Toyota Park but there is still a lingering concern about the back line. That concern stems from a lack of recognition, or solid public information for that matter, for the two new presumed starters on the back line this year. Adailton and Joevin Jones are lesser known quantities but do have some background that may indicate a better fit for Yallop's new system than the options that were in place last season. Yallop wanted the squad to get quicker and the fullbacks will need pace and mobility in the proposed 4-3-3. Jones is a young player that the technical staff is very high on, who has made 37 appearances with the Trinidad and Tobago National Team. He's had previous trial stints at the MLS level, in 2011 with Colorado and Toronto FC and again with TFC in 2103. He has had success as an attacking midfielder with W Connection and he does possess enough skill to have earned a look with Udinese in Serie A. He may be younger and more mobile than displaced veteran Gonzalo Segares but there isn't enough of a body of work as a defender available to determine whether or not there should be a concern at left back. Segares has yet to land with another MLS club but does have options available with NASL and the Fire will make a position with the club available if he chooses to begin his post-playing career now.

Adailton is essentially a replacement for Bakary Soumare, who did have some spectacular outings last season but his down days and lapses mainly outweighed his positive contributions. Eight clubs since 20o2 and only four appearances with Brazilian club Bahia last season lead to valid skepticism about him but Yallop also appears to be content with the signing of former Crew defender Eric Gehrig and draftee Matt Polster for now.

Without video it will be difficult to really grasp how well the revamped side will perform early on during the trip to the UK but we should be able to get a preview of how Yallop plans to deploy his new weapons this week, even without Accam present. If the 4-3-3 is indeed the system he implements and stays with throughout the course of preseason and into March it's not difficult to see who the front runners will be. The DP trio of Maloney, Accam, and Kennedy Igboananike are likely to be first choice to lead up front but the support in midfield is a bit of a puzzle at the moment. It doesn't seem that Yallop can afford to go into full-on attack mode through midfield if the DP's are all on the pitch. The midfielders will need to play both ways and the lack of a true holding midfielder will necessitate that the "three" in the middle can provide cover for the back line.

This may leave Harry Shipp on the bench as the first attacker available and as an understudy to Maloney as Yallop indicated in the last Fire Confidential Podcast. Shipp will get plenty of opportunities to play this season even if he is not starting right away however. Maloney is likely to miss several games this season while Scotland attempts to qualify for Euro 2016. If Shipp isn't one of the starters in midfield and Patrick Nyarko and Mike Magee aren't ready until sometime this summer the choices are narrowed down for the "three" in the middle of the park. Michael Stephens, Razvan Cocis, and Matt Watson would seem the be the most reasonable selections if there is to be some effort made to protect the back line as much as possible. Cocis is somewhat limited in that he's truly not a "number 6" and isn't exactly suited to cover the ground they'll need out of that position. He does have experience playing on the right however. Playing Watson in combination with Cocis would allow Yallop the flexibility to play two "holding" midfielders if necessary although neither is optimally suited to cover that ground alone if the formation takes more of a diamond appearance. Yallop does like the versatility Alex can provide and Chris Ritter may eventually be a centerback and neither should be counted on to perform as needed over extended periods in a 4-3-3. The options are fairly limited in midfield at the moment and finding the right combination in those positions may be more reason for worry than the performance from the back line.

The Fire may line up in a version of a 4-3-3 that places Maloney underneath the strikers/wide players with Igboananike assuming more of a center forward's position closer to goal. Guly do Prado can fill that role as well and he's also played wide right over the course of his career. Yallop has some options up top with different looks and he still has last year's leading scorer Quincy Amarikwa on the bench.

The current roster lends itself to competition for a few positions but it appears that the senior spots are close to set if the new CBA reduces roster sizes as expected. Brian Bliss indicated that the Fire will send somewhere between 3-5 players to Saint Louis FC so that finds a place for some of the younger players that wouldn't necessarily get much time this season.

The roster as it stands now with number of signed players in parentheses:

Goalkeepers (3): Johnson, Kann, Busch, Pais*

Defenders (8): Palmer, Adailton, Larentowicz, Jones, Cochrane, Doody, Gehrig, Polster, Gaul*, De Wilde*

Midfielders (9): Cocis, Fernandez, Nyarko, Ritter, Shipp, Stephens, Watson, Alex, Maloney, Shinsky**

Forwards (5): Accam, Amarikwa, do Prado, Magee, Igboananike, Bryce**

*Trial/guest player

**Unsigned draft choice

One thing is evident from perusing the current roster and considering the offensive talent acquired this winter. The Fire will be a much more entertaining side to watch in 2015. There may be some struggles to adapt to a new system but six of the projected starters in the potential line up above weren't with the club to end last season so there was always going to be adjustment to be made regardless of how the team lines up. Yallop's insistence that the team have as many players as possible in camp to start the season was very important along those terms and he's now had an opportunity to bring in his own selections.

The Fire will be entertaining this year. Whether or not Yallop can find an adequate fit in central midfield to mesh with the system and style that he's looking to play may determine if that entertainment will result in challenging for something other than just a playoff spot.

Notes

  • The Fire have yet to officially announce who will assume CJ Brown's vacated lead assistant role but it seems that is close to being finalized. Millwall assistant manager Marc Bircham appears to be on his way to Chicago to fill that void. Millwall confirmed his departure on their website this weekend. The former Canada international played at Millwall and QPR where he also served as an assistant for both clubs. The move would allow Trevor James to remain in his position as Head of Scouting. James had been acting as a coach this past week in camp and was considered for the permanent job as lead assistant. 
  • The planned ceremonial opening of the north side soccer center now named the Private Bank Fire Pitch this past Saturday was postponed due to concerns about the incoming weather. The event will be rescheduled for a later date, which means the unveiling of the new secondary kit will have to wait just a little bit longer.
  • USL Pro has released their 2015 schedule. Saint Louis FC opens on March 28 against Louisville City FC. Former Fire forward Matt Fondy recently signed with Louisville.
  • Another former Fire player from last season also found a new home this weekend. Florent Sinama-Pongolle signed with FC Lausanne-Sport in the Swiss second division.

Filed under: 2015 Pre Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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  • It's extremely hard to win a game without winning the middle of the field. Central midfielders are the key to winning games. You also need quality center backs. We have 3 mediocre at best center mids and 1 guy that has played 4 matches in over a year and a converted center back in those positions. I can see the games being entertaining for a neutral because the scores will probably be more like 3-2 and 3-3 than 1-1 and 0-0 that we were used to last season. With that midfield three, there will be a lot of long balls played out of the back like last year.

    How long was Yallop's contract that he signed last year?

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Believe he has another two after this one.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Ew.

  • Really good analysis of the team thus far! Where do you see Magee fitting in when he gets healthy?

  • In reply to cf97TID:

    That's a good question. He played outside for the Galaxy so I can see him there. He also could be valuable via trade to get what they need if he recovers fully. Either way, competition for spots is good.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I would hate to see Magee leave. He scores goals. Thats how you win games. He was 2nd in goals and 3rd in assists when he played in half as many games as the guys above him. He is always in the right place at the right time. He is a proven MLS player and it would be a huge mistake to move him. But based on they way things are going, logical moves are not typical for Yallop. 3 more years...

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Magee scored goals in one year. He's proven to be a 5-7 per year goal scorer over the course of his career. He may have had a once-in-a-lifetime year in 2013 but he can still contribute if he's healthy. He does consume a big amount of cap space however, and it would seem logical to me to explore an upgrade at another position if possible.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Last year he played in 17 games and scored 7 goals and had 4 assists. Since he has been in a Fire uniform, he has produced. We obviously cant expect him to produce his MVP numbers but he was doing pretty well for us until he went down. Yallop should have explored upgrades in other positions this off season. He went and tried to replace players that played decently well instead of the players that needed it. Moving Magee would be the icing on the cake for this off season though. And based on the way that Yallop makes trades in this league, we should expect to get robbed by whatever team would be lucky enough to land Magee. Some scrub defender, funny money, and a 2019 2nd round draft pick...

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Not trying to downplay his value but four of those 7 last year came from the spot. He was nowhere near as effective after the hold out and the early injury in camp. The Fire struggled offensively even in the games he played in last year as well. He didn't play particularly well in most of those.
    They should be able to get more than a scrub defender for him. They were close to completing a deal for an all star level defender before the deadline deals fell through. He's a quality player but shouldn't be the focal point of the offense because he isn't likely to reproduce the numbers he did two years ago.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    I'm with Guillermo on this one. Actually, I'll go further than Guillermo. Wouldn't be unhappy to see Magee go at all. He had a good four months or so with us 2013. Then he spent the entirety of last season either (1) holding out for a bigger contract, (2) standing around complaining to refs while Quincy worked his butt off, or (3) being injured. He was completely classless. Had Quincy been given the PKs (several of which he earned, btw...) instead of Magee, Quincy's total would be quadruple Magee's.

    I'm happy to give the new guys a shot and see what they have to offer.

  • In reply to manyou07:

    He complained about the refs during his MVP season and nobody was complaining about it then. Quincy played in twice as many games as Magee last season and only scored 1 more goal than him. When Magee plays, he is involved in a lot of goals. I think it would be a mistake to move him. I dont think we should have to get rid of our best players to fill in gaps that should have been addressed better than they were. If we get a CB who is an instant starter, then I guess I can live with it. Based on what Yallop has done when it comes to trades, we are going to get absolute crap. He lost EVERY trade that he made last season.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Palmer and Watson were acquired via trade....just sayin.

  • Nice analysis

    Has Polster signed his contract w/ MLS yet?

    I hope with this roster that we have enough pace and skill on the outside for FY to finally be comfortable to play Shipp inside as the competition for/ replacement for (Scotland) Maloney as an AM.

    Hopefully StLFC will allow the "second string" midfield of Fernandez, Shinsky and Bryce to develop professionally and begin to contribute this season.

  • In reply to southsidefutbol:

    Polster hasn't officially been signed but that's a formality so I included him in the signed totals.

    Getting Nyarko back will help along those lines. He would have been a good fit with the new additions if not for the injury.

  • Fondy.

  • Another Fire Academy product has earned US national program honors.

    Nick Fernandez, the young brother of Collin, has been named to the US U-14 roster that will train in Spain this month. They will play games against Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano, and Extremadura.

  • Those interested can find an image of the new jersey floating around the interwebs.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    link?

  • http://i.imgur.com/mNCHAmK.jpg

    It's obscured by that damn dog and those who have seen it in person say that looks better and this doesn't do it justice. I hear the socks are nice, for example, and they are absent here. But this is the jersey.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    It does look better on a human. And the camera gear is covering up some nice graphics and elements. It's a nice jersey.

    The socks ARE really cool. Municipal stars done right.

  • Guillermo, from your post it sounds like the Fire has decided that there is no possibility that Segares will be re-signed (as a player at least.) Is that the case?

  • In reply to manyou07:

    Yea. I think the offer to play is less than he's looking for because of budget. He'll be able to make more and stay around in a new position, likely with the academy.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Do a lot of the lower paid players make extra money coaching during the off season?

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Some of them do work side jobs during the offseason.

    The minimum salary really needs to increase substantially with this new CBA.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    agreed. I think that is the thing that will raise the level of the league more so than DPs.

  • Sega picked up his USSF "B" License last year during the offseason, so a coaching gig with the academy would be right up his alley.

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