If this were a regular season contest, the odds would be stacked against the Fire. As it is, anything can happen in preseason when clubs are trying to regain fitness and work on different elements of the side. Martin Tomszak is back with a look at the Fire's opponent on Sunday. (4:30 CT at Chicago-fire.com)
What Are They All About? Vancouver Whitecaps
After another preseason win, a convincing 4-2 dismantling of Philadelphia, Veljko Paunovic had people thinking he was the real deal. Then the Front Office traded fan favorite and home grown hero Harry Shipp to Montreal for a handful of Garber Bucks. As the third phase of preseason begins with the Simple Invitational in Portland the coaching staff has a lot of good will to win back from the fan base. If the Fire can manage to beat a strong Vancouver Whitecaps side on Sunday then the tactics and system that pushed Shipp out will begin to speak for themselves. It has been smooth sailing thus far but playing against a collegiate side and a Union team that looks to have regressed is not a good gauge of progress. Will we see the first defeat of a new era or will more eyebrows be raised?
Vancouver Form Guide: 3-0 in Preseason.
Previous Match: A 2-0 win over win against Houston Dynamo.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; David Ousted; Jordan Smith, Kendall Waston, Christian Dean, Sam Adekugbe; Matías Laba, Russell Teibert; Nicolás Mezquida, Blas Pérez, Cristian Techera; Masato Kudo
Strengths: A team does not finish 2nd in the Western Conference without having the proper credentials. The Whitecaps managed to concede a regular season low of just 36 goals while putting away an impressive 45 of their own. They lost to eventual champions Portland in the Western Conference semi-finals but their core remains largely intact so this will not be an easy match for Chicago. There are a few strengths that stick out right away.
Style of Play: Carl Robinson is not new to the league having played for TFC and NYRB, but he is new to coaching with 2015 being his second year in charge. Robinson has however made quite the impression with soccer pundits around the league in those two shorts seasons. Vancouver utilizes a style of play that focuses on organization at the back followed by quickly sprung counter attacks and lethal finishing. On paper it’s what every team strives for but Vancouver has shown it is precise in carrying out its tactics.
Stacked Everywhere: The personnel that Robinson has gathered are a perfect fit for the system they employ. A mix of league veterans, up and coming youngsters from around North American soccer, and a few South American internationals has gelled into a squad that’s enjoyable to watch. Head coaches and GMs all over the league are jealous of Robinson and Vancouver’s success in the player acquisition department.
GK: David Ousted has the unique combination of goalie known for shot stopping but also having the ability to distribute well which often keeps Vancouver in possession and building from the back. Whitecaps fans while be applauding the FO’s ability to sign the keeper to an extended contract this week despite European interest in his services.
Defense: There are teams that dream of a situation in which they can deem Steven Beitashour as surplus after a season that saw him take part in 13 clean sheets, the exact situation Vancouver found themselves in during this transfer window. Had his option been picked up it would have hit the salary cap a bit harder than Robinson would have liked so he was shipped off to TFC. In his place, Vancouver signed 20 year old Canadian international Fraser Aird on loan from Glasgow Rangers to compete against 24 year old Costa Rican international Jordan Smith for a starting spot. Veterans Pa-Modou Kah (who Robinson “salvaged” from Portland), Jordan Harvey and Kendall Waston return to the lineup and will make sure that whichever youngster takes the RB starting spot is ready for the challenge.
Midfield: Vancouver may have lost Mauro Rosales in a trade to Dallas, but their midfield still boasts the creative talents of Matias Laba, Pedro Morales and Cristian Techera, not to mention that they signed Costa Rican international Christian Bolanos. Their ability to control possession, keep the ball moving in meaningful ways and find the perfect pass is scary. Kekuta Manneh’s speed and Russell Teibert’s positional awareness as the “anchor” don’t hurt either. It isn’t the regular season yet but no one has told Vancouver that. They have looked GOOD in all three of their matches so far and viewers should see this bunch absolutely boss the middle of the pitch on Sunday.
Forwards: As if to rub salt in the wounds of Fire fans Chicago will be facing a Vancouver side that has flourished in the South American market. Uruguayan DP Octavio Rivero hit a hot streak early in his tenure as the lone striker and finished the campaign with 10 goals (10 more than most SA Fire signings) while his countryman Nicols Mezquida notched 12 goals in just 18 appearances. Even their troubled Reggae Boy starlet Darren Mattocks contributed three goals and an assist in mostly substitute appearances. Did we mention that they signed Blas Perez from Dallas too? Well they did. The Panamanian marksman hit a bit of a slump last season but a fresh start might suit him.
If Robinson didn’t have a headache from choosing a starter for the only available striker spot, Vancouver just picked up the all-time leading goal scorer for J League’s Kashiwa Reysol, Masato Kudo. With 92 goals in 260 appearances he is not only a proven goal scorer but will most certainly appeal to a specific demographic in Vancouver. What was the price tag on this marketing/goal scoring ploy? Nada. Vancouver picked him up on a free transfer.
If we had to bet, the Whitecaps will certainly feature in the post season again and their work towards that objective will start with a Fire scalp on Sunday. They’ve already decimated three teams that are better than the Fire on paper. With the Simple Invitational being their last phase of preseason they will be looking to impress the boss with a win.
Weaknesses: We relish the opportunity of providing our readers with scintillating storylines but there isn’t really that much to say here. Vancouver’s postseason was cut short by a very good Portland side alongside a mix of injuries, bad luck and an ill-timed dip in form. The usual “underestimating the Fire at their own peril” could be inserted here but with preseason coming to a close sharpness will be a focal point for Vancouver. If we had to pick one weakness it would be their center backs’ lack of speed. Waston, Kah and Harvey aren’t exactly speed demons and if Accam finds himself in space he’ll make them look silly. Gilberto might also find an opening or two with his first touch but that’s about it.
Prediction: The Paunovic honeymoon will be over for the time being. Arguments over doing the dishes, taking the dog out, cleaning up the bathroom and leaving clothes on the floor will ensue. Vancouver 4-1 Chicago. Pick names out of a hat for the Whitecaps’ goal scorers and add a goal to Accam’s European promo video.
The Fire played to a 75 minute, 1-1 draw with the University of Portland on Thursday night. Most of the starters were rested but John Goossens scored a 35 yard wonder goal after a volley off his own chest.
First half line-up - Irving; Calistri, Vincent, Pineda, Doody; Polster, LaBrocca; Goossens, Fernandez, Morrell; Volesky
Second half line-up - Bersano, Calistri, Keller, Pineda, Vincent; Conner, Stephens; Bryce, Fernandez, Volesky; Igboananike