What Are They All About? Florida Gulf Coast University
Welcome back to another season of previews here at Fire Confidential. We hope you have been keeping up with all of the offseason news (if not please feel free to visit some of the latest stories here) and have mentally prepared yourself for what is bound to be another roller coaster of a season. Although the MLS journey doesn’t start until March 4th at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, the Fire have been hard at work in preseason training. Phase one included fitness work and a bit of chemistry building at the Fire Pitch before the team hopped on a flight for Florida. After a week of intrasquad scrimmages in the sun, we’ll get our first glimpse of Paunovic and his new charges in a competitive setting as Chicago play in a friendly match against Florida Gulf Coast University this Saturday (the match will be streamed live at 6:00 pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com).
These matches are never about results and the collegiate opposition rarely stands a chance, but this FGCU squad is no group of push overs. The Eagles finished the season with a 14-4-3 record and qualified for the NCAA tournament–a feat achieved on a consistent basis for what some consider a “small” program. With many of their starters returning next season they should once again be a force on the college scene in 2017. Some of the youngsters have declared their intentions of playing professionally in the coming years and Saturday’s match could serve as a tangible measuring stick of where they stand in those hopes. Will Chicago oblige fans in what should be a forgone conclusion, or will FGCU provide a shock start to “The Process 2.0”?
Formation: 4-4-2; Brown; George, Kilwein, Roubos, Samayoa; Marriot, Jiro, Ferrer, Jaime; Ruiz, Sobers-Assue
Strengths: If it seems arbitrary to be doing a strengths preview for a bunch of college kids, we assure you it’s not. We fully expect some of these guys to get scooped up in the 2018 MLS draft and catching glimpses of them now could be beneficial. We should also mention that a motivated squad can be a dangerous squad and the Eagles are motivated for a number of reasons. Just two weeks ago the soccer program announced the hiring of new coach Jesse Cormier. While the core players have certainly rooted themselves in the starting XI, there are a few vacancies to fill. Also, playing against professionals might be a once in a life time opportunity for some of this FGCU squad, look for them to expose some weaknesses in the Fire squad.
Txin! Txin!: It is no secret that Barcelona born Albert Ruiz is the strongest facet on this Eagles team. The forward finished with a national high of 22 goals in 20 starts and he added five assists to his resume as well. Those numbers and his leadership capabilities led to the NCAA considering Ruiz for the Hermann Trophy. The discussion of MLS potential above largely focuses on Ruiz with many speculating he could go in the top ten after his senior year. While highlights from this season are plentiful, a few stand outs include the fastest hat trick in NCAA history (achieved in the first nine minutes against Rutgers), two national player of the week awards, four appearances on the national XI of the week, and a conference MVP award. His skill set makes him a unique future asset for the league. He is not just a clinical finisher, but he is a smart target forward on and off the ball. We fully expect him to flourish in his opportunity to prove himself against a professional team.
No, I Love You Brah: While Albert Ruiz’s exploits were laid out above, his partnership with Arion Sobers-Assue was truly something to behold. Quick one-twos around the box, chemistry on the counter, and well-orchestrated dummy runs typify their partnership. The duo together was responsible for 33 goals and 16 assists. To put that in perspective the team scored 62 goals on the season… Almost all of Arion’s 11 assists were to Ruiz and the native Floridian held his own in the finishing category, impressively notching 11 goals. At over 6’0” and 175 lbs. the sophomore has a versatile tool set. He’s good in the air, he’s quick, and he has a knack for finishing in the box. A disorganized and experimental Chicago back line could be punished for giving up second balls.
Fancy Footwork: We’re not sure if college kids still play Dance Dance Revolution, but Jiro Barriga Toyama sure makes it seem like they do. Although most of FGSU’s build up play comes up the center, Jiro’s speedy and skill on the ball makes opposing defenses thing twice about getting too narrow. The youngster’s goal against Stetson late in the season shows off his ability to seemingly keep the ball glued to his foot. After a quick transition between feet he flicked the ball off of the inside of his own boot and into the back of the net. You can bet he’ll want to showcase some skill on what is an opportunity of a life time.
Weaknesses: Let’s be honest with ourselves, Chicago is playing against a college team that is in its offseason. In addition to a new coach attempting to implement a new system, the departure of a few key players (which may or may not feature in this friendly), and the necessity to shake off some rustiness, the Eagles will have to face the harsh realization that their backline needs some work. FGCU gave up 33 goals on the season and managed just three clean sheets–all against lower ranked opposition. We apologize for the less than complete analysis of the Eagle’s weaknesses but if Chicago can keep the ball moving amongst their plethora of offensive talent, this match will be a simple one.
Prediction: While Chicago will win the match, it will not be convincing. However, preseason matches aren’t meant to be convincing… Things that Fire fans should look for are sparks of chemistry among a new set of faces, a few experimental formation changes throughout the 90 minutes, whether or not the team has stuck to their fitness regimens in the offseason, and whether there is an answer to the right back conundrum within the squad. Chicago 5-2 FGCU.