What Are They All About? Florida Gulf Coast University
The first hurdle. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire lost 2-1 against the Montreal Impact in a preseason friendly. The match took place in Bradenton Florida with the weather being the brightest spot for Chicago. Although results do not matter whatsoever when it comes to matches played before March, Fire supporters are certainly worried as opening day inches closer. A lack of creativity in the final third, suspect defending and backline organization, injuries, and no roster depth in sight are just some of the takeaways from the midweek encounter. It was certainly not all doom and gloom with Mo Adams continuing his impressive form, Christian Dean proving he is a capable MLS starter if he can stay healthy, Nikolic looking as hungry as ever, and a rare set piece goal giving the Fire faithful some hope.
MLS is a league where you have to take the good with the bad and predicting the standings in February is futile at best and disastrous at worst. While the front office and coaching staff have work to do in the coming weeks, the players will continue to grind as best as they can, and their effort cannot be questioned as they approach March 10th. Preseason continues this Saturday against Florida Gulf Coast University (3:30 pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com) and time remains for the soccer world to be shook up once again. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
FGCU Form Guide: 8-6-3 across all 2017 season matches.
Previous Result: A 2-1 loss to Lipscomb in the playoff semifinals.
Strengths: This isn’t the first time that FGCU has hosted the Fire in preseason (we had the pleasure of previewing them last February) and given their style of play and the program’s pedigree it certainly won’t. The green clad collegiate squad may not be expecting a victory, but as with the Fire’s earlier match against USF, they’ll certainly be willing to push the pros to prove their own worth heading into the spring season. Let’s see where they’ll succeed on Saturday.
Prestigious Program: The Fire do not need to look far in order to see the fruits of the FCGU soccer program. Current trialist Albert Ruiz came through the Eagles system and was named a MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist in 2016 after a record setting season that saw him score twenty-two goals in twenty matches/ He notched thirty-two goals in a total of sixty appearances for FGCU while adding eight assists. Additionally, fellow senior Nicolas Samayoa signed for the New England Revolution last week after a successful trial, Eli Roubos has the prospect of playing for T2, and Jiro Toyama will be looking to return to his native Japan to play in the J League. Although FGCU isn’t one of the “top” schools developing MLS ready talent, the past few graduating classes may change that.
Style of Play: The Fire witnessed the Eagle’s quick style of play last season as their encounter with FGCU was one of head coach Jesse Cormier’s first matches in charge of the program. A self-styled “energetic, high press” approach will be evidenced on Saturday even without the outgoing seniors. Shak Adams and Dennis Zapata were responsible for thirty-six percent of their team’s goals and assists in 2017 and they will surely be the focal points of the attack Albert Ruiz and Robert Ferrer depart. As the Fire attempt to gain match fitness and defensive cohesion, Adams will be responsible for keeping them on his toes with his quickness and superb finishing ability. Many of FGCU’s goals this season came on the back of Miguel Jaime or Nico Samayoa putting long balls over the top for Adams to chase down. Adams would then cut back for his onrushing strike partners or finish the move off himself.
On the defensive side of the field, goalkeeper Connor Gavigan recorded five shutouts in thirteen appearances, including a streak that saw four shutouts in six matches during the month of September. The streak was a big factor in them finishing third in their conference despite having a poor conclusion to the season and although Gavigan credited his back line for the clean sheets, his seventy-six percent season save percentage may have had something to do with it. As the Fire look to add some consistency to their set play ability they will also need to be weary of the Eagle’s likely center back pairing of Thomas Delplace and TC Anderson, both coming in at 6’2. The physical side of this match may be something that Paunovic and his staff may want to avoid given their growing casualty list, but the college kids certainly won’t back down.
Weaknesses: As has been the case throughout this preseason, we will not be attempting to pick apart a college side that is not in season and has departing seniors that will not be featuring. We wish them the best in their studies and potential professional careers.
Prediction: The result will be a question of how many goals Chicago scores and where they will come from, but this match isn’t about the result. Inquiries as to the reason behind Bastian Schweinsteiger’s absence can only be avoided for so long, Matt Polster’s seeming fall in the pecking order should also not go unnoticed, and the ever present massive hole where an Enganche should be will ensure that some frustrations continue in the aftermath of Saturday’s encounter.