The Fire passed their biggest test of the preseason with a tactically sound victory over the MLS Cup Champion Portland Timbers. A switch from a formation that often featured five defenders in the first half, to the team’s more conventional set-up in the second, allowed the team to stifle the home team while absorbing pressure and attack on counters. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson also contributed to the clean sheet with a handful of quality saves.
Right back Michael Harrington continued to contribute offensively. His cross in the 28th minute found the head of Arturo Alvarez, who directed the ball into the Portland net and give Chicago the lead. Seven minutes later, Gilberto collected the ball from an Alvarez free kick to give the Fire a two goal advantage, and cement the Simple Invitational tournament title.
A 5-0-1 finish this preseason with a plus-12 goal differential in six organized contests bodes well for a revamped Fire side that seems to have bought into Veljko Paunovic’s style and enthusiasm. The statistics won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things once the season gets started next Sunday, but the results have brought hope to a fan base in need of it.
“It feels great because we saw that we can (win),” said Paunovic after the match. “The players, the guys, they did it great and they deserved it. They worked hard and they were a team. They followed the game plan, and all this means a lot before we start the season with the home opener against New York.”
Midfielder Matt Polster credited the new technical staff with instilling something that works. “Pauno has a very good style and system and it showed tonight. We took a lot of pressure, but we bent and didn’t break. As long as we believe in the system and trust Pauno, I think we will be alright.”
That’s the hope.
DEF Harrington, Campbell, Kappelhof, Vincent
MID Polster, Meira (Cocis 72′), Alvarez (Calistri 72′), Goossens (Stephens 81′), Igboananike (Fernandez 88′)
FWD Gilberto (Ramos 88′)
- The Fire currently have 22 signed players on the roster, with Lampson being the latest official signing. John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez are expected to sign deals upon the return to Chicago later today.
- MLS roster/budget compliance day is March 1. Teams rosters will need to conform to roster rules by Tuesday. The Fire are in good shape with budget space remaining, roster spots open, and allocation money in pocket.
- The MLS transfer window does not close until May, so there is time to add the midfield and attacking support that is still needed. The Fire are still pursuing a central midfielder and an attacking midfielder/second forward. This could be a busy week. Stay tuned.