I attended Staurday's preseason game vs Chivas USA in Oxnard, California. I wanted to share my impressions of the game as well as share some photos I took of the action. I actually posted some of the photos as "Fan Shots" but will repost and add some more commentary here.
First the game.
It was an interesting game. The first team that started really looked flat. This has been mentioned in a few recaps and you may have noticed in the highlights that it's pretty Chivas dominated. They were pretty well organized defensively but couldn't get much going in attack. I thought Federico Puppo looked pretty poor. He wasn't connecting well with Grazzini or the wings. In person, he is, quite frankly, tiny. He seemed to get man handled by the Chivas defense and couldn't get anything going with Oduro. I thought Pardo and Grazzini had a nice connection but Pappa and Nyarko seemed to be getting sucked back helping on defense and that limited them going forward. I'm not sure how the 4-4-2 is going to work with these players. Oduro and Puppo are both pretty short, and Grazzini does not seem like much of an aerial threat so even if we do get service out to the wings were not going to have much luck with crosses into the box. That's fine if were going to play a posession/short passing game, but I feel like you want to pair Oduro with a hold up forward who can put him through to utilize his speed and I don't think Puppo is that guy. Dube seemed like a slower version of Oduro so I'm not sure he's the answer either. Sean Johnson looked strong and confident. I think it could really be a big year for him.The second half was a totally different game. The 2nd team that came on brought a much higher intensity and Chivas struggled to match it. A lot more chances for the Fire. Paladini's goal wasn't spectacular, Pearce basically gift wrapped the chance and their backup goalie could have done better, but it was indicative of the kind of pressure the Fire were applying. Barouch had a bunch of chances, unfortunately he muffed most of them. It was particularly disappointing for him as he had at least a dozen family members there. An interesting note on the second half is that Victor Pineda was on the wing closest to the Fire bench and Klopas, who was pretty quiet for most of the game, gave him a lot of instruction and encouragement. He seemed pretty focused on him. I didn't think Pineda had a great game, but you can definitely see something there.
I was feeling very optimistic about the Fire heading into this game and I still feel that way. I think we might struggle to score though and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of different guys get auditioned up top with Oduro. I don't think Puppo is the answer a lot of Fire fans are hoping he is. I'm also wondering where Pause is going to play in this set up. Maybe you push Pappa or Nyarko up top and put him on the wing? I think Logan still brings a lot of quality to the side, but if you're only going with one DM, it's gotta be Pardo.
Those are my thoughts. In retrospect I may be being a little harsh on Puppo. It was one game and if you see the highlight of his one big scoring opportunity he puts a really nice move on the defender to get free for the shot. He just overall did not impress. But it was one game.
Going to this game was a really cool experience. I got to really see how the players interact with each other on and off the field and see Klopas in action. After the game the players were friendly and accessible. it was almost unnerving how relaxed the setting was. It felt like attending a high school game or something. If you live in the areas where they'll be playing the remainder of their preseason games (including the upcoming game this Saturday in Oxnard) I highly recommend attending. It was a very memorable experience.
Alright, here are the photos. Apologies for quality, I'm no pro.
Fire bench just after kickoff. The field was natural grass and in great condition.
Great to see Sean back in action for the Fire. He had a big save in the first half that I of course didn't get a pic of.
Puppo's best chance. The Chivas defender put in a big tackle to block the shot.
There was a bit of melee towards the end of the first half following a collision between Corey Gibbs and Alejandro Moreno. Nice to see some intensity in a preseason game.
Pappa and Nyarko take in the second half. They spent the entire half on the ground away from their teammates on the bench. Make of that what you will. To be fair, the bench was pretty full.
Fire chance on a corner.
Orr Barouch breakaway. Nothing would come of it.
Full time. Yes, that is a trailer park behind the field. Very nice setup otherwise.
Oduro signing after the game.
Fire owner Adrew Hauptman talks with Frank Klopas after the game. Hauptman was around all game and made a point to talk to the numerous player families that were there. I also overheard him mention that he wouldn't be at Wednesday's game as he was going to be snowboarding in Aspen. Tough life.
Corey Gibbs was nice enough to take a picture with me after the game. I'm on the left.
Sean Johnson also graciously stopped for a pic. This photo was actually taken by Kwame Watson-Siriobe's father. So big thanks to him.
So there you go. As you can see it was a pretty intimate setting which made for a unique experience. Let's hope the win was a sign of big things to come for the Fire.