You know what makes subzero temperatures more bearable? Fire!
Even Sunday’s Hoth-like weather in Chicago could not dampen the warm, fuzzy feelings of watching the Men in Red take the pitch for the first time in 2015. It was great seeing familiar faces such as Jon Busch back on the field for the Fire and even Bob Bradley on the sidelines for the Norwegian opponents.
With new faces came new hope. After years of yearning for three designated players to join the Fire, fans were treated a trio of offensive minded foreigners with Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike all taking the field. And while fans did not see a 6-0 result with Maloney assisting on braces for Igboananike and Accam along the way, all three showed flashes of promise that have supporters believing in a return to the playoffs.
If the buzz and fresh approach was just a little too much to take in all at once, fear not. The Fire also offered up a performance that at times harkened back to the comfortable familiarity of the last couple years, just in case there are some fans who can’t handle too much change too soon.
There may be some dissatisfaction with a 0-0 draw, but it’s preseason. I cannot justify criticizing players too harshly as they play their way into game shape and build chemistry with each other. So while I am going to rank the players, it is with more light heartedness than usual.
XI: Lovel Palmer
The fullbacks are receiving a lot of love of their performance and rightfully so. While many were impressed with newcomer Joevin Jones, I thought Palmer had the more complete game. The second-year right back had a pair of dangerous crosses that could have, and possibly should have, been goals. He was stout defensively all afternoon and looked in mid-season form. All the full backs were great Sunday. Even Eric Gehrig played a tremendous ball in for Kingsley Bryce despite two minutes of playing time.
X: Joevin Jones
We all love Joevin Jones! He showed flashes of speed and offensive creativity that had made everyone wanting to see a lot more. I was not sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with what Jones offered. He played in some great balls to Accam and has the kind of speed you see out of wing backs. He vacated his defensive responsibilities from time to time, but was also tight on opposing runners at other times. The competition for left back might be over.
IX: Jon Busch
So he didn’t have a busy day, but it’s Jon Busch’s first game back with the Fire (at least for fans to see) and he likely won’t play much if any in the next two exhibitions. Seeing him out there again already qualified as a top performance in my book and I have to say it was fantastic seeing some solid distribution. His decisions on where to pass the ball were on point as was the execution. Let’s hope we see the same from Sean Johnson.
VIII: Kennedy Igboananike
After the Juan Luis Anangono experience, pretty much any alternative would have looked like an upgrade. Considering it was one of his first games with the team, Igboananike did what I most wanted to see. He made himself available and was aggressive and aware. He made his intentions known right away by blasting a shot from outside the box wide of the goalkeeper. It was ambitious, which is fine with me. He later jumped all over an errant pass from Stabæk and missed a golden opportunity. If he is going to truly be an offensive answer, he NEEDS to convert those chances. But this is still the feeling out process, so I was more than pleased with the potential he showed.
VII: Harry Shipp
He looked a little lost to start the game on the right side, but he started to get into his game and buzz around both sides of the field before long. Shipp is at home in the middle of the pitch and he has found ways to occupy prime space in those areas even if he lines up on the left wing or right wing. He took a shot on target from the right side of the pitch and was active in multiple buildups. His interplay with Maloney is going to be a work in progress.
VI: Shaun Maloney
Maloney had the highest expectations so it was always going to be impossible to live up to the billing straight away. He took some nice set pieces and was confident in calling the shots right away, often falling deep to take the ball and attempt to spark the offense. Honestly I thought he dropped back too often and took away the role of the Watson/Cocis combination. If Maloney can get the ball closer to the final third, I think we’ll see his creativity and precision on display. No need to worry.
V: David Accam
Frustrating first half for the new DP, but boy some of those second half runs had me feeling good. His speed is going to be a challenge for many MLS full backs and his explosiveness should lead to scoring chances on its own. He had a nervous moment when he pulled up with an injury, but it seems all is well. I’m not sure we’ll see him the next game, but hopefully he can put in 45 minutes in the preseason finale. For a player like Accam who relies on freakish athletic ability, he needs to be fully fit.
I’d love to say a lot of great things about the new center back, but he was not challenged often. He appears strong and smart, possibly a bit slow but it’s too early to fairly judge as most players are still working on conditioning. I am absolutely fine with him starting alongside Larentowicz and eager to see if he can contribute on set pieces. However, I am not ready to say he is the answer or undisputed starter.
III: Jeff Larentowicz
I have no concerns with him being a starting center back, but he was just mediocre Sunday. He had some communication issue with Busch that nearly led to a goal and he was too involved in the midfield. It’s not necessarily his fault that his fellow teammates kept passing him the ball, but Larentowicz serving as the linchpin in a game of hot potato happening at the center of the pitch was a big reason the offense stalled. Big Red needs to hang back and let Watson or Cocis be the middle man to the offense. I should note he had a good header near the end of the game that was off target.
II: Razvan Cocis
OK, here we go. The number one concern heading into the regular season is the "2" in the 4-2-3-1. I actually think Razvan Cocis and Matt Watson are capable, but they both seemed out of place a bit Sunday. Cocis had some nice moments of offensive creation and some physical challenges, but he seemed disjointed along with Watson. One, not both, of them can venture forward from time to time, but someone needs to be gatekeeper and stay home. Cocis could fit in, but it’s no guarantee.
I: Matt Watson
First off, great header off the goal line to save a 0-0 score. He also had some nice offensive contributions in his journeys to the final third. But again, he needs a more defined role or disciplined approach. If the 4-2-3-1 becomes a 4-5-1 as it did at times, players like Maloney automatically become less effective and less involved and that’s a bad thing. Playing the d-mid requires an ego check, and Watson is capable as is Cocis. But with players like Ritter, Polster and Stephens on the bench, I want to see a different starting combination next time out.
There were a lot of substitutes in the game. Quincy Amarikwa was his usual active self and stood out. Matt Polster also did enough to warrant a long hard look as defensive midfielder. Alex was frustrating as usual. Kingsley Bryce and Guly do Prado are both big men that could bring some set piece specialties off the bench.