"[I am] a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: 'A pretty move, for the love of God.' " - Eduardo Galeano
It's not been a bad preseason for the Chicago Fire - no catastrophic injuries, nobody holding out for a new contract, no tragedies great or small to trouble the team's coalescence. The defense has looked organized and the spirit in the side seems good.
But goals, man. Competitive teams score goals.
So far, this edition of the Fire has had some difficulty creating chances from the run of play. In four preseason run-outs, the team's scored just twice, and one of those was a damn-how-did-I-do-that own goal from Portland centerback Norberto Papparato. Quincy Amarikwa's lightning counter-attack goal against QPR is the only goal scored by one of our guys in four games.
Some of Wednesday's moribund offensive showing can be laid at the feet of a rotated lineup; clearly, an XI that features Shaun Maloney and Harry Shipp will have more ideas than one without it. But even the first-choice side hasn't created huge numbers of great chances - against Stabaek, the best looks on goal were Shipp's curler off of a blown throw-in marking assignment and Kennedy Igboananike stealing a fluffed back-pass and striding in on goal.
Sure, it's preseason. And yes, building awareness of each other's tendencies and strengths takes time. Unfortunately, time is running out. A good offensive showing in this otherwise meaningless preseason run-out will go a long way to answering everyone's questions about this roster.
Vancouver offer a different kind of challenge than most other teams in MLS; in some ways, their offense is the one that most resembles what the Fire are trying to do. Vancouver doesn't attempt to keep the ball for 70 percent of the game, favoring instead keeping a solid defensive structure and using the mind-blowing speed of Darren Mattocks and Kekutah Manneh to leverage the creative abilities of Pedro Morales, Mauro Rosales and Russell Tiebert.
The Whitecaps' roster features impressive depth in the attacking positions, but their defensive personnel are a bit less distinguished. Any club turning to Pa-Modou Kah - cast off from Portland - as a solution at centerback is likely to be one that gives up goals. Which leads us back where this preview began: Can the Fire cause Vancouver trouble with the ball?
Fire deep midfielders vs. Pedro Morales: In a story yet to be run on Hot Time, I selected Pedro Morales as my dark-horse MVP pick. Cutting against the grain of modern tactical trends, Morales is a playmaker who thrives in the spaces haunted by old-school No. 10s - pockets of peacefulness between the lines and leaning toward the middle of the field. If the Men in Red return to the 4-2-3-1 that they featured in the Simple Invitational opener against Stabaek, communication between the deep midfielders will be terribly important, the better to deny Morales the space to work his magic.
Fire's creators vs. Matias Laba: Laba is a tireless ball-hawk, and his harrying play makes playing cleanly into the attacking zone difficult. Chicago will counter with an attacking group whose touch and creativity should make the Argentine terrier's day a long one - but will they? Can the Fire turn their group creativity into something tangible, like shots on goal?
What I'll be watching for
A pretty move, for the love of God.
Leaving aside the looming CBA difficulties, we're only six days away from playing the defending champs in their place. The result doesn't really matter, but the play does. A pretty move - a sense of connection and calm - a team performance - a goal ... for the love of God.