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Friendly Fire: Chicago plays to scoreless draw with Norwich City, and other notes

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Chicago Fire opened the preseason with a scoreless draw against Norwich City; Red Stars release schedule; former Fire player is named coach for Costa Rican national team; Fire Academy players grow up and go to college

Our photographer barely got this film out of the UK ahead of ... oh, wait, no, that's not right. Here's Quincy Amarikwa soccering his soccer off in Thursday's closed-door scrimmage against Norwich City FC.
Our photographer barely got this film out of the UK ahead of ... oh, wait, no, that's not right. Here's Quincy Amarikwa soccering his soccer off in Thursday's closed-door scrimmage against Norwich City FC.
Fire start preseason with scoreless draw, or so they say

The Fire officially kicked off the preseason Thursday in England, playing to a 0-0 draw against Norwich City. The game was played behind closed doors and apparently behind a cyber wall. There were sparse updates during the game from the official Chicago Fire Twitter account, noting the first and second half lineups and not much else.

Even the game recap on the website left a lot to be desired, highlighting three moments during the game against a nameless Norwich side that was later confirmed to include a mix of professionals and under-21s. Though it is only preseason, I hope to have a bit more coverage for next week's match against Queens Park Rangers.The takeaways from the Norwich game came from Frank Yallop's post-game comments. Yallop seemed to be pleased with the effort from both squads he deployed. He opted to play each half with a different set of 11 as follows:

First half: Busch; Palmer, Adailton, Gehrig, Jones; Alex, Cocis, Watson; Shipp, Maloney, Igboananike

Second half: Kann; Kingsley, Ritter, Polster, Cochrane; Songo'o, Gaul, Stephens; Fernandez, Amarikwa, do Prado

According to Yallop's comments, both squads played in a 4-3-3 with Maloney playing in the expected withdrawn role and Shipp and Igboananike up front. Cocis and Watson played behind Maloney in what Yallop described as an inverted triangle. That leaves Alex's role a little vague without actually seeing the game, but seeing as it is the first time out, I'm sure it will sort itself out.

Yallop specifically said Gehrig and Polster had a strong game, which is nice to hear considering they will likely be providing depth, which lacked last year. He also mentioned Shipp as someone who played well, which is also interesting. To me, that is one of the top - if not the top - storyline of the season. Even though he is playing more of a striker role in the 4-3-3 as designed Thursday, I think he could end up slotting into the starting lineup by the start of the season. On the other hand, he is so versatile Yallop may stick with the idea of using him as first man off the bench.

Jeff Larentowicz was held out of the game because of some slight knee bruising. Yallop said the MRI came back clear and he should be on the field "pretty soon."

Red Stars return

The National Women's Soccer League released its 2015 schedule Thursday, featuring a season-opening four-game home stand for the Red Stars that includes a May 9 doubleheader at Toyota Park. Fire fans who buy a ticket to the Real Salt Lake game will be treated to free admission to the Red Stars game against the Boston Breakers.

Chicago will look to build off a franchise-best 9 victories in 2014 and end a two-year playoff drought in 2015. The Red Stars return two-time team MVP Lori Chalupny as well as U.S. internationals Shannon Boxx, Julie Johnston and Christen Press. Only one home game falls during the World Cup, meaning Chicago fans will be able to see all the international stars on both the Red Stars and their opponents.

Home games, outside of the Toyota Park doubleheader, will take place at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle. All but one home game falls on a weekend, which should also make the games more accessible for fans. Season tickets are already on sale as are tickets for the home opener against Seattle Reign FC on April 18. The rest of the single-game tickets go on sale Monday.

Fans simply need to call 773-698-6001 or visit www.chicagoredstars.com to get those precious ducats.

Former Fire player to lead Ticos

Sure, Paulo Wanchope made 64 appearances with Manchester City and scored 27 goals, but I think it is safe to say he will always be remembered for his riveting two-goals-over-12-appearances stint with the Fire in the 2007 season.

While he only had a cup of coffee with the Men in Red, there is no shame in feeling a tinge of happiness seeing him succeed on the managerial levels. After winning the Copa Centroamericana with Costa Rica in September as interim manager, Wanchope has been named permanent manager for the national team.

Chicago fans may get a chance to see him in the Gold Cup this summer, depending on how the schedule plays out and what venues are chosen for the later stages.

Fire Academy sending players to top colleges

I absolutely loathe National Signing Day. It is weird adults get that invested in the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds and it is nearly impossible to tell which players will pan out in the end. But with that being said, the Chicago Fire Academy had some of their players join some pretty impressive collegiate teams this week. Five of the nine players who signed are going to Big Ten schools, so for those with the Big Ten Network and the desire to watch some college soccer, keep an eye on these names.

Rashad Boyd (Penn State), Robert White (Northwestern), Andrew Gutman (Indiana), Shannon Seymour (Northwestern) and Ryan Sierakowski (Michigan State). The rest are as follows: Oscar Gonzalez (UIC), Mike Jimenez (UIC), Jacob Rooth (Creighton) and Peter Schroop (Georgetown)

Fire Juniors clubs also had 72 players join college programs ranging from Division I to Division III.