Well that is certainly one way to move on from Harry Shipp.
In the first real match since Shipp was sent to Montreal, the Chicago Fire defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 largely because of a dominant performance from trialist John Goossens. The first game of the Simple Invitational in Portland was a coming out party for the Dutch midfielder who showed off his strength, scoring and creativity throughout the contest.
The middle of the field was his and his alone for the roughly 70 minutes he was on the field. He got the party started with a goal in the first five minutes, recovering a sloppy Vancouver pass with the help of Matt Polster right near the box. After a couple dribbles in to the box, he blasted a shot right past David Ousted to give the Fire a quick 1-0 lead. That explosive start set the tone for the rest of his game.
He showed off his strength, shedding defenders and continuing his strong runs regardless of contact or pressure he faced. He showed off his smarts, jumping into passing lanes, intercepting passes and creating dangerous counterattacks. He showed his accuracy, sending beautiful through balls for scoring chances, including an absolute perfect pass to Gilberto that should have been put in the back of the net.
Anything you could possibly want out of a midfielder, Goossens displayed at some point during the game. If the 28-year-old is a trialist for even a day more, that is one day too long. He needs to be signed.
As if Goossens spectacular performance was not enough to quell some concerns about life after Shipp, young Collin Fernandez was quick to flash his potential once again. A late substitute, Fernandez needed only minutes to make a darting run into the box and draw a penalty that led to Kennedy Igboananike's game winner from the spot.
After drawing that crucial penalty, Fernandez sent a perfect ball into the box on a set piece that easily could have been Igboananike's second goal if not for an outstanding save from Ousted. Fernandez needed a mere 15 minutes to show his quality yet again. It's only one preseason game, but it was the perfect time for the central midfielders to show the future could still be very bright.
Of course, not everything was perfect. The new center back pairing of Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira did not have a great showing. Vancouver leveled the game 1-1 after a long cross bounced around the box, deflected off a Whitecap to Kappelhof who inadvertently put the ball in for an own-goal. It was the perfect Adailton impression.
The second goal came on a low cross from Adekugbe, who gave Michael Harrington some trouble at right back for most of the first half. Adekugbe sent the low cross in after finding plenty of space and Techera easily lost Meira to flick in a gimme goal.
The two conceded goals were very reminiscent of 2015, but again, it's only one preseason game. Kappelhof and Meira will have time to work on communication and learn each other's tendencies. I am not going to indict them for an underwhelming debut. But the center back position will be continuously critiqued by fans all year and Nelson Rodriguez better hope he pegged the right men. After a full offseason of stressing the need to find a center back as the top priority, another miss would be unacceptable.
A 3-2 victory without David Accam and against a very good Vancouver squad is always worth enjoying, even if it is meaningless. There is reason to be optimistic heading into 2016 and that is all I can hope for out of the preseason. Even if two of the Fire's three goals came on penalty shots that may or may not have been given in a regular-season game, the team is attacking, fun and playing with plenty of energy. Bring on Minnesota.
Some quick observations:
• Matt Polster is the captain. No disrespect to Razvan Cocis who is a pro's pro, but Polster is the leader of this squad with or without the armband. Poster played a fantastic game, was constantly communicating and stood up for backup keeper Matt Lampson when Blas Perez took a run at him right before the final whistle. Poster is a national team prospect and looks like a 10-year veteran despite entering his second year. He is quickly becoming the foundational piece in the squad.
• Gilberto is going to be frustrating to watch at times. The big Brazilian showed his physicality throughout, delivering and absorbing contact to the annoyance of many Whitecaps, including Kendall Waston. That physical play breaks down defenders physically and mentally and can lead to set piece opportunities and penalty shots, which is good. But it seems to be his sole focus at times. The glorious chance set up by Goossens was a bit wasted. It was a hard strike, but the placement could have been better from a striker of his caliber. I hope to see an open play goal or two from Gilberto this preseason.
• Yes Kennedy Igboananike scored on a penalty, but I'll take it. Strikers need confidence. The more he sees the ball in the net, the better. Let's hope this can kick start his second year in Chicago.
• The defense wasn't great but Brandon Vincent showed some potential. At one point, he made an extremely athletic save on the touchline, chasing down a bomb of a pass from Meria. His athleticism and instincts going forward should lead to some big moments.
• Arturo Alvarez still looks pretty good. Joey Calistri looked invisible.
What were your thoughts on the game? Who is writing the song for John Goossens?