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Simply The Best: Fire win Simple Invitational

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The Chicago Fire wrapped up a perfect preseason with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers Saturday, clinching the Simple Invitational in the process.

The Fire clinched the Simple Invitational Saturday with a 2-0 win over Portland. Champions!
The Fire clinched the Simple Invitational Saturday with a 2-0 win over Portland. Champions!
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

I can just imagine all the Portland tears falling into Portland beards and Portland beers.

The Chicago Fire defeated the defending MLS Cup champions on their home turf Saturday 2-0 in a game the Timbers controlled during large stretches, making the victory that much sweeter. It was the Fire's first trophy since the 2014 Desert Diamond Cup. Great memories, yeah?

Portland fans probably don't really care that much as trophies like the MLS Cup get them more excited than the Simple Invitational. But this is a Fire team that is crawling up from out of the gutter and claiming the Simple Invitational should be a legitimate source of achievement for a group of largely newcomers learning how to play with each other.

It was another good game to watch as Veljko Paunovic kept the surprises coming, opting for a 3-5-2 instead of the usual 4-2-3-1. The result was a frustrated but still effective Portland midfield that dominated the first 20+ minutes of the game. There were some shaky moments and aggressive challenges again from center back Joao Meira, but he got the job done and his center back partners in Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhof were solid.

The formation allowed for the outside backs, Michael Harrington and Brandon Vincent, to push forward. Harrington took full advantage at the 28th minute when he played a beautiful ball into a streaking Arturo Alvarez who calmly headed the ball home. Alvarez's run caused confusion for Timber center back Nat Borchers, who couldn't recover in time to get in front of the opportunistic Alvarez.

Alvarez made his presence felt again in the 35th minute when he lined up for a free kick courtesy of Kennedy Igboananike, who was busy drawing fouls all game and tagged two Timbers with yellow cards. Alvarez sent a low curling ball into the box that Gilberto brought down through a sea of bodies. As Adam Kwarasey came to shut down Gilberto, the Brazilian gently nutmegged the keeper for the second goal.

The second half featured more pressure from the Timbers, requiring some stellar saves from goalkeeper Matt Lampson. A clean sheet, athletic saves and some good distribution. After playing the full 90, it appears I may have undersold Lampson as a "third goalkeeper." First-choice goalkeeper is seeming more likely. Still, he had some shaky moments including a weak punch out and a bobbled scoop that Meira erased. The good outweighed the bad and the competition for the starting spot between the sticks on March 6 is officially on.

This was a fantastic and fun preseason for the Fire. The goals have been flowing, the energy has been evident and Paunovic looks like a true strategist. We know well that preseason success has nothing to do with regular season success, but after a last-place finish every positive accomplishment should be enjoyed. I know I have enjoyed watching so far. (Please don't start the season with a three-game losing streak.)

Game Observations

• I mentioned the goalkeeper issue above. So yeah, that's a real thing. Sean Johnson lost his job a bit to Jon Busch last year. If he loses it to Matt Lampson out of the gate this year, I'm not sure Johnson's future with the team would be clear. Lampson has been great and Paunovic has no mandate to prefer Johnson, but I can't claim I saw it coming.

• Kennedy Igboananike was far from a $1 million-plus Designated Player Saturday, but he was much better than his striker-focused role of last year. Igboananike regularly gathered balls in the middle of the pitch, made some nice dribbles and runs to create space and most importantly drew a whole bunch of fouls. It was a promising performance.

• That John Goossens contract is on the way. Just make sure that Arturo Alvarez contract is there too, which is expected.

• Speaking of Goossens, there was a play in the second half when he was clear of everyone charging forward. He bombed a shot, which was smothered by Kwarasey. Gilberto was left alone. Kwarasey made an excellent decision and play and perhaps caught Goossens off guard with how quickly he came off the line. But that is no excuse. A pass to Gilberto was the right play. The team was already up 2-0, but it is a moment where what should be a sure goal was wasted. That will count eventually. There was a good Twitter discussion about how this is a real opportunity for a coaching moment. We still know little about Paunovic and Goossens and this is a chance to see how a mistake is fixed. I look forward to the next 2-on-1 breakaway to see if adjustments were made.

• I have no idea if Paunovic is going to go with a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2. I think both formations could work and both might be used. Meira still scares me a bit, but the defense did enough to win in both setups.

• I cannot wait to see David Accam again. I mean this team has been fun, but still, Accam.

• Michael Harrington has likely beat out Rodrigo Ramos for the starting right back spot. Harrington, to me, has improved a bit each time out.

What are your thoughts on the 2-0 victory? What are your thoughts on the Fire's preseason as a whole? Matt Lampson!?!