University of South Florida 0
Chicago Fire 2 (Nikolic 40, Collier 75)
Starters (4-2-3-1): Sanchez; Corrales, Dean, Campbell, Ramos; McCarty (c), Adams; Solignac, Bakero, Johnson; Nikolic. Basically the top XI right now except with recent arrivals Kappelhof, Vincent and Polster rested from the start. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s slow-rolling of the start of preseason has him signing autographs tirelessly but not dressed for the kickaround.
It’s 4:03 CST and I still don’t have a stream ... fingers crossed. Frank Stranzl trying to reassure Twitter. Ah, there we go - I had to whitelist this ad to get the thing to load.
First thought: Man, fuck the countdown clock and the whole clown-ass NCAA rules subset.
9 - Nemanja Nikolic with some hilariously preseasonish closing, as USF’s keeper dallies on the ball, Niko closes and doesn’t tackle him, then lets him play straight through him to his only outlet anyway. That’s how it’s gonna be today, and that’s ok. Think of this game as sitting in the park, watching practice. It won’t do to be demanding.
14- Mo Adams showing he isn’t fucking around about being the New Chris Armas - first yellow of the season to the young Englishman. Bravo, sir.
22- To this point Bakero is playing very much like a trequartista. Seems to want the ball played to his feet rather than running onto it. Fills defensive zones diligently but without enthusiasm. Clearly has good feet. Frankly, I’d be suspicious of a super-diligent, working-his-socks-off Spaniard at this point in the season - Bakero is displaying a proper footballer’s sense of slowly increasing his workload.
28 - Adams with a neat moment in possession in the attacking zone, receives ball with back to goal, takes two neat touches to step around a tackle and sprays a good ball to the right wing for Ramos to cross into the mixer. Adams not being outclassed by Dax, which may be somethin’ or may be nothin’.
40 - Niko makes it 0-1 to the Fire! Christian Dean, pouncing on an opportunity after a giveaway by a USF midfielder whose number I didn’t notice, overlaps Daniel Johnson. Dean’s cross is on point as Nikolic storms onto it, stooping to power it home. The who thing comes after a series of fairly enterprising moves by the USL guys, and feels a bit cruel, which is just as should be, given that we live in the Worst Timeline.
43- Corrales tries to carbon-copy Dean’s assist, storming forward and crossing but Niko can’t keep it on target.
HALF: 0-1 Fire. Talkin’ dudes saying mass subs for the Fire, moving into a 3-5-2 for the second half. Groovy. Former Hot Time staffer nabs the second half alignment:
... so I guess that means Campbell, Bakero, Adams and Corrales are out, Moreira, Bronico, Lillard and Vincent are in. Also, Moreira and Kappelhof should be switched. (Turns out that Vincent played in the left centerback role, while Moreira looked very much like a left wingback playing out wide.)
53- Solignac (now playing up front alongside Niko) apparently puts the Fire up two, but Ramo’s sharp cross is adjudged to have curved behind the goal line in flight. #cf97 putting in sharp crosses when they get a chance, mostly through wingbacks.
58- Crosses flying in as the Fire have USL under siege - DJ, then Ramos, then a Bronico corner, then a Vincent cross but none find anyone.
63- SUBS: Campos, Gatt, Conner, Ruiz & someone else come in. Expect this to look like a proper kickaround now, with lots of guys trying to show something.
68- USF dig deep to block three straight shots from the Fire. Men in Red try a second bite of the apple but Campos(?) takes at least one touch too many and gets closed down
70- Conner looks sharp and ready to play. Follows up a cross, but his blast from the top of the box slices wide of the right post.
75- FIRE GOAL! 0-2 FIRE! Gatt breaks the pattern from the right wing, driving infield and threading a pass to an advancing Bronico. Brony-bro’s through-ball leads Collier perfectly, and the Kiwi’s shot has enough to blast through a half-save and trickle into the net.
81- Albert Ruiz, one of the trialists in the game, wins a corner and a free kick in rapid succession. Quick feet, clever.
85- Woof, Gatt gives away a chance by attempting a difficult chest trap while moving toward the Fire’s goal. Can’t do that when you’re in the defensive layer; moving back to defense after losing speed isn’t as simple as you’d think.
90- Gotta say that this defensive alignment - Lillard as a stopper in the middle, Vincent and Kappelhof as the outside centerbacks, and Moreira and Gatt playing as defensive wingers - offers a multitude of passing options out of the back. Hard to see how this group would get pressed successfully unless they were able to spring a trap on Lillard, who seems to understand this role pretty well.
And peeppeeppeeeeeeep that’s it! Fire stagger around a bit but show the class of professionals in the end. USF guys provide a fantastic workout, challenging everything and pouncing on mistakes often enough to make the pros sweat.
For a team that’s believed to have a wing crisis, the Fire sure were able to get off a massive number of crosses today. How much of that was level of competition? I’m guessing a shitload of it was level of competition. Or maybe we’re so committed to wingbacks that we figure what we really need are inside forwards, guys who run the channels but play deeper than Niko.
What did I miss? Tell us in the comments below!