There’s a reason people don’t watch early preseason games - they’re not really *games* the way we generally understand them.Ordinarily, we expect that the players’ primary focus will be winning the game, and the coaching staff’s primary focus will be winning the game, and that our primary takeaway will be whether our guys won the game or not.
Preseason isn’t like that. These are games you need a Secret Decoder Ring to puzzle through - that, and a steady source of caffeine. Each player likely has his own agenda at this point, and the green shoots of Joga Bonita only grow so quickly within a group of players, so the football tends toward the simpler end of the spectrum - mazy dribbling runs ending when no supporting move appears, wall-passes that spin off into no-man’s land, the difficulty of connection and creation laid bare.
So, yeah, our Fire played a nil-nil draw against the Philadelphia Union Thursday at brunch-time. Fitness was gained. Understanding, timing and tempo still lag a bit - coalescence isn’t an easy gig - but the overall spirit of the match was exemplified by the opening coin toss, which was handled by the two captains playground-style:
So @AleBedoya17 and I played Rock, Paper, Scissors before our preseason game today to determine who got ball first. I threw Rock, he threw Scissors. Chump . This should be the new coin toss. You’re welcome @MLS. #soccer— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) February 8, 2018
In short, this was a pregame training match where the emphasis was much more on ‘training’ than on ‘match.’ What did we learn?
Basti Watch is still a thing: No sign of Bastian Schweinsteiger again. If you’re alarmed, don’t be - shortening the season and reducing Basti’s overall workload will be a crucial aspect of keeping the German lynchpin in top form when the games really count eight or nine months from now.
Polster Watch is now a thing too: No sign, either, of third-year man Matt Polster. The assumption is he’s getting a little off-time after attending the USA men’s January camp, but that assumption grows thinner as one ponders the presence of Brandon Vincent, another J-camp call-up, in the starting lineup the last two games. Please, please tell me there’s a good reason. I’ll assume there is for now.
David is still David: Most of the intrigue around this match (what there was of it) centered on seeing David Accam in a Union kit against the Fire, and Accam didn’t disappoint, creating the Union’s two best chances during a first half where they had most of the play. The Men in Red’s obvious familiarity with Accam helped a bit, but his explosive pace and relentless drive to goal did create creases in the Fire’s defensive shape.
Dean appears to be a starter: As various as preseason lineups can be, it’s generally considered a Good Thing to get one’s starting centerback duo as many reps as possible, since those positions rely upon communication and anticipation skills that can take weeks to really sink in. We know that Johan Kappelhof is the best defender at the club. Starting next to him, for the second game in a row, was Christian Dean. It’s not hard to see why - Dean has shown glimpses of the pace, grace and skill that made him so highly touted just a few injuries ago. If Dean stays healthy and the pair gel, Kappelhof and Dean would be an extremely mobile MLS backline.
Gatt on the bubble: As usual, the college guys are taking a bit to get on top of the pace of MLS play, displaying the kind of safe, dogged football that comes from clinging on for dear life mentally. I was interested to see Josh Gatt playing further forward on the wing in this game, and he showed some flashes. The best moment had him turning a defender and getting to the line before angling a sharp, low cross that set up the kind of chance that Nemanja Nikolic turned into the net 27 times last year. But it’s preseason, and Nikolic finished his sharp run across the defender by thwacking Gatt’s hard-won cross into outer space. I’m rooting for Gatt, but he’s got to prove he’s got something to offer on a roster that also has Luis Solignac and Daniel Johnson who like to play primarily off that right wing. Train cheerfully, lad.