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Can Spring Be Far Behind: FC Cincinnati 1, Chicago Fire 1, Preseason Game Recap

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With preseason almost over, the Fire put in a encouraging performance

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

FC Cincinnati 1 Lamah 84’

Chicago Fire 1 Katai 52’

No matter how bitter or jaded we can be as Fire fan— and this team offers plenty of reasons for that— there comes a point every preseason when we all realize how much we missed this team and how glad we are that the new season is starting soon.

For me, it happened tonight. There was something about hearing Dan Kelly and Frank Klopas on the stream— Dan with his dulcet tones, Frank talking about “switching the point of the attack” even when it didn’t quite fit what he was describing— just brought those familiar feelings rushing back. I hate this team, and I love this team, and I always miss them when they’re gone.

I’m trying to hold on to the good feelings right now because it’s a little too easy to fixate on the Fire’s problems. Outside back remains a big, glaring weakness. One can already imagine how decent teams in this league will look to exploit that during the season, barring some needed reinforcements. Meanwhile, our central defenders keep pushing far, far forward, and it feels like that’s seen as a feature and not a bug. CBs who push forward can work, but if you don’t have defenders who know what they’re doing and a midfield that knows how to provide cover, it’s way too easy to get torched. (See also: pretty much the entire 2018 season.)

More to the point: FC Cincinnati just weren’t playing well, the Fire should’ve really gone into halftime with a lead. But they couldn’t. Yes, it’s preseason and there’s no real sense of urgency. Yes, the first half lineup was basically the B-Team. Still, I struggled to see a throughline between where the team is now and the supposedly stronger form they’ll be in come mid-season. It’s too easy to imagine July CF97 looking a lot like February CF97.

The Fire looked a lot sharper in the second half with basically the full A-Team lining up. The movement, the sense of control, the killer instinct— everything lacking in the first half finally checked emerged. And the good guys didn’t have to wait long at all for their efforts to pay off, with Aleksandar Katai opening the scoring in the 52nd minute.

Beyond the goal, Chicago’s attack looked like they were starting to click. This is that throughline I was talking about. You can see this front three (or front four?) getting even better and, come summer, ripping into the likes NYRB, or DC, or, dare I say it, Atlanta.

They couldn’t quite hold on to the lead. Roland Lamah leveled the score for Cincy in the 84th minute with a long distance strike that no one— not even David Ousted— could do anything about. The Fire were pretty clearly the better team for the 2nd half, you can’t really fault them for this.

The game ended square. Result aside, this team showed some real promise in the second half. Their problems are still there, but there’s at least some genuine, observable progress.

Feels like spring. Feels like a new season.

Stray Observations:

  • Fire started the game with Bronico wearing the armband. I’m... surprisingly ok with this.
  • Cincinnati really hasn’t announced their kit yet? Shouldn’t Don Garber talk to them about that?
  • Richard Sanchez started in goal. He didn’t have a whole lot to do tonight, but even so, I feel pretty ok about letting Ousted be the starting keeper for a while.
  • Hasler had a decent night, which is encouraging (especially in light of our fullback problem).
  • Martinez also looked solid. I don’t think he’s a starter, but if he can nail down a role as a consistent late substitute it’ll make a huge difference for this team.
  • I think a lot of this season is going to come down to how well Djordje Mihailovic is coached. We’ve already seen what he can do for both club and country when he’s given the tools and resources to succeed. The question is whether Pauno will figure out how to get the best out of him.
  • Really surprised at how well Frankowski does when he tracks back. Didn’t really think of him as a two-way player, but if he’s got that in his toolbox, all the better.
  • Mo Adams: still one of my faves.
  • It’s free and I can’t really complain about that but WOW this stream was terrible.
  • I wish we had a chance to face stronger opposition in preseason. Columbus is in a rebuilding year, Cincy are clearly still figuring things out, and Charleston are a lower league team. I worry that the first handful of regular season games will feel like diving into Lake Michigan on New Years’ Day.

The Fire will finish up in the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday when they take on the Charleston Battery.