Preseason Dispatch: Chicago Fire (2) vs. Colorado Rapids (1)
OTF contributor Daniel Casey mulls over the Chicago Fire’s first victory of the Desert Diamond Cup as part of the 2014 preseason…
The Fire’s first match of the Desert Diamond Cup hosted by the USL-PDL side FC Tucson (ostensibly fourth-tier in the US) went swimmingly with a 2-1 defeat of the Colorado Rapids. Preseason results always need to be taken with a grain of salt. I remember years of positive preseason results when I followed the Chicago Cubs as a kid, only to watch a season of purely awful play. Point is, there’s a very limited correlation between the preseason and the regular season; we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
That being said, the Desert Diamond Cup will prove an excellent whetstone with Colorado, FC Tucson, New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake, and Chivas USA in the tourney. In this first match, Chicago kept its line-up fairly fixed, giving the B squad the majority of the match to build up fitness.
The young gun midfield of Pineda, Joya, Shipp, and Ward appears to be gelling quite well. Even though Colorado fielded a mix-bag line-up, there was still a higher caliber of play than the B squad had previously seen. In fact, it took a Designated Player (Gabriel Torres) to break Chicago’s shutout streak.
There are three things I took away from this match. The first and most simple, Grant Ward looks to be Frank Yallop’s Simon Dawkins for the Fire. And he should be. Ward’s crossing has been superior throughout his time with the Fire and the fact that he can play fullback on either side, as well as the winger position he’s been working with the Fire, only increases his value.
Let’s not forget that Patrick Nyarko will get beaten to a pulp once again this season; he will be fouled and fouled again and only a handful of those fouls will be called. Nyarko will play the majority of the season in a state of constant needling pain. He’s played this way for the past few years.
What Nyarko needs is a backup that is his quality — a backup who can step in and play should injury take down our beloved Ghanaian, and a guy the manager knows he can sub in and get the same level of quality on the pitch. Ward is that backup, and the competition can only improve performance. He needs to be brought into the club. Ward is on his way back to England and Tottenham, so Yallop needs to work out a loan for the young man posthaste.
Improved performance through competition is exactly what we are seeing in the backline, which is my second take away. I am of the opinion that Baky Soumare is not a starter. Unless something dramatic happens, the pairing of Austin Berry and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado seems to be the strongest partnership. I’ve yet to see Hurtado make the cringe-inducing tackles and rushes forward that I’ve seen out of Soumare.
The coupling of Berry and Soumare was middling at best last season, and it feels as though it is the type of pairing that screams secondary option. The Fire’s second goal against Colorado came from a set piece (which is excellent news in itself), where the cross pinged from Berry to Hurtado to a lurking Quincy Amarikwa. Although arguably a scramble, I saw more calm in the rapid exchanges in that set piece — a quick movement between players who trusted each other — which is why I’ll continue to rate the Berry/Hurtado pairing over Berry/Soumare or Soumare/Patrick Ianni.
Finally, there’s the ever present question of what remaining players will be cut. I would imagine that every Fire supporter has a different opinion on this and that each is as justified as the last. Normativity in soccer personnel is a myth; no one should play, no one should get cut. But they will be.
To my mind, Amarikwa is superfluous. I don’t see him as a necessary piece, especially with Rolfe on the team. Yet Amarikwa has gotten a good share of minutes this preseason, much more than Giuseppe Gentile, Yazid Atouba — to whom Yallop appears to have given a duel role (wing/forward). Thus, it would seem that Amarikwa is likely to stay ahead of those three for certain. When it comes to fighting for the number four spot in the striker order, I can’t get too excited and within the 4-1-4-1 system that Yallop is developing for Chicago, Amarikwa lacks presence (he’s a striker who must have a partner).
Saturday, Chicago will play the cup hosts FC Tucson. Perhaps we’ll see some of the faces that have been missing thus far over the preseason. As of right now, I’m okay with the release of any or all of these players: Amarikwa, Atouba, Steven Kinney, and Patrick Walsh, and would rather see the core get more time together to work out their first team timing and relationships.
It was announced today that Kellen Gulley and Brendan King were waived by the team. The young forward Gulley never reached his potential and in his time on loan with Atlanta Silverbacks last season was routinely uninspiring, if not lazy. It’s good to see Chicago trimming the fat before a player turns Sherjill MacDonald-like.
The departure of the winger King suggests space being made for Grant Ward, and perhaps the extension of Atouba’s time with Chicago. We’ll continue to wait and see what moves are made during this tourney in Arizona.