Preseason Postmortem: Chicago Fire (0) vs. New England Revolution (1)

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Left-to-Right: Juan Luis Anangono, Baky Soumare, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Jeff Larentowicz follow a cross in (photo: Chicago-Fire.com)

OTF contributor Daniel Casey ponders pairings after the Chicago Fire first loss of the 2014 preseason…

The first loss of the preseason has given us perhaps the most accurate glimpse into the quality of the 2014 Chicago Fire and the quality of play we are likely to see this season.

With the relatively surprising departure of Austin Berry to Philadelphia, it is most certain the starting center back pairing will be Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. With the dominant formation looking more and more like it will be a 4-1-4-1, this pairing offers adequate defending and the possibility of goal scoring.

I’ve made it clear that I do not think Soumare should be a starter, and I also believe he will be a liability all season. Soumare is not a defense-minded defender and when he does defend it is poorly done.

What will determine the success of the Soumare/Hurtado pairing? Several things, but first off it will be the health of Hurtado. It is a concern, but I believe he is over his injuries and set to be a major contributor to the team this season.

Secondly, will Soumare’s offensive output make up for his defensive failings? That is, Soumare’s going forward must not just produce more goals, but more points for the team — more than the goals and points he’ll surrender. I doubt it will.

Finally, the most significant factor influencing the team’s defensive success will be the performance of Jeff Larentowicz as the anchor. I’d like to assert that Soumare would be more suited as a defensive midfield partner or backup to Larentowicz than as a name to consider in the center back pool. Think of him in this regard as a reverse Amobi Okugo.

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Baky Soumare moving forward out of the back (photo: Chicago-Fire.com)

I mention all of this simply because I did not see any worthwhile movement or decisions from Soumare in the loss to New England. The adequate, though dull and labored, first half performance by the A-squad defensive line (Lovel Palmer, Hurtado, Soumare, and Gonzalo Segares) is going to be the default. I’m uncomfortable with how slow this back line is, but I am happy with its league experience. 

Peppering in new signing and SuperDraftee Marco Franco and fellow fullback Hunter Jumper, as well as number three centerback Ianni, should mitigate my concerns, however. Moreover, Austin Berry’s departure not only helped the Fire sign Franco but, hopefully, opened enough cap space to bring in fullback Grant Ward (who has the talent and technique to play as a winger in MLS) from Tottenham on loan and, perhaps, augment Mike Magee’s contract.

Getting Magee onto the pitch without any lingering off the field issues is vital for Chicago. There is still a persistent worry that Juan Luis Anangonó cannot find success as a lone striker. This seems especially true if the service from the wings is less than superb, and history has taught us that Chicago’s wingers are rarely consistent. Thus, the team desperately needs Magee not just in camp (he arrived today), but also working out his relationship with Anangonó.

Although the young guns of Joya, Shipp, and Pineda are proving themselves to be eager playmakers and deserving of first team playing time, they will not (and should not) be looked upon to provide the bulk of goals for the Fire this season. Goals must come from Anangonó and Magee, and for this to happen we need to be patient and give their attacking partnership time to develop. Last season wasn’t an adequate marker of what these two forwards are capable of doing together.

Chicago will be going up against Chivas de Guadalajara’s developmental squad on Saturday for the Desert Diamond Cup championship, so perhaps the Fire can come out of the preseason with some silverware. Although it’ll merely be a preseason cup, it certainly will do a lot to boost morale and increase the squad’s cohesion.

Currently, there are twenty-seven names on the roster. I suspect Ward is on his way in and signs seem to point to a contract for fullback Thomas Piermayr (that is, if there’s salary cap room). I still doubt the Fire futures of Steven Kinney, Yazid Atouba, and Giuseppe Gentile, and I do not believe in the need to retain Quincy Amarikwa. Point is, there will still be roster moves in our team’s future. Still positive, but getting more and more realistic.

OTF Contributor Daniel Casey writes about soccer hoping someday someone will pay him to do so. More of his soccer scribbling can be found at Soccer Newsday. Follow him on Twitter @misanthropester

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