The Chicago Fire open up preseason play on Saturday with a match against the University of South Florida at 4 p.m. CT.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Fire after a busy offseason. Figuring out what this team will look like is no easy task giving the large number of unknowns and new players. The preseason, let alone the first preseason game against a college team out of season, won’t answer those questions.
With that said, here are some things to watch for if you tune into the web stream of Saturday’s game:
How does the team line up?
The Fire are missing six players in camp. Sean Johnson, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent are still with the national team and are expected to join the Fire on Monday. New acquisitions in the defense, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos, are not yet with the team either. That means there won’t be a first view of a true starting lineup, but somethings can be learned from who plays where positionally and what the starting formation is.
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How do the rookies look?
Vincent may be gone, but Jonathan Campbell and homegrowns Joey Calistri and Drew Conner are both already signed. With Meira and Kappelhof not in camp, Campbell should get an extended look. In addition, fellow draft picks Alex Morrell, Vincent Keller and Vincent Mitchell have an opportunity to make an impression.
Who plays out wide?
The Fire don’t have many wide midfielders on the roster. David Accam plays out wide, but more as a winger than a midfielder. Morrell and trialist Arturo Alvarez are more naturally wide midfielders, but neither has a guaranteed roster spot at the moment. Saturday’s match could provide a view into how the Fire plan to create width with a roster thin at that position.
Will the Fire build out of the back?
Against a college team the Fire will be expected to control the play, but will the emphasis Paunovic has put on building from the back be evident? The way the Fire build up in attack could be a telling sign of how Paunovic plans to have the team play, even if a number of key personnel will be missing.
What will the attack look like?
The defense may be missing a number of key players, but the attack is intact. How will David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, Gilberto and Harry Shipp play together in Paunovic’s system? Without any additions at forward this offseason these four players will be asked to carry the team’s attack, yet they were on the field at the same time for just 28 minutes last season. Gilberto made 10 appearances with the Fire after making his debut on Aug. 22, but by the time he started playing a full 90 minutes Shipp and Igboananike were not used as regular starters. How this group lines up and plays together will be one of the key storylines of the preseason.