Wins in preseason don't ultimately mean anything, but wins of any kind for a team that finished last in the league a year ago are a welcome change.
The Chicago Fire beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night at Providence Park in Portland. The win wrapped up the Simple Invitational title and an undefeated preseason for the Fire.
Arturo Alvarez and Gilberto, two of the more prominent names in the Fire attack throughout the preseason, scored goals in the first half.
Portland, the reigning MLS Cup champions, had the run of play early in the first half, but Alvarez scored to put the Fire in front on the team's first good chance. In the 28th minute Michael Harrington whipped a cross in from the right that found the head of Alvarez, who scored with a glancing header.
Gilberto doubled the lead when an Alvarez free kick went into the penalty box. Gilberto eventually controlled it and nutmegged Portland goalkeeper Adam Kawarsey to double the lead.
From a lineup standpoint, coach Veljko Paunovic chose what appeared to be close to a first choice lineup although David Accam and Sean Johnson sat out for the second straight match. Most interestingly was that three natural center backs, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell, all started.
The formation was still listed as a 4-2-3-1, but it more closely resembled a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2. The three central defenders were flanked by Brandon Vincent and Harrington, but those two had more freedom to attack wide with the extra defender to cover. When the Fire needed to defend, which was the case for most of the match, Vincent and Harrington dropped back to form a five-man back line.
Both of the outside backs also created chances from the flanks. Harrington assisted on the first goal and Vincent had a shot go off the frame of the goal in the 51st minute.
Without getting too much into the specifics of the tactics, Saturday's match provided an example of the versatility Paunovic has repeatedly said is so important. Being able to change formations depending on the opponent and the situation in the match has been high on Paunovic's priority list from a philosophical standpoint. The Fire showed what he was talking about on Saturday.
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In a more general sense, the preseason was a success for the Fire. Not that wins and losses are meaningful in the preseason, but for a team that needs an identity and some confidence, going undefeated in the preseason can't hurt.
Next up is a regular season MLS match. The Fire take on New York City FC at Toyota Park on March 6 at 1 p.m. CT. The match will be televised on CSN Chicago.