After an offseason that has resulted in wholesale changes for the Chicago Fire, Sunday's preseason match against the Vancouver Whitecaps finally gave a glimpse of what the 2016 season could look like.
The Fire kicked off the Simple Invitational in Portland's Providence Park with a 3-2 win. Unlike in the club's two preseason matches in Florida, coach Veljko Paunovic had almost all of the first team at his disposal. The starting lineup he chose could closely resemble the starting lineup for March 6's season opener against New York City FC.
Only David Accam, who was out with an illness and missed training on Saturday, and Rodrigo Ramos, who just joined the club on Saturday, were not available. Eric Gehrig also is still rehabbing and returning to full fitness after surgery late last season. Accam and Ramos could end up starting on March 6, but other than that don't be surprised if the team looks similar.
John Goossens continued his standout preseason trial with the Fire with an early goal. The Fire's high pressure caused problems for Vancouver throughout the early going and Matt Polster forced a turnover just outside the box. Goossens ran onto the ball and finished in the fifth minute.
Goossens later setup Gilberto for an open chance with a killer through ball that bent around the defenders and hit Gilberto in stride. Gilberto's hard shot was saved for a corner. Goossens showed technical ability, strength and defensive instincts. Him and Polster were arguably the Fire's two best players on Sunday.
[MORE: Must-see: Goossens' volley goal]
Much has been made of Harry Shipp's departure and what that means for the central attacking midfield spot. At least in a meaningless preseason game, Goossens showed he is more than capable of playing that role. For that matter, a central midfield trio of Goossens, who brings possibly the best technical ability on the team, Polster, who showed good technical skills of his own to go with his usual strong physical play, and Razvan Cocis, who is a steady veteran presence, could end up being a strength of the team. Who knows how things play out during the season, but at least on Sunday this group stood out.
It wasn't all rosy though. Vancouver tied things up in the 24th minute when a cross from Fraser Aird on the right side landed at the feet of Christian Bolanos. Bolanos could only flick it with his heel and the ball went backwards directly into the stride of Fire defender Johan Kappelhof, who knocked the ball into his own net.
The Whitecaps definitely struggled with the Fire's high pressure early, but controlled the later part of the first half and eventually took the lead. Sam Adekugbe's low cross from the left wing was tapped in by Cristian Techera in the 38th minute.
The Fire's defense didn't inspire much confidence. That said, the starting back line of Michael Harrington, Joao Meira, Kappelhof and Brandon Vincent are all new to the team. Learning how to play with each other will take time.
[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear here]
The Fire maintained better control in the second half and converted two penalty kicks. The first came in the early minutes of the second half when an Arturo Alvarez through ball found Gilberto in the box. He was taken down and then converted the penalty himself.
Later, Collin Fernandez was tripped in the box and Kennedy Igboananike converted the penalty in the 81st minute. Both players had subbed on shortly beforehand.
The Fire return to action on Wednesday against NASL side Minnesota United FC with a 7 p.m. kickoff.