Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic and his Men In Red will resume their slate of 2018 preseason friendlies on Thursday morning when they get their first look against MLS competition against the Philadelphia Union at 10 a.m. CT. The match will be held at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, Fla. and will be free to stream right here.
As the competition level continues to rise ahead of March 10th's regular season opener against Sporting Kansas City, here's what you need to know ahead of kickoff Thursday morning:
Starting off on the right foot
2017 MLS Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic picked up right where he left off in the Fire's preseason friendly debut against the University of South Florida, a 2-0 win on Saturday. Nikolic opened scoring with an incisive header in the 40th minute on a deft cross from defender Christean Dean.
"I'm happy because of the goal and of course because of the first victory in this year," Nikolic said.
"I think we had some good things. Of course, we had some mistakes. We spoke about that game in the last couple days. We looked also at the video. We just want to play like always offensive minded and to score goals."
2018 MLS SuperDraftee Elliot Collier provided the Fire's second in the 76th minute after being slipped into the 18 via Drew Conner. The Fire will look to keep the goals coming against a decidedly stiffer defensive unit on Thursday.
Paunovic used Saturday's friendly to tinker both with his formation as well as with his lineup combinations in what was mostly a tale of two halves. The Fire opened in a 4-2-3-1 reminiscent of Paunovic's preferred lineup choice last season, but moved into a 3-5-2 as the second half got underway.
Each half additionally featured a lineup consisting of a blend of established Fire regulars and new faces up-and-down the lineup. Top 10 SuperDraft selections Jon Bakero and Mo Adams slotted in alongside veterans like Nikolic, Luis Solignac, Dax McCarty, and Jonathan Campbell in the first half, as did newcomers Rafael Ramos and Jorge Luis Corrales.
In the second half, defenders Brandon Vincent and Johan Kappelhof got their first informal run out of 2018 alongside Homegrown signee Grant Lillard. As of Tuesday, the Fire's training camp roster read as the following:
Goalkeepers: Stefan Cleveland, +Sam Howard, Richard Sanchez
Defenders: Jonathan Campbell, Jorge Corrales, Christian Dean, Johan Kappelhof, Grant Lillard, +Maxi Moreira, Matt Polster, Rafael Ramos, Brandon Vincent
Midfielders: Mo Adams, *Gilberto Angeles, Brandt Bronico, *Javier Casas, Drew Conner, Daniel Johnson, Dax McCarty, Djordje Mihailovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger
Forwards: Jon Bakero, ^Diego Campos, ^Elliot Collier, Michael de Leeuw, +Josh Gatt, Nemanja Nikolic, +Albert Ruiz, Luis Solignac
*Chicago Fire Academy Player
^Unsigned SuperDraft Pick
A Familiar Face
There will be a familiar face in unfamiliar colors lined up opposite the Fire first team when things get rolling against Philadelphia on Thursday. Forward David Accam could feature in his first match (albeit informally) against his former club after being traded to the Union on Jan 19 in exchange for $1.2 million in General and Targeted Allocation Money. The Ghanaian Designated Player scored 38 goals and added 16 assists across 82 appearances for the Men In Red from 2015-17.
Accam put in a 33-minute shift in the Union's most recent preseason outing just a few days ago, when Jim Curtin's side notched a 5-1 victory over the aforementioned University of South Florida.
Phase Two in the Rearview
Thursday's friendly marks the end of the second phase of the Chicago Fire's preseason. Following the match's conclusion, members of the first team will break for the weekend to recover before returning to Florida for the preseason's final phase. Training resumes in Bradenton, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 12.