The Chicago Fire conclude their 2018 preseason on Saturday afternoon with a friendly against USL affiliate Tulsa Roughnecks at Toyota Park (12 p.m. CT)
After six weeks of training across Chicago and Florida, head coach Veljko Paunovic and his side will look to end their preparations for the 2018 MLS regular season on a high note come kickoff this weekend. Here's what you should keep an eye on going into Saturday's friendly:
That's a Wrap:
Saturday's matchup marks the conclusion of the club's 2018 preseason slate, having gone 3-1-2 over six friendlies played during two February stints in Florida.
From their first stop in Tampa, head coach Veljko Paunovic's men opened their preseason with a 2-0 victory over the University of South Florida courtesy of goals from Nemanja Nikolic and 2018 MLS SuperDraft selection Elliot Collier. A scoreless draw against the Philadelphia Union followed, as the club continued to work out both new faces and old in the run up to opening day.
In a shift then from Tampa to Bradenton, Fla., the Fire packed a two-week training stint at the IMG Academy with four warmup matches.The Fire suffered their only defeat of the preseason in a 2-1 Valentine's Day meeting with the Montreal Impact, before going win-draw-win in friendlies against Florida Gulf Coast University, USL newcomers Nashville SC, and Orlando City SC. The team returned to Chicago for training on Feb. 26.
The Roughnecks enter 2018 following a 7th place finish in the USL's Western Conference (14-14-4) last season, which was good enough to qualify for the club's first ever appearance in the USL Playoffs. Up against San Antonio FC in the opening round, Tulsa were ultimately undone when San Antonio scored a penalty kick in the fourth minute of second half stoppage, advancing with a 201 victory.
There are a handful of new faces that will look to feature in the Tulsa attack this season. Head coach David Vaudreuil has had the unenviable task of replacing his side's top three goal scorers from last season, which he'll hope he's done in signing former New England Revolution SuperDraft pick Michael Gamble, forward Eti Tavares, and former Independiente attacked Fernando Arce. Midfielder Joaquin Rivas is the club's leading goal scorer among returnees from 2017, having netted five times last season.
In addition, Tulsa will be without defender Jorge Corrales, who was signed by the Chicago Fire on Sept. 14, 2017 as part of the clubs' affiliation with one another. Corrales appeared for the Roughnecks 31 times in 2017 -- including 29 starts -- and is now preparing for his first full season in Major League Soccer.
While the 2018 Chicago Fire look mostly familiar at this point to the side that finished third in the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield standings in 2017, fans could get a look at a pair of new faces in Saturday's friendly. Aleksandar Katai -- the club's highest-profile offseason signing to date -- joins Paunovic's side on loan from La Liga's Deportivo Alaves. The Serbian international joined up with the side during their final few days of training in Bradenton and featured in their 3-2 preseason friendly win over Orlando City SC. He figures to slot into the attack out wide and help provide pace and skill to complement Nikolic and co.
The team's newest arrival -- midfielder Tony Tchani -- was just acquired on Wednesday, Feb. 28 in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Tchani featured 27 times with 26 starts for the Whitecaps in 2017, scoring four goals and adding one assist. The 2010 MLS SuperDraft selection brings a wealth of MLS experience to the Windy City, having additionally played five seasons for Columbus Crew SC following brief stops with Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls.
2018 MLS SuperDraft selections Diego Campos and Elliot Collier are among the Fire's new additions as well, having formally signed on Wednesday, but have been a fixture among the club's preseason preparations over the last six weeks.
Pauno on the Upcoming Campaign:
On the Mend:
Getting healthy ahead of the 2018 campaign has unfortunately become a priority for the Fire over the course of the preseason. 2017 regulars like Matt Polster (knee) and Luis Solignac (hip) were relegated to the sidelines in Florida with minor injuries, as were second-year midfielder Daniel Johnson (ankle) and 2018 Homegrown signee Grant Lillard (knee).
"We've had a little bit of a weird preseason in terms of injuries," captain Dax McCarty said. We've had a lot of regular guys pick up little, minor injuries that have held them out for one week here, two weeks there. We haven't had our full -- I guess you could call it -- 'first choice' eleven on the field together at any one point in preseason."
Following Saturday's friendly, the Fire can finally look ahead to regular season action when they formally begin MLS play a week later at home against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, March 10 (5 p.m. CT | TICKETS).
Sporting Kansas City opens their 2018 regular season slate this Sunday, March 4 at home against New York City FC.