The Fire may not be in action as Major League Soccer winds down, but new coach Frank Yallop has made his first moves on the job.
He took a big-step in preseason planning by putting his team in a new tournament – the Desert Diamond Cup, hosted by minor league FC Tucson. In previous years the Fire concluded its preseason in the Carolina Challenge Cup, a four-team round robin in Charleston, S.C. The Fire won it for the first time in 2013.
In moving the conclusion of the preseason to Arizona, Yallop is giving his team a bigger tourney that provides four matches instead of three. The Fire will face the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 19, host FC Tucson on Feb. 22 and the New England Revolution on Feb. 26. The event concludes with a position round match on March 1.
Yallop also sent two promising young players to Spain, but they were different ones than the three who trained with Atletico Madrid last season. Dilly Duka and Victor Pineda are training with the Atletico Madrid through Dec. 6. Last year Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry and Corben Bone spent time learning their craft in Spain.
On Wednesday, MLS announced the finalists for seasonal awards. Fire forward Mike Magee is among the finalists the Most Valuable Player award. Also, Magee is up for MLS The Best XI which will be announced on Dec. 2. Defender Jalil Anibaba was named one of three finalists for the Fair Play Award. That winner will be announced on Monday, Nov. 25.
December will be a busy month for the Fire, as Yallop checks out hopefuls at the annual open tryout Dec. 6-7 at the Bridgeview Sports Dome, decides his options at the MLS Re-entry draft sessions on Dec. 12 and Dec. 18, fills out his coaching staff and finalizes preseason details.
The MLS SuperDraft will be conducted Jan. 16 in Philadelphia and players are tentatively scheduled to report on Jan. 24. Though the first phases of preseason training are expected to be held in Florida again, the dates and locations haven’t been finalized.
With the World Cup finals in Brazil next year, all clubs will face some roster planning for when top players could be missing for national team duty. The Fire, though, doesn’t figure to be heavily affected. Midfielder Arevalo Rios is a mainstay with Uruquay, which figures to make it to Brazil. Uruguay concludes a two-game playoff with Jordan for an Intercontinental berth on Wednesday night (Nov. 2). Uruguay won the first leg 5-0 and hosts the second leg, in Montevideo.
Rios spent the last few months of the 2013 season with the Fire on a loan agreement, and the Fire has an option to sign him for 2014 but hasn’t exercised it yet. The only other Fire player who could be involved in the World Cup finals is goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who is in a battle to become the third goalkeeper for the U.S. side.
Otherwise, there is some serious business left in the MLS playoffs. Both berths in the Dec. 7 MLS Cup will be decided this weekend. The winner of Saturday’s match pitting the Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City will represent the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference representative will be decided on Sunday when Real Salt Lake visits the Portland Timbers. Both conclude two-game, home-and-home series with the winner determined on aggregate goals. The first leg of the Houston-SKC matchup ended scoreless while RSL was a 4-2 winner over Portland.
MLS also announced the addition of a 21st club this week. Orlando will have a team in the 2015 season. It’ll be an offshoot of the minor league Orlando City Lions, who will play one more campaign in the USL Pro League in 2014. Orlando will start its MLS run playing in the Florida Citrus Bowl but plans to move into its own new $84 million 18,000-seat stadium when construction is completed.
On the international front Mexico earned another berth in the World Cup finals by winning a two-game playoff with New Zealand this week but another U.S. neighbor, Canada, endured a trying year. The Canadians were winless in 12 matches and didn’t score in the last nine.
And Bob Bradley, the Fire’s first head coach and former U.S. boss, is done as head man for Egypt’s national team. His contract wasn’t renewed after Egypt lost a two-game playoff series with Ghana to decide another berth in the World Cup finals.