The Fire concluded preseason training at the Carolina Challenge Cup in both 2011 and 2012. Neither time was the club able to win the four-team round robin competition at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
The third time, though, might be the charm.
A win or tie against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday would give the Fire the trophy and could provide a nice springboard into the start of the Major League Soccer regular season on March 3 – a road match against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Fire defeated the Houston Dynamo 3-2 and the Charleston Battery 2-1 in its first two matches in Charleston. That was good for a three-point lead in the standings, so one point (a draw) against the Whitecaps would be good enough for the Fire to win the competition.
Coach Frank Klopas has clearly used the Carolina Challenge Cup as preparation for his team, with winning of secondary importance. He substituted nine players at halftime in the win over Charleston, the strong minor league host team. The Fire got the win on Alex’s goal in stoppage time to run the Fire’s preseason record to 4-1-1 and the club’s all-time record in the Carolina Challenge Cup to 4-2-1.
In previous preseason matches the Fire defeated Florida Gulf Coast University 2-0 and lost 2-1 to the Columbus Crew in Florida and managed a 1-1 draw vs. Chivas USA and defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 in California.
Klopas has been assessing his training camp roster throughout the process in an effort to field a strong side once the MLS campaign begins. The roster currently numbers 24 players.
Latest of the training camp cuts was defender Tony Walls, who was waived on Friday. The 47th pick in the 2012 MLS supplemental draft, Walls was on last year’s roster throughout the season but got into only one match with the first team, going 85 minutes in a 3-2 loss to the minor league Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Walls did, however, start 10 of the 12 reserve team matches.
Quincy Amarikwa, a striker who is officially with Toronto FC, arrived in camp on Friday. He was a guest player when the Fire defeated San Jose and set up the goal that earned the victory. His arrival in Charleston suggests the Fire may have worked out a deal to acquire him, but there’s been no announcement yet.
One of the most impressive players in camp has been Yazid Atouba, a 20-year old left-sided midfielder from Cameroon and the club’s top selection in the MLS SuperDraft. He scored against both Chivas USA and Columbus and the Fire is giving strong consideration to signing him. Atouba and Jeff Larentowicz are the only players with two goals in the preseason matches.
Alec Kann, who apparently has won the No. 3 goalkeeper’s job behind Sean Johnson and Paolo Tornaghi, is also expected to be signed.
Other players in camp but not signed are defenders Pascal Chimbonda and Leo Lelis and forward Colin Rolfe.
The Fire returns to Chicago after finishing up the Carolina Challenge Cup against Vancouver and will train only one day – on Tuesday at Toyota Park – in Chicago before departing for Los Angeles and the season opener.