The Fire’s second phase of preseason training uncovered two promising newcomers.
Yazid Atouba, the second-round draft choice, continued to flash his speed and flair during the training sessions in California while late arrival Quincy Amarikwa added a new twist in the battle for forward spots.
Atouba, a 19-year Cameroon youth international, scored the goal in a 1-1 draw vs. Chivas USA on Tuesday and played with the first team in Saturday’s doubleheader, the Fire regulars beating the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 while the reserves settled for a 1-1 draw against the California-Santa Barbara college team.
The real Fire squad showed up for the first time in this preseason against San Jose. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was back from national team duty. Arne Friedrich, an absentee in the Florida portion of training, worked in the back again. Patrick Nyarko, who rounded into shape in Florida, was given full-time duty and newly-acquired Dilly Duka also made his preseason debut.
Most interesting aspect of coach Frank Klopas’ lineup vs. the Earthquakes, however, came when Quincy Amarikwa took the field in the 52nd minute. He arrived in camp the morning of the match after a train trip from San Diego and earned the penalty kick that led to Jeff Larentowicz’ penalty kick in the 79th minute that proved the game-winner.
Amarikwa was a guest player, but one with plenty of Major League Soccer experience. A third-round pick by San Jose in the 2009 SuperDraft, he also did time with the Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, where he got into 14 matches last season.
Atouba and Amarikwa got a longer look in part because another offensive player, Alex, left camp early to get married. He’ll return to the Fire in Charleston, S.C. this week.
While the status of Atouba and Amarikwa is uncertain, the roles of two other newcomers – Joel Lindpere and Larentowicz – isn’t. The two MLS veterans, both offseason acquisitions, provided the Fire a strong presence in the midfield in both Florida and California.
The Fire is 1-1-1 vs. MLS rivals in preseason matches. The competition will get more intense in the third and final phase, the Carolina Challenge Cup. It begins on Feb. 16 in Charleston. In addition to training sessions the Fire will take on the Houston Dynamo on Feb. 16, the minor league host Charleston Battery on Feb. 20 and the Vancouver Whitecaps on Feb. 23 in South Carolina before completing preseason training at Toyota Park.
The regular season opener is on the road, a March 3 battle with the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy. The home opener is March 9 against the New England Revolution.