CHARLESTON, S.C. — No one's place is safe on the new-look Chicago Fire of 2013. Not even when it comes to the Designated Players.
At halftime of Saturday night's matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps in their Carolina Challenge Cup finale, Fire manager Frank Klopas switched things up in an attack which struggled to find seams and pose real threats. Out came Designated Player forward Sherjill MacDonald and in went in MLS veteran Maicon Santos, who jumpstarted the Fire attack and also scored a spectacular opening goal in the 1-1 tie that was enough to give the tournament title to Chicago.
"I felt that with Mac, we didn’t get him involved in the game and we were not able to find him," Klopas said after the match. "With Maicon it was different. He can hold it. He's got very good feet. His timing is good and even [Chris Rolfe] was a little bit better. He got more into the game.
"The field is going to decide who starts and who plays," continued Klopas. "The depth is good, the competition is very good. And there are different characteristics of players that depending on what we need, we can bring guys in who make a difference like [Santos] did."
CCC Highlights: Chicago vs. Vancouver
Don't believe Klopas on this one? Well, Rolfe himself makes it clear that there's a new dynamic in the Fire locker room with the new faces acquired over the offseason.
"I think that as of right now that's probably the best thing that we have," Rolfe said. "The best addition to our team right now is the fact that we have competition in different spots and it's true competition. We've got good players that we're all battling for a spot. I don't feel secure. I don't think Mac feels secure."
"We have more options and that's the difference compared to last year," reiterated veteran Gonzalo Segares. "We depended a lot on Chris and this year we have different weapons and the truth is we're really motivated. … Once we understand each other better, we're going to be a dangerous team."
And the competition may only grow. Speedy MLS forward Quincy Amarikwa is in camp. Electric Cameroonian winger Yazid Atouba is on the verge of signing and the future of trialist and former EPL player Pascal Chimbonda will be decided "within the next couple of days," according to Klopas.
Next stop for the Fire: a trip to LA on Wednesday ahead of the Sunday, March 3, opener vs. the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy (5 pm ET, Univision). Weather considerations in Chicago pushed the team to make an early arrival in California because there's still work to do as the team continues to fine-tune. Klopas wants to see improvements in defensive team shape, pressuring without the ball and better decision-making in the final third.
The good weather in LA should also allow center back Arne Friedrich to get a few more reps since he missed Saturday night's match with tightness in his leg after being the only field player to go a full 90 minutes on Wednesday. His exclusion was precautionary given the slick field at rainy Blackbaud Stadium.
It was the same rationale for holding out left back Segares, whose swollen ankle has improved and who Klopas assured "100 percent" will be available for selection vs. the Galaxy. Segares told MLSsoccer.com he aims to participate in full training beginning Tuesday.
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who took a hard knock to the head on a 50-50 ball in the box against Vancouver teenager Kekuta Manneh suffered "a little bit of a bump but nothing that an aspirin and a good night's sleep won't cure," says Klopas.
And even if the aspirin doesn't work, the feeling of a winning a preseason trophy might. After all, there's nothing like posing for a team photo with silverware just before you kick off the start to your competitive season.
"The mentality is good and it's all about habits," Klopas said of winning the Carolina Challenge Cup. "It's a start and, hopefully at the end of the season, we can lift a trophy also."