A 2-2 draw with a college team doesn’t look good on the surface when an MLS club is on the other side of the result though, Thursday night’s match against Florida Gulf Coast University wasn’t a traditional game.
Playing three 30-minute sessions, head coach Carlos de los Cobos ran out what was closed to what most would pencil in as his starting 11 come MLS First Kick on March 19 at FC Dallas. The second-year Fire manager used only one trialist at the start, pairing former U.S. youth international Gabriel Ferrari with recently signed Uruguayan striker Gaston Puerari up top in a new-look 3-5-2 formation.
Playing with Croatian Josip Mikulic in the center of the three-man backline, veteran Cory Gibbs and rookie Jalil Anibaba showed a good understanding with each while traditional left back Gonzalo Segares floated much further up the left flank for most of the interval.
The Costa Rican international combined well with converted winger Patrick Nyarko to stretch the Florida Gulf Coast backline and serve in a number of dangerous crosses.
How to describe the first 30? Total domination by a Fire team that came out with a lot of purpose. A lot of creation from the wings and in the middle resulted in a number of quality chances that Florida Gulf Coast keeper Adam Glick was equal to.
Also of note was the speedy combination between Puerari and Ferrari which helped keep the FGCU backline on its heels through most of the 30 minutes.
Wholesale changes were made in the second interval with de los Cobos shifting the side back into a more familiar 4-4-2. The team’s possession wasn’t as dominant in the second frame but it is where they found both goals, starting with Marco Pappa’s fabulous effort in the 35th minute.
Taking the ball from the left of midfield, the Guatemalan international switched fields, finding Bratislav Ristic in stride. The Serbian midfielder held the ball as Pappa cut through the midfield, laying it off for the 2010 Fire Golden Boot winner to bury past Glick.
Thirteen minutes later it was Pappa’s driven corner kick which found the head of second-year defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who nodded home his first goal in a Fire shirt to put the side up 2-0 heading into the third frame.
Watson Siriboe was the only holdover from the second period and Jalil Anibaba re-entered the match to pair with him in central defense. Second-year midfielder Corben Bone was the only other signed player that entered the match at the start of the third period as de los Cobos looked to evaluate a number of trialists.
The lead was cut in half in the 65th minute as FGCU’s Andres Navas took the space afforded to him, firing a low blast from 25 yards out to beat goalkeeper Alec Dufty.
Gulf Coast pulled things level in the 76th minute after trialing defender Eric Ustruck fouled a player in the penalty area. Eagles striker Scott Harrison took the spot kick, placing his effort to the right of an outstretched Dufty to finish the night’s scoring.
Despite the end result, de los Cobos was happy with what the team got out of the match.
“I’m very satisfied because today was the first match of the preseason. I look at it as we played three matches with three different teams and the last team was mostly all the guys that are on trial. The first two periods I liked. I think all the players put in one hundred percent on the field though some guys played better than others.”
The head coach also hit on the formation the side started out in.
“In the first third we played with a new formation, a 3-5-2, and I liked it. We created a good dynamic, collective game. We were the dominant offensive team and had good opportunities to score. In the back we were solid, we created a solid block and I think we learned a lot about our formation and players tonight.”
The Fire will next play an inter-squad scrimmage on Sunday morning before traveling to Ft. Lauderdale to take on the New York Red Bulls in a double header on Wednesday, February 23.
Discuss Thursday night’s match with Jeff on Twitter @JefeCrandall.