Fire Face Union in First MLS Action of 2016 Preseason

Another match, another chance to make an impression.

Members of the Chicago Fire new and old showed well for themselves in the club’s preseason debut victory Saturday against the University of South Florida. On Thursday, with a few new faces added into the fold since that outing, the Men In Red again can stake their case for starting roles and roster spots when they face the Philadelphia Union at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, Fla.

The match kicks off at 3 p.m. CT and will stream live on Chicago-Fire.com. The game also will be archived for viewing at a later time.

The club’s second half of Tampa-area training received a boost in numbers to start the week with the Monday arrival of U.S. National Team January camp participants Sean Johnson, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, the latter of whom is coming off his memorable international debut Friday vs. Canada. One day later, newly signed centerback Joao Meira joined up with his new side for the first time.

Their absence, along with that of incoming Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof, has not hindered the preparations of head coach Veljko Paunovic and his training staff.

“It’s a part of this job,” Pauno said of dealing with staggered entrances to camp. “We obviously started with a plan, we knew when we were going to have them back. We were working also with U.S. Soccer on what they were doing, we were communicating so we know that they are prepared very well for this part of the preseason. We will start working with them to see how they feel, work on concepts and show them all the video of sessions we have had.”

It’s unclear whether any of those rostered players will enter the fray Thursday against Philadelphia, but viewers may get a look at two new trialists. One is Dutch midfielder John Goossens, a diminutive attacking player with experience in the Dutch Eredivisie, along with Canadian-born and former University of Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving.

Several newcomers will be aiming to replicate and build upon their strong debuts Saturday vs. USF. Included in that group is Chicago Fire Academy product and North Carolina commit Mauricio Pineda, who started Saturday’s match at centerback and impressed with his awareness, confidence on the ball and distribution out of the back. Pauno had praise for Pineda in his postmatch evaluations.

“We are very -- I will not say surprised, maybe that’s not the right word -- but happy that what we expected he can do on the next level, he is proving that [he can],” Paunovic said of Pineda. “He, Collin [Fernandez], other players I’ve mentioned, this is what gives us security that we have guys there. Now, obviously they need to work, but we are very happy with how they are improving.”

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It’s unlikely that Chicago’s Thursday’s matchup with Philadelphia -- the first test against MLS opposition for both sides -- will live up to the wild excitement of these clubs’ last meeting, a 3-3 thriller in Philly on Aug. 16. But after a season-and-a-half as the head man on the bench in Philly, former Fire standout Jim Curtin is, like Paunovic, intent on shaping a revamped roster into an MLS Playoff outfit in 2016.

The Union thus far have featured in scrimmages with the Jacksonville Armada and the U.S. U-17 National Team but will take a sharpened look at their personnel and a number of trialists Thursday vs. the Fire. Among the notable additions in Philadelphia this offseason were Dutch midfielder Roland Alberg and longtime D.C. United man Chris Pontius, as well as former Georgetown teammates and the No. 2 and No. 3 overall SuperDraft selections, Josh Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry.

Watch the live online stream of Thursday's match on Chicago-Fire.com and look for complete postmatch coverage from Clearwater following the contest.

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