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Tightening ‘D’ a priority before Fire blanks Orlando City 3-0

Frank Yallop answers questions after he was introduced as new head coach director soccer Chicago Fire during an MLS soccer

Frank Yallop answers questions after he was introduced as the new head coach and director of soccer of the Chicago Fire during an MLS soccer news conference, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: February 24, 2014 10:04PM

Frank Yallop didn’t coach the Fire last season. But even from afar he knew the defense had to improve.

Last season, the 52 goals allowed by the Fire were the second-most in the Eastern Conference. They allowed three or more goals five times, including a 5-2 season-ending defeat to New York that kept the Fire out of the playoffs and led to the departure of coach Frank Klopas.

For those reasons, it’s no surprise that Yallop noticed the Fire’s defensive issues. It also gave Yallop something to focus on during the offseason, as he acquired fullback Lovel Palmer from Real Salt Lake in December before dealing Jalil Anibaba to Seattle in January for central defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni.

So far, Yallop likes what he’s seen from the reshaped group.

“We’ve had two matches so far, not conceded a goal. Although it doesn’t sound like much it’s everything,” Yallop said Tuesday before the Fire topped USL-Pro team Orlando City SC 3-0 in a friendly Tuesday night in Bradenton, Fla. “We pride ourselves on our defending and being together and working hard as a unit.

“I’ve been very, very pleased.”

Yallop sounded especially pleased by what the Fire did during their 2-0 win Saturday over D.C. United, so far their only game against MLS competition. Though they allowed United’s Eddie Johnson a scoring chance and had the occasional communication issues, the Fire managed the shutout and showed the progress Yallop wants and expects to see more of when the teams face each other again Wednesday.

During that first game, holdover Bakary Soumare and Hurtado were the Fire’s pair of central defenders. Yallop didn’t completely commit to that being his pairing when the Fire open the season on March 9 against Chivas USA, but he didn’t exactly rule it out.

“You never say exactly what you’re going to do but it feels like they would be a good pairing in our defense,” Yallop said. “But again, things happen in preseason. There’s injuries, there’s lack of form, there’s all of that.

“I would think they would be starting the season together but that’s not to say Patrick and Austin (Berry) are not right there knocking on the doorstep of playing, which they are.”

Having that is clearly a welcome development for Yallop.

“It gives you depth, it gives you options, and I think that that’s what you want – competition for places and quality that comes into the team to push the guys that are playing,” he said.

The Fire also announced Tuesday they will be hosting a doubleheader on Saturday, April 19 at Toyota Park with the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League. The Fire will host the New England Revolution at 3 p.m., before the Red Stars face the Western New York Flash at 5:45.

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