A quiet hangs over Toyota Park. A grey monochrome colors the morning sky and a slushy snow blankets the ground. It’s winter in Chicago.
Behind the brick façade and deep in the bowels, a solitary figure works diligently to make-ready one of Toyota Park’s most renowned features – the field. It’s been 99 days since the Toyota Park pitch saw action and Toyota Park Turf Manager Eric Adkins has #cf97withdrawals.
Only 30 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park.
Don’t worry, Eric and his crew will have the pitch ready.
Very few people have meant as much to the soccer scene in Chicago as Frank Klopas.
Tonight Dave Kaplan goes in depth with the Fire manager to talk how he came to The Windy City and learn more about his intertwining soccer story with the Sting, U.S. Men's National Team, AEK Athens and of course the Fire over the past 30 years "Inside Look" (7:00pm CT on CSN Chicago).
CSNChicago.com's Len Ziehm previews the show here.
Preseason is always a lot of work and a lot of fun.
One of the best parts though is the ongoing saga of number choice throughout camp as players leave, new players come in.
Rolfe had worn the number through his first five seasons with the Fire but when he re-joined the side last April, Mexican legend Pavel Pardo had it.
“There was no need to try and shift things around then,” Rolfe told Chicago-Fire.com. “While 18 was good for me last year I thought that it would be a good idea to switch back to 17 when it became available.”
With Pardo’s retirement announcement last month, the opportunity arose and the league recently approved Rolfe’s change back to the numerals with which he’s scored 40 of his 48 Fire goals across all competitions.
Check out the impromptu and sort of awesome video of the first new "Rolfe 17" jersey being pressed by Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo below...
NOTE: All-Time Fire #17s: Andrew Lewis, (1998-2001), Aleksey Korol (2002), Dipsy Selolwane (2002-2004), Rolfe (2005-2009), Davis Paul (2011), Pavel Pardo (2011-12), Rolfe (2013- )
With the #18 left vacant, renaissance Fire defender Steven Kinney jumped at the opportunity to switch from #28.
“My whole life I had been #18,” said Kinney. “Coming here the first year Mike Banner had it and through all my injuries I wasn’t going to be switching numbers. Then Rolfie came in and had it last year but when I heard him talk about switching to 17 I knew it was time to make my move.
Asked why #18 had always been his number, Kinney said, “It’s always just felt lucky for me. I would have done anything to get my hands on it.”
To be fair, he didn’t have to do too much.
NOTE: All-Time Fire #18s: Zach Thornton (1998-2004), Matt Pickens, (2005-2007), Mike Banner (2008-2010), Gaston Puerari (2011), Chris Rolfe (2012)
Stay tuned later this week for more updates on Fire squad numbers heading into 2013.
WATCH: Rolfe #17 is BACK!
A quick update on unsigned players currently with the team in Ventura, Calif...
Unsigned holdovers from Ave Maria
James Belshaw – GK – Supplemental Draft
Alec Kann – GK – Trialist
Neal Kitson – GK – Trialist
John Gallagher – DF – Supplemental Draft
Rauwshan McKenzie – DF – Trialist
Yazid Atouba – MF – SuperDraft Pick
*Note that while not listed, forward Colin Rolfe picked up an injury during the Columbus friendly last week. The former Houston Dynamo draftee won’t be with the team in Ventura but will re-join the squad in Charleston.
Rich Balchan – DF – Trialist
Caleb Konstanski – DF – Supplemental Draft Pick
Eric Robertson – DF – Trialist
Trialist #1 - MF - Trialist
New Trialists for Phase Two
Blake Brettschneider; Forward (D.C. United, New England Revolution)
If it seems like you just saw Brettschneider, that’s because he was on trial with the Crew, playing against the Fire in last Wednesday’s friendly. The South Carolina alum has made a habit of earning a spot on an MLS rosters in preseason, impressing D.C. United (2011) and New England Revolution (2012).
Like Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Brettschneider is also from Lilburn, Ga. and attended rival high school Parkview High School
Dailos Tejera; Forward (Conquense; Spanish Tercera Division)
A 22-year-old midfielder/forward that played in the Spanish second division with Conquense before being relegated after the 2011-12 season.
Kevin Mercado; Forward (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
One of two players on trial from LDU Quito, Mercado is an 18-year-old forward who made it into five matches during LDU’s 2012 campaign in Ecuador.
Jose Alexander Pabon Midfielder (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
The other trialist from LDU Quito, the 21-year-old Pabon has been with the club’s first team since 2010, appearing in 13 matches in midfield.
There are also two other new trialists that for discovery reasons will remain unnamed… Call them Trialist #3 and Trialist #4.
Good evening from Ventura, Calif. where the first team escaped the snow of Chicago Saturday morning to begin Phase Two of 2013 Training Camp.
After arriving at our beach-side hotel, the team quickly ate and changed before heading to Oxnard Community College for a little over an hour long training session.
Notes from today:
- The long-rumored trade that would send forward Dominic Oduro to Columbus in exchange for Dilly Duka seems to have happened according to both players Twitter accounts and multiple reports. Oduro is not in Fire camp and Duka tweeted Saturday that he was headed to join the team in California. Expect an official announcement Monday.
- The Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz also added a significant rub to the trade: the Fire will also reportedly gain the MLS rights to out-of-contract U.S. international Robbie Rogers.
- 2012 Fire Defender of the Year Arne Friedrich trained with the team for the first time after being allowed to take extra time off while the side was in Ave Maria, Fla.
- After flying from Norway all day Friday, new signing Brendan King also trained for the first time.
- It was good to see midfielder Patrick Nyarko do some light ball work off to the side as he continues his comeback following a grueling 2012 campaign.
- Defender Hunter Jumper and forward Maicon Santos did not train with the team Saturday. Jumper pulled up lame in Wednesday's friendly vs. Columbus while Santos was unavailable for selection in the match after suffering an injury in the days leading up to the game.
- New trialists have arrive in camp. A full list will be published on Chicago-Fire.com in the coming days.
That's it for Saturday's notes... Take in some photos from training:
Throughout preseason, your favorite Fire players will give you a first-hand, behind the scenes look at what actually goes down at training camp. This installment is brought to you by Fire defender Gonzalo Segares. Now entering his ninth season with the Fire, Segares shares his veteran methods of handling the inevitable downtime that comes with preseason training camp. Make sure to check www.Chicago-Fire.com for all the action as the Fire kick off their 16th season.
Hello my amigos from the Chicago Fire. It’s now time for me to tell you guys a little of what’s happening on and off the field for me and my teammates.
We had our first preseason match on Sunday and the atmosphere was great. After a long time without competing in a game, it was great to get back on the field and kick some people. It’s been quite a while since I’ve played against someone other than my teammates, so it was good to get in some tackles and battles.
It’s been good to see the new faces working hard, competing and adapting well with the group.
Off the field there has been a lot of down time so I have been playing a lot of Halo in between practices. I’m trying not to nap during the day so I can go to bed early, so I’m usually on the computer, on the phone or transformed as a soldier, killing aliens on Halo.
It’s been nice here in Florida but I’m excited to go back to Chicago for a few days and spend the days off with my wife (it’s weird to say wife but I guess I have to get used to it) and have a nice romantic dinner and maybe watch a movie with her. I don’t think I’ll enjoy the cold weather but at least I will be at home with my family.
See you all soon and go Fire!
A nice little recap from Thursday's trip to the beach in Naples. This one is for the ladies...
On how things are looking overall and what’s been happening down in Ave Maria, Fla.:
“It’s very exciting for us to get going after a long preseason. Ave Maria has been a fantastic place for us in past years this is where we get things going for our first phase. Three, four days into it, everyone is upbeat, the attitude from the players has been really good. Our main focus during the first phase, more than anything, is just to get a good base of aerobic fitness. We’re working with bigger spaces, bigger numbers and longer duration of time when we’re playing and we’re doing everything through soccer exercises, soccer specific exercises to build endurance through playing, instead of just running without the ball. So that’s the main focus in this first phase. We have a couple practice games that will give us an opportunity to evaluate some of the players, the picks and supplemental guys, that we have here, and really make some decisions and try to only bring players that we feel, not just to add roster spots but really to add guys, even in those supplemental or apprentice spots, that we feel in this environment, in one or two years, can be in a position to help the team. That’s mostly the focus in the first phase and obviously the second phase will get more into tactical work and stuff like that. The first phase here in Florida is more to get a good base of aerobic fitness so we can push the guys even more in the second phase. The third phase we’ll get more into playing and on a fitness level to play 90 minutes.”
On the situation of the left midfield position with the possible move of Alvaro Fernandez:
“Obviously we’re always going to be looking at different options but I do feel that within our group we have players that have the flexibility to play different spots. We have Alex that can play the wide spot. You have guys like Chris Rolfe who has played out wide at times, also with Wells Thompson. We’re always looking to see if there are opportunities to make our team better but we also feel that we have players with depth in our own team that have the flexibility to play in those spots. That’s why I think its important through this preseason, the six weeks that we have the opportunity through games and in training to put players in those roles and see how they gel with the guys. I do feel we have players that can play out there but if there are opportunities that come up within the league or outside we’re going to look at those too.”
On drafting Caleb Konstanski with the 68th overall pick in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft:
“We’ve seen IU play quite a few times. He was the captain of the national championship team and he brings a lot of leadership qualities. He’s a very good athlete. Obviously he needs work technically and with his feet and that’s one of the things we want to see as the game speeds up and see if in our training camp he can adapt to that. But he can play multiple roles. He’s played in the middle but also in the back and also out wide on the right because he’s a good athlete and a competitor. This will give us a good picture when we bring him in. he’s arriving today along with the other supplemental picks and will give us a good opportunity to see him in a much higher level and the speed of play is obviously different. We know the kid well, we’ve talked to his coach, seen him play a lot and the one thing is he’s a great athlete and a great competitor and it’ll be great to see in this environment how he’s able to adapt. That’s why this phase is important to have the opportunity to bring in and look at players and make decisions.”
On the midfield competition and how Logan Pause’s role has been affected by the new acquisitions:
“We felt that that was an area in the midfield that we needed to address and I think we brought some players that have a lot of experience and are very good players in this league. I think they bring something different but that’s why everyone is here in camp. We have six weeks now where we’ve brought quality players in but a lot is going to be decided by what takes place in the next six weeks. WE feel very good with the depth, the competition is very good and the players now, through these practice games, are really going to take the next steps. In these next six weeks, through training and through games, those decisions will be answered for all of us. Obviously, more than anything, the important thing is that we do have depth. Logan is a very good player but we also have other very good players in that spot that provide depth and competition and also have the flexibility to play different roles and positions on different parts of the field.
On the importance of a full preseason for the strike duo of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald:
“It’s important. I think with the core group we come into it with a very good base with the additions that we made, I think with the guys that we added from within the league the transition is always much easier. When you have guys from the beginning now with six weeks is where you build a lot of continuity. It’s important, not only in the first phase but in the second phase, where we’ll get into a lot more playing and a lot more tactical work and developing understanding and chemistry, but to have the opportunity from the beginning to continue what we had towards the end of last season, I think that’s only going to make things better. I feel good that we have almost the whole group here together starting to work from day one, especially now when you look at last year to now, last year was nine weeks of preseason and this year its six. The first game is right around the corner so the continuity helps a lot.”
On which of the trialists and reserve players have impressed early on in training camp:
“It’s too early, it’s three, four days in. the one thing I can say is that I think everyone has come in, we provided the players with an offseason program with the goal for them to come back and report for day one because obviously they know that there are expectations and our goals are going to be higher, and so are theirs. So I think with that the sacrifices and the work you do and the preparation that you put in has got to increase. Everyone has come in where they should be based on what our fitness coach Tony [Jouaux] gave them in the offseason to work on. The guys are ready. The attitude has been fantastic. It’s early on. It’s three four days. It’s kind of hard for me to tell you right now. Everyone’s still going 100 miles per hour but it’s a long process and you’ll see more as the guys get heavy legs and a little more tired, now the opportunity where you’ll see from a mental standpoint who can focus and concentrate. That’s been the focus for us from day one that they understand that its’ a long process, it’s a long season and the work starts from day one. What you do every day is very important for us to be able to reach the goals that we set at the end of the year. We can’t let one day go by without a quality training session. We constantly push the guys, we constantly tell them that it’s very important that in every drill that we do that they’re focused and concentrated. Whether is 60 or 90 minutes, it has to be there in training because that’s where you get better. It’s not a light switch were you turn it on come game time. It’s a process through preseason. it’s a process thought the whole week. As a player, the confidence comes because you are prepared to play well. It’s early but I can tell you that everyone is very focused, determined, excited and very committed to give everything they have in order for us to reach our goals and that’s been fantastic. It’s early on but I know it’s going to be like that throughout the year because we brought in the kind of players who have a lot of good soccer qualities and are very good players but also have a tremendous attitude, and positive attitude, a winning mentality and more than anything they’re honored and proud to be part of this organization.”
On the opportunity for Corben Bone to train with Atletico Madrid and how his role changes compared to last year:
“I think a lot of times with players, he graduated from [Generation Adidas] status, sometimes there’s a lot of pressure on those players. It’s up to Corben. When you see him at practice, he’s a kid that has a lot of ability. He’s fast, technical, this or that, but that has to translate in a game. I’ve talked to him many times, myself and the other coaches, to give him a lot of encouragement and to be positive with him. He has to take the opportunities that he gets and make the best of them. He has to be the one to believe in himself and have the confidence because we believe in him. We’ve always worked with him, always tried to give him the confidence that he needs but maybe right now, graduating from Generation Adidas and not having all that pressure, maybe he’s going to come out and not have that pressure on him and with the opportunities can show the quality that he has as a player, the ones that we saw in him. When you do see him in training, he’s a player that could be a very good player in this league. Now that has got to translate into real games and he’s got to take advantage of the opportunities that he gets.”
On bringing in MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere and Maicon Santos and how they’re fitting in with the team:
“It’s early but I think they’ve come in and they’ve adopted and fit in well really well with the group. I think they’re very focused and guys that we knew what we were getting. Obviously they’re very good players and have been leaders on their teams and they’ve come in here and continued to work very hard in training sessions and earned their respect from that side from everyone else. They’re very good players and good characters. I think their ability to work very hard and give everything on the field and earn everyone’s respect, I think is important and that’s what they’ve done. The transition has been smooth and easy.”
Prior to departing for Ave Maria, Fla. Fire Strength and Conditioning coach Tony Jouaux, with help from staff at the University of Illinois-Chicago's Human Performance Lab, put the team through the paces with the VO2 Max Fitness test.
What is the VO2 Max? Well, it tests the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual.
Tony and some of the guys explain more in this video below but if you're wondering who the fittest guy on the team is, SPOILER ALERT, its Logan Pause.