Men In Red Eager to Enjoy Comforts of Toyota Park

Chicago’s sudden shift to spring-like temperatures hasn’t been the only perk of the Fire’s return to the Windy City.

After a month-long stretch that brought Frank Yallop’s men to England, Portland and Los Angeles, the promise of at least 10 consecutive days at their home base has reinvigorated members of the club.

Fire vs. Whitecaps -- Preseason Match Highlights

“First of all my family didn’t recognize me when I came in,” Yallop joked after training on Monday. “It’s good to be home, good to be training out of Toyota Park, laying in your own bed and eating your own food for once. It feels good and hopefully it shows when we turn up on Saturday.”

      TICKETS: Fire vs. Whitecaps

That would be this Saturday, March 14, when the Fire open their home season at Toyota Park against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, a squad which, like the Fire, is coming off a two-goal defeat over the weekend. It’s a side Chicago already has seen up close, playing the Whitecaps to a 1-1 draw in their final preseason scrimmage Feb. 28 in Portland.

Fire vs. Whitecaps  
Saturday, March 14
5 p.m. CT
TV: CSN Chicago
Radio: ESPN Deportes

“They’re a good side, they’re a side that’s been together a little bit for a while now, they move the ball well and they’re dangerous in certain areas,” Yallop said of Carl Robinson’s squad. “They haven’t changed a ton from a playoff group last year. But we’re at home, we’re expected to get on the front foot and make the game. I’m sure Vancouver will want to bounce back from a game they lost at home, so it’s a tough match but one we’re looking forward to.”

     SEE: Fire Defeat Notre Dame in Tuesday Scrimmage

In addition to the dynamic attacking efforts of Pedro Morales, Octavio Rivero, Mauro Rosales and Kekutah Manneh, spectators of recent Whitecaps outings were likely to have been focused on the impressive centerback pairing of 34-year-old Pa-Madou Kah and 6-foot-5 Costa Rican Kendall Waston. Still, the duo was undone by Toronto FC through-balls on more than one occasion, perhaps giving the Fire a blueprint for attack on Saturday. 

“They’re two big guys, but it’ll give us the opportunity to get in behind them, especially if we’re able to get into the forward line’s feet quickly, and spin out,” said Quincy Amarikwa, who played the full 90 minutes vs. Vancouver in Portland and again at LA Galaxy on Friday. “Their size plays to our advantage if we don’t play into their advantage, so that’s what we’ve been working on this week leading up to this game and I’m excited to showcase what we’ve been doing.”

Against the Galaxy, Amarikwa was one of a handful of Fire returners that took the home pitch of the defending champions -- where the Galaxy did not lose in 2014 after their first fixture of the season -- amid a host of players seeing their first true action as members of the club. One such player was rookie Matt Polster, who made his MLS debut in the 63rd minute when he replaced second-year man Chris Ritter as the Fire’s holding midfielder.

While necessitated in part by injuries to players like Razvan Cocis, Adailton and David Accam, Yallop’s insertion of Polster and other young newcomers into the lineup is not uncommon for the veteran coach.

“I’ve got no problems playing any young player that’s shown they’ve got the ability to play, and the nerve,” Yallop said. “Don’t be surprised if some of those guys get to play right away. Whatever lineup I think is going to [win games], I’m going to put out there and not worry about the consequence of not playing maybe a senior guy that might be expecting to play. There’s got to be competition for spots.”

Regardless of who Yallop deems worthy of those spots in the end, the focus remains as it has throughout the preseason: building familiarity and on-field cohesion among the Fire’s influx of new faces.

“There were some positives to take [from the season-opener],” Amarikwa said. “Just further building chemistry. It’s not going to come opening day, though all of us would like it to be the case.”

“I expect each game that we’ll be better here and there,” Yallop said. “That starts this weekend. I might make some changes to the lineup, we’re at home, and we want to make sure we get at the team we’re playing against.”

New Chicago Fire forward David Accam recently stopped by the studios of CSN Chicago -- which on Saturday will carry the first of its scheduled 21 Fire matches this season -- and talked about his new surroundings, his passion for the game and the task of balancing his duties for club and country.

INJURY NOTES: Yallop began the week by noting that midfielder Razvan Cocis will again be ruled out for Saturday’s match with Vancouver. David Accam was named as questionable … Defender Adailton, who missed the season-opener after sustaining a knock in the Fire’s final preseason scrimmage, returned to training this week and scored on a header in a Tuesday reserve scrimmage against Notre Dame. 

YOU MAY NOTICE: As part of the club's new partnership agreement with Magellan Corporation, fans will see an increased presence for the company throughout Toyota Park. One of the most visible elements of that presence will be the new luxury, racing-style team bench areas that were installed on Tuesday: