The Preseason

Looking back at the start of 2010

Looking back at the way the 2010 Chicago Fire season started
has special meaning for me.

February 1, the day I began in my current role with the FIre
also happened to coincide with the club’s first day of preseason training.

Everything new, I remember being struck at the sight of
seeing some of the guys – Brian McBride and C.J. Brown were givens.

Then…

“Whoa, there’s Collins John,” I thought to myself.

Yes, I knew he would be in camp. Still, the Fulham supporter
in me was struck by the sight of a guy that had kept Brian McBride on the bench
as a 20-year-old at Craven Cottage.

When someone with a name like his comes to MLS, you know the
reasons. Even still, watching him train during small-sided games the first few
week of preseason – you could tell he was there to earn a contract -- his nose
for goal was different that most American strikers. He was also more quotable
as well…

]I’ll never forget what he said when I asked him how it felt to
see Brian McBride again…

“I was very happy to
see the big man,” said John in my February 3rd story. “I was looking
forward to training with him again, when I saw him on Monday, I gave him a
cuddle.”

I was in like Flynn with that one-liner…

So soon after getting acquainted with many of the players
they were off to Arizona for the first leg of preseason training. Aside from
the regulars, familiar, local names like Mark Blades and Jovan Bubonja and
foreign ones Jaime Cuesta and O’Brian Woodbine littered the Fire preseason
roster.

Of the more high-profile players joining John in camp were loan
signings, Polish left back Krzysztof Krol (Jagiellonia Bialystok, Poland) and
Salvadoran winger Julio Martinez (Club Leon, Mexico).

I didn’t know much about Krol, though he had previously
played for Real Madrid’s reserves and the Polish U20’s. On the other hand, I
remembered Martinez from some of El Salvador’s World Cup qualifying matches and
his highlight reel on YouTube was particularly impressive…

Then there were the draftees – Generation adidas players
Corben Bone and Sean Johnson and regular draftees Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Drew
Yates and Steven Kinney. So much intrigue every preseason comes with how many
of the drafted players actually end up signing on.

A tough regiment of two-a-days commenced  on the campus of Arizona State University
in Tempe before the team played it’s first preseason matches – a President’s
Day doubleheader against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Arizona Sahuaros.

Using a side littered with trialists the Fire easily
dispatched Vancouver behind two goals each from John and second-year striker
Stefan Dimitrov, while newly drafted midfielder Drew Yates chipped in with two
assists in the 4-1 opening win.

The second match of the day against amateur Arizona Sahuaros
proved a much more difficult test as a side much closer to what looked to be
the first team earned a 1-0 victory behind a 38th minute penalty
from midfielder John Thorrington.

Back to Chicago the Fire came for a few days in mid-February
before heading further west to Guadalajara, Mexico where friendlies against
Chivas Original and FC Atlas.

The lineups in both matches were a more likely indication of
the team that first-year head coach Carlos de los Cobos would be working with
heading into the club’s 13th MLS campaign, but the results weren’t
the same as the previous leg of preseason.

During the first match against Chivas de Guadalajara on
February 25, Brian McBride chipped the Chivas keeper just before halftime to
give the Fire a 1-0 lead, but the Fire surrendered a 90thminute goal, having to
settle for a 1-1 draw. A week later, the Fire fell 2-0 to Club Atlas at their
training facility.

Results aside, perhaps the best part of the Mexico leg of
preseason was the chance for the Fire’s U18 Academy to join their first team
brethren in Guadalajara. Playing a packed schedule of matches during their
week-long stay, the Academy trained alongside and in some cases with the first
team.

“Being around the
first team, seeing what they do on the field or the way they carry themselves
outside of training, it helps to gets our minds set in the right place,” said
Academy midfielder Brian Ciesulka. 
“Overall the entire team is enjoying the experience and we’re trying to
take away as much as we can to help us in our Academy season.”

Though the results in Mexico and throughout preseason were
largely meaningless, the club had to deal with two injuries to players that
played major roles: midfielder John Thorrington and striker Calen Carr both
suffered quad injuries that would keep them out for nearly five months of the
regular season.

The team was back stateside days after the loss to Atlas,
returning to a familiar preseason home, Jackson, Mississippi – home of
midfielder Justin Mapp and one of the team’s satellite clubs, the Chicago Fire
Juniors of Mississippi.  

The team was joined again in Jackson by the club’s U16
Academy, marking the first time a full MLS Academy joined its first team during
preseason training.

Competitively, the first team returned to the field with its
best result of preseason, a 3-0 victory over Brimstone Cup rivals FC Dallas on
March 7. Collins John chipped in with his third goal of preseason while Marco
Pappa and Julio Martinez opened their 2010 accounts. It was a solid victory in
front of a more than partisan crowd over 700 miles south of Toyota Park.

John’s goal in the match might have been the one that
clinched a contract as he signed for the club one day prior to the final match
of the club’s preseason tour, a visit with the Houston Dynamo on March 13. A
team in a very similar transitive stage following the losses of midfielders
Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark to clubs in Europe, the Dynamo and Fire played
to a spirited draw.

Between the sticks that night was second-year goalkeeper
Andrew Dykstra. Having been injured in the Arizona leg of preseason, the
Virginia Commonwealth alum returned to Chicago to recuperate while the team was
in Mexico, eventually rejoining his teammates when they returned stateside.

Dykstra played admirably as the Dynamo peppered the reserve
keeper in the first half, though Cam Weaver broke through to give the hosts the
lead in the 63rd minute. The Fire responded eight minutes later when
Wilman Conde fed Marco Pappa at the top of the 18, beating veteran Houston
goalkeeper Pat Onstad and rounding out the game’s scoring.

The match marked the end of the club’s preseason preparation
away from the Windy City. Returning to Chicago the following day, the Fire signed
two of their three non-Generation adidas draftees in defenders Kwame
Watson-Siriboe and Steven Kinney on March 15.

With a full squad set, the club was set to play a final
preparation match on March 20 against Notre Dame at Toyota Park but….

Check back tomorrow as we recap the first two months of the
regular season.

Jeff Crandall is the Team
Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter
@JefeCrandall.