BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It’s the 56th minute of the Fire’s Aug. 8 match against the New York Red Bulls, and fireworks are exploding above Toyota Park. The reason? Fire Designated Player Nery Castillo has just come onto the field to make his highly anticipated MLS debut.
It was a heady introduction, and – unfortunately for the Fire – one that Castillo has yet to live up to. The Mexican midfielder/forward hasn’t looked good in his three games with Chicago, failing to make an offensive impact and struggling to stay on the field.
The reason behind Castillo’s struggles has been his fitness – or lack thereof. He went without a preseason this year, arriving in Chicago in late July after spending two months off duty. As a result, the fiery attacker is not yet match fit, something he’s quick to admit.
“Physically I’m out of shape, I admit that,” Castillo told MLSsoccer.com through a translator on Wednesday. “I didn’t do preseason this year so I’m really behind in my fitness level.”
In fact, Castillo feels so far behind that he asked to be replaced by a fitter player at halftime in both of the Fire’s last two games.
[inline_node:315428]“In both games I asked the coach to take me out,” Castillo said. “I’d rather have a teammate who’s in better condition than me to come in so we can get more things done.”
But Castillo is determined to get back into shape—and he’s showing it on the practice field. The former Olympiakos favorite puts in extra work after every training session, conditioning and doing ball work for up to an hour after training officially ends.
“I stay out here for half an hour or an hour longer than the rest of my teammates,” Castillo said. “I’m conscious that I need to recover my fitness right away, it’s just going to take me a little while.”
How long Castillo takes to regain full fitness is a significant matter for the Fire, who could certainly use his help as they attempt to make a late season playoff push. He didn’t specify exactly how long it would take him to return to full strength, only saying that he’ll continue to work hard to get into top shape.
“It’s just a matter of working hard,” Castillo said. “I want to get to at least to a point that I’m the same fitness level as my teammates.”
The Fire return to action on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.