BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Disappointed by the Chicago Fire’s lackluster 2010, Logan Pause arrived at preseason training camp this winter determined to make a point.
And he did. Right away.
The 29-year-old Pause beat out scores of younger, quicker players to win Chicago’s fitness test on the first day of training. It wasn’t a cheerleader moment as much as a statement from the team’s new captain, and it was classic Pause: quiet, effective and – most of all – poignant.
“I take pride in that sort of thing,” Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “I definitely want to set a good example. I think it’s important to send a message in something like a fitness drill – something that isn’t necessarily fun. I think it was a good way to start.”
It’s also a huge step for the player Chicago selected with the 24th pick of the 2003 SuperDraft. Back then, Pause wasn’t trying to make points. He worked hard and he was always professional, but he preferred to observe rather than affect, learning the MLS ropes from some of the Fire’s older players like former captains Chris Armas and C.J. Brown.
Pause was much quieter then. He was more than aware of the talent and leadership on a Fire team that won the Supporters’ Shield that season, including names like Armas, Brown, Zach Thornton, Carlos Bocanegra and Ante Razov.
“I think he understood his role in the whole thing,” said Armas, who played with Pause from 2003 to 2007 and coached him in 2008. “He knew that we had enough personalities and voices in the locker room.”
It wasn’t that Pause didn’t care, He did, deeply. He just hadn’t earned his place yet.
[inline_node:331709]Although he earned significant playing time behind standout defensive midfielders Armas and Jesse Marsch (he played 23 games in his rookie year), Pause felt like the perpetual 12th man. He could fill in at multiple positions when a player was hurt, suspended or just needed a rest.
Was he valuable? Of course. But he wanted more.
“It was difficult for him,” Armas said. “I was in there with Jesse and we were two established guys that played his position, and he had to take a second seat to that. He’d share the frustrations with me. It was a thing where no matter what he did, he couldn’t really crack the starting XI.”
Pause, however, didn’t let his frustrations hold him back. Instead, he used them as motivation, working harder and changing his game in order to scratch his way onto the team sheet.
His efforts paid off in 2005, when he recorded a then-career high 24 starts and 27 appearances overall, playing primarily as a right back.
“I always found a way to get on the field,” Pause said. “I think one of the things that helped was my versatility. I played right back, center back, right mid and center mid and I think that got me out there more than I otherwise would’ve been had I only played center mid.”
Pause’s game began to evolve as he saw more and more time on the field. Playing multiple positions helped him gain perspective, and spending time with Armas and Marsch allowed him to model his game after theirs.
“One of the things that helped my evolution and my progression throughout my career was getting a different perspective across different areas of the field,” Pause said. “From playing right back to right midfield to the middle, I’ve kind of been moved around and I think that’s helped shaped the player that I am.”
[inline_node:331710]Pause also became very aware of his weaknesses, many of which were on the offensive end of the field. He wasn’t getting forward as much as he should, and he needed to be more aggressive when he had the chance to shoot.
“I think Logan has the same challenge that I had,” Armas said. “And that’s to challenge himself more on the other end of the field; see how many balls he can play forward, not just sideways and backwards.
“He’s actually expanded his arsenal and he plays more 20-, 30-, 40- and 50-yard balls that switch the field and put guys through. He’s getting more assists.”
Pause was rewarded for his hard work in 2008, when he was given the starting defensive midfielder spot left vacant by Armas’ retirement. He played well in his new role, making 27 starts on the 2008 Fire team that made the Eastern Conference Championship.
But he still couldn’t get the recognition most who know him felt he deserved. His reputation as an honest, hardworking player often overshadowed his individual skill.
“Some guys just get touted as hardworking and honest,” Armas said. “But if every hardworking, honest guy could make it in our league, it’d be flooded. Logan does have other things.
“He’s a very good one-on-one defender. He’s very quick – over five yards, there aren’t many guys quicker. He’s got great, quick feet. He uses his body in a clean but hard way, and he doesn’t cut corners. When you’re talking about a guy like him I think it’d be almost like a slap in the face or disrespectful to only say, ‘Yeah he’s hardworking, yeah he’ll run all day.’
“Yeah, he’ll do that, but there’s so much more to his game than that.”
A New Level Of Respect
The lack of recognition started to change in 2009. Pause remained the Fire’s first choice at holding midfielder, starting 26 regular-season games. He also earned his first caps with the US national team, appearing in five matches for the Americans in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, including the final against Mexico in front of more than 79,000 fans at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
[inline_node:331711]He started another 26 games in 2010, earned the team’s MVP award and again earned a call from US coach Bob Bradley, this time for an international friendly against South Africa in November.
“Logan was underestimated and underrated by people for a long time, but I don’t think he is anymore,” Armas said. “I think he’s gained a lot of respect around the league. His peers, teammates and coaches all know that what you see is what you get with him, and now they’ve seen it for a few years in a row.”
He’s the leader in Chicago now, with the tall order of wrangling and inspiring the team’s nine players younger than the age of 23, and it’s his voice that must now keep teammates on point.
When Pause speaks now – and he does, eight years after he deferred to the men who helped shape his career and his commitment to the club – he finally speaks as the team captain.
“We’re really trying to concentrate on the process: everyday training habits, how we handle ourselves, how we train and how we treat people,” Pause said. “I believe all of those things are imperative to becoming a successful team. Winning is a byproduct of the process and attention to detail, and I hope that my role will include instilling some of those foundations and values.”