With just 11 days until the team’s MLS First Kick match, the warm climes of southwest Florida, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Charleston are no more for the Fire as the team begins its final preparations for what will be a memorable opener at Montreal.
Though the temperature in Chicagoland surpassed 60 degrees Tuesday, it was the strong wind that cooled things down considerably and made the team’s first 2012 training session at Toyota Park a bit more difficult to deal with.
“Its good to be back,” said Gonzalo Segares fresh off long sprints against the wind.”It’s always hard to be on the road for a long time so its good to be at home, in our own locker room, our field. We’re settling back into the rhythm of being at home and we had a great first practice today.”
The 45-day preseason which began when players arrived to Toyota Park on January 18 saw the Fire hit up four cities and play eight first team games, with head coach Frank Klopas gradually building up match fitness as camp went on.
“[Each phase of preseason] was great,” continued Segares. “The coaches did a good job of taking everything step by step and not running us into the ground right away. They raised the level little by little and gave us more playing time as camp went on. I think they did a good job letting our bodies adapt to being back and I think the majority of the players felt great during preseason.”
A player that proved his fitness level throughout the 2011 season, Segares appeared in more competitive matches (38 of 40) than any other Fire player but with Tuesday’s announcement that the club had signed SuperDraft selection Hunter Jumper, Segares sees more competition at the left back role in 2012.
“Hunter’s a young kid that has adapted quickly to the professional game. It’s not easy to jump right away from college into MLS but he’s done it. He’s going to keep growing and as he learns the ins and outs of the league, he’s going to do better. Right now, he and all the rookies have done a good job of coming in to compete and pushing the veterans. If anything happens to the other guys, we have some young players that are hungry and ready to step in right away.”
The team will have one final test Friday morning when they welcome the NASL’s Minnesota Stars FC to the Toyota Park turf field. While a sparse crowd won’t help preparations from an atmosphere perspective, the turf is being utilized to prepare for the carpet at Stade Olympique when the Fire play guest in Montreal’s first home MLS match on March 17.
“You’re always going in to those games looking at the good things about it. Even though we’re on the road it’s going to be a great atmosphere. We know they’re going to come flying at us and wanting to win their first home game. These two weeks are going to be important for us to prepare for what will be a difficult game and atmosphere to deal with. The most important thing is to get there and to get some points out of it”