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.
“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.