CHICAGO, Ill. – Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares can empathize with the expansion Montreal Impact.
During the last two years, the seven-year veteran felt like he was on a new team. Nine new players dressed for the Fire’s 2011 season-opener against FC Dallas, and they changed formations late in the preseason. The Fire had five different players in the starting lineup by the end of the year.
“I think for the last two years, we’ve been in the position that Montreal is in right now, with a lot of new faces, a lot of new changes,” Segares said, “not just in players, but in coaching.
“It takes awhile to jell and to get to know your teammates. It’s always tough when players are moving from different positions, so it’s hard to adapt. “
The experimentation is over for the Fire.
When Chicago open their season in Montreal on Saturday in the Impact’s home debut (2 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada,MLS Live in US), they’ll probably start the same ten field players that led them to a 7-2-1 finish in 2011. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson will rejoin the team when he’s done with the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
“Good things take time,” said captain Logan Pause, “whether it’s building a team, whether it’s building a business, it takes time to jell. There’s more familiarity around the group. Guys are more comfortable with each other, you learn guys’ tendencies. You learn about them as people, both on and off the field.”
Good things have been hard to come by for the last two years for the Fire. Before 2010, Chicago had missed the MLS Cup Playoffs just once. But under Carlos de los Cobos, they went just 10-16-15 before the Mexican coach was let go midway through last season.
With every starter back along with coach Frank Klopas, who had his interim tag removed during the offseason, the Fire think they have enough talent and continuity to return to the club’s traditional winning ways.
Saturday’s opener, though, will present a unique challenge. Montreal have already sold more than 50,000 tickets and may sell out Olympic Stadium.
“I’m sure they’re going to come out with a lot of energy,” Klopas said. “You’ve just got to expect that they’ll come out with a lot of energy and take care of the ball.”
The Fire hope their continuity can counter-balance the electric atmosphere.
“The end of last year gave us a glimpse of what this group is capable of,” Pause said. “Having a core back definitely gives us more confidence. We know what to expect from each other. When guys don’t know what to expect from each other on the field, it makes it hard.”