Following a brilliant eight-day stay in the quaint town of Norwich, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club packed their bags and said goodbye to their exquisite hosts, both at Norwich City F.C. and their residence, Dunston Hall (pictured). The club made the bus trip south to London, where it will spend the duration of its stay in England training at the home of Premier League side Queens Park Rangers, scrimmaging a collection of young QPR talent at 7 a.m. CT Thursday.
Awaiting the Fire in London was sixth-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had just touched down after traversing North America and the Atlantic Ocean to join his teammates following his most recent January Camp with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Johnson earned his fifth career cap and helped preserve the shutout in the U.S.' 2-0 win over Panama Sunday in Los Angeles, and after arriving in London stopped to chat with Chicago-Fire.com:
You’re joining the team after your most recent January Camp with the USMNT, something that these past few years has become the standard way for you to start year. How does starting the year with the national team serve as a launch pad for the year?
SJ: It’s always an honor being called into the national team. It was a great experience; it’s always great to start the year off in an environment like that with players who come in at such a high level and really push each other to get where we need to be as a team. I think you develop a good fitness base, develop a little more sharpness that carries you through preseason, and it’s something that you can’t really duplicate.
We weren’t sure if you’d be able to join us for this trip to England. How excited are you to get in with the group?
SJ: I’m really excited to be back and just see the familiar faces and immediately have a few laughs with the guys. It was important for me to get back to the team as early as I could to develop the chemistry for the season and to make sure I spend as much time as possible with the group so we can really learn each other. I’ve already talked to a bunch of the guys who are really excited about what we have going on, training has been sharp and I’m excited to come in and get to work.
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We have a good, core group of returning players but also some new faces. How do you integrate yourself into a new group?
SJ: I think coming to England is an important part of that integration process. The earlier I could get in and meet these guys and get to know these guys, the better. Over the next few days it’ll be good to mix and mingle with a few of the newer guys. As the year goes along, you’ll develop those relationships and figure people out but just really learning names and tendencies for certain players is really important.
Some of those knew players though are familiar faces to you, Michael Stephens and Jon Busch. What’s it like to have those two gentlemen join the Fire?
SJ: I know Mikey from my first time with the U-20 Men’s National Team. I’ve known him since then and played against him while he was with the Galaxy. He’s a great guy, a fantastic guy. I’m excited to have him. He’s a great guy for the locker room, a great player as well so I’m really looking forward to playing with Mikey.
Not many people know that Jon and I have been really good friends for the past few years. He’s been a mentor from a distance, someone I could always call on to talk to about anything, from the game, outside the game, and to have an experienced guy like that to work with day in and day out will prove to make a good working environment. It’s funny, I was thinking the other day, ‘will there be a time where we get to train together again?’ I was thinking maybe in the offseason or if we could get together, cause I think the first time we were together was preseason my rookie year. You never know when the cycle will come back around and it’s great to have him here.
What excites you about this upcoming season?
SJ: I’m looking forward to really having a sucessful season. That’s the main goal. I think having so many new pieces is exciting and a challenge at the same time to get everyone on the same page. I’m extremely optimistic, along with the other members of the group, about what this year holds and the potential of this group. So it’s important to get off to a good start and I think if we can do that, we’ll get rolling going into 2015.
AND FINALLY: Upon arrival in London, some members of the club were perhaps surprised to find a new way to bond with teammates. Said GK Alec Kann (pictured in linked tweet): "I’ve actually seen it before because this isn’t my first time staying in a hotel in Europe and we’ve pulled the beds to a reasonable distance apart."