Head coach Veljko Paunovic and the Chicago Fire are back in Florida for the third phase of their 2018 preseason schedule, this time training for 13 days at Bradenton's IMG Academy. Over the course of the next two weeks, Paunovic will get a chance to test out both his old faces and new over the course of four friendlies against MLS, USL and collegiate opponents alike.
“We want to get fit as a team, strong, and work on our concepts with the ball and without the ball - how to put pressure, how to build up," defender Johan Kappelhof said. "We have to keep on practicing. There are some new faces on the team. We need to all be on the same page.”
In their immediate future, a test against the Montreal Impact looms on Wednesday night (6 p.m. CT, STREAM INFO). This will be just the second preseason friendly for Montreal, who enter the midweek having made their (unofficial) 2018 debut under new manager Remi Garde against USL debutants Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday. The Impact picked up a 2-0 victory at Las Vegas' Cashman Field via Michael Salazar and a Las Vegas own goal.
“It’s a good challenge for us to see where we stand, how good we are in this moment," Kappelhof said. "We can work on our concepts and not be afraid to make mistakes. Now we can make the mistakes, but we cannot make mistakes when the season starts. (Tomorrow) we have to play free and open and enjoy, of course.”
The Fire return to action following a 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union last week in Clearwater, Fla. With a weekend break behind them, training resumed on Monday in Bradenton. This third phase is set to serve a number of purposes ahead of the club's March 10 regular season opener at Toyota Park against Sporting Kansas City.
“Individually, I just want to keep improving on my fitness, my strength," midfielder Brandt Bronico said. "The little details that we work on every day that Pauno emphasizes. We look at just cleaning up our touch, becoming more technical every single day, and improving my overall fitness and strength.”
Bronico was subbed out at halftime of last week's scoreless draw against Philadelphia, before returning to the game to help close things out in the 76th minute. Preseason friendly results are meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but Kappelhof and Bronico are part of a Fire unit which -- despite integrating a number of new faces and trialists into the lineup while absent pieces like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Matt Polster -- kept clean sheets in each of its opening two matches.
“We welcome (the new guys) in," Bronico added. "It’s a game and it keeps it competitive. You don’t want to have any hostility towards anybody. It’s all about competition, having a good attitude, having a good work rate and having good technique. If they’re out here working and giving their best, then that’s all you can ask of them. I think everyone appreciates a good work rate.”
Following Wednesday's friendly against the Impact, the Fire will pivot into a Saturday meeting with Florida Gulf Coast University (3:30 p.m. CT). They'll additionally take on 2018 USL newcomers Nashville SC the following Wednesday, Feb. 21 (3 p.m. CT) and wrap up their Florida trip with a visit to Orlando City Stadium to face Orlando City SC on Saturday, Feb. 24 (10 a.m. CT).
“Mindset is to stay confident, stay positive, have a positive attitude and stay healthy, and be clean on the ball," Bronico said. "Ultimately we want to win and compete in every game. That’s my personal goal, always to win and have a gold medal mindset. Honestly, (my goals are) good technique, stay confident, work on the things we’ve been doing in training, and to win the game."
Chicago Fire Training Camp Roster (as of Feb. 13, 2018):
Goalkeepers: Stefan Cleveland, +Sam Howard, Richard Sanchez
Defenders: Jonathan Campbell, Jorge Corrales, Christian Dean, Johan Kappelhof, Grant Lillard, +Maxi Moreira, Matt Polster, Rafael Ramos, Brandon Vincent
Midfielders: Mo Adams, Brandt Bronico, +Omar Castro, Drew Conner, Daniel Johnson, Dax McCarty, Djordje Mihailovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger
Forwards: Jon Bakero, ^Diego Campos, ^Elliot Collier, Michael de Leeuw, +Josh Gatt, Nemanja Nikolic, +Albert Ruiz, Luis Solignac
*Chicago Fire Academy Player
^Unsigned SuperDraft Pick