On Wednesday, Chicago Fire FC held its first press conference of the new year as the team began preseason training to prepare for the upcoming 2023 MLS season.
Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson and defender Rafael Czichos spoke to the media and delivered updates concerning the team and its upcoming preseason schedule in Chicago, Mexico, and Arizona. The team will finish this week of training in Chicago, before departing for Cancun on Friday.
Alongside the fresh start that preseason represents, Hendrickson also enters his second year in charge with a fresh bill of health among his side. Midfielders Gaston Giménez and Jairo Torres and Defender Wyatt Omsberg - all of whom dealt with long term injuries over the course of the 2022 season - have returned to training and been full participants.
“(I’m) just glad to have these guys in training, “Hendrickson said. “We are very careful with these guys because some of them have been out for six months. We have to be very careful that - when the season starts - we go in with a full complement of players without injuries, or minimal injuries as much as possible.”
As Hendrickson expressed his delight with players returning for the upcoming season, many wondered about the status of Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri, who had yet to participate in a training session this week.
“As far as Shaq, this is a situation where Shaq basically played a season-and-a-half coming from Lyon, and playing a full season with us, and then going to the World Cup which is physically and mentally demanding,” Hendrickson said. “We want to make sure we give him a couple of days to regroup and take a break so he doesn't get burned out. We all know how long and grueling the MLS season can be with the traveling and stuff like that, so we want to make sure that we give him a couple extra days to rest, but he will head to Cancún with us on Friday.”
Beyond the start of preseason camp, the biggest news of the week was the sale of forward Jhon Durán to English Premier League side Aston Villa. Durán departed the Fire after a single - but impactful - season in Chicago that saw the 18-year-old lead the team with eight goals and add three assists.
The Fire have now said their goodbyes to two major teenage prospects within the last few months, factoring in the sale of goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina to Chelsea in August. Both players caught the attention of the Premier League, and now head to the England to make a name for themselves to accomplish their dreams.
Hendrickson highlighted that - although the Fire has lost two promising young stars - the Club deserves credit for finding these players, and must continue developing its emphasis on development.
“We have to balance that with making sure that we remain competitive and we're making sure that we are replacing those players if they do move on with either players from in-house or players that we have scouted, just as we did with Durán. It's a tricky situation, but it's not a bad situation to be in. It means that people are looking at your players and it means that your recruiting department is doing a good job.”
Though the transfer of two players who played a vital role in last season may sting a bit, the Fire are clearly proud to have been able to help the two get to where they are now. As for the current roster, the Fire will rely on the consistency provided by its returning players from last season.
That includes Czichos, whose debut season in Chicago saw him quickly emerge as a team leader and fan favorite from central defense.
“I came here to help the team and to make the playoffs in my first year, and I couldn’t reach this goal,” Czichos said. “But, I’m optimistic that this season will be better for us as a team and for me personally. Now I know the league, how it is to play in this league, how it is to travel all the long distances. I’m pretty sure I’ll play a better season than my first season so I can help the team reach our goals.”
The new faces in camp include recently signed goalkeeper Jeff Gal and midfielder Maren Haile-Selassie, as well as three MLS SuperDraft selections in Noah Egan, Billy Hency, and William Cabrera Jr. New signing Arnaud Souquet will join the team following the receipt of his P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate (ITC).
“I think you can feel it in the whole club that this season has to be a special season,” Czichos said. “The team seems to be really motivated, all of us. And the intensity at practice is already really high. So this is what we need. And I think it’s going to be a good preseason and hopefully then a good regular season.”
Although the work for the long season has just started, there is a lot more in store for Fire fans. The team will travel to Cancun, Mexico this Friday Jan. 20, where they’ll train from Jan. 20-31. Their time in Mexico includes a preseason match against Cancun F.C. on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 11:00 a.m. CT at Estadio Andrés Quintana Roo.
For the second half of preseason, the Club will return to Chicago and train at SeatGeek Stadium for the first week of February before traveling to Tucson, Arizona on Monday, Feb. 6. While in Tucson, the team will play in four additional preseason matches against Sacramento Republic FC (Feb. 8), El Paso Locomotive FC (Feb. 11), New Mexico United (Feb. 15) and Real Salt Lake (Feb. 18) in the FC Tucson Desert Showcase. The Fire will return to Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 18 for its final preparations prior to the start of the 2023 MLS campaign.
Tickets to the Fire’s March 4 home opener at Soldier Field are on sale now, and can be purchased by clicking the link below.
October 7 vs Charlotte FC
Chicago Fire FC celebrated Fan Appreciation Night on October 7, 2023 to give back to our dedicated fans and their commitment throughout the season!