chinonso offor training

The Fire’s 2021 preseason camp is just three days old, but new additions Jhon Espinoza and Chinonso Offor have been training with intent.

In their first respective media availability sessions since each player joined the Club this offseason, both were quick to relay what they hope to accomplish during their first preseason in Major League Soccer.

“Making it into the starting 11,” Offor said. “That should be a start for me.”

“I see that the competition is very difficult,” Espinoza added. “It's going to be hard, but I'm here for a reason, so I hope that I will soon be able to fit in with what our coach wants us to do and learn his style and break into the starting 11.”

Offor was acquired from Latvian first division Club FK Rīgas Futbola Skola last Nov. 13. He and Robert Berić -- the Fire’s leading goal scorer and team MVP in 2020 -- are the only forwards currently on the roster following the departure of C.J. Sapong in the offseason. After scoring 16 goals and adding seven assists in 40 games in the Latvian top flight, the 20-year-old is hoping to quickly earn a spot in Wicky’s attacking rotation.

“They are professionals here, so I've been impressed with the overall playing of each player,” Offor said. “I’ve been impressed. And in the attack line, as well, they are quite impressive players, so it's left for me to fight for my spot. It's not going to be easy, of course. You don't go anywhere and train easy. So yeah, just going to have to work extra hard and try and break into the starting 11.”

Espinoza, 22, believes he can bring a vertical element to Wicky’s defensive unit from the outside back position. The S.D. Aucas product is a former captain of Ecuador’s Under-20 national team, and additionally has two caps for Ecuador’s senior national team to his credit entering the 2021 season.

“My qualities are that I'm a fast player and I like to attack a lot, especially down the sidelines with a lot of possibility of coming in on the diagonal toward the goal,” he said. “Little by little I am getting used to learning about what the team wants, what the head coach's tactics are, so little by little as I get used to it I'll be able to complement my teammates more while we're in there.”

Both Offor’s and Espinoza’s desire to establish themselves quickly stems from how they view the opportunity ahead of them in Chicago. The league’s rapidly improving perception internationally -- especially as it relates to the development of young players -- opens up possibilities for both young talents to raise their respective profiles should they come into the Fire and perform at a high level.

“I learned that there may be some possible interest (from Chicago), and I decided to come here and be part of this because I wanted to experience this football before maybe going to Europe,” Espinoza said. “I wanted to experience it because it's a lot faster, it's very intense, and I wanted to be part of it, and really I didn't even consider any interest from any other clubs after learning about Chicago. I just wanted to come to Chicago.”

That ambition translates to the international level, where Espinoza is hoping to continue building on his successful youth international career with Ecuador to become a consistent presence on the senior team as 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying ramps up this year.

"I have to work hard first here with my club and put in a lot of work so that I can get the attention of the Ecuadorian national team head coach," he said.

Hard work is something that Fire staff and players alike have been vocal about in the opening days of the 2021 preseason. In the forthcoming second year under Wicky, achieving the MLS Cup Playoffs and beyond remain the group's collective goal after falling a point shy in 2020.

The intensity in training will surely rise as a result over the next several weeks prior to MLS opening weekend on April 17. But, with all that still ahead, the pair of newcomers have enjoyed their smooth early transition into the team.

“Everyone here is professional,” Offor said. “The teammates, the new ones don’t act all big, the first day the captain came in and was all friendly. The veterans in the team are all friendly. They speak with everyone, with the young players, with everyone, everyone that's playing for here, both with the coaches and the younger ones. So yeah, the facilities are excellent. Everything is perfect for me.”