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Follow along as CFFC Play by Play announcer Tyler Terens provides updates and observations from his time embedded with the team at their preseason camps in Orlando and Austin.

Feb. 14 - Upping the Intensity in Austin

Feb. 9 - That really happened

Just another day down in Austin.....

Yea, no. Not just another day. We signed Xherdan Shaqiri. XHERDAN SHAQIRI. The big-name, big money Designated Player that everyone has been yearning for is finally here. It was a day that Fire supporters won't soon forget, and neither will I. Our content team did an A1 job per usual covering the signing from both a quality and quantity standpoint.

For me, my head is spinning as to what this means for the Fire on the field. Once the rumors started circulating that it could be a possibility, I said to a number of people that I think he can "terrorize this league," and I stand firmly behind that. His lateral quickness on the ball, finishing ability, set piece delivery, vision, and technique are a lethal combination. I am not trying to make comparisons, but if we were going to at least attempt to, based on quality, size and abilities, he reminds me of Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco was one of the most dangerous players MLS has ever seen. He won MVP and Golden Boot in 2015, in addition to being a 4x All-Star. If Shaqiri comes anything close to that then the signing is a massive success, and the Fire will probably be contending for a title.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. From a pure football standpoint, he immediately becomes one of the most decorated players in the league, and is going to draw an immense amount of attention when he's on or remotely close to the ball. This will open up time and space for others, which is only going to create that many more problems for the opposition. He is a winner through and through from his time with Bayern Munich and Liverpool. His understanding of a winning culture will be invaluable for what Ezra Hendrickson is trying to build in Chicago.

One quote from Ezra's press conference on Wednesday sticks out to me - "Within 2-3 minutes, I knew this guy was for real." Hendrickson is keen on bringing in the right people, and the fact Shaqiri is still only 30, hungry for a championship and had EZ convinced within 180 seconds is all I need to know.

As for the day itself, it was a super light training session for the guys in Austin coming off the intra-squad scrimmage yesterday. Soccer tennis was the main activity after some technical work/finishing. The South American squad of Miguel Navarro, Jhon Durán and Carlos Terán prevailed as victors amidst a ton of controversy, but it is soccer tennis...controversy comes with the territory. The boys were light, having a blast and this group continues to improve everyday, What a day for Chicago Fire FC.

From Austin with love,

TT

Feb. 8 - A first look at Rafael Czichos

It's day #2 in Austin, and just four days until the Fire's first test down in Austin against TFC on Saturday.

The staff decided to play a 30 minute game - two 15-minute halves - in preparation for the weekend. We saw a "first group" against the "second group" in the first half and then a mixed bag in the second 15 minutes. The first half was good, and we got to see Rafa Czichos in game-action for the first time. The first thing that jumped out to me was how physically imposing he is and his leadership. He is very vocal, leads by example and demands organization out of his back line and even further up the field.

I was also really impressed with Kacper Przybyłko's movement off the ball. I spent a few minutes just following him off the ball and he is very clever in the way he sets up defenders and finds space. Miguel Navarro and Fabian Herbers had a couple of really sharp moves and solid understanding of one another. The game finished in a 0-0 draw, but it was more for the coaches to gather some more information in real-game scenarios in addition to some match fitness.

The guys finished up with a little lift and enjoyed the rest of the day. I saw Herbers, Czichos and Przybyłko enjoying some coffee in the lobby, great team bonding at meals, etc. The team culture that Ezra Hendrickson continues to preach is being cultivated right in front of our eyes and it is a treat to witness. Talk to you guys tomorrow.

From Austin with love,

TT

Jan. 31 - Recapping the Fire's friendly against Minnesota

Jan. 28 - It's Matchday Eve at last

It's one day out from the first MLS test of preseason, and you could tell the boys were buzzing.

The lone training session of the day (which finally saw some sun) started with some agility and speed relay races that the performance staff turned into a competition. I believe Mauricio Pineda was involved in a scandal of some sort during it, but it was difficult to tell from our vantage point off to the side. The rest of the session was an exercise the boys were familiar with. It was a small field (about 25 yards) and there were extra players on the sidelines and bi-lines that were used as bumpers. These bumpers only had one touch and it made for some really exciting end-to-end action with plenty of goals.

There were some fantastic finishes, but the goal of preseason thus far was scored by draft pick Yanis Leerman out of UCF. One of the bumpers sent a driven ball towards the back post (from the left-hand side) and Yanis, on the fly, picked it out of mid-air and drilled it into the upper 90 at the near post. He was at the back post about 15 yards out. The ball came across his body and he caught it so cleanly that those of us watching couldn't help but let out a variety of "yelps."

This group seems hungry to play against their first MLS competition, and it showed during this session. It was light and fun, but still with a lot of quality. They had the rest of the day off while the staff played a game of their own later in the day. Can confirm, still very sore. Good thing I'll be planted at the picnic table tomorrow for the first preseason broadcast of the year at noon CT on chicagofirefc.com/live and the CFFC Mobile App. Talk to you then!

From Orlando with love,

TT

Jan. 27 - Takeaways from Thursday's double session

Jan. 26 - Building towards Saturday

After the Fire's first "game" of 2022 on Tuesday, Wednesday was a single session day here in Orlando with the gloomy, rainy weather prevailing.

The session started with some intense strength work, as the boys were put through a battery of exercises. They then immediately jumped into some passing patterns and technical work. I'm sure the legs were heavy heading into this, which was exactly the plan devised by the performance staff. It's always fun to watch just how clean the first touch of high-level professionals really is. There was a lot of quality, and I loved watching Ezra demand even more of the guys.

From there, the group split into two sides of the field, 5-v-5, to work on close-quarter situations. This was a drill focused on both defensive shape and fluidity/creativity in the attacking third. It was short little bursts of high-intensity stuff. You could tell that the game yesterday sort of gave the boys a shot of competition adrenaline, and they were even hungrier to play. I particularly enjoyed watching homegrown Sergio Oregel use his decision making and technical ability in tight spaces to break down the opposition. This was difficult with Federico Navarro being his typical bulldog self, but the 16-year-old did well. He doesn't turn 17 until May, and he plays with the sort of football IQ that is typically reserved for veterans.

Only two more days until we face our first MLS test of the preseason, which will be a really good measuring stick for the staff. Hard to believe we've been here for almost two weeks already. Talk tomorrow...

From Orlando with love,

TT

Jan. 25 - A good first test

Another rainy day in Orlando, but an exciting one because the boys played their first opponent of 2022.

It was a closed door scrimmage that featured two 35-minute halves, and two completely separate groups for the Fire. The opposition was a young group from south Florida. CFFC won the game handily, but the result was not the main objective. It was a great opportunity for the coaching staff to get a look at a "first group" and a "second group" against a team that wasn't wearing the same colors, and to see some of the principles that Ezra has been instilling in action.

Ezra and the staff put up a slide at one meal at the beginning of camp that said, "Find space when we have the ball and close it down when we don't." This seems pretty straight forward and obvious, and that's probably because it is. While the opponent was not indicative of what CFFC will see in MLS play, the boys were sticking to this concept. It will make for some entertaining football on the lakefront as Ezra preached from the moment he was introduced as the man in charge of Chicago Fire FC.

There is a real emphasis on dominating possession and making the other team have to work hard to win the ball back. There is a good balance of patience and purpose while in possession as well. The technical staff wants to keep the ball and make good decisions, but they also don't just want the center backs to have a kick about without actually asking questions.

Overall, the friendly was a good first test (of sorts) to see where fitness levels are, and how the group gels in real game situations. I also saw a really good teaching moment between assistant Junior González and Jhon Durán. This coaching staff seems to be in-sync for only having worked together for a couple weeks. I've talked to all of them and they all light up when I ask them about how the staff is working together. They also have a smile on their face most of the time, which never hurts either. This was good day for CFFC and a successful first "dry run," if you will.

Can't wait to see them in action again and be back on the call against Minnesota United on Saturday. Tune in at chicagofirefc.com/live and on the CFFC Mobile App at 12 p.m. CT.

From Orlando with love,

TT

Jan. 24 - Week two starts with finishing

Day one of week two was very strong. The guys were eager to be back on the field after a much needed day off on Sunday.

The group, at this point, is a bit thinner than we expected, but for very good reason. In the past few days, Gabriel Slonina, Miguel Navarro, Javier Casas Jr., and Brian Gutierrez were all called into national team camps. Slonina and Navarro were called into their respective senior teams, while Gutierrez and Casas Jr. are with the U.S. U-20 squad ahead of their preparation for the CONCACAF U-20 championships this summer that will serve as qualifiers for the 2023 U-20 World Cup and 2024 Olympics.

With that said, there was only one session today, but again, it was a strong one. The team started off with some 5-v-2s, then worked into a small-sided game on a shortened field using players as bumpers out on the sidelines and bi-lines. The bumper players only had one touch and added another dimension to the game. We saw some really tidy finishes from homegrown product Missael Rodriguez. When you hear people talk about having a "nose for goal," that's exactly what "Missa" has. It seems effortless for him. He has a plethora of finishes at his disposal. For someone who is turning 19 on Feb. 9, his composure is well beyond his years. He's also a great kid and carries himself with the type of confidence that toes the line of arrogance that is needed for a glory-snatching No. 9.

Mauricio Pineda was another Chicagoland product that just happened to stand out in the drill. His technical ability in tight spaces proved to be very valuable for his team. He also got into the goal-scoring act on a number of occasions. Kacper Przybyłko participated in this exercise as well, and the first thing that stood out in watching him up close is how graceful he is for being 6'4". It might look like it's in slow motion for someone his size, but there is a swiftness about his game that induces a bit of cognitive dissonance given how large he is. I can't wait to see him at full speed once he gets up to match fitness.

We finished up the day with a lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant. Options for entrées consisted of chicken, salmon and steak. I'm sure you can guess what mostly everyone chose given salmon and chicken are on the menu for every meal.

This week will be building towards our first friendly against Minnesota United FC this Saturday, Jan. 29 when we get to see the boys in some type of action for the first time in 2022. For those within 75 miles of Soldier Field, you can watch the match live at 12 pm CT on ChicagoFireFC.com/live or the Chicago Fire FC mobile app. Closer and closer we get to the season opener on Feb. 26th in Fort Lauderdale...

From Orlando with love,

TT

Jan. 23 - A new addition to the squad

This weekend brought a serious cold front (relative to Florida temperatures), but it also brought in a new face - Kacper Przybyłko.

The Polish striker - who was acquired from Philadelphia for $1.15 million in GAM - arrived Saturday, and there was a real buzz about camp in anticipation of his arrival. Rumors had been circulating for the better part of a week, and it finally came to fruition. Przybyłko is an out-and-out No. 9 who loves to score goals, gets involved in the build up, and is very intelligent when it comes to his movement in the penalty area. This is a massive pickup for the Fire, who were in the market for a striker and now have a proven goal scorer in the league.

Kacper immediately fit in with his infectious smile and towering presence. He is 6'4, after all. The two training sessions on Saturday were relatively short, but intense given that the boys would have all of Sunday off. The second session in particular was a lot of fun. Kacper trained off to the side as he had just landed a few hours ago, while the rest of the team endured some fitness to start and played 8-v-8 on a shortened field for the remained of the session. We are starting to see the staff implement more and more game-like situations as the guys' fitness continues to progress.

Overall, it was a great Saturday despite the crappy weather, and the level of play continues to increase with each passing session. Hoping you're all staying safe and warm back in Chicago.

From Orlando with love,

TT

Jan. 21 - Progressing each day

Back to double sessions again today, and it was another gorgeous day at that.

The morning session consisted of some smaller sided stuff, but with principles of possession and closing space down quickly very much at the forefront of each exercise. Ezra was in form today and demanded a lot out of the guys when it came to quality on the ball and spacing. They finished up with some build-up patterns, and the 'keepers saw their first game-like action of preseason.

The patterns became more and more fluid as the drill wore on, and so did the finishing. Jhon Durán's thunderous left foot and Victor Bezerra's silky technique pop into my mind when I think back to some of the goals scored. The second session had the most open/game-like situation we've seen thus far. It was 11-v-11 on 2/3 of the field, with an attacking team going to goal and the defending team just needing to play out of pressure into an outlet in the 1/3 of the field that wasn't being occupied. The patterns worked on earlier in the day came out from the attacking team, while the defensive side was like a swarm of angry bees whenever they smelled an opportunity to win the ball. It was high intensity and really fun to see the guys truly compete on an almost full field.

Preseason is a marathon, not a sprint, and we're seeing the progression of the principles Ezra and the staff are implementing on a larger and larger scale. Time for some dinner and a little R&R. Yes, I did get my run in today trying to see if I can fool some of the patrons at the resort into thinking I'm actually a player on the team. I don't think it worked. Will try again tomorrow. Have a lovely weekend.

From Orlando with love,

TT

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Above: Golden hour views as the boys wrap up a strong session right before dinner. This definitely doesn't suck.

Jan. 19 - It's good to be back

Day two of pre-season was rather light given the work load that the boys endured yesterday, which included a variation of the famous beep test called "The 30/15."

There was a lot of technical work and touches on the ball for the guys as the weather finally started to warm up (Yes, I'm aware it is a lot colder back in Chicago).

There's been four sessions in 24 hours and the guys are in great spirits. The second session today was split between defenders and everyone else. The defenders worked on shape and touches into space based off of what the "defense" was giving them. The midfielders and attackers worked on timing and fluid motion heading into the final third. As expected, Ring of Fire member and new assistant coach C.J. Brown worked with the defenders, while Frank Klopas and Junior Gonzalez focused on the attackers.

Ezra Hendrickson continues to oversee things and provide the building blocks for what is a long preseason. He seems to be relishing the opportunity he has earned to build a team and put his own stamp on a club after so many years being an assistant. Today is day number two of 40, but who's counting? It's great to hear the sound of the ball leaving players' boots and their constant communication. They are sounds of the beautiful game, and while this offseason has been one of the shortest in CFFC history, it still felt too long. Talk to you tomorrow.

From Orlando with love,

TT

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Above: Fabi, Tonga, Brothers Reynolds, Spencer Richey, Wyatt and Jonny B play a game of "Is it this one?" The boys struggled mightily to figure out the game, but there were lots of laughs and banter at lunch today. JB was the master of ceremonies, and even had Ivy Leaguers bamboozled.

Jan. 18 - Preseason gets underway at last

Tyler checks in from Orlando with the first entry of his travel blog following a pair of Fire training sessions.