Last year, midfielder Matt Watson joined the Chicago Fire Soccer Club at the conclusion of 2014 preseason training, giving him little time to adjust to his new surroundings. It's a different story this spring for Watson, who checks in from his native England with insight into how the club is welcoming an infusion of new talent.
Take us back to Thursday and the squad’s first preseason scrimmage vs. Norwich City F.C.
MW: It was really good. It was our first real good touch of the ball in a proper game. I thought we did really well, we kept the ball well and moved it around. Obviously disappointed not to get any goals but as I said it was our first preseason game and it was good to be out there with the lads.
You were in a familiar position on the field but with some new faces around you. Did you find yourself making any adjustments?
MW: It was interesting. You’re kind of just feeling each other out, so everyone kept the ball moving quickly. I thought the chemistry of that team we had going [in the first half] was really good, I enjoyed playing with all the new players as well as those from last year. I think the players who have been brought in are really good and you could see that straightaway.
Off the field, how would you say the team is getting on?
MW: Everyone seems to be getting along great, it’s almost surprising how well everyone’s getting on. I think part of that is we’re a little bit isolated here in Norwich so it’s given us plenty of chances to get to know one another. Lots of team meals, which is something we didn’t do a whole lot last year. It’s good to sit around the table to eat dinner and chat with the guys. One of my ‘new buddies’ is [defender] Eric Gehrig, he’s a funny guy who can make me laugh and an interesting character. I’m looking forward to getting to know him more.
Frank Yallop on Training in Norwich
Is Eric one of the guys who maybe has surprised you in terms of personality?
MW: I might not say surprised, I guess I didn’t know what to expect but I didn’t expect him to be exactly as he is. We trained a little bit together, kicked around in Chicago in the offseason and straightaway it’s like I knew him for years, he’s talking to me like I was his friend of 10 years. We know a couple of mutual people, which helps, we’ve got some stuff to talk about, but yeah he’s bright and bubbly and I always enjoy a good conversation with him. He’s trying to pick up a British accent while he’s here so that’s fun as well.
Was Michael Stephens another teammate you trained with in the offseason?
MW: A little bit, yeah, at times, so that kind of helped with the chemistry process. He’s another interesting character. He’s got a great sense of humor, very funny guy, so again I’m excited to get to know him.
Last year you joined the Fire right after preseason. What are the differences for you entering your second year as one of the core returners?
MW: I’d say that coming into this year knowing everyone already has been hugely to my advantage. I think I’m more relaxed, you’ve got more to talk about, you’re a little bit close with the guys that were here last year, you know? Obviously, we welcome the new guys in but the guys that were involved in the experience with you’ve got a tighter core with. The big difference is we’ve got a few more attacking options. Quincy (Amarikwa) did great last year and Mike (Magee) had a rough year as far as injuries go, so right now it seems like we’re playing a more attacking brand of football. As we said, we’ve only played one game so far so we’ll see what we’re all about, but it definitely seems like we’re going to play a lot more attacking football this year. It’s something anyone who’s a footballer will enjoy and hopefully fans will to watch. It seems like we’re getting the ball wide, we’ve got pace down the wings, pace at the right back with Lovel (Palmer), left back with Joevin (Jones). So I think you’ll see more attacking football from us. For me, that’s an advantage to be involved in, I think any footballer loves that.
What are you looking forward to about Thursday’s scrimmage with QPR?
MW: Again just getting a touch on the ball. It’s preseason so it’s not always about touching the ball, but anytime we get the balls out I’m always happy about that. It’s another chance to play and grow some chemistry with the new players and the ones from last year, just enjoy ourselves really.
You’re a native of Redditch, England. What’s it like to be back and to have had your family around this week?
MW: It’s been really good. Obviously it brings back a lot of memories being in England. It’s just a culture that I’m used to, good to see my family as they came over for a few days, got to have a good lunch with them. Hopefully I’ll see them again in London, that’s the plan. Even though I’ve only been here a few days it kind of does still seem like home. I’ve enjoyed the trip.
What excites you about 2015?
MW: In terms of football, getting Chicago Fire back to a good place. Whenever you miss out on the playoffs it’s very disappointing for everyone involved, so I think rectifying the disappointment of last season … Even with the players we had last year, we should have done better as a group. So making up for last year, get the team to a good place. I think we’re better this year and will do better this year, so I’m excited about that.
As far as off the field, hanging out with the new friends I’ve made on the team is always going to be one thing, and same goes for those from last year. Stuff for my family, I’d like to visit in Chicago more because I was focused [last year] on moving in, playing soccer, and now we’re in, a little more settled, my daughter’s in school. Hopefully in the downtime during the season I’ll be able to visit what Chicago has to offer.