CHICAGO -- When the Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop set about reshuffling his pack after a disappointing 2014, the versatile Matt Watson was one of the first names to be tied to a new contract for the coming season.
A tidy, hard-working, all-action, no nonsense center midfielder, the unheralded Watson saw plenty of game-time in his first season with the Fire, starting 22 of his 29 appearances, and only five players amassed more than his 2,034 minutes on the field.
As such, it was no surprise when the UK-born Watson was confirmed as one of six players to have their contract options exercised by the Fire on November 18, and the 30-year-old admitted it was a huge weight off his shoulders to have his future figured out so early.
“For where I am, for what I’m worth I think it was a pretty easy decision for Frank to make and obviously it means a lot to me be back here,” Watson, who is equally comfortable at right-back, told MLSsoccer.com.
“I’m trying to support my family playing soccer, so it was a big relief, a big weight off my shoulders. Every year, just the way contracts are you’re kind of waiting to see what happens, so it was a huge relief for me and my family so we could enjoy Christmas and New Year.”
Watson has also enjoyed the club’s proactive offseason, as the club brought in high profile talent like Shaun Maloney and David Accam as they strive to recapture former glories.
“It’s huge,” Watson enthused when asked about the club’s incoming transfers. “Obviously we didn’t do great last year and we needed to bolster the squad and have a real good go at it this year. When you see names like Shaun Maloney and players who have played at international level, it’s an honor for me to play with these guys and to see what they can bring.
“I think the better the players you play with the better you’re going to get, so you want to be around the best players you can be and learn from them. As you see the names come in you’re thinking ‘this is going to be a good year for us’.”
Where Watson will fit into Yallop’s starting plans is unsure but, tellingly, Watson was one of a midfield trio playing behind Maloney, Kennedy Igboananike and Harry Shipp in the Fire’s first preseason run-out against a Norwich City selection last week. The Fire have since travelled to London where they will meet a Queens Park Rangers selection on Thursday before returning to Chicago on Friday.
Back in his native England for the first time in two years, Watson is relishing the positivity surrounding the club and playing whatever part he can as the Fire bid to improve significantly on 2014’s record setting 18 ties in 34 games.
“I just want to contribute in any way I can,” Watson, who scored once last season, revealed. “My philosophy is I want to work as hard as I can to be the best player I can and what will be will be. Personally, I want to improve as a player, I want to keep the ball better, clean up on the little stuff, cleaning up my game is always going to be the main focus I think. I can do the hard work and be involved in the scruffy side of the game when it comes to defending, but I’d like to clean up on the ball technically.”
As for the team’s prospects this season, Watson echoed the sentiments of everyone connected with the Fire when he said making the playoffs was the minimum target for 2015.
“I think high hopes,” Watson said of how the team is approaching the new campaign. “With the personnel changes that we’ve made it looks positive. So now it’s about building camaraderie and I think with the players we have here we should be doing better.
“Our expectations are to definitely do better than we did last year and make the playoffs and take it from there. You don’t want to go out and say we’re going to win it this year, but the first step is to make the playoffs and from there it’s anyone’s game.”