After a hiatus of nearly three weeks, Frank Yallop’s Chicago Fire squad returned to The PrivateBank Fire Pitch for training on Tuesday, and there was a noticeable increase in intensity from the club’s previous appearance at the facility on the eve of its overseas jaunt to England.
The lads returned from that training excursion late Friday evening and were given the opportunity to re-acclimate to the States over the weekend. On Monday, they reconvened for a light training session and a strenuous visit to the weight room, one that left several members of the squad still feeling its effects when they took the field Tuesday morning.
Still, once they had shaken off the lingering soreness, the Men In Red were sent to work straightaway by Yallop and assistant coach Clint Mathis, beginning with a focused passing drill that doubled as a source of fitness work. The sharp passing sequences provided a chance to see members of the back, midfield and forward lines working together as they would in a game scenario -- with midfielders like Razvan Cocis, for instance, playing the ball to a checking Guly do Prado, who could then hold possession before springing Cocis into space.
Twenty minutes focused on crisp link-ups served the Fire well as they moved directly into 11-on-11 action for the ensuing hour. The defensive units that held opponents scoreless in 180 minutes of scrimmage play while in England ruled the early action on Tuesday, as the centerback pairings of Jeff Larentowicz and Adailton on one side and Eric Gehrig and Matt Polster on the other helped to keep the Fire attackers in check.
Guly do Prado nearly broke the ice with a low one-time effort off a cross by Quincy Amarikwa, but goalkeeper Alec Kann did well to track the ball across the box and produce a reaction save of do Prado’s effort. The Brazilian striker made the most of his next chance, however, blasting home a loose ball from the penalty spot.
At the other end, Kennedy Igboananike had a close-range side volley goal disallowed due to an offside ruling. But his teammate on the gray side, Harry Shipp, soon provided one of the highlights of the session when he bought himself time with the dribble before unleashing a curling, 25-yard blast with his left foot that went beyond the arms of Jon Busch and into the upper 90.
The gray squad would add a late tally to emerge as the winners of the scrimmage, which was played at high intensity and with minimal interjections from the Fire coaching staff.
Fire fans and staff members in attendance were treated to the sight of 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee on the pitch as a limited participant in the first half of the scrimmage. Magee, who did not travel with the squad to England, is working his way back from hip surgery last fall, and on Tuesday appeared in good form while occupying a wide position in the scrimmage.
The Men In Red closed training with a strong fitness session, legging out repeat sprints of 18-20 seconds each while continuing to build toward game fitness.
Absent from training Tuesday was sixth-year starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who received a well-earned day of rest after a month-long training stay with the U.S. Men’s National Team and a whirlwind trip to London for the second leg of the club’s England training stint. The Fire also are currently without newly acquired Designated Players Shaun Maloney and David Accam, both of whom are in the late stages of securing their visas and are expected to rejoin the club in Portland.
New television broadcast partner Comcast SportsNet Chicago will take advantage of the club's brief 'halftime' stint in Chicago Wednesday, visiting training at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch to put the Fire through a media day 'car wash' in preparation for the upcoming season. Be sure to stay locked in on social media throughout the day and on chicago-fire.com when it's all over for behind-the-scenes looks at the players' day in front of the cameras.
With the squad due to depart Chicago Thursday, Yallop's next chance to evaluate the team's game readiness comes Sunday when they face Norwegian side Stabaek, coached by former Fire manager and recent National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Bob Bradley. Game time is slated for 4:30 p.m. CT and online streaming plans will be announced by the club in short order.