One day after a Tuesday training session dedicated almost entirely to 11-on-11 scrimmages, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club returned to The PrivateBank Fire Pitch Wednesday and moved into more situational on-field activities.
Before the start of training, however, defender Eric Gehrig was able to reap one of the benefits of playing for his hometown club when he visited with his alma mater’s men’s soccer team inside The PrivateBank Fire Pitch. The Loyola University (Chicago) squad, coached by Neil Jones, is taking advantage of the indoor facility during the winter months and was wrapping up a morning practice as the Fire took the field. Gehrig starred for the Ramblers from 2006-09 (when he had just a bit more hair flow than he does now) and on Wednesday chatted with members of an LUC squad that finished 8-6-5 in 2014.
The Fire then went to work with a series of sequence passing drills similar to those run on Tuesday, but with a few new wrinkles. That exercise preceded a half-field counter-attacking session that saw the back line tested by a Fire offensive unit coming at them with pace. The ‘D’ did well over the course of the 30-minute drill, however, allowing only one goal when a well-struck Collin Fernandez service was deflected to the far post for an own-goal.
The lack of goals scored belied the pressure applied by the dynamic runs of Kennedy Igboananike and Quincy Amarikwa, whose crashing of the goalmouth regularly created shooting space for Harry Shipp and Razvan Cocis at the top of the penalty area.
From there, the Fire were split into three squads for 6v6 competition, with the odd team out performing fitness work. The 6v6 produced fast-paced, spirited competition, as well as a few top-caliber goals scored. Among them was a left-footed game-winner from Lovel Palmer, who stepped up from his defensive area to wrap one around Jon Busch and into the far side netting.
Regardless of the scorelines of the high-intensity, small-sided games, they showed their worth each time a player stopped to discuss with his mate what they could improve on tactically to help the side. It's an ongoing example of a Fire squad working to build camaraderie in advance of the March 6 opener at LA Galaxy.
"It takes time, you can't force friendships in a working environment," said head coach Frank Yallop. "But what you can do is try to get good characters that you feel are going to mix in pretty well. We haven't got Shaun (Maloney) or David (Accam) at the moment but once we do we'll have that full squad. I've seen a good vibe amongst the guys. It seems like they're getting along well and they're working hard for each other, which is obviously what you need to be a good team. The signs are good, we haven't played any games yet for real, but in general they've been good."
Mike Magee, who has been a limited participant in practice this week as he furthers his return from hip surgery, echoed Yallop's sentiments.
"[The club] did an incredible job of bringing in guys who are very good, and a group of guys who are kind of soldiers," Magee said. "It doesn't hurt bringing in a couple more Chicago guys who are incredible additions, Shaun Maloney's obviously going to be a joy to play with, and you're seeing the young guys raising the bar. It can only help."
With a taxing training session in the books, the Fire were then good sports in participating in marketing and media day activities to benefit both the club and Comcast SportsNet Chicago, whose slate of 21 Fire broadcasts in 2015 begins with the home-opener on March 14 vs. Vancouver.
Thursday will see the Fire complete a morning training session before departing in the mid-afternoon for its upcoming preseason stint in Portland, where the club will participate in scrimmages with Stabaek (Norway), Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. Continue to visit Chicago-Fire.com in the coming days for complete coverage of the Fire’s scrimmages and training sessions in Portland.