CHICAGO -- While the exciting additions of Designated Players Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike have attracted most attention this off-season, the Chicago Fire has been steadily and effectively building roster depth ahead of what they hope will be a long dip into the post-season.
Key to that process has been the immediate and important impact made by the team’s rookie signings Matt Polster, Patrick Doody and Collin Fernandez, who have all impressed in the opening two weeks of preseason training.
“All three of them have held their own and done fine,” head coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop told Chicago-Fire.com. “For me it’s a good sign, all three of them did well, with Matt being pretty close to being in the first team squad.”
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A calm and composed figure at centerback, the 22-year-old SIU Edwardsville graduate played 45 minutes of both games in England against Norwich City and QPR alongside Chris Ritter and was instrumental in keeping both teams scoreless.
“When I came in I was pretty nervous to be around some of the older guys who have been in the league for some time, but the first two weeks of training have gone really well for me,” Polster revealed. “Going over to England I thought I did really well in both games, so I’m slowly getting into it and I’m just trying to learn from the older guys right now.”
Speaking to all three rookies at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch Tuesday, each of them spoke with humility and determination and acknowledged the importance of hard work and a willingness to learn if they are to make the step up to the first team permanently.
“The first few weeks have been great. It has totally beat my expectations and they were pretty high to begin with,” 22-year-old Doody, the club’s sixth Homegrown Player, said.
“There’s a bunch of leaders on the team, but in terms of specifically my position and being back there, their voices (Jeff Larentowicz and Eric Gehrig) really mean a lot. Any time they can give me their two cents it goes a long way.”
At 18, Lisle-native Fernandez is the youngest member of Yallop’s squad, but having trained considerably with the first team last season, the transition has been pretty smooth thus far.
“It feels great to be a part of this team,” the dynamic midfielder enthused. “There’s a bunch of new guys and new faces so it kind of made me feel like in the team already. It’s gone pretty well, I’ve been enjoying it to the fullest and I’m loving it.”
There has been a noticeable increase in tempo and intensity between the first week’s sessions and this week’s sessions as competition increases with the season opener against the LA Galaxy looming on March 6.
One telling moment during Tuesday’s full-pitch scrimmage saw Polster confront a goal-bound Quincy Amarikwa, stand his ground, force last season’s top scorer away from goal before dispossessing him and emerging with the ball to feed his midfielders.
“Playing against Quincy is definitely a tough battle and playing against players that good is definitely going to help me play against better players like himself,” Las Vegas-native Polster admitted. “And positioning-wise, Jeff (Larentowicz) has definitely helped me and he has taught me how to do things properly on the field.”
Fernandez is also looking forward to learning from a like-minded, creative midfielder like Maloney, who is expected to reunite with the squad along with Accam and goalkeeper Sean Johnson in Portland after tying up his immigration details in England this week.
“It really does (excite me),” Fernandez said of training and playing alongside the Scot. “Shaun’s a great guy off the field and I’ve learned things from him off the field, but on the field as well, he’s a great guy, he’s a crafty little player and that’s how I look for myself to be in the future.”
With 12 new additions to the squad thus far, there has been an obvious shift in confidence and ambition following the disappointment of last season, and Naperville-born Doody expects much better from the Fire in 2015.
“The sky’s the limit,” he insisted. “We’ve a good group, the team seems to be running on all cylinders on and off the field. Obviously, we’ve still got a ways to go, but take it game-by-game and we should be in good shape.”