Three weeks of training have been enough for Anton Ferdinand to establish himself as a vocal presence for the Chicago Fire, even if it’s only temporary.
The Reading defender has come to a city he had never previously visited and trained with a team in a league he's never experienced. The onus would seemingly be on his hosts to help him get acclimated during his brief stay, but that hasn’t been the case.
“It’s kind of been the opposite,” Chicago Fire centerback and captain Jeff Larentowicz said. “He’s come in and he’s able to look from the outside and see what’s going on. We’re about the same age and play a similar position, so I’ve asked him what he’s seen and what he thinks.”
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Ferdinand -- the younger brother of former Manchester United and England standout Rio Ferdinand -- was limited to two appearances in the 2014-15 English League Championship season due to a nagging calf injury. Consequently, Reading manager Steve Clarke recommended that the 30-year-old continue regular training because of the good work he had put in toward the end of the season. Taking eight weeks off would stunt his progress.
Ferdinand’s agent then got in contact with Fire assistant coach Marc Bircham, who coached Ferdinand at Queens Park Rangers from 2011-13. The prior relationship and Bircham's strong reputation made it seem like a good fit for a training stay.
“He’s a top, top coach,” Ferdinand said of Bircham. “Like you hear from the boys here at the Fire, they love him to bits as a coach. I didn’t expect anything less than training to be top notch.”
Ferdinand packed up and flew to Chicago in late May, and the experience has been a good one. Reading teammate and U.S. Men’s National Team member Danny Williams told him MLS has good talent, and he’s seen that. While the pace of play is a little quicker in England, Ferdinand said the speed and quality he's seen in MLS are not far behind.
The main goal has been to build and maintain fitness. In that sense, the training session has been a success. He’s also gotten the added benefit of building relationships with the Fire players. As Larentowicz points out, “It’s hard walking into a locker room when you don’t know 30 people and you’re the odd man out.” But Ferdinand's transition into the team's daily routine was a smooth one.
“The group’s been very, very good,” Ferdinand said. “It’s a nice bunch of lads. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. I’m just happy that they’ve accepted me into their group for this short period of time. My main goal is working hard here and being ready for Reading when I get back.”
That time is almost up. On Sunday, June 21, he will head back to Reading for the preseason, which starts four days later. His stay in the city has been short, but he’s made the most of it, from taking his family on a boat tour down the Chicago River to getting to work with “Birchy” again.
“I’m just delighted that him and [head coach Frank Yallop] was OK with me coming out here and training,” Ferdinand said. “For me personally, it’s been a great experience.”