Unless you're among a batch of rookies new to a professional camp, a season’s opening training session doesn't often bring with it many surprises. That was not the case Tuesday morning at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch prior to the Chicago Fire’s opening workout of the 2017 preseason.
Former Fire defender Eric Gehrig was on hand Tuesday morning to help run the team’s first training session after being brought in for the 2017 preseason as a trialist among head coach Veljko Paunovic’s soccer operations staff.
“A lot of the guys didn’t know today,” Gehrig said. “Then they saw me, and then they were like, ‘What’s going on?’ and then I told them. Seeing that excitement on their face, it’s exactly how I felt when I saw them. To see that reciprocated, it was a cool feeling.”
"As we developed the list of characteristics we saw in a possible assistant coach, Eric's name kept coming up repeatedly," Chicago Fire General Manager Nelson Rodríguez said. "Having Eric with us for all or part of the preseason will be helpful in determining if this is the right time or the right fit for both of us."
Gehrig -- a six-year MLS veteran with both Chicago and Columbus -- appeared 30 times along the Fire back line during the 2015 and 2016 seasons before departing late last November. At that time, the 29-year-old faced an offseason marked by uncertainty and decisions to make about his future. While he hasn’t closed the door on continuing his playing career, despite having options to do so, the Illinois native and Loyola product is excited about the opportunity he's been presented.
“I know that I made the right decision,” Gehrig added. “I know that these guys are excited about me being back and that makes me being excited about being here.”
The opportunity marks Gehrig's first among the coaching ranks at the professional level. He'll use the preseason to pay close attention to how his former coaches and current colleagues attack their profession.
“I think the best thing for me is learning on the job from Pauno, seeing (assistant coach) Marko (Mitrovic) do things, plus what I learned from (former Chicago Fire midfielder and assistant coach) Logan (Pause). We had a good conversation yesterday. He’s obviously really excited for me.”
Gehrig's passion for the hometown club he grew up supporting was clearly evident throughout his tenure on the Fire roster. Now, he feels that his familiarity with club history and the current crop of Men In Red can offer the club a unique strength and will give him an insight into what’s best for each player from an individual standpoint.
“It’s cool because I know that I’m going to be there for them, working together. I know those guys. I know what they need. It’s a lot of good relationships there. I was excited to get here today because I knew a lot of those guys were going to be like, ‘Whoa, are you kidding me?’ It was very cool.”