With the Chicago Fire arriving back in Florida for the final phase of the 2017 preseason on Monday, the long-awaited kickoff to the MLS regular season in Columbus is legitimately right around the proverbial corner.
Head coach Veljko Paunovic’s side -- after receiving some well-earned downtime this past weekend -- will now look to put their fresh legs to good use and make the most of the next two weeks of preparation.
“(Our legs are) feeling better now with the weekend off,” defender Brandon Vincent said. “After the two weeks, for sure by last Friday we were having some heavy breathing. It’s been good work and I think it’s all building a foundation for the next couple weeks and into the season.”
An emphasis on improving technique and getting into match fitness were the theme of Paunovic’s first two camp installments at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch in Chicago and at Florida Gulf Coast University since preseason kicked off in late January. Despite tired legs from numerous double- and even triple-session days, his squad managed to pull of consecutive 1-0 victories in friendlies against FGCU and the Philadelphia Union. While it’s never wise to put too much stock into any preseason friendly, Paunovic and his staff certainly have identified areas in which to improve and build upon from 2017’s two (unofficial) opening matches.
“I think we played a good game against (FGCU) the first week,” midfielder John Goossens said. “It was a tough, tough week, so that game was a heavy one. A lot of hard sessions before and after. Against Philly, it was difficult. It was a dry pitch, a lot of wind, but I think we did well. We scored a goal, we tried to play our game style, and at the end it’s a friendly game but we wanted to win. We did, which was nice.”
Another big aspect of getting away from home during the preseason is developing cohesion as a team off the field, and the time spent in Florida has certainly allowed for that.
“We hang out, watch TV shows after training, sit after dinner and talk a while, then venture out into the shopping centers and see what we can find,” Vincent said. “We’re watching 'LOST' right now on Netflix. It’s a great one. We’re on season two now and we’re going to pick it back here these next few weeks.”
On the field, four remaining preseason matches stand between the Fire and their 2017 regular season opener at Columbus Crew SC on March 4. As the final phase of camp kicks off, things are beginning to take shape.
“It was good to see the guys out there connecting passes, getting a goal, and getting a win (against Philadelphia),” Vincent said. “Obviously that’s the biggest thing, so we want to keep building on that as we go forward. Now we’re getting sharper, playing more games, getting that match fitness and building that foundation as we begin peaking towards the beginning of the season here.”
The Fire will next take on the Montreal Impact in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday morning (10 a.m. CT, stream available at Chicago-Fire.com), where they’ll look to keep the positive (unofficial) results going. As each training session and each friendly match gets them closer to the regular season, the anticipation has started to build.
“It feels like the hardest part of the preseason is behind us,” Goossens said. “We can work on some tactical work now. (Opening day) is coming closer and closer. It feels like everybody is getting more excited.”