Friday marked the end of phase one of the Chicago Fire's 2018 preseason schedule, as head coach Veljko Paunovic and his men wrapped up their Chicago training leg with a morning session at Toyota Park.
The Fire took their first touches of 2018 on Tuesday, formally kicking off a four-and-a-half week stretch of fitness work, fine-tuning, and friendly matches that will take them from Chicago to Tampa, Fla., to Bradenton, Fla. and back ahead of their 2018 season opener against Sporting Kansas City on March 10 at Toyota Park.
"It’s nice being back in this routine,” forward Luis Solignac said. "This first week we’re adapting and getting back our bodies to get used to training every day. I think we’re ready to go to the next step now in Tampa and get ready for the season.”
Fitness was the main theme of the preseason’s first week. Players worked through circuits that combined everything from balance and touch to agility and finishing -- and even some light scrimmaging -- as the staff began pushing the roster towards match fitness.
"I’m feeling good, feeling fit,” defender Jonathan Campbell said. "It was fun today to get out there and play little 10-v-10 and see some action. I think everybody played pretty good."
The Fire will get another full week of work in next week before kicking off their slate of preseason friendlies against the University of Southern Florida on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Corbett Soccer Stadium. Having the opportunity to get down to Florida will not only present an escape from Chicago’s February frigidity, but also a chance for the players to minimize external distractions and grow tighter as a unit.
"I’m good friends with a bunch of the guys already, but getting everybody on the same level, getting everyone together as a group and clicking as a whole group is really important because it transitions onto the field,” said defender Christian Dean, who's returned to the pitch following his injury last fall.
"If we were (in Chicago), you get home and there’s many little things on your to-do list that you have to get done,” Campbell added. "Going down to Florida, you’re able just to be free, focus on soccer, relax, and hang out with the guys. I think that’s a very important thing that as the years go on you appreciate more and more. I think that’ll be a lot of fun. Just being around them and spending that quality time building the core group.”
Goalkeeper Richard Sanchez -- a midseason addition to the Fire roster in 2017 -- sees similar opportunities in his first preseason camp with the squad.
"Now that I’m able to come into preseason with the team and be part of that with the team, it’s good,” he said. "In preseason you get to know some of the players at a more intimate level. With this preseason camp, it’ll get me to know some of the players better.”
“And I’ve always been a beach guy, so I’ll be excited for that."
The Fire will additionally square off against the Philadelphia Union at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex on Feb. 8 (10 a.m. CT) before moving on to Bradenton Feb. 11 to finalize their preparations for the 2018 campaign. Friendlies against the Montreal Impact, Nashville SC, and Orlando City SC will await them once there, prior to returning to Chicago on Feb. 24.
Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com for streaming info regarding February’s upcoming friendlies.