Chicago Fire FC players and staff kicked off preseason camp on Monday afternoon, training together for the first time in 2021 during a full group session at SeatGeek Stadium.
Monday’s workout was a light one according to head coach Raphael Wicky, as he and his staff begin to ease their players toward regular season fitness after a lengthy three-and-a-half month offseason. The team was put through a number of drills to begin that process -- including the infamous beep test -- on day one of a week-long training stint in Chicago.
You know what first day back means...— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) March 1, 2021
Beep test 💀 pic.twitter.com/wdkvfzqzig
Following the session, Wicky and sporting director Georg Heitz met with members of the media to discuss the first day of training, the players returning to market, and their respective expectations for preseason camp and beyond.
“It was nice to be back,” Wicky said. “It was nice to have the whole team together and we were all excited. It was an easy session to get started. I think we know after such a long break, we have to get more intense every single day and just be a little bit careful in the beginning when you come back.”
“From what we've seen yesterday in the physicals, the boys have been working hard,” Heitz said. “We can track them by GPS also when they were back home, so they really did their homework. They seem to be in an even better shape than a year ago, and so we are pretty confident that we won't start below zero. But it has been a long break. So it will take a couple of weeks until the players will be ready to play.”
Both Heitz and Wicky are entering their second seasons in Chicago, respectively, after joining the Club ahead of what was a uniquely challenging 2020 season on and off the field amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With the majority of the roster retained and returning for 2021, the pair view the opportunity to start fresh this season -- while not starting entirely from square one -- as a welcome one entering camp.
“We are very excited that we have the big core of the group back,” Wicky said. "We said that we believe in continuity. We believe in this group. That's also why we didn't change too many players. I'm excited we are not starting like a year ago from scratch. Most of the players know what we want, how we operate, how we are as human beings and also as coaches and then the other way, as well. We know the players better. We know the strength and the weaknesses of the players better.”
“We are going to keep working on things we have started working on last year. We are going to keep improving on those things, and that is for sure the thing we are the most excited about.”
Following their week of training at SeatGeek Stadium, the team will depart for Orlando, FL., where they’ll train together from March 7 through April 3. As announced on Monday afternoon, the Club will play a quartet of friendly matches while in Florida, as New York City FC (March 13), the Philadelphia Union (March 20), FC Cincinnati (March 27), and Orlando City SC (April 3) are all now on the schedule prior to returning to Chicago.
Offseason no more 🔥— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) March 1, 2021
WE ARE BACK. pic.twitter.com/EsNori9qBz
After falling a point shy of qualification for the MLS Cup Playoffs last season, Wicky is using the lessons learned from his debut season in Chicago to inform his preparation for the league’s April 17 regular season start date.
“There are phases of the game where we have to become better, where we have to manage certain moments better and we will keep working on that,” Wicky said, in regards to his side’s performance in 2020. “I think we conceded too many easy goals. Is that from easy individual mistakes or is that from set pieces in moments where we shouldn't concede set pieces? Yeah, different moments and we have analyzed them and we will start working on these little common problems with the team.”
“But overall we are just going to continue working on our philosophy and our way to play with the ball, without the ball and the good thing is that we are not starting from zero.”
While the advantages of roster consistency will continue to be a theme of the preseason, Heitz also delivered his early expectations for the Club’s 2021 newcomers. Today’s training session was the first for defender Jhon Espinoza, midfielder Stanislav Ivanov, and forward Chinonso Offor, all of whom were acquired during the offseason.
“We wanted to have more competition,” Heitz said, referencing the signings. “This was one goal that we had. I think we got this. They all have speed. They are really, really speedy players. They should really give us depth in the roster, and so this is what we expect from these players. But not only putting pressure on the guys who have already been here, but really competing for minutes.”
Heitz also noted that forward Robert Berić, midfielder Álvaro Medrán, and defender Miguel Navarro are not yet in camp, but are expected to join the team for training in Florida upon completion of a mandatory quarantine period.
The Fire are back on the field at last, and the foundation for a successful season in Chicago will be laid over the next seven weeks.
“(It) doesn’t matter whether it's (our) first year or the second year or the third year,” Heitz said. “We always try to do our best to be competitive and we are pretty confident that we will do better this year than we did last year.”