Year two in Chicago couldn’t be off to a more different start than year one for Fire midfielder Gastón Gimenéz.
The Argentine Primera División veteran and Paraguayan national teamer was signed from Argentina’s Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield late last February, and arrived in Chicago in the week prior to the Fire’s second match of the season in early March.
Even though he’d get his Fire debut in that match - a 1-1 draw on the road with the New England Revolution - he missed preseason entirely, and was then immediately forced into quarantine as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States.
Given the unforeseen challenges of his arrival in Chicago, it’s no surprise that he is enjoying the Club’s current sense of stability following a preseason training session on Tuesday.
“It's always good to have a foundation, a good base, and I think that's what we did last year,” Giménez said via a translator. “We formed a good foundation, and now going into the process - because it's a process, what the coach wants - we are getting to know each other better on the field. I think last year we did that really well, where we were getting to know each other on the field.”
Giménez isn’t the only one eying a steadier second season ahead. He’s one of 17 players on the Fire roster currently preparing for year two in Chicago, 15 of whom are entering their second season in Major League Soccer altogether (defender Wyatt Omsberg and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth are the exceptions).
This will also be year two in MLS for head coach Raphael Wicky, who’s enthusiasm for the roster’s consistency from 2020 to 2021 was echoed by Giménez.
“On the soccer field, we meshed very well, we got to know each other, and now with that base, adding in the players that came in (during) the off-season, we're going to be able to do even more, and we're going to be able to make the team and the city proud.”
Amid the several stops and starts and returns to play that came with MLS’ collective navigation through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Giménez ultimately established nicely his place in the Fire midfield. He made 18 appearances (17 starts), registered three assists, and earned his first cap and goal for Paraguay in October for his efforts.
Still, the Fire finished a point shy of reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs, and Giménez spoke candidly about what he needs do to help the team take a collective step forward in 2021.
“Experience dictates that I need to work even harder,” he said. “I have to play the way I have been playing in Argentina with my style of play because when I came back after the quarantine period, I wasn't at my fullest, and I'm aware of that.”
“So I have to be more focused, work even harder, (be) more alert,” he added. “It's my personal objective to have a much better season than I did last year, personally for me, so I have been preparing very hard during the off-season, and now during preseason I'm going to give my all, because I'm ready to go out there and have a better season and give my all for the team.”
With nearly seven weeks of preseason work still ahead and a year’s worth of MLS experience in tow, Giménez is eager to make his second season in Chicago a big one.
“We didn't make the playoffs, unfortunately, but this year we want to make the playoffs and go far,” he said. “We hope that the other teams are always talking about the Chicago Fire, saying that the Chicago Fire is a hard team, a good team, right up at the top there of teams that are hard to play against. So I think I've always been ready for it, and that's what we're here for this year.”