Photo by Tracy Allen/ISIphotos.com
By DAVID GUBALA
The Chicago Fire will swap the crispy, cold ways of Chicago for the sunny rays of Ave Maria as they travel to Florida to officially kick off the preseason camp for their 15th season in Major League Soccer.
Dominic Oduro, the team's leading scorer in 2011, argued that the Fire must continue the form that they exhibited in their last 10 games of 2011. The club held an impressive 7-2-1 record over that time, just missing out on a playoff spot.
"Pretty much we want to start the season how we ended it," Oduro said. "We had a great run with winning games, and that's what we want to do right now in preseason. We want to be really determined and focused. Our goals this year are the MLS playoffs and eventually MLS Cup is our target."
Oduro is a firm believer in keeping everything steady when it's all working out and suggests that he will not make too many tweaks in his game this season.
"Personally, I think I had a great 2011," said Oduro, who scored a career-high 12 goals last season. "I don't think I should change something that really works. There's always room for improvement, but as of right now, I'm just going to be doing what I was doing before."
Here are more notes from the Fire's preseason:
STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Entering his fifth MLS season since being acquired in the 2008 SuperDraft, Patrick Nyarko has made a total of 96 appearances for the club already. He’s already experienced the feeling of being in a Superliga Final, conference final and most recently, what it's like not making the playoffs. Having been there, done that, Nyarko is confident of the upcoming season, and he knows that Chicago needs to get off to a better start than it did a year ago.
"Having our entire starting lineup back for 2012 is what's going to give us success," Nyarko said. "I've been here for five years now, and in my first year we made it to the playoffs and we did well. We started off the season very well and that's what gave us success. Winning games in the last couple games is too late.
"The plan is to accumulate the maximum amount of points at the beginning of the season, and if you hit a rough patch, you still finish strong.
"We struggled last season because of consistency, and that's because we didn't have a lot of players return from 2010 to 2011. Now we have almost every player returning and from learning from past years, I know that's what is going to give us success.
"Everyone is excited to see how we continue from the strong finish we had last season and I always keep saying, you don’t want to be playing catch-up in MLS. We have to start on the front foot and let teams catch to us as opposed to catching them."
PETREI JOINS STAFF
Hauptman informed local media that the club is looking to explore the additions that are necessary for the club to put all the puzzle pieces together. One of those is the addition of Guillermo Petrei, who will act as the club's managing director of soccer operations.
"He's a guy from Buenos Aires that we got to know over the years," Hauptman said. "He's been involved in having his own academy in Washington D.C. and he’s a very smart, savvy guy.
"His job is more going to involve overseeing soccer from a process and organization perspective. It's really about making sure our approach is right and that nothing falls through the cracks and that we're being very analytical, very thoughtful."
Hauptman mentioned that Guillermo does not have an official title, but he will be instrumental in working with the club's coaching staff along with handling player personnel duties.
CLUB REVELS IN NEW SPONSORSHIP DEAL
With a mere 15 miles separating the Quaker Oats offices and Toyota Park, the recently signed sponsorship deal between company in club is without a doubt a home run for both organizations.
The multi-year deal will include Quaker's name and logo on the Fire's home and away jerseys and will reportedly be worth up about $8 million over three years.
"Anytime we can get a hometown company involved with a hometown team it's just kind of a match made in heaven," Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter said. "Not to mention that there's so much energy between the two brands."
As of now, 15 out of the league’s 19 teams have a jersey sponsor. Colorado, Columbus, Dallas and Kansas City remain without one.
As part of the sponsorship deal, the club revealed its new home and away jerseys this week.
Owner Andrew Hauptman mentioned that he's worked intensely with adidas, the league's official apparel supplier, to incorporate a lot of the Chicago-specific features onto the jersey. The away kit will feature a navy blue template design with horizontal pinstripes that include the Chicago flag inside of them.
PARDO RETURNS FOR FIRST FULL SEASON
Last July, Pavel Pardo signed with Chicago on a free transfer and undisputedly played a pivotal role in the Fire midfield. Although joining the team mid-way through the 2011 campaign, Pardo managed to make 13 appearances, contributing a goal and five assists.
Now he will join the team in Florida for its preseason camp, marking his first full year with the club after resigning on a two-year contract deal on Wednesday.
"It's really important for me," said Pardo. "This is the base now. As you can see, we have the same group with a couple new players joining the club and this is important. We have the same coach, same players, so now we have to improve our development from preseason to the start of MLS."
THE NEW CLASS
Seven players picked in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft will join the Fire for preseason. Evans Frimpong, who was selected with the ninth pick in the first round of the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft, became the first University of Delaware soccer player to be drafted by an MLS team and adds to the club's Ghanaian contingent along with Oduro and Nyarko.
"I'm very psyched about him," Oduro said. "Another Ghanaian included in the family along with Patrick, and I'm looking forward to working with him and I'll be glad if the joins the team permanently."
As one of the longer-serving league veterans on this team, Cory Gibbs has stressed the importance of making or breaking it for all of the SuperDraft picks, trialists and hopefuls. Gibbs made 26 appearances for the club in 2011, notching in three goals as well.
"I'm expecting that all the new guys to step in and fight for a position to play," Gibbs said. "We need that competition, we need that grind. When I was young, that's what I had to do, and I expect the same thing from them. Not to sit back, but to be vocal, try their hardest to be one of the starting 11 players and make it hard to the coach to decide who to play."
One player who will definitely be fighting for an important role is former Louisville centerback Austin Berry, who was the ninth overall pick in last Thursday's the SuperDraft.
The 23-year-old defender played for Chicago's PDL team and gave a good understanding to Klopas and Co. of what he's exactly capable of doing. The Fire also nabbed Dartmouth forward Lucky Mkosana with the 23rd overall pick and Virginia defender Hunter Jumper with the 28th pick of the SuperDraft.