BY DAVID GUBALA
The Chicago Fire entered their third and final phase of preseason on Tuesday when they traveled to Charleston, S.C. to partake in the annual Carolina Challenge Cup.
With less than a month until their season opener, the Fire still have plenty of unaswered questions about the squad. Fire head coach Frank Klopas took the time in a teleconference to address these questions and discuss the current state of the club ahead of the 2012 campaign.
The Fire coaching staff have made steady progress in assisting players to return back to full-fitness forms. From fielding players 30, 45 minutes a game in their first phase of preseason and roughly 60 minutes a game in their second phase, Frank Klopas will get a good glimpse of his final product when the majority of his players go 90-minutes in these next three matches.
“Obviously we’re going to push guys more with every game [Carolina Challenge Cup]," Klopas said. "In the first two phases I think we did good in training and in gradually building the guys up for the games. But we also pushed them very hard in training because we felt that we needed to continue to do a lot of work in every phase of the game with every section, the backline, the midfield and the forwards and with the heavy work in training, we gradually built them with games."
Klopas has yet to settle on a starting lineup for the team's March 17 season opener, but he feels very comfortable with the pool of players he has to choose from and will likely rotate players depending the opponent they’re playing.
“I think I know the system that we’re going to play and I think if anything I feel comfortable that we have depth in the team and it’s a good thing because everybody pushes each other and the important thing now is with the games and in training. The guys that are in form, the guys that are playing well, that are working hard are going to get opportunities to play. A lot depends the way we want to coach some games too. If you’re playing home or playing away, I think our system doesn’t change but I think the makeup of the players that you could put out changes a little bit.”
The Fire’s rock-solid midfield made fans wonder where captain Logan Pause’s role was going to be on the field this year. With Sebastian Grazzini, Pavel Pardo, Rafael Robayo and Daniel Paladini all fighting for a starting central midfield position, it is difficult not wonder where Logan Pause was going to fit on that page.
Frank Klopas said he is committed to fielding the best eleven that is available to him and more importantly, players that are in-form.
“I feel that I have some flexibility and options because we’ve added a guy like Robayo who’s a two-way midfielder that can play in that role.”
“Logan was a workhorse. I think the way we played last year where you had Pavel [Pardo] and him in the midfield with Grazzini and Marco [Pappa], you had the flexibility of Marco going forward knowing that you’re defending with six. I think there are going to be different options. He [Logan Pause] can play middle, he can play back, but also that’s going to be dictated on who’s in form and who’s playing well. Games and training are going to make those decisions for us but it’s good to know that we have depth and competition in those positions.”
Klopas has also mentioned that there are no guarantees for Pause.
“The best players that deserve to play will play, always. That’s what a team is for. Whoever is in form, whoever is best on the field because of the way they’re playing and training, is going to be on the field. We have the upmost respect for Logan but if he’s not in-form, if he’s not playing well, it’s the same for him as it is for any other player. It’s about making the right decisions for the team, always.”
With a couple trialists and unsigned draftees still in camp, Klopas has roughly six days to put together a final roster.
“We have very few spots and we have three or four players that are fighting until the end for those final few spots and I think there are going to be some very hard decision for us to make. It’s not easy but it’s a good thing to see that we have depth.”
Klopas did reveal that he is interested in bringing in one or two extra players he had his eyes on even if it is after March 1st.
“We’ve looked at different players," Klopas said. "We might still bring another player in; I wouldn’t say that we’re not. We’re always looking to improve the team. There are some opportunities out there that we’re exploring and whether it’s before March 1st or right after, we might add one or two more players on to the team.”
Trialist Rodrigo Inigo has returned to Mexico while Ivan Guerrero has been released from camp. Klopas said that it was Hunter Jumper’s progress in camp that made it difficult to keep Guerrero.
“That was never easy," Klopas said. "It never hurt for us to bring (Guerrero) in and look at him. I think he did a very good job and it was a difficult decision from our part. But looking at it, we have a very good player at that position, Hunter Jumper, a guy that’s been doing very well and we just felt that that it was an opportunity that he needs to get and progress and move along as a young player.
BAUTISTA LINK JUST A RUMOR
The number of rumors and speculations regarding superstars coming to the Chicago Fire seem to be growing faster than ever. After fairytale talks of Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba joining the Fire were quickly dismissed, Klopas addressed the latest player to be a rumored Fire designated player target, Mexican striker Adolfo Baustista.
“I think Chicago is a place where a lot of people want to be and play. I have not reached out to Bautista, I have not spoken to any of his representatives so those are just rumors. If it’s the players wish to come and play here then it’s something I do not know about or have spoken to or reached by anyone so I think there’s a lot of rumors out there and this is just one of them.”
ODURO CALLED UP BY GHANA
One thing that Fire fans can cheer about is Dominic Oduro. After a stellar season with the Fire, Oduro earned his first ever call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He was the Fire’s leading scorer in 2011 and was named team MVP.
Ghana will face Chile at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Wednesday, February 29 at 7pm ET.
“I think it’s great for Dominic. It’s great that the Ghanaian national team is playing in the United States and I’m sure that they followed Dominic. He had a very good season last year it was well deserved by him to get an opportunity to play with the national team. I’m very happy for him and he’s been looking very sharp in this preseason so far and I think it’s a good thing for a player to be rewarded like this after a good season. It’s very good for Ghana to show that kind of interest because the national team of Ghana has some very, very good players and for him to be considered in that pool and given an opportunity to be seen I think goes a long way.”