By DAVID GUBALA
The Chicago Fire are now a good two weeks into their first phase of preseason camp and have been making all of the necessary adjustments as the start of the new 2012 campaign nears. Part of the preseason activity, though, has included shooting down rumors of a superstar Designated Player acquisition.
There has recently been word making the rounds that Chicago is interested in acquiring German midfielder Michael Ballack and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, but manager Frank Klopas issued caution regarding the rumors.
According to Klopas, he would love to sign a player of (Drogba)'s caliber, but there "have been no actual talks to acquire him."
Chances of Ballack coming over are also slim, as the Fire already have a pretty congested rotation of central midfielders. Recently acquired Colombian Rafael Robayo, Sebastian Grazzini, Pavel Pardo, Marco Pappa, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are all already looking to claim starting roles.
Here are some more notes from the Fire's preseason:
MIKULIC, CUESTA, BANNER NOT RETURNING
There are a number of players who won’t be returning for the upcoming season and plenty of them have their own different reasons. Defender Josip Mikulic has parted ways with the club, leaving to Croatia due to family issues. Mikulic made 14 appearances with the club in 2011 and had frequently struggled with injury matters.
Another defender, Yamith Cuesta has also had his time with the Fire come to an end. Klopas explained in a conference call that the club did not manage to work out a deal with the Colombian centerback, who had been on loan in MLS for three years.
The longest-serving member of this non-returning list is Mike Banner. Banner had been with the Fire since 2007 and scored three times in 54 appearances after being drafted in the third round of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. He did not appear in a Fire jersey in 2011 due to injury-related matters, and he has now turned to indoor soccer and signed with the Illinois Piasa, a member of the Premier Arena Soccer League.
The Fire also cut open tryout winner Fabrizio Pittaluga and trialists Jon Okafor, Omar Persad, and Walter Restrepo.
Klopas revealed that the Fire will have more players join the team on trial in the next phase of preseason. The club's senior roster is currently at 25 players.
GUERRERO RETURNS FOR CAMP TRIAL
A long-time Fire fan favorite, Ivan Guerrero joined the Fire in early stages of preseason camp in Ave Maria, Fla., and Klopas explained how picking him up for a trial was a win-win situation for both parties.
"He [Ivan] moved his family to Chicago, so it was a no brainer to bring him into camp," Klopas said.
Guerrero made 74 appearances for the Chicago Fire, playing a vital midfield role for the team from 2005 until 2007. From then on, the Honduran ventured on to sign with the San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United and Colorado Rapids before settling with C.D. Motagua of Honduras for the last three years.
Despite the opportunity, 34-year old still has much to prove in preseason and show that he has what it takes to compete for a spot in the Chicago midfield.
A LOOK AHEAD
The Fire have one more exhibition game before they return to Chicago on Sunday. Saturday's match against Real C.D. Espana of Honduras will be played in New Orleans, and it is expected that players will transition from getting 30 minutes a game to now getting a full half.
The team will only have to bear with the Chicago cold for a couple of days, because the second phase of preseason training resumes Feb. 8-18 in Ventura, Calif. There, the Fire are slated to scrimmage the Portland Timbers and other to-be-determined opponents.
The third phase of preseason training is from Feb. 21–March 6, when the team will partake in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C.