After three seasons that left Chicago Fire fans wanting more, midfielder Corben Bone will now have another opportunity to prove that the club's faith in him isn't a lost cause.
Head Coach Frank Klopas seems to think so. The gaffer spoke to reporters via conference call on Wednesday as the Men in Red are in Ave Maria, Florida for the first leg of preseason training.
Bone was not one of the players who joined the club for this first part of training. He won't join them until the second phase of pre-season in Ventura, California. After all, it'd be a bit odd to turn down an opportunity to train with Atletico Madrid.
The club announced on Monday that Bone had not only re-signed with the Fire, but would join Atletico for a 10-day training stint. Not bad for a guy who hasn't exactly been a superstar during his three years in Chicago.
The Fire drafted Bone with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Since he was a Generation Adidas player, he didn't count against the club's salary cap. After only playing in 5 MLS matches during his rookie season, Bone got more of a look early in the 2011 season, starting 6 of 7 matches between April and July. However, with Klopas replacing previous head coach Carlos de los Cobos, Bone's role diminished greatly and he only made one more start that season. In 2012, that number dwindled even further as he made only two appearances.
With his Generation Adidas contract up at the end of 2012, many assumed Bone's days with the Fire were numbered. But after being listed in the MLS Re-Entry draft back in December, Bone pulled his name out of the draft to negotiate a new deal with the club.
And on Monday, that new deal was made official, along with the announcement of the Atletico opportunity. Bone becomes the third Fire player to take advantage of the Atletico partnership. Defenders Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry trained with the Spanish club last month. So it appears the club will, at the very least, give Bone an opportunity to contribute this season.
Klopas implied that, with the burden of the Generation Adidas contract lifted, Bone will be able to relax a bit more and focus on playing his best.
"I think he's going to come out and not have that pressure on him, and with the opportunities he gets, show the qualities that he has as a player; the ones we saw in him," he said.
But Klopas hinted that Bone needed to step up sooner rather than later to force his way onto the final roster in a crowded midfield.
"When you see him in training, he is (someone) that could be a very good player in this league," said Klopas. "So I just think that now that's got to translate into real games and with the opportunities he gets, he's got to take advantage of those."
At the very least, training in Spain is better than playing in the lower levels of American soccer.
On the call, Klopas said it was too early to say who has stood out in camp so far, but he urged his returning players to improve during the offseason.
"We provided the players with an offseason program and a goal for them to come back, and report from day one," he said. "They knew that our expectations and goals are going to be higher and so are theirs."
But how will those additions affect current players like current captain Logan Pause?
"I think over the next six weeks through training, through games, a lot of those decisions will be answered for all of us," Klopas said. "The important thing is that we do have depth, and Logan has been a very good player, but we also have other players in that spot who provide good depth and competition, but also can have the flexibility to play some different roles."
On the left side of midfield, the possible loss of Alvaro Fernandez means that the club has to either bring in new players to fill that hole with existing players. Klopas seemed to lean towards the latter in listing Alex, Chris Rolfe and even Wells Thompson as players who could step up at LM.
"I feel that within our group that we have players that have the flexibility to play different spots." he said.
Overall though, Klopas said the most important part of the first stage of training was to help players get back to full fitness and make decision about some of the trialists and draft selections.
And he sounded excited about the upcoming season and said his players feel the same way:
"Everyone is very focused, determined and very excited and committed to give everything they have to reach our goals."
The Fire's first exhibition match is this Sunday when they play Florida Gulf Coast University at 3PM Central time. The club has not yet made an announcement about whether that match will be broadcast in any capacity.