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Fire players cite improved mentality, defensive focus during Kick-off Luncheon

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Confidence - rather than optimism - seems to be abundant prior to the season

Chicago Fire Training Session on 1/25/17
The players gather at the end of an open training session.
John Carollo III

Every year I go to the Kick-off Luncheon because not only is it for a good cause (the Chicago Fire Foundation), but it’s also the best place to talk to the players before the season. As I have for the past couple of years, I interviewed as many players as I could, with varying degrees of success (my mic wasn’t working my first year). This year was as fun as any other, and even though I didn’t get to speak with everyone, I got some questions answered.

To start off, my big question was “What’s up with the defense?” The general answer was about experience with each other and mentality, but I found the most interesting answer to the question came from Jonathan Campbell:

“I don’t think our defense has changed that much, but I think we have more people who are willing to work behind the ball. With Dax and Juninho they’re going to demand a lot more from the guys so you’re gonna get a little more defense from some of the attacking players just getting behind the ball and that makes it a lot easier for us.”

What I read from that is that our attackers aren’t going to neglect the defense. Last year it did seem that whenever an attack broke down, our defense did get hung out to dry, especially in that home opener. Because of that, we ended up bunkering down, losing our attack in the process until around mid-season. We can avoid that shell-shock this year and Dax and Juninho are the ones who appear to be the ones whipping everyone into shape for it.

My next major question was specifically for Polster about his job being on the line a bit now, with the moves to bring in Dax and Juninho possibly moving him to the right back position many people have been discussing about:

“I definitely think it’s a possibility. The coaching staff hasn’t personally talked to me about playing in a different position; but obviously in the past I have played different positions. So if that’s the case, I’m willing to help the team; but right now I think I’m competing for the center midfield spot.”

This means that first, Harrington is still our right back at the moment, and second, Polster will fight for his job. If you remember back when he first showed up, he didn’t really have too much fan-fare about him. In fact, he was so low on the totem pole he was put at my table (I joke, we like to have fun here; but he was at our table). We’ve seen him fight for his position and I think he’s going to win it back. From who? I don’t know; but right now he’s focusing on his injury:

“[The] injury’s going well. I’m still a ways away, but I think once I start to get healthy and stronger I think I’ll be back sooner and I’ll be able to play the rest of the season.“

The next featured quote is from someone you probably all forgot about, Patrick Doody. He hasn't gotten much play since Bliss took over for half a season. Instead he's been loaned most of of the time. I asked him about how it helped him:

“I think ... I mean it’s kept me in the league, to be quite honest. Especially my rookie year, I think I was doing the math the other day, but between MLS games and USL games I’ve played over 30, 35 professional soccer games. Anytime you can get games you’re gonna become better at this level. You know, I’m a very big proponent of guys getting loaned out and getting minutes.”

This sort of works into the narrative of getting a USL squad. The biggest complaint most fans have had is that our players don't seem to be getting enough minutes in the USL. While Doody’s comments show that he has been getting plenty of time, he's also proving how important a USL team is. To be able to consistently give minutes to players that need them to improve to a level to break into the first team is very important and while having affiliation is fine, owning a team allows you to control those minutes.

Hot (Time) Take

The biggest story in this is the change in mentality. We may have only made three acquisitions, but they seem to be crucial in the psychology of the team. Where last year there was hope, this year there is confidence. And while I wasn't able to speak with Dax, you could see the impact that he's had so far on the team. He wants to win and seems to be expecting nothing less out of his teammates.

Overall, it looks like the Fire have a renewed sense of purpose. Whether that will wither and die at first contact, like it's done so many times before, remains to be seen.