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For the Chicago Fire’s new faces, small group training is a huge mental boost

The Fire were finally cleared to begin small group training on Friday

Luka Stojanović trains with the Fire this week
Chicago Fire FC

On March 11, new midfielder Luka Stojanović trained at SeatGeek Stadium with his new Chicago Fire teammates. He had just gotten to Chicago a few days prior, and was still getting to know everyone.

On March 12, everything stopped. MLS suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Stojanović was stuck in a new city, unable to see his new teammates in person. So, he was especially excited the Fire were finally able to begin voluntary small group training this week.

“Just to be in the group, all together again is a fantastic feeling,” Stojanović said in an interview provided by the Fire. (Under MLS rules to fight the spread of COVID-19, reporters aren’t currently allowed to attend training).

New Designated Player Robert Berić joined the Fire in mid-January, meaning he’s now had more time away from his new teammates—around two-and-a-half-months, than he did with them, before the season stopped.

“I can say it was quite difficult these past two, three months to work individually, so yeah, I’m very happy,” Berić said. “Hopefully, the things go back to normal as soon as possible.”

Normal is still a long way off, but MLS is expected to formally announce details soon of a tournament in Orlando that will restart the season. With all the teams in one city, and no fans in the stands, it’ll certainly be different than what Berić was used to as a star at Saint-Etienne in France. But, he’s glad to have a better idea of what will happen next.

“It was quite difficult to not know what is gonna happen,” Berić said. “A lot of rumors outside. So, now we have some picture of what we can expect, what is ahead, and for me, as a person, it’s much easier.”

Homegrown signing Mauricio Pineda had logged two solid performances in the first two matches of his career before the season stopped.

“It’s looking better for the future, knowing there’s an endpoint here,” Mauricio Pineda said. “Before, we were stuck at home not knowing what’s gonna happen, so it’s exciting to see that they’re making moves, and hopefully starting to get back on the field, and back to competing soon. That’s the one thing that most everyone’s most eager to get back to doing.”

The three group stage matches of the Orlando tournament will reportedly count toward the regular season standings. However, while the idea remains that MLS will return to local markets post-Orlando to finish the 2020 season, it’s not yet confirmed that will happen.

The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter reports the winner of the Orlando tournament will receive a birth into the Concacaf Champions League, meaning there’s a lot more on the line than pride and a trophy.

Considering he’ll finally get an opportunity to play for the Fire, Stojanović is looking forward to all of it.

“I hope we’re gonna go in Orlando and do a great job there,” he said.