This week, the Chicago Fire will wrap up what’s essentially the club’s third preseason of 2020. The team will travel to Ohio on Thursday to take on the Columbus Crew (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN & ESPN+) in what’s sure to be a difficult restart to the MLS regular season.
Midfielder Micheal Azira has rejoined the team after missing out on the MLS is Back Tournament with an injury. He said the constant starting and stopping of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely been unusual.
“It’s been tough, but at the end of the day, this is what we signed up for,” Azira said in a video provided by the Fire. “You have to find the energy to be able to push yourself each and every day. This is what we love to do, this is what we signed up for, and we enjoy doing it.”
The Fire will be looking to improve upon some of the issues that saw the team lose two of its three matches at last month’s tournament. In the two losses the team struggled to finish chances, and left defensive gaps that both the Earthquakes and Whitecaps were able to exploit.
Going forward, Chicago will surely need strong performances from defensive midfielder Gastón Giménez, who joined the team in the off season as one of three new designated players. Since the team returned from Orlando, Wicky singled out “Tonga” as one of his best players.
“The group feels strong,” Giménez said in Spanish. “They feel much better from the physical aspect, and from a footballing point of view. We have worked a lot these two or three weeks waiting for the game, preparing for everything to go well.”
The Fire have 17 new players this season, from countries all over the world. Wicky has stressed from the beginning that fans will need to have patience as the team comes together, and the wins will eventually come.
Azira has bought in to Wicky’s plan, and said despite having so many new faces, the group is tight.
“I give credit to Coach Rapha, how he tries to bring everyone together,” Azira said. “We’re different—different cultures, different people from different parts of the world. He’s done a great job just to bring everyone together, to make it like family.”
This group is clearly forming strong bonds away from the pitch. But, will that translate to success on the field? And after a decade of mostly losing seasons, how much time are Fire fans willing to give to Wicky? This next run of six games—which will see the Fire play home and away against the Crew and FC Cincinnati, away against NYCFC, and home against the New England Revolution—should give us some answers.