After traveling there on Sunday, the Chicago Fire kick off the Orlando portion of training camp with two sessions today. The team will spend nearly a month in Florida, playing friendlies against NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, FC Cincinnati, and Orlando City.
Striker Robert Beric should be able to join his Fire teammates today. After arriving in Chicago Feb. 28, he’s had to spend the last week in quarantine. Left back Miguel Navarro will begin training on Thursday, and midfielder Alvaro Medran can take part on Sunday, meaning he’ll miss the first preseason match. Mauricio Pineda, who is currently in Mexico with the U.S. U-23 National Team, appears to be the only other player missing.
March 13 – Chicago Fire FC vs. New York City FC at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (11:00 a.m. CT)
March 20 – Chicago Fire FC vs. Philadelphia Union at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex (2:00 p.m. CT)
March 27 – Chicago Fire FC vs. FC Cincinnati at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (10:30 a.m. CT)
April 3 – Chicago Fire FC vs. Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium (10:30 a.m. CT) / Return to Chicago
The club was looking into adding further scrimmages/friendlies after returning to Chicago, before the season begins April 17. There’s nothing to announce on that front yet, though.
Are the preseason games televised/streamed?
UPDATE: Yes! The first match against NYCFC will be streamed live at ChicagoFireFC.com. Per league rules, it’s only available to fans who live within a 75 mile radius of Soldier Field. There’s no word on streaming for the other matches yet.
Players to watch
There’s suddenly a lot more competition on the back line. After a year of injury struggles, Johan Kappelhof is back and finally healthy. If he’s the Johan of old, he could potentially push to grab a centerback spot or a right back spot. Speaking of right back, new signing Jhon Espinoza is young and a bit raw, but he should give a strong challenge to Boris Sekulic. Throw Carlos Teran in the mix, who logged a few minutes late last season, and the back line suddenly has quite a bit more depth. If Pineda wins a spot on the final Olympic qualifying roster, he’ll miss most—if not all—of the Orlando portion of camp, meaning these other guys will get a lot of minutes.
Of all the new signings joining the Fire this season, the club seems to be most excited about new winger Stanislav Ivanov. He could provide a huge amount of creativity and spark in the attack, something that’s required with Djordje Mihailovic gone in Montreal. I’m also interested to see if Ignacio Aliseda can pick it up after a mediocre first season in Chicago. The good news? Nacho knows he wasn’t good enough in 2020, and talking to reporters last week, he seems determined to show what he can do this season. Aliseda said he’d rather play in a central, No. 10 role rather than out wide, but he’ll face competition there from both Luka Stojanovic, who is back and healthy, and Fabian Herbers, who was the team’s second-leading scorer last season behind Beric.
The team has one trialist in Orlando—Forward Madison’s Michael Vang—who will be hungry to prove himself to Raphael Wicky. Madison’s new coach, Carl Craig, will also be with the team in Orlando looking for players he can take to the USL One side on loan.
I also think this is the season one of the teenage Homegrowns breaks through. Brian Gutierrez was the closest of the field players last season, grabbing 27 minutes, mostly toward the end of matches. Goalkeeper Chris Brady had a monster loan season with Madison, winning the starting job and earning USL League One Young Player of the Year honors. With Kenneth Kronholm not quite back from injury, Brady and fellow teenager Gabriel Slonina will compete to be the team’s No. 2 goalkeeper to start the season, behind Bobby Shuttleworth.
Whatever happens, the Fire will need to find a way to get these Homegrowns more games. Only Brady, Alex Monis, and Allan Rodriguez earned loans last season, meaning the team has several players that haven’t played a full, real match in a long, long time. Wherever they come, guys like Andre Reynolds II, Javier Casas, Jr., Nick Slonina, and Gabriel Slonina need minutes to develop.
The roster is in much better shape than at this point last season, but there are still a ton of questions. Hopefully, the next month in Orlando provides answers, and some players step up to force Wicky to make some difficult decisions.
The full, 30-man preseason roster
Goalkeeper (4): Chris Brady, Kenneth Kronholm, Bobby Shuttleworth, Gabriel Slonina
Defender (11): Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco Calvo, Jhon Espinoza, Johan Kappelhof, Miguel Navarro, Wyatt Omsberg, Mauricio Pineda, Andre Reynolds II, Boris Sekulić, Nicholas Slonina, Carlos Terán
Midfielder (12): Ignacio Aliseda, Javier Casas Jr., Elliot Collier, Przemysław Frankowski, Gastón Giménez, Brian Gutiérrez, Fabian Herbers, Stanislav Ivanov, Álvaro Medrán, Alex Monis, Allan Rodríguez, Luka Stojanović
Forward (3): Robert Berić, Chinonso Offor, Michael Vang*