Rafael Czichos was tired of running alone in the forest near his home in Germany.
The centerback, who signed with the Chicago Fire in early January from FC Koln in the Bundesliga, had to wait nearly a month to join his new teammates. A visa delay dragged on way longer than expected.
“I‘m really happy to be here now,” Czichos said. “It was an amazing feeling to be back on the pitch after such a long time for me. I thought my break would be like two weeks, but then it was four weeks, so it was way too long for me. Yeah, to run alone in the forest or to work alone in the gym was, yeah, really frustrating. That’s why I’m really happy to be here.”
Czichos was brought to Chicago to help tighten up a defense that was prone to mental lapses. He replaces the former club captain, Francisco Calvo, and he knows he’ll immediately have to step in and be not only a defender, but a leader, helping to guide youngsters all over the back line (Miguel Navarro, Carlos Terán, Jhon Espinoza), and the one behind him, 17-year-old Gabriel Slonina.
“Of course, these guys are really young and I want to help them,” Czichos said. “I want to show them how they can be more successful in their career. Of course, I want to be the guy that has the control on the defense. For example, if I say we have to step up a little bit, then they have to follow, and these are only small things but they are really important at the end in the game. So, yeah, I think they want to learn, and my task is to organize the defense this year.”
As a German, Czichos doesn’t mince words or beat around the bush. He’s very direct, but not to the point of coming across as cocky or impolite. He knows what it takes to be successful, and he wants to bring that attitude to the Fire.
“Before I signed the contract, I talked to the coach and he told me that he needs a leader, and we had a really good talk about it,” Czichos said. “After, we both had a good feeling, and I’m here now to lead the group with Jonny Bornstein, and, yeah, the first days went really well. We have a really young team, so we need mentality on the pitch, we need leadership, and yeah, that’s going to be one of my, how do you say, tasks.”
The Fire take on Toronto FC in Austin, TX Saturday at 12 p.m. CT. The club is streaming the match on its website, ChicagoFireFC.com. Per MLS blackout rules, it’s available for fans watching within 75 miles of Soldier Field.