German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich began training with the full squad today and shed some light on why he chose the route which eventually led him to MLS and Chicago. A defender with 82 national team caps, Friedrich asked for a release from his contract with Wolfsburg in order to pursue other opportunities. "It was my request but I don't want to talk about that...it's in the past", he said of the decision to leave his last club. "It was my decision. It was a good decision and that's why I'm here," Friedrich said.
Becoming familiar with the United States during his travels while playing in Europe seems to have sparked an interest that has been brewing for some time and finally culminated with a move to MLS this season. "I had a very good time, a long time in Europe - twelve years there as a professional and I decided to come here because I love America and I've been here many times with my girlfriend for vacation in many parts and areas of America", said Friedrich after the club's Tuesday morning training session. "I was here a few weeks ago and I went into the city and it was absolutely nice, I liked it. I fell in love directly with the city itself and then I met the staff here and the trainer and they took very good care of me. Chicago is the best option for me so I'm very happy to be here".
After deciding that he wished to investigate a move stateside, the lure of playing professionally in Chicago was cemented by a combination of his admiration for the city and the initial impression made by the Fire's technical staff. "Chicago as a city is nice because it's international, you have a big skyline, you have everything here that you need. It's kind of like New York but a little bit more familial and relaxed and you can see the great stadium here and we have a good squad. I think it was a good idea to come here," he continued. A lunch meeting with Pavel Pardo several weeks ago also helped seal the deal. "I met him here a few weeks ago after training and he told me good things about the club," he said of the meeting with the Fire midfielder. Pardo explained that the league was much better than what many non-MLS watchers in Europe believed it to be and thought it would be a good move for him.
"Everything here is a little bit different from Germany but they are working very professional here and they're doing a very good job. I didn't know a whole lot about MLS to be honest, but they are physically very strong and it's not a bad league," said Friedrich of his impressions so far. "All around the world, it's the same. Defense wins championships normally if you play good in defense. My first impression about the team is that it's a very good team and there are some very good people and I need to know each person".
Friedrich also displayed more than a passing interest in Chicago sports history when describing what drove him to choose jersey number 23, which carries a bit of a royal air in this city. "Absolutely. There were two reasons, one reason was Michael Jordan. He was the best player in the world and the other is when I started in the national team in Germany I had the number 2 and then after one year I got the number 3. So I went with 2-3".
Head coach Frank Klopas is excited about the addition of the World Cup veteran and is looking to begin fitting him into the side although it may not be right away. "He's a world cup veteran with tremendous experience in Europe and on the international level. He brings leadership and experience. We're excited that he's here and it's just a matter of getting him ready to play whether it's the next match or the next game against Houston we'll see," said Klopas.
Friedrich says he is feeling fine physically but will need to work on his match fitness before stepping onto the pitch for the Fire. "I need some time, I spoke with the trainer and I need to get fit," he said. "I need a little time to get fit but the season is long. This weekend I will not play for sure but I'm excited to play and I will get fit. I haven't played for five months since my last game at Wolfsburg so three weeks maybe and then I'm fit".
If Friedrich is fully fit and suffers no ill-effects from the injury that led to his departure from European football he is still young enough at 32 to have a few seasons of high level production in MLS left in his 6'1" frame. When asked if his goal was to play in MLS more than one year and finish his career in Chicago, Friedrich replied -"This is my expectation, yes".