The Fire's annual Kick-Off Luncheon is always a place for optimism and well wishes but the possibility of a player's strike cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings. The event raised over $85,000.00 which will benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation as they expand their P.L.A.Y.S. (Pariticipate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) Program. PLAYS is an after school program aimed at integrating learning through soccer in Chicago schools. The new secondary kits were also finally revealed with players sporting them on stage during introductions. Reaction among supporters seemed to be generally positive as opposed to the overwhelmingly negative response to the primary kit at last year's event.
The elephant in the room however, continues to be the question of whether or not there will be soccer played on Friday night in Los Angeles. The Fire's travel plans will most likely be the first indicator of what to expect if talks do not go well over the next two days. The team is scheduled to travel to California on Wednesday and players may choose not to travel if a deal isn't imminent by then. Talks between the Players Union and MLS have resumed in Washington, DC with team player representatives in attendance. Jeff Larentowicz, Harry Shipp, and Chris Ritter did not attend the luncheon today to participate in the meetings.
Designated player Shaun Maloney is new to the league and not as familiar with MLS' unique structure and the history of CBA negotiations between players and the league but credited the team's trio of union representatives for keeping everyone updated on where things stand. "I have to thank our captain and Harry and Chris Ritter. Particularly for the new players, they've made us all aware of what they're doing and what the process has been," said Maloney. He did decline to speculate on how close things were to being resolved or how optimistic the locker room was that a deal would get done in the next two days however.
One thing Maloney was excited about was the prospect of playing with speedy attackers in front of him. The mention of David Accam elicited a clear positive reaction from the Scottish international. "If you've got pace ahead of you it's a huge asset. I look forward to playing with him. I hope David's going to be fit pretty soon," said Maloney. Accam is still doubtful for the opener and is not likely to travel on Wednesday regardless of the outcome of the CBA negotiations.
Maloney also wasn't concerned about the team's lack of goals this preseason and sees progress being made offensively. "The best we played was earlier on against QPR for a sustained forty-five. I think there's signs of improvement," he said. "Ideally it would be great if we ran out comfortable winners in matches but I think on the other hand the way that we played in patches against Portland and Vancouver we can be pretty happy with. Particularly in the last match, we should have scored quite a few more goals. Preseason is trying to get through the games healthy and trying to get some sort of a connection with your teammates."
Frank Yallop echoed those sentiments saying that he's fairly happy with the progress made during preseason with few exceptions. "I think preseason has gone well. The only issue we've kind of got is a few injuries coming out of it," said Yallop. "I've seen signs now within the training and the general games we've had where we've started to kind of work it out. It's not just the individual personnel, it's just the way that I'm trying to teach them to play and how we want to go about it. Everybody's starting to buy into it. I think defensively we've been nice and strong and active in making sure that we're difficult to beat. You have to have that in any team. The offensive side of a new squad is usually the last thing that comes into it. The signs are good."
Everyone was hopeful that the season proceeds as scheduled on Friday with the Fire anxious to get started and in need of a good start to the campaign. "It's always good especially in our league (to start well)," said Yallop. "You want to get your points early so you get a good feeling about the club and the team and get some confidence." That start could determine if the Fire end a difficult playoff drought. "We've made the play-in game once in five years so it's just up to me and the club and the staff to change that," he said.
News and notes
- Yallop said he's close to deciding on his starting line up for the LA game and hinted that it would be very similar to how they played in Vancouver. "We need to play guys that have played regularly in preseason," he said.
- Maloney wasn't phased by the weather he's encountered in Chicago. "I'm from Scotland. This is tropical," he said with a smile.
- The club is still interested in trialist Shahdon Winchester but with 25 players already under contract they are waiting to see what the outcome of the roster limitations will be under the terms of the new CBA. Winchester would also occupy an international roster spot.
- Yallop was asked if he's preparing any differently because of the labor uncertainty but reiterated that's he proceeding as if there will be a match on Friday. "Doesn't affect anything. We're getting ready for the first game. Until I get told differently that's what I'm doing," he said. He also added that he's seen no difference in player preparation and attitude due to the uncertainty.
- Most players didn't sound overly optimistic about the talks but remained hopeful that something would get done this week.
- Razvan Cocis is struggling a bit with a case of plantar fasciitis.
- Adailton's recovery from a slight concussion is progressing and he will be re-evaluated in the next two days.
- Check out the latest episode of the Fire Confidential Live podcast with guests Dan Kelly, Fred Huebner, Orrin Schwarz, and Shane Murray discussing all things Fire and MLS.