Last Friday's match in Orlando resulted in the Fire's first point of the season. With Razvan Cocis starting on the bench, second year midfielder Matt Polster wore the captain's armband. It could be an honor that Polster sees more often. The responsibility wasn't lost on the the team's first selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. "It's an honor that Pauno believes in me that I can lead the team out there. It gives me that much more confidence on the field. It's nice to wear it, but at the end of the day, as a team we need to be leaders to ourselves and be willing to work for the guy next to you. Just push each other," Polster told Fire Confidential after training earlier this week.
His work on the pitch in his rookie season earned him MLS Rookie of the Year consideration and a call to the US U-23 squad that is still attempting to qualify for this summer's Olympic games. The squad for the home-and-home playoff games on March 25 and 29 against Colombia has yet to be named but Polster is hoping to be a part of it after participating in Jurgen Klinsmann's January camp. "I talked to Andy (Herzog) and Jurgen a little bit at the end of the January camp. It seems like it was all positive stuff. Hopefully I'm part of the group and I can help that team get into the Olympics," said Polster.
That camp not only helped him prepare for his club team's preseason but also shed a different light on the level of commitment needed to succeed at the international level. "Just being in that kind of environment with those coaches and the high quality of players and standard that's always high, being able to watch the more veteran guys working and how they prepare for training, was an eye opener for me to finally see what it takes to play at that kind of level," he said of the experience.
Working to reach that level should be beneficial for both Polster and the Fire. As one of the team captains and a player who appears to be part of the young core that Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez are developing, Polster is called upon to play a key role in the adaptable style that has been a talking point of the new technical staff.
The flexibility to play various styles and formations well may be able to keep Chicago in games until the group finds time to mesh more efficiently. Opposition may find it difficult to deal with as more tactical shifts are introduced into a league that has seemed to attempt carbon copies of successful ideas. "It affects the game. It's good. I believe that it puts other teams into thinking about what we're going to do next. We did a 3-5-2 in the last game, and I don't think Orlando knew that was going to come. Maybe they thought we were going to do 4-2-3-1. I don't know, but having the ability to change formations and having the players to do so gives us a lot of options and it keeps other teams on their toes."
Polster's role is a vital one in either formation or style of play. His work and direction from the middle of the pitch will often dictate how well the Fire can play. "In the 4-2-3-1 I have a little more ability to drop deeper and get the ball," said Polster."Our centerbacks would spread and I can drop deep and start dictating the game from there. In a 3-5-2, I would stay a little higher up and try to play more in the pocket, per se. I don't think it changes my role too much. I still have to be super solid defensively and help shade the back four and be clean on the ball."
A shift out of necessity in the Orlando game due to a red card seemed to settle the team into a more focused and organized effort and the draw on the road came as a welcome result. The Fire are hoping to build on that first point of the season.
"It's good to get a point on the road in the situation that we were in. It definitely felt like more than just a draw. I think we came out of there feeling a lot better, like it was a win. I think we're going to carry that into this game with the confidence that we showed. Our ability to defend for long stretches of the game, I think that's something that we need to focus on a little bit more. Obviously, we've given up some goals so far. I think as the season goes on, we'll be alright."
With four of the next five games at home, the Fire will have an opportunity to finally get a season off to a good start. Digging out of deep holes over the last several seasons has left them out of post season play in five of the last six years. With early results, there is always hope.
"We're very optimistic," said Polster. "The goal for any team in MLS is to make the playoffs. That's our goal as well. On our side we want to play good soccer. We want to develop a system and stick to it and not change for another team. I think we're going to go into every game, maybe with a different formation, but with the same mentality. With the new coaching staff that's what we want to do, and that's what we're going to do."
- David Accam has been called into Ghana's camp for Africa Cup of Nation qualifiers on March 24 and 27. He may not miss any MLS action.
- Both Gilberto and Eric Gehrig have returned to full training.
- We're hearing that discussions with FC Groningen and Michael de Leeuw are still active. Nothing is settled yet, but the horse hasn't been buried. The Fire could be adding another central midfielder to the squad shortly. They are also apparently still looking at center backs. Stay tuned.