Polster growing into leadership role

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.

Filed under: 2016 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • I love Kappelhof at Right Back and would like to see them pick up another strong CB so that Kappelhof can play more at RB.

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    In reply to Arklow:

    Was thinking the same. He played there a lot at Groningen and looked great against Orlando. With Gehrig about to return, I wonder if Gehrig/Campbell/Joao/potential-new-signing round out the CB corps while Kappelhof takes the starting RB spot.

  • In reply to Mark M:

    Heard from some FC Groningen supporters that Kappelhof looked better at RB than CB when playing for them.

  • I won't hold back- the news coming out of Fire land these days actually gets me excited. That's a good thing.

  • Other than de Leeuw, are the central midfielder/center backs starter quality or being signed for depth?

  • In reply to jimmyblackcloud:

    The midfielder should compete for starts. Centerback search doesn't sound like it's near any conclusion but I'd venture to say they're looking for a starter quality player.

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    Was thinking the same. He played there a lot at Groningen and looked great against Orlando. With Gehrig about to return, I wonder if Gehrig/Campbell/Joao/potential-new-signing round out the CB corps while Kappelhof takes the starting RB spot.

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    They just need de Leeuw and Vela (reiterated that he wants to come to MLS) to round out the attack...I can dream:
    Acccam--de Leeuw--Vela

    Are they still after Adu? I am guessing no after his comments.

  • In reply to Carl Miller:

    No on Adu. Don't hold your breath for Vela either.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I don't think they have enough Garber bucks to cover the cost of Vela.

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    In reply to penapirata:

    They could buy down Igbo again but the bottom line is that they would never splash the kind of cash it would take to get Vela

  • My big fear is that Lampson will again start in goal. I believe that Pauno lost us 3 points that first match. Starting an inexperienced back line without a veteran goalkeeper turned out to be a disaster. I think that Saturday will be the first real test on where we are at. I see a lot of positive talk coming from our coach, but let's see if he can deliver. I sure hope that Pauno is an improvement over Yallop. I guess that time will tell.

  • In reply to westmalle:

    You don't bench Sean Johnson for the first two games and not stick with it for the season. We are stuck with Lampson for a while. It seems like Nelson and Pauno came here and wanted to get rid of EVERYTHING that was the Chicago Fire before them. This season is going to be long. Going into the new changes, I was willing to wait until 10 games into next season to really make a judgment on him. Now that he has moved Shipp and has benched Sean, he needs to be winning this season at some point. Those two moves have changed my views of the Nelson and Pauno. I think they are two terrible moves that have not made us any better at all. If anything, we have become worse and have clearly resorted to playing long ball and running fast. We are once again, a counter attacking team that is bad at defense. The worst combination you can be in soccer.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    I don't know..... I find it hard to believe that there's anything (or anyone) I wouldn't give up to be rid of the bad taste of the last several years.

    It may be a bit early but I feel we've already seen that Pauno is a BIG step up. We've already pretty much been told to expect that getting the team into proper order will take a couple of years. We endured 5-7 years of destroying the Fire. I can wait a couple more while somebody who seems to know what he's about puts things right.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    I get that. This team has been miserable, and need changes in the club. We needed to get younger. By getting younger, we are going to struggle for a while. I have fully accepted that. We are now a bad young team. We were a bad old team. What I dont understand is the move to get rid of a 24 year old central attacking player who was from Chicago for 27 year old foreign player who is not any better than Shipp. The move was a step backward for the club and there is absolutely no justifying the move. All the moves that were made, IMO, didnt really improve the team. There has been so much to do about changing the way that we play. We have not changed anything in these first two games. We still depend on a long ball to our forwards and hope that they can run faster than the defender. That is exactly what Frank Yallop has us doing. I think Pauno is a clear step in the right direction from the misery of Yallop, but I also dont think much has changed other than personnel. We still cant pass and we still cant defend very well. I know its only 2 games in but I was hoping for a clear change in they way we approached the match and that didnt happen.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    I thin that the team is better prepared and plays with a single sense of purpose. Execution and talent are not there yet, but there has been a significant change in the focused approach of the team. They are trying to carryout a plan on the field. There was never any sign of that before. The counter-attack style comes because the other teams have pressed high against a very young/new back line. Over the course of the season, they will be better at linking to the mids (at least my fingers are crossed there) which will allow the CM's to be more aggressive up the field. The players all seem to be on the same page on the field. No one is looking quizzically at teammates. I see a lot of positives in that. The execution will come as the younger players develop and more talented players are brought in over time. Just my thoughts. I am being patient for now because I see what they are trying to achieve and appreciate it as a sign of good things to come.

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Another note to remember....this team isn't complete yet. Let's see what they do with the TAM/GAM they're still holding.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    But if that happens my new TAM jersey will be worthless!!

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    When will then be now?

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Yes. What Krasov said.

  • To me Pauno is still a question mark. Other than not being Frank Yallop, I have not been impressed with his decisions. What has he done to make him a big step up? I guess that time will tell. I would really like to be pleasantly surprised for a change.

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