With its March 3 season opener at Los Angeles just more than two weeks away, the Chicago Fire is making good progress in preseason training, coach Frank Klopas said.
“I’m trying to compare last year with this point and where we are with the team, and I feel like we’re ahead,” Klopas said Thursday during a conference call from Charleston, S.C., where the Fire is in the third and final phase of preseason training.
Klopas said he continues to be impressed with the players’ attitudes and fitness level, as well as the depth on the roster. The club will continue to work on keeping its shape defensively and being creative in the final third, he added.
Meanwhile, the roster continues to take shape. It won’t include Hoffman Estates native Rauwshan McKenzie, a central defender who went through the first two phases of preseason training with the Fire but was among the players not asked back for the third phase.
The third goalkeeper looks like it will come down to James Belshaw or Alec Kann, both of whom are in camp and would fill a spot on the supplemental portion of the roster designed for developmental, low-cost players.
“I think we’re pretty close to where we want to be,” Klopas said.
One intriguing newcomer in camp is French defender Pascal Chimbonda, 33, who has played in the English Premier League with Wigan, Tottenham and Blackburn rovers. He joins Jalil Anibaba, Logan Pause and Steven Kinney among players who can play right back.
The Fire lists 29 players in camp now, but forward Quincy Amarikwa could return after impressing the coaching staff in California during Phase 2 of training camp.
“We’re just trying to look at it and sort it out,” Klopas said. “We liked when he was in here and what he brings.”
Bolingbrook native Victor Pineda, a 19-year-old midfielder, continues to recover from off-season knee surgery, opting to remain in the Chicago area to rehab from a torn meniscus. The Fire hopes to get him back in May or June.
The other homegrown player on the Fire roster, forward Kellen Gulley, 18, expects to be loaned out to another domestic side.
“He needs games and he needs to play,” Klopas said.
Cameroonian rookie Yazid Atouba, the Fire’s second-round draft pick, continues to impress, and Klopas said he wouldn’t be surprised if Atouba makes the game-day roster, though Atouba remains unsigned.
“He’s not scared on the field when he’s playing, he’s not intimidated,” Klopas said.
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