So far change has been good to the Chicago Fire.
Since Frank Yallop took over as coach and director of soccer, the Fire has moved slowly but purposefully. Yallop set a course and stuck to it, never trying to do too much too soon. He seems to have won over his longest-tenured players.
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"We have a different mentality with Frank," said veteran Fire left back Gonzalo Segares, "and I think that was mainly what we were trying to accomplish this preseason, get used to how he wanted us to play."
"He's got a clear message and vision, and we've just spent the past handful of weeks getting to understand that and also getting onboard with that," added captain Logan Pause. "It's been fantastic so far."
But there was more to it than getting used to Yallop's style of play, his attempt to fix the defense, the way he gives the young Fire players more playing time and thus more confidence, and the way he has gone about improving the Fire's standing with regard to the MLS salary cap.
Yallop is bringing a new culture to the Fire, and the players were ready for it.
There has been no culture shock.
"When it's time to work, you work," veteran midfielder Patrick Nyarko said of the culture change. "Off the field everything is loose. Cracking jokes, pretty much everything goes. That's the most important thing. That's the thing that we've been missing for a little bit now."
Segares said Yallop has been very approachable.
"That's very important for the guys," said Segares, drafted by the Fire out of VCU in 2005. "Everybody likes him a lot, and we're definitely ready to go into battle for him."
Pause echoes that sentiment, even though it would be easy for him to hold a grudge. One of the first things Yallop did was tell Pause he would need to take a pay cut in order to come back for his 12th season in Chicago.
"From the first conversation I've had with him he's been fantastic," Pause said. "He's treated me really well and really respectful, and I hope I can return that and continue to serve him and his staff and this club."
How long the honeymoon will last is anybody's guess. The importance of a good start can't be overemphasized, not after 2013's disastrous start.
"It's key for us to have a good start," Segares said. "Last year we had a pretty decent group and we fell short right at the end. If we would have had a pretty decent start to the season we would have been into the playoffs.
"It's key how we start. Having to chase as we did last year put a lot of pressure on everybody. That's definitely something we want to do different and start on the right track this year."
If they can do that, the playoffs are a reasonable goal despite all the change.
"Absolutely, absolutely," said Nyarko, entering his seventh Fire season. "Anything short will obviously be a disappointment to us because we have the core of the group back from last year and we know what it took to turn ourselves around after the bad start we had last year.
"The hope is to continue that, and I think the playoffs is very much within reach."
After missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons, that would be the best change of all.
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