Chicago Fire has 'great group of guys'
Matt Polster already sees improvement in this year's edition of the Chicago Fire.
"I think the banter is finally getting better," he said jokingly. "We were weaker last year in the banter area, and everybody is starting to get familiar with each other. You know what kind of buttons you're able to push, which is great. I think we're jelling as a team."
Good groups of guys?
"Great group of guys," Polster said, a statement echoed by other players.
But while the players now are getting along well together so far, general manager Nelson Rodriguez and his staff clearly have work to do if this group is going to take a step forward.
Last season the Fire ended its five-year MLS playoff drought but was eliminated in its first game with a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Late-season injuries and off-season departures have the preseason roster looking like the team took a step backward.
Still, the players are optimistic ahead of the March 10 season opener.
"Every team goes in wanting to win MLS Cup," said central defender Christian Dean. "I think personally we have a shot at that. We have a great team, a great locker room. Everybody gets along really well, which is hugely important on and off the field.
"But I think just improving on last year and coming out better than last year is something we strive towards. It would be nice to walk home with the Cup, but just doing a lot better (than) last year would be huge as well."
Polster prefers to talk about playing well rather than just winning hardware as the hope for the season.
"I think the goal would be that stretch we had last year, that 13-odd games (in May and June), I think is to reach that level again but for a more consistent, throughout the year," the veteran right back said. "We want to do it not just for 13 games.
"We want to do it for all 34, but of course that's not easy. But that's what we want to achieve. We want to achieve that level that we were at for that short period of last season and try to extend it more this season."
Dean is a likely starter in part because Jonathan Campbell is out at least six weeks with a facial fracture and homegrown player Grant Lillard (Hinsdale) is out another couple of weeks with an injury.
The only signed goalkeepers, Richard Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland, are young and untested, hardly inspiring confidence. Cleveland could be the starter in the opener due to this week's injury to Sanchez.
And the Fire has yet to sign the playmaking attacking midfielder it so obviously lacked last season. But at least the roster has a core group of players back, and Polster said that's a "great thing."
"I think you're seeing more of a core group of guys," he said. "You're seeing more veteran guys within the league and with outside the league, and I think that's starting to show in our style of play and how we act on the field and off the field and I think it's starting to grow as more of a culture for Chicago."
That and good banter, of course.