Spring training is in full swing for the Chicago Fire and the team is looking to improve on their late season run of last year losing to New England in the Eastern Conference Championship. Head coach Dennis Hamlett is looking forward to the 2008 season stating at the beginning of spring training stating, “We’re very excited this day has finally come. We’re anxious to get out on the field. We have a good blend of players. It’s time to get a look at them and build this team.”
Chicago will be entering 2008 with a few new coaches, a new goalkeeper, and several new players. They have a solid core to work with and they added depth to their bench. One of the key pieces for Chicago’s defense is C.J. Brown, who will be in his 11th season in the Windy City, and along with other veteran Diego Gutierrez will be the leaders for the Fire. The Fire also have several rookies who will figure prominently for the team, especially forward Patrick Nyarko, who was the 7th player taken in the 2008 Super Draft and has looked good this pre-season, already scoring a goal in the Fire’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-17 National Team.
Fire forward Calen Carr is in his third year for Chicago and said the team is ready to forget the mistakes of 2007. One of the main cogs in the Fire machine is Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who will be in Chicago for the whole season. Carr said about Blanco, “Having a player like Blanco on the field every day is amazing. To train with a player of his caliber does a lot to raise our level of play. He’s a great playmaker.”
One of the biggest questions for the Fire will be in goal. Instead of bringing in a free agent goalie they are going with the experienced Jon Busch. Busch joined Chicago in 2007 and has been in the MLS since 2002, when the Columbus Crew drafted him. Busch only played 3 games with the Fire last year but for his overall MLS record in goal he is 36-26-23 with 26 shutouts. Busch is coming off a couple of injury plagued years but is now healthy and the number 1 goalie for the Fire. But that does not mean he can rest knowing his job is safe, because in camp are a trio of young goalkeepers in Nick Noble (with the Fire in 2007), and a couple of 2008 Super Draft picks in Dominic Cervi out of the University of Tulsa and Melford James, Jr. out of the University of Montevallo. The Fire will keep three goalkeepers heading into the 2008 campaign.
The Fire will be training in Bradenton, Florida at the IMG Academy until February 20. The next few exhibition games for the Fire are against the Kansas City Wizards on February 16 and Toronto FC on February 20. The rest of the preseason games have yet to be announced.
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