It’s getting harder and harder to remember the first two games of the Fire season. Played March 1 and March 7, the Fire lost in Seattle and then tied New England.
One of the plotlines around the season in those days was how would the Fire’s new coaching staff integrate all the new players, whose arrivals were staggered because of immigration holdups. Now as the season is expected to restart next month with the MLS is Back Tournament, the Fire aren’t waiting for new signings to arrive.
They just have to acclimate them after a prolonged break due to the spread of COVID-19. And it sounds like a part of that process was well underway even before training resumed at SeatGeek Stadium.
“The last three months were difficult for me as a coach to integrate these players into our playing philosophy, because we didn’t train,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said last week. “The players used (the time) well to actually connect with each other. We had a lot of Zoom calls and even they had calls with each other in smaller groups. I think there was a lot of interaction. So when I speak to Gaston (Gimenez) or Boris (Sekulic) or Luka (Stojanovic) who are new, they actually said it is very easy to integrate humanly into this group.
“I think we really have a great group of players here who connect really well together. We don’t need to be best friends and go on vacation together, right? But the chemistry of respecting each other and actually helping each other is really good. That’s also what these new guys told us.”
Building chemistry and a sense of togetherness is one thing, but getting everybody on the same page after missing three months of practices and games is another. Doing that would even be challenging if the whole group had been together since the start of preseason training following a quiet and relatively uneventful offseason.
Obviously that’s not the case for a Fire team that was a work-in-progress before the season stopped March 12. From a tactical standpoint, Wicky said integrating everybody would take a while.
It goes without saying that full team training is a big part of that step. Wicky and his staff can fully impart the team’s philosophies and principles. They can show video and instruct them on the field both through drills and scrimmaging, using coaching strategies that weren’t available while the league was paused.
And from Wicky’s point of view, the personal connections everybody built will be helpful on the field.
“That’s a process,” Wicky said. “That will take some time but I’m happy that these guys are here. They actually feel very accepted and very happy to be in that group, which helps a lot. If your mindset is right it helps a lot to actually then integrate them tactically.”