Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas certainly liked what he saw from newly arrived midfielder Rafael Robayo during his first week of training camp.
Klopas described the veteran Robayo as a box-to-box midfielder who provides support to the attack.
“He’s not a No. 6, a holding guy, he’s more of a two-way guy,” Klopas told reporters from training camp in Ventura, Calif., during a conference call on Friday. “He’s obviously good with the ball. He helps with the defensive side of the ball, but he likes to push forward in help in the attack. He’s not a pure-number six like Pável [Pardo] who sits deep and distributes.”
Robayo joins a packed midfielder that includes five returnees who started consistently in 2011. While it’s unclear where he’ll fit in, the 27-year-old Colombian, who last played for Millionarios in his homeland, is versatile.
“He can play either on the right or the left tucked in,” Klopas said. “If we’re playing four-flat 4-4-2, he can play the deep role, but also has the ability to go up and down. He still, from a fitness standpoint and adjusting to the speed of play and the physicality of our league, its a little different.”
Pineda developing nicely
When it comes to 18-year-old midfielder Victor Pineda, the Fire are quite happy with how their first Home Grown player is coming along. He made the game-day roster three times last season, but he doesn’t have a competitive first-team appearance under his belt two years after signing his deal.
“He’s not only a guy who can run forward and support the offensive group, he does a lot of running and hard work off the ball,” Klopas said. “I feel, the way I see him right now and the way I see the team, he will get opportunities this season to play.”
But it may take more time for last season’s Home Grown signing, 17-year-old forward Kellen Gulley, to see first-team action.
“It’s taking him a little bit longer," Kloas said of the Mississippi native. "More than anything, I think the attitude needs to get a little bit better; he’s got to compete a little bit harder every day.
“He’s been in a situation where he was the best player before, but here he’s got to earn that respect not only by the way he plays, but the way he works. We’re working hard with him in that part. With him, he still has a way to go.”
Third goalkeeper up for grabs
With Sean Johnson’s call-up to US Under-23 national team camp, where he’ll be for the rest of February, Klopas will have more of a chance to evaluate his options for his third-string goalkeeper behind veteran Jay Nolly.
Alec Kann and Paolo Tornaghi are the two remaining trialists vying for the third spot.
“We have a couple of guys that we’re looking into that can not only fill that third spot, but guys that have the ability to push either of the keepers,” Klopas said.
Other trialists in camp include former Fire midfieler/defender Iván Guerrero, Mexican central defender Rodrigo Iñigo and Brazilian attacker Alex.
“We’re going to have to make some tough choices with some of the last spots,” Klopas said. “We have some spots in the air in the top 20, but also those developmental and supplemental roster spots, guys are fighting really hard.”
Anthony Zilis covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.