BRIDGEVIEW, Ill – It’s all about relationships.
That’s what Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and head coach Frank Klopas have always stressed about international signings. And those relationships led directly to the arrival of German international center back Arne Friedrich, who practiced with the Fire for the first time on Tuesday.
“One of the reasons he’s here,” Hauptman told media last week, “is because [Fire midfielder] Pável Pardo played in Germany, speaks German fluently, is a very savvy, thoughtful guy who cares deeply about the Fire, and has really grown to love Chicago. He was willing to get on the phone immediately and speak about, ‘What’s it like here, what’s this club about, why should he come?’”
Friedrich visited Chicago during the preseason to have a physical and had lunch with Pardo, who played for VfB Stuttgart for three seasons. The city made an impression.
“I really like the city, it’s absolutely nice,” Friedrich said. “I met with the staff here and the trainers, and they care a lot about me, so that’s why I came here. Chicago as a city is very international, it’s got a great skyline, you have everything here what you need. It’s kind of like New York in my eyes, but it’s more relaxed. You can see the great stadium here.”
Friedrich missed much his last season with VfL Wolfsburg because of a back injury, but he said on Tuesday that he feels “perfect,” though it will take him some time to become match fit.
He’ll likely team with Cory Gibbs to form an experienced center back tandem, but health will be crucial to the duo if they hope to anchor Chicago’s backline.
Pardo, meanwhile, said Friedrich was interested in finding out about MLS competition and how the club stands when the two met during the offseason.
“Some people imagine that the MLS is not as competitive as other leagues,” Pardo said. “But we talked about this, and he was really interested. I said, ‘You’re going to find a good group, a good coach, the talent is really good on the team, you’re going to find good training.’ Now, he’s here.”
Klopas added that Friedrich’s comfort around the team and staff had a lot to do with the signing.
“It’s relationships,” Klopas said. “Players feel more comfortable when they can trust and talk to other players, they get feedback about the club. More than anything, when he spent time here he saw the club, he saw the training facilities, he saw how we work as a professional club, and he made the decision. I think it was the right one.”