BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Heading into the 2012 season, the Chicago Fire took comfort in the fact that every starter at the end of 2011 would be back.
It was a welcome sign of continuity after two straight offseasons that saw massive roster turnover. But heading into their match against Toronto FC on Wednesday (7 pm ET, TSN2 in Canada, MLS Live in US), that continuity has all but disappeared.
The Fire will likely dress five players that weren't with the team for their 3-2 win at BMO Field on April 21 due to a flurry of midseason transactions. But rather than detracting from their performances, Chicago have a 5-2-1 record in their last eight games. Should they record a fifth win in six matches on Wednesday, they will vault the Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“The most important thing is that [new players] feel welcome and really comfortable,” defender Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “They’re guys that have the right mentality, and they’re really nice guys to work with.”
And as much as the roster has changed since First Kick, that early-season continuity has done wonders for the chemistry and culture of the Fire locker room.
During preseason, familiarity cultivated in 2011 helped develop team identity. When new players like Arne Friedrich, Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald and Álvaro Fernández joined the team, the fact they were walking onto a team with that sense of familiarity and identity helped them integrate into the group seamlessly.
“When you have new players, it’s important to have the base,” midfielder Pável Pardo told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re soccer players, but the most important part is the human being. It’s very important, when they come, they see what is the group, what is the atmosphere, what is the feeling.”
It's a welcome change from the 2010 acquisition of Mexican international Nery Castillo, whose struggles in his half-season with the team showed the Fire just how risky transfers can be.
“He just couldn’t adapt on the field,” Segares said. “It was a shame, because he was a good player. … You definitely have situations in which that happens.”
Pardo, like Castillo, was also a midseason transfer, joining the team in July of last year. When he arrived in Chicago, he noticed a palpable lack of confidence when he came in. So he did his best to change it.
For the moment, it seems he's succeeded. The Fire have maintained a positive outlook this season, allowing the team to keep on rolling in the face of changes.
“The most important thing is that they have to be confident over here,” Pardo said. “We have a great relationship, a great group, and [the new players] see it.”