"The quality of players this preseason is a lot better than last year," said second-year midfielder Baggio Husidic. "Just better players. The drills we're doing are a bit different, the way we're approaching preseason is different. We're already doing a lot of ball work." [Players included] Collins John, who looked like a force while finishing his chances Wednesday.
Just three days into the de los Cobos era, the players' first impressions are very good. "Fantastic coach. Fantastic personality," said Husidic, a former Libertyville High School and UIC player.
De los Cobos is opening the first-team practices to the Fire's player development system, inviting the U-16 players to preseason training in Jackson, Miss., the U-18s to Mexico. It's a small but important step. And it suggests that de los Cobos is looking to build something for the long-term in Chicago. On and off the field, de los Cobos appears to be cultivating a new mentality with the Fire.
He talks of a more technical, fluid style of play with rapid ball movement, as shown by Wednesday's emphasis on one-touch and two-touch scrimmages. But where other foreign coaches made the mistake of forcing their ways on American players, de los Cobos seems ready to meet his players halfway and patiently work with them to improve and adjust. "I have a feeling it's going to be a totally different style than anything we've ever been a part of," said Fire original and captain C.J. Brown. "That's always exciting and fun to be a part of."
"Personally, I try and just take everything and listen as much as possible," said veteran forward Brian McBride, who has played for a number of coaches. "It's important you don't try and do too much as a player, because then you could cause yourself some problems, but you gradually try and add and grow as a player."
Even the Fire's formation will change, with a 3-5-2 possible but a 4-1-4-1 more likely to take advantage of what de los Cobos sees as a wealth of midfielders. "We have a good midfield, a very good midfield," de los Cobos said. "We need to take advantage of this."
C.J. Brown says he wants to remain the Fire's captain, but won't balk if his new coach wants someone different.
"I always feel like I can give advice and leadership, but it's obviously the coach's choice if he wants to keep me as captain," the 34-year-old defender said after Wednesday's indoor workout in suburban McCook. "I always represent hard work and I'm going to push that regardless of who the captain is. … If someone is a better representative, I'm all for it."
New coach Carlos De los Cobos said Wednesday both Brown and veteran forward Brian McBride possess strong qualities for the job. "They are two players who have had a lot of history in soccer and with the club as well," De los Cobos said. "Being captain is not only about wearing the armband but what it transmits to the group. You have to be an example and both have the conditions to be the captain."