AVE MARIA, FL. So far, so good.
Five days into preseason training Fire coach Frank Klopas is pleased with what hes been seeing from a group of players that underwent little change from 2012.
"The changes we made were minimal, said Klopas, "and thats been good because we can get right down to work. Its been fun, and a lot of hard work from the guys.
In most previous seasons the Fire tweaked its roster with some foreign players. Not so this time. The main new acquisitions were off Major League Soccer rivals Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Joel Lindpere (New York) and Maicon Santos (D.C. United).
They werent consolation prizes. Klopas spent a month on the road in the offseason with stops in Spain, Holland, Belgium, Argentina and Costa Rica. Other staffers also went abroad in search of talent but felt players available via MLS were the best bet to improve a club that ended a two-year absence from the playoffs in 2012.
"We looked at guys, said Klopas. "Sometimes things dont work out, and sometimes you say I know what Im getting from guys in the league. We felt there was an opportunity to get proven guys in the league, and we took advantage of it.
Klopas has 33 players in camp at the small college town near Naples. Nineteen are rostered players. Ten are here as trialists and four were draft picks. Five are goalkeepers, with a spot open for a third netminder behind the rostered Sean Johnson and last seasons backup, Paolo Tornaghi.
Johnson is one of four players not in camp. Hes training with the U.S. national team in California in preparation for next weeks international friendly against Canada. Also absent are defender Arne Friedrich, who will join the team at the second phase of preseason training in Ventura, Calif., next month; Corben Bone, who is training with Spains Atletico Madrid; and Patrick Nyarko, who is expected here on Saturday after staying in Chicago to receive a CSN Award as the clubs top player of 2012 on Thursday night.
Klopas was also honored at the awards night, as a Fire Legend, but he was directing workouts here.
The lone uncertainty is the status of Alvaro Fernandez. A midfield starter on the left side the second half of 2012, Fernandez is apparently headed for the Qatari club Al Rayyan. A loan agreement hasnt been signed, however, and Fernandez is still technically a member of the Fire.
"Theres no update, said Klopas, "but it seems like hell be going somewhere else.
The trialists are headed by Rich Balchan, claimed off waivers after spending two seasons with the Columbus Crew; Rauwshan McKenzie, who has spent time with Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA since 2008; Luke Boden, a product of the Sheffield Wednesday system in England; and Colin Rolfe, a former University of Louisville teammate of Fire defender Austin Berry, the MLS Rookie-of-the-Year in 2012.
Also battling for a roster spot is Sam Archer, winner of the Fires open tryout in December and one of the last players cut by the Colorado Rapids in 2012.
Klopas has been conducting on-the-field workouts in the morning and fitness sessions either in the gym or running on the Naples beaches in the afternoon. That routine will be broken on Sunday when the Fire has a practice game with Florida Gulf Coast Universitys team.