Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

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Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

AVE MARIA, FL. It will just be an informal match against a college team, but for Jeff Larentowicz, the Fires first preseason meeting with Florida Gulf Coast University on Sunday marks a new beginning.

Larentowicz was the Fires biggest offseason acquisition. He came from the Colorado Rapids for the Fires first-round pick (11th overall) in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

"To leave Colorado was tough, but to end up here... I couldnt have asked for more," Larentowicz said after a snappy morning workout on Saturday on the campus of Ave Maria University. "Ive been around the league a bit, but this group is fun to be around and the coaches keep things intense, but still short and to the point. Thats what everyone wants at this time of year."

Larentowicz will play a major role in a midfield that is being tweaked by coach Frank Klopas. Theres plenty of competition for jobs in that part of the lineup, but theres one less candidate after Alvaro Fernandezs move to Qatori club Al Rayyan was finally confirmed.

Fernandez, a late-season acquisition from Seattle in 2012, was the starter on the left side. Larentowicz will probably wind up in the middle.

"Jeffs a leader on and off the field, and one of the most accurate passers in the league," said Klopas. "He brings a lot of physical presence to the midfield and hes been a very consistent player for five-six years."

Larentowicz is one of the rare fourth-round draft picks to earn long-term playing time in MLS. The New England Revolution claimed him with the 45th overall pick in 2005, and he has some interesting ties to the Fire.

One of his teammates and best friends in high school at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia was Dan Gargan, the defender who played for the Fire the last two seasons but was lost to San Jose in the last re-entry draft.

Larentowicz has also been a long-time teammate of Wells Thompson, another Fire midfield candidate. Thompson was acquired late last season. He played with Larentowicz for three seasons in New England and three in Colorado. In fact, Larentowicz and Thompson moved from the Revs to the Rapids together, in a trade that sent defender Cory Gibbs to New England.

Gibbs was a Fire mainstay until suffering a knee injury last year. He retired after the campaign ended.

So now, Larentowicz, Maicon Santos and Joel Lindpere are being counted on to improve the Fire. All came from other MLS teams rather than being the more traditional additions from foreign clubs.

"That is highly unusual," said Larentowicz. "When teams sign players in the offseason, its easier to transfer players in than transfer from within the league. The logistics are easier that way, but its important to get people in who know the league."

The Fire has its second and last preseason match of the first phase of preseason training on Wednesday against the Columbus Crew in Bradenton, FL.

Fire draft two Charlotte 49ers to close out draft

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USA TODAY

Fire draft two Charlotte 49ers to close out draft

The Chicago Fire drafted three players in the first two rounds of the MLS draft on Friday and added another two players in the draft's final two rounds on Tuesday.

The Fire selected two players out of Charlotte in the final two rounds. Midfielder Brandt Bronico went with the third pick in the third round, No. 47 overall, and defender Matej Dekovic was picked with the third pick in the fourth round, No. 69 overall.

Bronico was a key cog all four years at Charlotte. He was a three-time First-Team Conference USA selection and Conference USA Player of the Year as a senior. He totaled 25 goals and 23 assists in four years, including nine goals and five assists in 18 matches as a senior. He had eight goals and 10 assists as a junior.

Bronico also scored an eye-catching goal on the final day of the MLS Combine.

Dekovic is a defender born in Zagreb, Croatia. He was a First-Team Conference USA pick this fall while playing at left back. The Fire don't have much depth currently at outside back, but Dekovic's status as an international player will give him an uphill battle to make the team.

The Fire open preseason camp in six days on Monday, Jan. 23.

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

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USA TODAY

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

Midfield has been an area of focus this offseason for Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and another new addition to that group was added on Monday.

The Fire have traded $400,000 in general allocation money in return for midfielder Dax McCarty from the New York Red Bulls. Paul Tenorio of Four Four Two first reported the trade.

McCarty was an All-Star in 2015 and part of the league's Best XI that season when he had eight assists to go with a goal. Last season he made 26 starts for the Red Bulls and totaled three goals and had five assists.

"Since the middle of 2016, we made acquiring Dax our No. 1 priority," Rodríguez said in the club's press release. "We believe adding his character and leadership in the locker room, as well as his exceptional soccer abilities on the field, dramatically improves our team."

The last time McCarty played at Toyota Park was a 2-2 draw on July 31 when a Khaly Thiam tackle caused a fractured tibia, which forced McCarty to sit out a month.

McCarty got married on Saturday, which delayed his arrival to the current U.S. national team camp. McCarty's participation in national team camp means he will join the Fire's preseason already in progress. The final match of the camp is on Feb. 3 while the Fire are set to start preseason on January 23.

McCarty, 29, has spent the past five and a half seasons with the Red Bulls. He began his career by playing five seasons for FC Dallas and was with D.C. United for part of the 2011 campaign before being traded to the Red Bulls. As an 11-year league veteran and the Red Bulls' captain, McCarty adds leadership and experience which Rodriguez has prioritized this offseason.

The Fire already added a former MLS All-Star in midfield this offseason in Juninho. The pair could line up next to each other in the preferred 4-2-3-1 coach Veljko Paunovic used for most of last season. This also could potentially put Matt Polster's role with the team in question. As the roster stands now, the third-year midfielder would be competing for two veteran All-Star caliber midfielders who were brought in at a high price.

Not to suggest a position move is in the works for Polster, but he did split time between midfield and right back with the Fire in 2015 under coach Frank Yallop and played there for the U-23 national team in Olympic qualifying. Right back remains a position of need by Rodriguez's own admission.

The trade also adds further context to the Fire trading the No. 3 pick in the draft on Friday. The Fire swapped the pick for $250,000 in general allocation money from New York City FC and Tenorio is reporting the Fire will send $400,000 to the Red Bulls for McCarty. To add those two moves together, the Fire dealt the No. 3 overall pick and $150,000 of allocation money for McCarty.