By JEFFREY KRAUSE
The Chicago Fire returned home from San Jose and resumed training Tuesday morning, shaking off the late equalizer provided by Steven Lenhart as the team now puts the Western Conference in the rear-view mirror, facing only Eastern Conference foes for the remainder of the season.
Going forward, manager Frank Klopas will have additional tools at his disposal, as with the close of the July transfer window Chicago signed Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald and sent allocation money to Seattle to acquire midfielder Alvaro Fernandez.
Both players occupy Designated Player spots for the club, and while Klopas is happy with the additions, he looks for them to make an immediate impact with the Fire looking to fend off hard-charging Columbus and Philadelphia for the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while also trying to surpass D.C. United and catch New York, Houston and Sporting Kansas City. Fitness is still an issue for MacDonald, who was out of season prior to joining the team, while Fernandez is match-fit after playing in 14 league games for the Sounders this season.
"With Sherjill, every day is better, and Flaco's fit," Klopas said. "They're good players, Flaco knows the league and knows our team, so that's an easy transition. With Mac, his whole thing is just to get his fitness and get games."
MacDonald is already pleased with his progress the last week as he has been training with the Fire. While he appeared for the club as a second half sub in Chicago's draw to San Jose and set up a great scoring chance for Logan Pause that was saved by Jon Busch, he looks forward to getting fully fit and making an impact with the club.
"Today was a much better training session (than last week)," said MacDonald, a 27-year-old veteran who most recently played for Belgian club Beerschot. "Every day I'm getting better with my teammates, and also my fitness level is getting better. I'm very satisfied. I'm maybe 70 percent fit, also the sharpness in front of goal and the quick movements aren't there yet, but I think it's getting better. I'm making progress step by step."
When asked if he was ready to go the full 90 minutes, he indicated that it may take time to work up to that.
"I don't think so," MacDonald said. "After eight weeks of playing 20 minutes, it is difficult. Normally I have a preparation of six weeks, but I didn't have that now. But I want to play 90 minutes as fast as possible."
Fernandez, however, has no such problem. Fernandez, the second DP to join Chicago from Seattle following Freddie Ljungberg, has logged regular minutes for the Sounders through the first half of the season, and is fully fit and prepared to make an immediate impact.
"It's up to the coaches," Fernandez said. "Physically, I'm fine, I trained all the way until Friday. Again, it's just up to the coaches and for me to learn the system here and the team."
In spite of finding his fit in Chicago's system, Fernandez was happy with his first training session in Chicago.
"It went well, I'm trying to fit in and getting to know new teammates. Hopefully I'll continue to improve every day."