It’ll be a small world af­ter all

Fire’s sev­eral-week stay at disney re­sort sounds fun but in­volves some po­ten­tial chal­lenges

Chicago Sun-Times - - FIRE BEAT - BY BRIAN SANDALOW @bri­ansan­dalow

The large MLS bub­ble in Or­lando, Florida, has plenty to of­fer the Fire and other teams. There are ac­tiv­i­ties, recre­ation and en­ter­tain­ment to help keep peo­ple oc­cu­pied. Play­ers and coaches might even run into old friends and find a way to so­cial­ize on the cam­pus’ grounds.

But plush ac­com­mo­da­tions aside, the Fire will be confined to the cam­pus for three weeks — and maybe even six if they ad­vance to the end of the MLS is Back Tour­na­ment. That iso­la­tion brings a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, and it’s one that the Fire are aware of as they pre­pare to restart their sea­son.

On Tues­day, one day be­fore the Fire left for Or­lando, coach Raphael Wicky com­pared the trip to pre­sea­son train­ing, in which clubs of­ten leave their home mar­ket for about a month. The first-year Fire coach also al­luded to play­ing in ma­jor tour­na­ments like the World Cup, in which teams are to­gether for weeks at a time. But those men­tions come with a caveat: On days off in nor­mal cir­cum­stances, play­ers and staff can ex­plore the sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Other than the com­plex’s grounds, that’s not the case now.

“It’s just go­ing to be im­por­tant to feel [how] the play­ers [are do­ing], to talk to the play­ers,” Wicky said. “If we feel that a guy maybe strug­gles be­cause he’s away so much from his fam­ily or what­ever goes on men­tally, we have to lis­ten to the play­ers and maybe sit down and talk to them. I think that it’s not al­ways talk­ing about foot­ball; it’s more talk­ing about, ‘How are you?’ ”

Af­ter the char­tered fight Wed­nes­day, the Fire set­tled into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dol­phin Re­sort, where they have a floor to them­selves and each player gets his own room. Games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Com­plex.

And like his coach, stand­out rookie Mauri­cio Pineda com­pared his mind­set to how he’d ap­proach a pre­sea­son trip. Of course, there are dif­fer­ences.

“I walked into my room; there’s two beds but only one per­son in here,” Pineda said Thurs­day. “It’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. It’s a lit­tle bit more chal­leng­ing to deal with, I guess. There are rooms where we can hang out. I think there’s like an Xbox room, a PlaySta­tion room, Ping-Pong room.

“I think we’ll be able to get to­gether with the guys. So that will be nice.”

It sounds nice now, but the Fire are only days into a trip — and iso­la­tion — they hope will last six weeks. Wicky knows man­ag­ing the play­ers’ emo­tional and men­tal states will be cru­cial and will re­quire the right touch.

“And then as well just to find the right bal­ance in do­ing team ac­tiv­i­ties, team meet­ings, team meals and giv­ing them a lit­tle bit of time off, even if the time off they can­not re­ally do much or they can­not go out­side of this com­plex,” Wicky said. “But that will be I think an im­por­tant point when you’re to­gether so long.” ✶

Mauri­cio Pineda (right)

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