Starting lineups, positional changes and formations sometimes need to be taken with a grain of salt during the preseason. But the Chicago Fire certainly appear to be set on their ways with a new 3-5-2 formation heading into their 2011 campaign.
The three-man defensive back line is a dramatic variation for many of the players on Chicago's roster. The person most affected by the new scheme is typical left back Gonzalo Segares, who adjusts to a midfield role this year.
For the moment, it appears that the Fire's starting back line will consist of Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic and rookie Jalil Anibaba from left to right. Segares is now pushed up to the left side of the midfield alongside Marco Pappa.
"I'm starting to like it a little better. I'm getting used to it," Segares said of the position switch. "I'm not used to receiving the ball with somebody on my back, so there are different things to get used to in this position. There's a lot more running, and I'll be one of the fittest guys on the field when we're done with preseason. I like the challenge. I like to push forward and help the team that way, and I can still help Cory on that left side."
While fitness and strong possession are integral in any formation, the three-back approach only amplifies the need for the Fire to be sound in these areas. Both levels have to improve considerably from last year.
"We have to cover a lot of the field -- basically from box to box," Segares said. "We're all pretty committed to getting this just right. It's taken a little bit getting used to it. We're only three weeks in, and we're getting better day-by-day. I'm excited to see how this looks when the season starts."
Segares' move is ideal. He has shown in the past that he is capable of stabilizing opponents' right-side attack, while also intelligently pushing up into Chicago's offensive end.
Segares rejoined the Fire in August last year after spending a portion of the year with Apollon Limassol. But he never found his form in MLS play. Fitness, an injured quad and a two-game red card suspension were just several reasons why Segares was not the Segares most Fire fans are accustomed to seeing.
"Coming off of two months being inactive and just keeping myself running, it was not the same as practicing," Segares said of his layoff between Apollon and the Fire. "It took a toll on me. It was a tough situation, and it was difficult seeing the team struggle. But I've moved on and it's a different season. Things have been good, no setbacks and trying to adjust to a new position."
Segares said that the addition of re-entry draft selection Gibbs has made for a smooth transition with his new role on the left side of the pitch.
"Since the first day, we have jelled pretty well," Segares said of Gibbs. "With him being an experienced guy and me playing for a couple of years in MLS, we have good communication and know what to expect from each other. We mix really well."
Despite the Fire's overhaul of new players, Segares thinks the styles and mind-sets of everyone on this preseason squad are more in sync compared to last year's team.
"Maybe we don't have too many big-name players, but I think everyone is on the same page," Segares said. "Everyone's running, everyone's hustling. It feels more like a group than just individuals. That's something I've noticed."