With only two seasons under his belt, Chicago Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic has stepped in comfortably following his University of Illinois-Chicago days.
The 2009 draft pick and Libertyville High School alum earned regular minutes in his second season last year, posting 18 starts in 22 games. Husidic tallied five goals, ranking third on the club.
And more will be expected from Husidic in his third campaign.
"Personally, I think I've progressed quite a bit," Husidic said. "Last year I sat on the bench coming from preseason and early in the season. So this year I've fought for a starting spot and thus far have been in the first 11. I'm hoping that the confidence keeps growing and I keep improving."
While Husidic and last year's Fire scoring leader Marco Pappa will be focal points in the midfield to produce offensively, the style of this year's team dictates end-to-end production.
"With this 3-5-2 formation, we're having to defend a lot more, so what happens is we have to push out to the outside backs, and we spend a lot of time defending," Husidic said. "So far it's been going well. I think there are a few things we need to figure out offensively and defensively, and that will come with time. We only had four [preseason] games to play the formation together.
"I think this year we have a lot more responsibility to create than last year," he said. "Obviously Pappa did very well last year."
The Fire brought in a new strength and conditioning coach in Tony Jouaux, and Husidic referenced that addition as an integral part of his increased role in the midfield.
"Last year we had a lot of injuries, so it's kind of hard to really get in the groove with that core group of guys when you always have a big player fall out due to injury," Husidic said. "We're really hoping this year that Tony can keep us all healthy and that we can keep the good core of guys -- six, seven guys on the field -- the whole time that can produce for the team. We're really hoping to have a complete turnaround from last year and get some results."
With only a three-man defensive backfield, the midfield group has put in a rigorous preseason.
"The outside and inside mids have a lot of doggies (shuttle runs) to do. It's hard," Husidic said. "Tony's been incredible in keeping everybody healthy and everybody's impressed with his work. He's going to set a good schedule for us so we can compete and be ready for every game."
As far as Husidic's take on turning around last year's 9-12-9 campaign, he pinpoints the combination of cohesiveness and clamping down defensively.
"I think last year we just gave up goals when we really didn't need to," Husidic said. "The guys were great last year, but I just think this year we're connected on a different level. Everyone's together and everyone's healthy.
"We've already created chemistry in the last month and a half we've had together," he said. "Pretty much the whole team is kind of a possession team. So we're hoping to play an attractive style of soccer this year and that the fans enjoy it. With the enjoyment obviously come results. You're not going to enjoy the game too much if you keep losing."