Photo by Jeff Vorva
Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez vouched for the character of recently signed Joao Meira, who served an eight-month suspension for failing a drug test in Portugal.
One of the first fires the Chicago Fire’s new general manager, Nelson Rodriguez, had to put out on the first day of practice involved one of his newest acquisitions, Joao Meira.
Meira, a top player in Portugal, btings some baggage with him in the form of an eight-month suspension in 2012 for failing a drug test in 2011. The Fire signed the defender/midfielder on Saturday and on Monday Rodriguez vouched for his new player.
“We spoke with the player about it at length,” Rodriguez said. “We spoke to the Portuguese [Football Federation’s] disciplinary committee who rendered the decision. We shared all the information with the league office prior to signing the player to make sure there was an extreme comfort level.
“We believe that the player made an unfortunate decision. It was not a recreational drug and it was not a performance-enhancing drug. He took an over-the-counter supplement that had an ingredient that was on the banned list. It came from the U.S. and on the translation to Portuguese, it was not translated correctly. He even asked his team doctor if he could take that medicine and he was given the OK.’’
The team opened practice Monday at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch in Chicago but Meira is not yet with the team.
“It’s an unfortunate mistake and one that he is repentant about,” Rodriguez said. “But this is something we fully investigated. We’re very comfortable with Joao’s character. He understands the drug testing process of Major League Soccer.’’
On the same day of the Meira signing, the team also re-signed midfielder Razvan Cocis. Both players inked one-year deals with club options for 2017.
With a new general manager, head coach and assistant coaches in place and several new players on the roster, there is a whole new feeling in camp.
Midfielder Harry Shipp is the player on the roster with the second-longest tenure of two years behind goalie Sean Johnson (six years).
“It’s going to be my third year but I feel like I am starting over as a rookie,” Shipp said. “We’re starting from scratch with a new coaching staff and everything is pretty new. It’s a fresh start that I needed, personally and everyone who is sticking around needed.’’
The past two seasons, the Fire went 6-10-18 and 8-20-6, costing coach Frank Yallop his job. Enter new coach Veljko Paunovic, a 38-year-old Serbian player who spent a good chunk of his career in Spain.
Shipp noticed right away the new coach is detail oriented.
“Every minute of our first session was planned out,’’ Shipp said. “That’s something that is a change from last year. As players, it helps get your mind set on what you are going to be doing. He is youthful but in a smart way. It’s not just crazy energy running around. It’s applying a focus toward a few key points every day.
“We have our six weeks mapped out on what we want to accomplish and we know what the end goal is six weeks from now.’’
The new coach said players appreciate the detailed approach.
“They are very receptive and they want to learn,’’ he said. “I’m very grateful for that. We are teaching a style of play from the global perspective. They have to be very focused and willing to learn.’’
Fire fan now on team
Cary native Drew Connor is with the team and he has been a fan from way back.
“I was going to games when the Fire played in Soldier Field,” he said. “My family took me when I was real little. I grew up a Fire fan. I even went to a few games when they played a year at North Central College.’’
He said he played scrimmages at Toyota Park a handful of times.
Red Stars make trade
The Chicago Red Stars acquired midfielder Amanda Da Costa and a natural fourth-round pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft from the Washington Spirit on Monday. In exchange for Da Costa and the draft pick, the Spirit will receive a player to be named later from the Red Stars.
Da Costa, 26, spent one season with Washington where she appeared in 17 games, tallying three goals. Before her time in the NWSL, Da Costa spent two years playing overseas with Liverpool Ladies in the FA Women’s Super League, where she helped lead the team to back-to-back championships and claim its first appearance in the UEFA Champions League.
“I am very excited to add Amanda to our group,” said coach Rory Dames. “Besides being a terrific person, Amanda possesses the qualities we were looking for to fill our attacking midfielder role. We are excited to see what she is capable for once she has some time to work with our front line. She also knows what it takes to win a league championship as she showed in England. She is the perfect fit for what we need in this season.”
The Florida State University All-American will join forces with former college teammate Casey Short for the 2016 season.