Two weeks have elapsed since the Chicago Fire's last competitive fixture. A thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Easter weekend against Toronto FC earned the Men in Red their second consecutive victory over an Eastern Conference opponent, leaving them five points adrift of league-leading New York Red Bulls.
Since April 4, Frank Yallop's side has been limited to training sessions and two intrasquad scrimmages after the deferral of the April 15 and April 18 league matches against the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact.
During Monday's weekly media conference call, Yallop revealed his thoughts on the 20-day hiatus, how his team is ramping up fitness levels and more ahead of Friday's encounter with New York City FC at Toyota Park.
Intrasquad Game (April 18)
Despite tinkering with the notion of scheduling a friendly against an opposing side, the Fire were forced to settle with an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend, which was closed to the public at the request of Yallop.
"It was 11 on 11," he said. "We did some coaching in the middle of it, stopped it. It's just like a normal training session, I wouldn't call it a proper game.
"We played about 80 minutes. We've worked very hard the last two weeks, so I didn't want to push them too much for a 90-minute game. The guys have really looked sharp, focused and they can't wait to play against a team other than themselves.
"It helps, but it's not the real game."
[SHOP: Get your Fire gear]
Dealing with consecutive bye weeks
Yallop continued to stress the fitness component and preparation prior to the intrasquad game, which was designed to mirror the typical cycle of the team's training regimen before MLS regular season matches.
"The guys are calling it a 'mini preseason,'" Yallop said. "We really pushed the guys fitness-wise.
"A lot of guys missed a lot of preseason: Jeff Larentowicz, [Shaun] Maloney, [David] Accam. You can go on and on. Kennedy [Igboananike] was injured, [Matt] Polster. It was good for us to get our fitness really, really amped up and we did. Just playing together has helped all our guys.
"Shaun's looked really sharp in training, and so has David. They're really coming along and in the end, you're going to see those guys really shine in the games real soon."
Quincy Amarikwa and Michael Stephens, both nurturing ankle injuries, are still recovering from the physical game against Toronto, which saw more than one Fire player emerge with a knock.
"Both have been working with Adrian Lamb, our fitness coach," Yallop said. "Both did not participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. We expect Quincy to be back in training pretty soon and to be available for Friday, but he's been out 12 days so we'll see how he gets on.
"Mike Stephens is still a little bit tender. I expect him to not be available for the game."
Meanwhile, Razvan Cocis is working his way back into the squad and adds to a long list of midfielders for Yallop to consider for upcoming team selections.
"He's another one that's been out for a long time, but he's looked sharp when he came back. I thought he did well on the weekend in the game we had. He'll be pushing for a spot too.
"It's always good. It's never good for the players, but it's good for a coach to have options and pick the ones that you think are going to get it done in training and games when they get a chance.
"It's a good dilemma to have. Hopefully I'll pick the right guys that are going to get us a win."
Vying for spots
As noted above, it's been no secret that with this year's offseason acquisitions, the new blood is paving the way for competition for roster places, a missing component in Fire teams of late.
With Jason Johnson's smooth transition bearing fruit and Víctor Perez steadily acclimating to the speed of MLS, the emergence of Yallop's midfield is drawing deserved attention and supplying the second-year head coach with some much-needed optimism.
The praise is similarly being heaped onto defenders Patrick Doody, on loan to St. Louis, and Eric Gehrig.
"[Patrick] Doody's done well," Yallop said. "We liked him a lot in preseason. It's great for him to go full-time to St. Louis to get a lot of playing time down there, and he's done well. He's one for the future for us.
"Eric Gehrig's slotted in nicely at right back. I played him a lot at center back in preseason because of the injuries we had.
"We're pretty healthy in those outside areas right now with JJ [Joevin Jones], Greg Cochrane, Doody, Lovel [Palmer] and Eric. It's pretty solid."
The Men in Red return to action against expansion side New York City FC on Friday at Toyota Park. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.