Recently retired Eric Gehrig embracing new role as assistant coach

Recently retired Eric Gehrig embracing new role as assistant coach

Gearing up for a Chicago Fire matchday is nothing new for Eric Gehrig, but his role is different this year.

After spending the last two years as a defender for the Fire, Gehrig was on the sideline of Saturday's season opener in Columbus as an assistant coach.

"It's different, but I realize how lucky I am to get this opportunity to coach in MLS," Gehrig said.

Gehrig made 25 starts in 2015, his first season with the Fire, and was named the club's defender of the year. Last season did not go as smoothly for Gehrig, who was injured to start the season and struggled to find playing time after he came back. He made five appearances, three starts, in MLS play and the Fire declined his option after the season.

At 29, Gehrig wasn't expecting to end his playing career yet. He still had opportunities to play, but the Fire approached him with something different.

"I had a checklist of things I wanted in my next move as a player and then out of nowhere this opportunity came up," Gehrig said. "I had a few days to think about it and I talked it over with my family and my loved ones and I just thought that whether I retire in a year, two years, three years, then I don't know if I'd have this opportunity. Of course no one wants to shut the door on their playing career, but I also realized one day it's going to happen. I just don't know I'll have an opportunity of this magnitude down the road."

Logan Pause, another former Fire player, was an assistant coach last year, but left for a job with expansion team Los Angeles FC. Pause is heading LAFC's USL affiliate, Orange County SC, and will be an assistant on the LAFC staff next year when that club debuts. Gehrig filled that opening, but Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said they had already been considering adding Gehrig in another role.

"It's not something that we did because Logan left," Paunovic said. "Even when Logan was here, as I said, we were discussing if Eric in the future could help. We believe that he is happy with that opportunity that he could help the team and the staff and obviously the club. When we had the opportunity to speak with him he was thrilled."

Gehrig is from Chicagoland and played collegiately at Loyola. He is a big fan of Chicago sports teams and when it comes to the Fire, as he put it, he "grew up with the club." Staying home was a part of the decision and he said the only negative was ending his playing career.

He was with the Fire on the first day of preseason training in Chicago. Gehrig was initially a coaching trialist.

"He wanted to give it a try and during the preseason everything went very good," Paunovic said. "In this role I believe he's doing very well. He's also developing, learning. He's very helpful to the staff and right now we see him as a very important part of our staff."

Both sides were happy with how things were going when Gehrig was with the team in the preseason. The move became official on Feb. 15.

"It's a hard decision, but you got to make the decisions that work for you and are good for your life long-term," Gehrig said. "That's the decision I made. I sat down with both Pauno and Nelson. We had a good conversation before it all came about. After that I was pretty much sold."

[MORE FIRE: GM Nelson Rodriguez says Fire are searching for 'another impact player']

At 29, Gehrig is younger than six players on the Fire's roster. However, he thinks the familiarity with most of the players is beneficial.

"I feel last year as a veteran player, in a way I was essentially coach," Gehrig said. “Obviously I wasn't their coach, but I always did leading and directing on the field, especially from my position. It hasn't been that much of a transition for me to be honest."

Gehrig said he is still learning a lot about being a coach, but added he is becoming "more comfortable every day."

Paunovic saw Gehrig as a good fit as a coach and had conversations along those lines when Gehrig was a player.

"Last year I remember when I spoke with him, I told him if I were a player and I met you when I was a player for sure we would be very good teammates," Paunovic said. "Because I like his communication, his values, he is very honest. His approach is very direct."

While Gehrig is assimilating to his new role as a coach, the Fire do only have seven defenders under contract currently. If the Fire run into bad luck with injuries to the back line and are thin in numbers, would Gehrig consider a temporary return in the case of an emergency?

"We haven't talked about that at all, but of course I'm not opposed to ever doing that," Gehrig said. "I'm focusing on the coaching thing. I'm embracing it. I'm swallowing all those feelings of me wanting to play, which to be honest there haven't been that many."

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

MLS announced on Tuesday that the Chicago Fire’s first game back after the season was suspended due to COVID-19 has been postponed.

The Fire were supposed to play Nashville SC on Wednesday in their opening Group A match of the MLS is Back tournament. But since arriving in Orlando for the tournament, five Nashville players tested positive for COVID-19 and four others received inclusive results, requiring more testing. As a result, MLS is now evaluating Nashville’s participation in the tournament.

The Fire will now return to play on July 14 against Inter Miami CF.

The Fire also announced that the Drive-In Matchday event that was scheduled for Wednesday’s game has been rescheduled for their July 19 game against New York City FC. Fans who registered for that event will have the opportunity to sign-up again for the new date.

This is the second Chicago pro sports match altered as leagues try to return to play. The Chicago Red Stars also had a game cancelled in late June due to Orlando Pride players testing positive for COVID-19.

As MLB, the NHL and the NBA gear up to return it remains to be seen how they will react in a similar situation.

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MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

USA Today

MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

MLS soccer is coming back this summer.

The league announced a plan to have all 26 MLS clubs resume play on July 8 with a league-wide “MLS is Back Tournament.”

The games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, without fans in the stands.

Here’s how it will work:

Clubs can arrive in Orlando to begin training on June 24. Then a group stage will begin July 8 followed by a knockout stage, starting July 25.

There will be six groups, three for each the Western and Eastern Conferences. The group stage draw will occur on June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Each team will play three group stage matches, and the results from those games will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings.

Then the top two teams from each group, plus the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage. That stage starts with a round-of-16, followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and then the championship game. The championship game will be played on August 11.

In case of a tie at the end of regulation in the knockout stage, games will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

The winner of the tournament will earn a berth in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

At the conclusion of the tournament, MLS will resume its regular season followed by the MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup.

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