Even though the Chicago Fire were outfitted in blue rather than their familiar red for the Carolina Cup Challenge 1-0 win on Wednesday over Columbus, Crew midfielder Eric Gehrig had a pinch-me moment playing against the club he followed for years.
“Me and my family had tickets for the Fire at Soldier Field growing up,” the Schererville, Ill., resident told MLSsoccer.com. “I met all the old Fire legends. It was a team I grew up rooting for, obviously, and played for in the PDL.
“It was pretty surreal and crazy seeing the Fire logo on the team you’re playing against,” he added. “But at the end of the day, I play for the Crew. You get down to business once you get on the field.”
Gehrig, in his second season with the Crew after a four-year career at Loyola Chicago, started the second half for centerback Chad Marshall in the loss to the Fire that dropped the Crew to 0-1-1 in the tournament, with the final match Saturday against D.C. United in Charleston, S.C.
There were a bevy of player movements for both sides as the coaches try to finalize their rosters, but Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said that can’t be an excuse for some of his team’s messy play in the second half.
“Everybody knows the situations,” he said. “We’ve played well for the most part. Sometimes we get caught ball watching. There’s no off switch.”
While several rookies are trying to state their cases as the March 10 season opener gets closer, Gehrig is in a much better position than his first camp a year ago when he was an unknown.
He made eight appearances [four starts] in 2011, with time spent at holding midfield and in the central defense. He has been used almost exclusively at one spot this year.
“I’ve been playing a lot of centerback,” he said. “I played one day of practice at holding mid and a little bit against the College of Charleston [this week], but that’s been it.”
He’s cognizant of the differences between a year ago and now.
“Last year, I was just trying to make the make team,” Gehrig said. “It’s only my second year and not being a rookie, and with all the rookies we have it, it definitely feels like I’ve been around for awhile. I’m trying to help [the rookies] out, listen and be a good teammate. ”