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Frank Klopas chides Fire on its transition defense

Recent signee Federico Puppo says coaches have told Fire’s strikers they “have defend together.” | CHICAGO FIRE

Recent signee Federico Puppo says the coaches have told the Fire’s strikers they “have to defend together.” | CHICAGO FIRE

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Updated: March 18, 2012 8:19AM

For the most part, Fire coach Frank Klopas has put a positive spin on the training camp that started at the end of January.

But for the first time, Klopas was slightly critical of his team in a conference call Thursday.

Despite the Fire’s having given up only three goals in five preseason games, Klopas put his team on notice that its transition defense must improve.

“It’s also about the right attitude in transition. When we don’t have the ball, we [want to] have guys committed to working hard,” Klopas said. “This is something that we’ve been stressing from the beginning of camp and this is the one thing that really has to get better.”

That improvement needs to start with the Fire’s most important offensive players.

This offseason the club signed Uruguayan striker Federico Puppo, who was brought in primarily to add speed up top. The idea behind the signing was that the 5-8 Puppo would help put pressure on goaltenders with his technical skill in space.

However, Klopas has stressed defense as much as offense to his strikers.

“[Klopas] says a lot to us because we are the first defenders,” Puppo said. “So we also have to be together. We have to defend together.”

If the Fire are able to possess the ball and defend in the offensive half of the field, that will open the game up for players such as Puppo.

Klopas has focused on his team’s defense but hasn’t ignored the offensive benefits of players who play with pace and beat opponents in space.

Any short-term improvement on defense will have to come without goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who will leave for a 10-day training camp with the U.S. National U-23 Team.

“It’s good for him to be here,” Klopas said. “But at least he’ll be in an environment where he’s training at a high level.”

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