Cuesta, Gibbs anchoring resurgent defense in Chicago
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The veteran has an Ivy League education, is accomplished abroad, has US national team experience and is a locker-room leader.
The youngster comes from Colombia, is very raw, is still learning English and jokes around so much that his teammates call him “el loco.”
On the surface, Chicago Fire center backs Cory Gibbs, 31, and Yamith Cuesta, 22, are worlds apart. But on the field, they make the perfect pair, anchoring the middle of Chicago’s resurgent — and, recently, dominant — back four.
In the 10 games since Gibbs and Cuesta have started playing together, the Fire have given up just nine goals and recorded four shutouts. The center-back duo has been a big part of that turnaround, learning each other’s games and limiting opposing forwards to just four goals during the stretch.
“It’s been going really well,” Gibbs (above right) told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “Everything takes time to build upon and we’ve had that time, we’ve had those games, we’ve had those trainings to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities and I think the tandem’s been good.”
A main reason for the pair’s success is their solid on-field chemistry. Gibbs has been teaching Cuesta — who, citing his English, declined to be interviewed for the story — the tricks of the trade, keeping the third-year player focused as he learns to harness his tremendous physical talent.
“It’s like a married couple,” Gibbs added. “You’re not the same and you can be complete opposites but you mesh well. We call Cuesta the loco of the team, the crazy boy. I’m alongside of him, keeping him focused and letting his athletic ability get him places. He’s growing tremendously fast on the mental side and technically he’s sound. He’s putting those little things behind him that can be negative at times and I think the chemistry’s gone well.”
The mentor role is a comfortable one for Gibbs — who has also grown close to, and is helping develop, rookie Fire defender Jalil Anibaba.
“It’s great,” Gibbs said when asked how he feels about bringing Cuesta along. “We always go through that combination, especially on a lot of teams I’ve been a part of or that I’ve known about. Myself and Eddie Pope [when I was] growing up [with the USMNT] and at Feyenoord Rotterdam I was with a vet, so it’s always that good mix. We play hand in hand with each other and I’m teaching him things and getting some stuff from him also. We’ve just learned to play together well.”
Not that Gibbs is satisfied with where he and Cuesta are. He wants the duo to keep improving as the Fire make their push for the MLS Cup playoffs, for which Gibbs has never qualified.
“We’ve done well but at times we can improve,” Gibbs said. “We just need to stay mentally focused and get as many shutouts for [goalkeeper Sean Johnson] as possible. You give up a goal, you don’t like it and definitely the goal against Chivas [in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw] didn’t need to be given up. So giving up less goals and staying mentally sharp is our main focus right now.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.