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Chicago Fire benefitting from Jeff Larentowicz's versatility in central midfield

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz's role changes by the week.

One game, he's free to roam forward with the comfort of having Logan Pause focus on the team's defensive midfield duties. The next, he has to switch off with Daniel Paladini as the two give-and-take defensive responsibilities throughout the game.

Last week, in Chicago's 2-0 win over D.C. United, attacking midfielder Alex was Larentowicz's partner in the middle of the field, leaving him to keep track of Dwayne De Rosario.

“It puts me in more of a defensive role with Alex in there lately,” Larentowicz told MLSsocer.com. “When it's Logan and I, he's more of the defensive one, and I can feel free to go forward and back.”

Larentowicz was able to make a few long, accurate passes out of the midfield on Sunday while Alex roamed behind the forwards, and the Fire were able to contain De Rosario for the most part.

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But their ability to hold the ball was still an issue. While Klopas seemed to think the chasm in possession, with the Fire holding only 37 percent, was misleading, he wasn't completely satisfied with how they played through the midfield.

“Initially, playing out of transition, we weren't great,” he said. “That initial ball, we forced it a lot of times. But anytime we got into a rhythm, we were the more dangerous team. Sometimes you give possession, but where really is the team possessing the ball? That's something, talking about players like Alex, when you put him on the field, that's one of the reasons. You want to have guys that you feel that make that part of the game become better. That doesn't always happen right away.”

The Fire may start the same central midfield pairing Saturday against the Portland Timbers (8:30 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week), or Klopas could choose to insert Paladini, who returned from an injury to play 16 minutes on Sunday.

If Alex does play, Larentowicz's assignment should be fairly similar to Sunday's. He'll have to communicate with the center backs to make sure playmaker Diego Valeri is marked, and he'll have to help disrupt a possession-oriented Portland attack.

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“You definitely have to be aware of where their midfielders are,” Larentowicz said. “They have an active midfielder always kind of moving, interchanging. I think the movement creates possession for them. For us, if we're able to get the ball and get the ball in the spots where we want to, I think we'll be able to break beyond them.”

Even if the Fire stick to what Klopas professed to them in film sessions and practices, they probably won't look like the more creative team, and they'll probably lose the possession battle.
But for a team that's struggling to claw its way back into the playoff race, none of that really matters to the Fire.

“For us, at this point, it's about winning games,” Larentowicz said. “It might not look like we're controlling the game. But if we go to our game plan and get the ball in the spots that we want to, then I think we'll be okay.”