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Middle Men: Chicago Fire still searching for right pairing in central midfield

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Head coach Frank Yallop faces yet another central midfield conundrum as he prepares his Chicago Fire for the visit of LA Galaxy to Toyota Park this Sunday (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

With veteran Logan Pause ruled out with a tight hamstring and Alex only returning to training this week, Yallop has a big call to make on who partners captain Jeff Larentowicz in the center of midfield.

Larentowicz, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are the only Fire players to play every minute of the side’s 11 games so far this season.

The 30-year-old has been a pivotal performer in the Fire engine room and has shared midfield duties with a host of players including Pause, Alex, Matt Watson and Benji Joya. But who gets the call is open to debate as Yallop admitted at Toyota Park on Thursday.

“I honestly don’t know, it depends on the game,” Yallop said. “Logan’s out now and he really had a chance of playing but he’s got a tight hamstring so he’s not playing. Matty Watson has played and played well, maybe not as much lately, and we’ve got other choices in there like Benji and Chris Ritter.”

While the Fire have been impressive offensively this year with 19 goals, they have struggled to contain teams and have yet to keep a clean sheet. Finding the right balance between defense and attack has eluded Yallop and his team thus far, but it is something he is focused on improving.

“I want to make sure we try to get to a point where we’re still playing our stuff going forward, but we’ve got to tighten it up, not just at the back, but defensively [through midfield],” he acknowledged. “That’s a big key for me, making sure that we have the right balance, I keep saying that, but we’ve got to do it right.”

While Larentowicz has been a mainstay in the team, he does not think having a different partner every other game has been detrimental to his or the side’s form.

He said: “It is different with each guy obviously, from Matt to Alex to Benji and Logan as well. It changes what I do slightly, but being around those guys every day you know what their tendencies are so it’s not that tough to adjust.”

Mike Magee is expected to be ruled out for a second game running with a tight calf, so Yallop is expected to run with Juan Luis Anangono alongside Quincy Amarikwa if he opts for his traditional 4-4-2 formation.

“They are similar players, we don’t really have another player that plays like Mike, who can be underneath the forward, sort of crafting and creating opportunities, finding space,” Larentowicz said of Amarikwa and Anangono.

“Quincy and Juan are straight-up forwards, they like to run in behind central defenders and have the ball served in the box to them. They’ll have to put pressure on the backline, they’ll have to help us get the team up.”