BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The players may be similar, but the difference between this year's Chicago Fire team and last year's has been striking. Last year, the Fire showed a propensity to come back from early deficits, but in 2013, they've shown a tendency to commit late-game lapses.
After their 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, one name came to the tip of coach Frank Klopas' tongue when asked what the biggest difference has been from last season.
"We are missing Arne Friedrich in the back for sure, 100 percent," Klopas said. "His ability to communicate and over 90 minutes his ability to dictate the backline when to move up and stay connected with the team. He is really good with his feet and plays the right balls at the right time out of pressure. It is huge. We are making some mistakes that are hurting us. We miss Friedrich's leadership on a play like today."
The German center back has been out for the entire season with a hamstring injury, and there is no timetable for his return to the field. Friedrich was a steadying influence in the back last year, and his skill and knowledge of the game are unparalleled on the Fire roster.
Without their defensive general, Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry have manned the middle of Chicago's backline in eight of nine games this season. While the 24-year-olds have improved game-by-game, hiccups in the back have been commonplace, as they were on Saturday.
In an otherwise steady performance, the Fire defenders lost track of forward Jack McInerney in the 75th minute, who was sprung by a quick free kick from Sébastien Le Toux and tipped home the only goal of the game.
"It was just a quick restart and we didn't step in front of the ball so they couldn't take it quick and we kind of lost McInerney when he got in behind," Berry said. "It's pretty frustrating, especially considering how we were playing up to that point, putting a lot of pressure on them and getting chances."
The play was yet another example of how a steady veteran influence could have affected the Fire and salvaged at least one point. But captain Logan Pause doesn't agree with his coach that Friedrich's return would be the answer to what ails them.
"As much as we miss his experience, we've got guys that are capable and have shown game in and game out what they're capable of and how well they perform for the team," Pause said. "Of course when you lose a game, it's easy to go searching for answers, but that's not one of them."