BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire may have finally found their defensive mix.
They made plenty of mistakes when they allowed five goals during the first three games with center back Arne Friedrich in the lineup, trying to integrate the German World Cup veteran with Corey Gibbs sidelined through injury.
But things have suddenly changed. Rookie center back Austin Berry has stepped into the middle of the Fire defense, partnering with Friedrich the last two games, and Chicago have allowed just one goal.
Their most recent effort? A 0-0 tie against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park on Wednesday, a game in which goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s net was rarely threatened.
“We’re definitely maturing with every game that passes,” left back Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday night’s shutout. “I think Arne is feeling better physically. You can tell that he’s feeling more confident. Austin has done great to step in. He’s had two pretty strong games over there.”
Friedrich hadn’t played in six months when he suited up in a 1-1 tie against Houston on April 15, and he stated repeatedly that it would take time for him to return to top form.
It looks like he’s nearly there.
“I’m not 100 percent, but it’s definitely better than it was in the beginning,” Friedrich said. “I feel better every game. A couple more games and I’ll get the 100 percent. I feel good.”
After suffering an injury late in preseason, it took Berry a few weeks to get to 100 percent himself. With incumbent starter Jalil Anibaba serving a one-game suspension against Chivas USA, the rookie seized his opportunity in his first start by scoring a goal and playing well defensively in last Friday’s 2-1 win.
He was solid once again against RSL.
“[Berry] looked pretty solid in preseason, then he got injured and it took him a little while to come back, trying to get his fitness and his confidence back up,” Segares said. “I think as the coaches keep giving him the opportunities, he’s going to get better and better. I’m really happy for him because he’s done well.”
Right back Dan Gargan struggled with a foot injury early in the season, and that injury flared up again in the second half on Wednesday. Although he said he didn’t ask to leave the game, Gargan was taken out for Anibaba in the 51st minute.
The second-year player was the Fire’s regular right back last season before Gargan arrived in mid-July, and he played well in Gargan’s stead.
Gargan thinks he’ll be ready for Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, where the Fire hope to extend their 157-minute shutout streak.
“I really didn’t think Chivas had anything going in the run of play and tonight we got the shutout,” Gargan said. “I think it’s been a lot better over the last couple of games. I think we’re heading in the right direction defensively. It’s a good confidence booster for the defense.”
HIGHLIGHTS: CHI vs RSL