BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – When Arne Friedrich went down with a hamstring injury against Sporting Kansas City on May 12, Chicago head coach Frank Klopas seemed confident putting the inexperienced pairing of rookie Austin Berry and second-year defender Jalil Anibaba in the middle of the Fire defense.
Klopas' gambit hasn’t worked out as planned, though. While they've had their moments, with Berry and Anibaba starting at center back the Fire have given up 10 goals in their past five games.
That in turn makes Friedrich's return quite important if Chicago are to keep up their push for a playoff spot. And he's hoping it comes in the Fire’s next game on June 17 against New York, the only team in MLS to average two goals per game, but he’s not certain that will happen.
“[The New York game] is our target,” Friedrich said on Wednesday. “If I feel a little weakness in my physical strength or if I don’t feel the freshness, I can say one week later because we don’t want to take any risk. But my target is definitely to play New York.”
Friedrich emphasized early in the season that it was important for him to become game fit after he went five months without playing a game.
In the games leading up to his injury, the former German international defender expressed that he was honing in 100 percent fitness. Now, he feels like he’s starting back at square one.
“This is always bad, because when I got my injury, I was at probably 80 percent of my physical strength,” Friedrich said. “It was pretty sad from me that I had to start from, I guess, 50 percent again. I was out for three, maybe four weeks, and it’s tough for the body, as well as the head.”
It’s been tough for Friedrich to watch his teammates struggle from the bench during a 1-4-0 stretch. He’s hoping he won’t have to do that anymore.
“We lost many points in the league, and our target is to reach the playoffs,” Friedrich said. “I’m almost back, and the toughest part is behind me I guess.”