BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire had experience at every position heading into the 2012 season, but that didn’t stop them from adding pieces.
Chicago grabbed both Brazilian midfielder Alex and former Fire hero Chris Rolfe in April, and then traded for Álvaro Fernández (above), who plays the same outside midfield position as Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko, two of the players that Klopas lauded as the Fire’s top performers early in the season.
“It’s all about depth,” Klopas said. “No one’s going to be able to play every game at the top level. It’s all about creating the right environment.”
While Alex and Rolfe were added in part to ease concerns about Sebastián Grazzini (who left the team last month) and Marco Pappa (who will leave the team after this season), the club now has a surplus of experienced backups at almost every position with 10 regular-season games remaining. And that depth has already reaped benefits.
Patrick Nyarko started last Saturday in a 2-1 win over New England instead of Pappa, who played a midweek game with the Guatemalan national team just three days earlier. On Wednesday, Pappa will likely start against D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) after Nyarko aggravated a back and hamstring injury. In early September, Pappa will head off to two World Cup qualifying games, and Nyarko will likely regain that starting spot.
“It’s good that you have that kind of flexibility,” Klopas said. “Now, you have someone who can come off and have a big impact in a game, whether it’s Marco or Patrick or Flaco.”
The attacking midfield isn’t the only area where the Fire have former starters playing in backup roles. Dominic Oduro started 21 games this season, but he’s been coming off the bench recently for newly-acquired striker and Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald.
Dan Gargan, who has started 17 games this year, is coming off the bench for right back Jalil Anibaba, who can slide over to center back if veteran Arne Friedrich or rookie Austin Berry need a break.
With five games remaining against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race, including Wednesday’s game against fifth-place D.C., the ability to withstand injuries or fatigue without drop-offs will be crucial.
“It looks very nice in the table now [and] in the standings, Friedrich told MLSsoccer.com, "but we need endurance because the season is long."