BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Jeff Larentowicz may be a veteran, but he's settling into a position that's a little foreign to him.
After playing the majority of his career next to either Shalrie Joseph or Pablo Mastroeni, two of the top holding midfielders in MLS history, Larentowicz was alone as a defensive midfielder last year in Colorado for the first extended period. This year, the Chicago Fire are asking him to play behind Joel Lindpere, and he admits he misses his offensive responsibilities a little bit.
“For me, I always like going forward, I always like to attack. But I'm comfortable with both roles,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “When it's two more defensive-minded [players], the load is shared. But now, I'm the one that's expected to sit deeper and Joel or whoever sits in there is expected to create in front of me. Instead of a give and take where we're trading off, it's more of a solid role where I'm back defensively.”
The move has been a distinct shift for Frank Klopas's team, which played with two holding midfielders for several years, most recently with Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo manning the center of the field last season.
While Lindpere played on the left side for the last two years in New York, Klopas immediately pegged him as a central attacking midfielder.
“When I don't get the ball, I think I lose my quality,” Lindpere told MLSsoccer.com. “It takes time when me and Jeff can work more together because I always want to get the ball from my midfield partner … I think I do the best job in the middle, in the center. I like to get the ball and be involved.”
The partnership hasn't worked to perfection just yet during an 0-2-0 start, and Klopas made it clear he's not married to this particular lineup.
Logan Pause or Daniel Paladini could slide into a midfield spot, allowing Larentowicz more freedom to roam forward. There's a good chance that scenario will play out on March 24 when Lindpere misses the Fire's game against Chivas USA due to his call-up to the Estonian national team.
But patience, Larentowicz said, will be important if the Fire central midfield duo is going to become a force.
“I'm taking on the role, I understand it, and I'm trying to get better,” Larentowicz said. “The first time I met Joel is the first day, so it's a relationship that has to grow. In very few cases do you step on the field and you get it, it just clicks, so we're going to continue to build on it and it's going to continue to grow.”