BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Moving on from center back Arne Friedrich has been difficult for the Chicago Fire, but it may be necessary.
The Fire have held out hope all season that their defensive leader would return from hamstring and hip injuries, and he's been tantalizingly close to a return a few times. But now that Friedrich is back in Germany for just over a month and the Fire have Bakary Soumare filling his spot, hopes for the German's return may be on the back burner.
“It's always hard when you're missing a guy like Arne, with how important he was for us and how much better he made us in the back,” defender Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “A player of his caliber is always somebody you're going to miss.
"But over these last couple of months, we've had to move on. We don't have to keep waiting and waiting. The games are still coming by, so we have to be ready, even if he's not capable of going. Now that we have Baky coming into the team, he definitely has stepped up and he makes us better defensively.”
Imminent retirement, however, does not seem to be in Friedrich's plans. The two-time World Cup veteran plans on returning on July 1, when the Fire will have 19 games remaining.
“We're trying everything,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “We're trying different things with our medical staff, and this is something we've talked about.”
But after holding out for almost three months without signing a center back to replace Friedrich, the Fire are finally ready to move forward.
Soumare is set to make his second start in two games with the Fire when they take on D.C. United at Toyota Park on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas).
The Fire have missed Friedrich's ability to join in the attack and make deep passes out of the back. Soumare, an MLS Best XI selection in 2008, gives Chicago a skilled, experienced defender who has the ability to make smart forward passes.
“Frank is very big on building up from the back, and defenders playing those through balls, skipping the midfield and going directly forwards,” Segares said. “I think having him there improves us in that sense. Also, he has a lot of experience, playing on the national team, playing in France and Germany, a guy who definitely has seen a lot of playing itme in big-time leagues against very good players.”
The Fire floundered through the first 11 games of the season, lamenting Friedrich's absence throughout.
But starting with Sunday's game against D.C., they will play four straight home games, including an Open Cup fixture. With two new players in tow, Chicago have an opportunity to make a sorely-needed ascent up the standings.
“I feel that getting Baky and getting Mike [Magee], two very good players with a lot of experience definitely helped improve the team, giving us more options,” Segares said. “Now, we've got a few here at home that we've got to take advantage of.”