BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The big moves appear to be done for the Chicago Fire, with the last major pieces in place for a team that hopes to make a strong playoff playoff push.
And while starters Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko are unlikely to play in Saturday's game in New England (7:30 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week), recently arrived Designated Players Arévalo Ríos and Juan Luis Anangonó should start for a team that has been revamped and renewed over the last few months.
“There is a confidence,” coach Frank Klopas said. “Early on, when you don't have the ability to get results, you go through a tough time, you feel that it's hard to win. Now, there's a different feeling within the group that results will come.”
Rolfe missed practice late this week with hamstring tendinitis, and signs point to him taking Saturday's game off. So Anangonó is likely to make his second MLS start on Saturday, where he'll start alongside Mike Magee, who missed last week's game with a calf injury, for the first time.
The league's leading goalscorer should see some benefits to playing alongside a hold-up forward like the 6-foot-1, 170 pound Ecuadorian.
“He's got size,” Magee said. “He's a big guy, he worked hard. I thought he did well [last Saturday against Montreal]. Obviously there's some growing pains and usually it takes guys awhile to grow accustomed to the league, but I think he'll adapt quickly … Usually it frees us up a little more because he'll hold it up and we'll make runs off of him, which I'm hoping is the case.”
In the midfield, Nyarko will almost certainly miss Saturday's game after taking a knock to the head in last week's US Open Cup loss to D.C. United, and Dilly Duka may be impaired after hurting his ankle on Saturday against Montreal.
But the Fire were able to sign Ríos after clearing an international spot this week, and with his ITC fully processed, he's available to play this weekend, and he'll likely start alongside Jeff Larentowicz.
While Frank Klopas has made a point of saying Ríos has experience playing box-to-box and as a defensive midfielder, Larentowicz sees him as the latter.
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“I think it'll give me a little more freedom to go forward if possible,” Larentowicz said. “He's just another guy to be able to play off of in possession in the midfield. I think we've done pretty well creating goals but holding onto the ball, maybe not as much. I think he probably adds in that aspect, and you can go forward and feel comfortable going forward without having to come back.”
If Chicago are able to win for the eighth time in 11 games on Saturday, they'll climb over .500 for the first time this season and have a chance to jump into a playoff spot if Houston lose or tie against Seattle.
“We're in a good place, we fought really hard to get here, and it's almost like it's a new season,” Klopas said. “It's 12 games left, and I think it's really up to us. It's in our hands.”