BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire center back Austin Berry is one of three field players in MLS to play every minute of the 2013 season.
If only he had a partner in the middle of the defense who could say the same.
Bakary Soumare will be out of Saturday's game against Montreal with his second red-card suspension in the last five weeks, and coach Frank Klopas might insert the Fire's sixth different starting center back of the season, depending on whether he goes with Jeff Larentowicz or Hunter Jumper.
“I'll try both in training,” Klopas told reporters after Tuesday's practice. “When we went down with the red card, down 1-0, we knew that Jeff could play that, and we had the players on the field where, instead of bringing in another defender in, we could move things around, we could push the game and try to get a goal back.”
Larentowicz, who started Saturday's 3-0 loss to Columbus in midfield, moved to center back after Soumare was ejected. Klopas was pleased with what he saw from the 30-year-old, who played the position in college and throughout his first few years in the league.
“You can tell he's played there before,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “He knows what to say, he knows where to move, he knows how to cover, so it makes my job easier having a guy that has experience at the position too. So it should be good. I have full confidence in him.”
Jumper was the choice when Soumare was unavailable a month ago, when the Fire beat Kansas City on Aug. 23 to register their only shutout since June 2. The second-year defender also scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win.
Berry is confident that the Fire will be in good hands if Jumper, also his roommate, starts next to him.
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“He just needs to keep doing what he's doing if he comes in,” Berry said. “If he gets the opportunity to play, he'll be fine. He's played plenty of games, he's old enough now.”
Soumare is only one yellow card away from another suspension, so whoever starts in his place on Saturday might play center back again soon. If Larentowicz slides back, either Logan Pause or Alex will slip into a central midfield spot, depending on Klopas' tactical leanings of the day.
Without a doubt, the Fire are forced to shuffle without Soumare. But after struggling for the first few months of the season to find a proper complement to Berry, Klopas is confident that he has more than enough worthy options.
“Jeff showed that he could step in there, he's played there in big games before, he's comfortable,” Klopas said. “We'll just have to see what makes the most sense.”