BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Frank Klopas' lineup decisions won't be easy heading into Sunday's game in Houston. And for once, that's a good thing for the Chicago Fire.
The Men in Red were racked by injuries for the first month of the season, which made filling out a lineup card painstaking work for Klopas, but they are finally close to full strength for Sunday's game against the Houston Dynamo (5 pm ET, UniMas).
“I'm hoping to have everyone ready to make our decisions more difficult,” Klopas said. “With these guys being close to being ready for the team, I think that gives us a lot more.”
After struggling to find the right mix during the club's 0-3-1 start to the season, mixing and matching players with a different lineup every game, Klopas was forced into using an odd lineup on Sunday.
Daniel Paladini and Joel Lindpere, who both played centrally throughout the early part of the season, played out wide because Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka were out. Logan Pause slid into his natural defensive midfield role after spending the entire season at right back.
And it worked. Paladini had a goal and two assists in the Fire's 3-1 win, and Pause held down the defensive midfield while Lindpere performed admirably out wide.
“We didn't have a lot of options,” Klopas said. “I think they played well. Danny was involved with all of the goals. … We did a very good job defensively. That block of eight got behind the ball and defended really well.”
Given that Chicago are likely to play a defensive game in Houston, where they'll try to break the Dynamo's record 34-game home unbeaten streak, Paladini and Pause are safe bets to start.
With Nyarko coming back, that could leave Lindpere on the outside looking in. Additionally, Arne Friedrich is hoping to return for Sunday's game, meaning Jalil Anibaba could also slide to right back for Wells Thompson, who could be relegated to the bench after making two straight starts.
Maicon Santos scored two goals on Sunday to make his case to start ahead of Sherjill MacDonald up top, so the Fire know that no spot is safe.
And at this point of the season, Chicago is happy to give Klopas so many options.
“It's going to be interesting,” Nyarko said. “This is when you wish you were not a coach and you just leave it for the coaches to make those decisions. But it's good for the team, healthy competition.”