With Arne Friedrich out, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba finally gel to spark Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire center backs Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba have hit a few bumps in the road as a tandem this season, and that's no surprise.

The pair of 24-year-olds, who had a combined three years of experience entering 2013, were thrown together just before the first game of the season when veteran Arne Friedrich went down with an injury. Now, after six games together, their partnership has grown, and the mistakes have become much less frequent.

“We've been working hard to build something great between the two of us,” Anibaba told MLSsoccer.com. “I think the willingness is there between the two of us and it's a matter of time before our partnership is totally a cohesive unit.”

The Fire notched their second shutout of the season against Columbus on Saturday. After a few hiccups early that let to some nervous moments, Anibaba and Berry had a solid outing, consistently keeping speedy former Fire forward Dominic Oduro in front of them.

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Throughout most of the season, one or two mistakes per game have cost the Fire. And when Friedrich had setbacks with his hamstring injury, concern about the back line grew. But the pair has come through in the German's absence.

“I think it was just a matter of these guys to start maturing,” left back Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “It's key for us that they communicate a lot. They can see the entire field from there and they basically control everything … Little by little, they're improving and getting looser in matters of communication. For me, that's key to do better.”

The Fire still miss Friedrich's offensive acumen. The German knows when to make the perfect pass out of the back or when to charge forward to support the offense. Improvement on the ball, heads coach Frank Klopas thinks, is the next step in Berry and Anibaba's development.

“Now, I think we want to know that we have the ability out of the back to play, and play quicker and combine, and I think that's the next thing,” Klopas said. “They've got to have the confidence now also not only to defend well but to want the ball, making the right passes and making sure the decisions they're making are good ones.”

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The duo is still growing together on the defensive end, and Friedrich's return date is still uncertain. But despite a rocky first month of the season, Klopas thinks Berry and Anibaba will be better off in the long term for this experience.

“The tactical work in training helps, but then also the games that they play because they learn from mistakes,” Klopas said. “No one's perfect, and I think that's the case from these guys. With anyone, you're going to continue to make mistakes for sure, but you hope that you're learning from the games that you're playing.”

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