BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Joel Lindpere isn't used to coming off the bench, but that's exactly what he did over the Fire's last three games before Saturday's 4-1 win over D.C. United.
He didn't like waiting for his turn.
Training with the second team, coming on as a sub, and playing in just a handful of reserve matches just isn't enough for the Estonian, who only came off the bench eight times in 97 games during his three years with the New York Red Bulls. He asked the coaches for extra training after practice and he's pushed himself to stay match fit and in form, but that still wasn't quite enough to appease him.
“I think I try to stay involved and ask, 'Can I do more?'” Lindpere said. “I see that the guys who don't play, they have so much free time and so much freedom, and I try to push myself and push others to get fitness and practice.
"When you're normally not in the lineup, then you can enjoy and relax every day, and that's not how it should not be. The last two weeks, really, I've been not training very hard because I don't have too much to do in the practices because the first team is concentrating on their things, and that's the thing when you've got to push yourself more.”
When he has made it onto the field, Lindpere has taken advantage of his precious minutes.
With midfielder Patrick Nyarko out with a case of strep throat for Saturday's game against D.C. United, Lindpere stepped into the starting lineup and dished out two pinpoint assists to Chris Rolfe and scored a goal of his own. Lindpere also had two assists in his previous start, on June 22 against Columbus, and he notched another after coming on as a sub in the Fire's loss to Vancouver last Sunday.
“We have talked throughout the season about guys needing to [perform] when the opportunity comes and Joel is an experienced guy,” coach Frank Klopas said after Saturday's win. “I have 100 percent confidence in Joel when he comes into the game and his work rate and all that stuff he showed tonight.”
Despite his strong play, regaining a spot in the Fire's lineup may be an uphill battle. With Nyarko returning to the lineup and a new Designated Player forward set to join the team this week, attacking spots in the starting lineup will be difficult to come by.
Lindpere isn't satisfied with his role, but he's been lauded for his positivity by teammates throughout his spell out of the first 11.
“Like most of the guys in this locker room, he’s had a great team spirit, he’s been very positive and that helps,” Rolfe said. “It shows when he comes in tonight and does a great job.”
With the scant amount of Reserve League games, finding form and fitness hasn't been easy for Lindpere. But for now, he's proving his worth and helping the team in whatever way he's asked, even if that means coming off the bench.
“I've been playing in every single game this year, taking part, but it's more the guys, you see the young guys and the subs who are maybe getting such little minutes they are starving. They've got to work more,” Lindpere said. “There is not enough reserve games also for those guys, so I think that's the big minus in this league ...
"So it's a tough situation. I really don't want to be there. I feel like the last two weeks, I've been traveling, but not training and doing nothing … I think for me, it's not enough, and I don't accept it.”