BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Through a season full of midfield injuries, competition and acquisitions, Jeff Larentowicz has been a constant for the Chicago Fire in the center of the field.
Unfortunately, the Fire's on-field captain won't play in Chicago's all-important regular-season finale on Sunday at the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET; UniMas).
Larentowicz will miss just his second game of the season, due to yellow-card accumulation with the latest caution coming last week against Toronto FC when he put out his arm to clear space in the 57th minute. It was his sixth yellow of the season.
“It's not easy. He's been such a key guy for us in the middle of the field,” coach Frank Klopas said. “The more he's played, the more comfortable he's gotten since the beginning of the season. He's a big piece for us, but I just feel we have a good group right now.”
Luckily, Chicago are deep in central midfield.
The Fire could go with Logan Pause to play the destroyer position next to Arévalo “El Cacha” Ríos, but the likely option in what could be a must-win game is attacking midfielder Alex. The Brazilian has started 17 games this season and is the usual option when Klopas wants to push the game.
Klopas has seen marked improvements defensively from Alex this season, but he does want the 24-year-old to be smarter with the ball at times.
“He does a lot of little things when I go back and watch the tapes of the games that he's played,” Klopas said. “The one thing that I want from him is in the final third to be a little bit better … to make more penetrating passes and create more goalscoring opportunities.
"But without the ball, he's been very good. He helps the team, he wins a lot of balls, he works very hard defensively and he breaks up a lot of plays, which really go unnoticed.”
- Get the latest Chicago Fire news at Chicago-Fire.com
Without Larentowicz, the Fire will certainly have their work cut out for them against the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, both physically and mentally.
“Jeff has probably been the most consistent player on this team,” center back Bakary Soumare said. “He's our leader. Jeff, in a way, is the heart and soul of this team. He gives a lot defensively and offensively, and we're going to miss him.
"Still, we have guys that can step in and get the job done. Alex, ‘Cacha,’ those are guys that can get the job done.”