Chicago Fire's Matt Polster battles with Vancouver Whitecaps' Nicholas Mezquida
USA Today Sports

"Influential" rookie Matt Polster emerges as viable option along Chicago Fire's transitioning backline

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – After two games, two defeats and the concession of three goals, attention has turned to the Chicago Fire’s much-changed backline ahead of Sunday’s road clash against the San Jose Earthquakes (7 pm ET; Fox Sports 1).

The Men in Red were beaten 2-0 at the LA Galaxy in the season opener on March 6, and followed that up with a late 1-0 defeat at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps last week. All three goals could be put down to individual defensive lapses, and captain Jeff Larentowicz believes settling on the best unit and eliminating those mistakes is what the Fire need to do to kick-start their season.

“I think we’ve done very well in stretches,” the center back told MLSsoccer.com Friday. “We’ve played against two different teams with two different styles and handled them for good portions of the game, but it just comes down to mistakes that we’ve made and that’s caused goals. At this point we want to find the best unit so we can develop consistency and eliminate those mistakes.”

Larentowicz missed a portion of preseason due to a leg injury and his involvement with the CBA negotiations, while new defensive signing Adailton was sidelined with a concussion.

As such, neither player has had significant game time thus far, leaving head coach Frank Yallop – who will be facing off against his old team in their regular-season opener at new Avaya Stadium – still searching for the best defensive combination.

One player who could be in that mix on the backline is rookie Matt Polster.

He has been deployed as a defensive midfielder in the opening two games, coming on as a sub against LA and earning his first MLS start against the Whitecaps, but he is also a potential option at center back.

“In terms of moving back, I’m fine with either position,” Polster told MLSsoccer.com. “They both have similar parts of the game to them, so if that’s what the coach needs that’s what I’ll do. I’m up for either position.”

Polster was booked in the opening five minutes of his home debut against Vancouver but showed considerable restraint and maturity to grow into the game and help the hosts dominate possession before being subbed out around the hour mark.

“Obviously, I was excited and nervous at the same time having my first start,” the former SIU-Edwardsville star said. “I also wanted to set the tone and let people know that I was there, but on the other hand getting a yellow card that early hurt me a little bit because I wasn’t able to get into as many tackles because I had to be much more cautious.

“But I thought I did well managing it, and I know in the second half I had two early tackles as well,” he said. “And I know the coaching staff probably pulled me aside to make sure I didn’t get a red card, so that’s why I was taken off.”

Yallop has not been shy about throwing the rookie into the fray, and obviously sees him as a potential key player in the team’s progress and development this year.

“I thought he did well,” Yallop told reporters after the game last Saturday. “I was pleased with him, I think that he didn’t freeze. I thought he enjoyed the game. I thought that he was influential in a lot of the stuff we did well. So, it was a good start for him. I thought he did fine.”