It had been suspected for most of the MLS season, but was made official this last weekend. Two-time World Cup veteran, German Arne Friedrich announced his retirement after 12 years as a professional. The 34-year old called it quits on a career that saw him play at the top flight of German football with Arminia Bielefeld, Hertha BSC, and Vfl Wolfsburg before coming to the United States to play with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer.
Friedrich developed injury problems while with Wolfsburg leading to his being released, but the Chicago Fire in need of veteran leadership and experience in defense were quick to sign him. In his first and only season with Chicago in 2012, he helped organize and inspire the team to make a late playoff push.
Unfortunately, Friedrich was battling injuries throughout the 2012 campaign. These nagging injuries carried over into the 2013 season preventing Friedrich from ever getting underway. Calf, hamstring, and back injuries seemed to pile on Friedrich, and after suffer setback after setback in his rehabilitation, it was with great reluctance that he decided he could no longer continue his professional career.
Friedrich had become a star with the Chicago supporter base and the news was sobering. In 2012, he was named the team’s Defender of the Year. Friedrich was also a steady influence on centerback partner Austin Berry, who was able to win MLS’s Rookie of the Year award in 2012 due in no small part to the mentoring he received from Friedrich on the pitch.
This season, Friedrich’s absence has been felt by the Chicago Fire. Although Chicago have stabilized their defensive line by acquiring Bakary Soumare, losing Friedrich means that the Fire’s defense has become that much more shallow. Currently, the Chicago Fire has only five healthy defenders. It will be interesting to see if Chicago uses the salary cap space made by Friedrich’s retirement to acquire more defensive personal to ensure that their recent run of good form continues.
Chicago has been pressing its defense to the limit of late. Unlike other squads, the Fire have no one they can sub into the backline to give its regulars a break. This Wednesday Chicago will welcome the USL’s Orlando City SC to Toyota Park for the Quarter Final match-up of the 100th US Open Cup. Given that this last weekend’s match saw midfielders Logan Pause and Joel Lindpere hobble off, it’s doubtful that either of those to will factor in the match. Not to worry, midfielders are the one position that Chicago has in spades.
A more interesting question will be if manager Frank Klopas will elect to rest Gonzalo Segares and field leftback back-up Hunter Jumper. Segares is a workhorse and picks up at least one knock every match, yet manages to come back to play the next game. Klopas also seems to view Jumper like he does Corben Bone, that is, as a player he does not want to let leave the club but that he does not ever want to have play for the club. While playing Jumper and Bone would make sense from a man-management perspective, there’s the fact that this season the Fire are facing more pressure to do well in the Cup than previously. The MLS playoffs are still a possibility, if distant, but a deep run in the Cup or even winning it would most likely guarantee job security if the playoffs aren’t reached. To do so requires the strongest team possible to go out against the upstart Orlando.
Orlando City has been coveting MLS franchises for a couple years now. They are positioning themselves to make a real push to be the 21st team. The recent stunt of bringing Real Madrid superstar Kaka into training for pictures and speculation was quite successful. But on the pitch Orlando has performed and they will not be some lucky upstart. Orlando has already beaten two MLS sides to advance this far (Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City). Chicago will have to watch out for Dominic Dwyer, a loanee from Sporting Kansas City, who has destroyed USL defenses scoring 15 goals. Part of that success has come from midfielder Jamie Watson creating chances and then also finishing himself when needs be (Watson has 7 goals and 6 assists this season). Orlando is an offensive team, they take shots, lots of shots, and their midfield/defense will not hesitate to foul and then stand incredulous.
This could create a serious problem for a Chicago Fire side that has played well but been sent through the grinder of late—June 8th against Portland, then four days before facing Columbus Crew on June 13th, then five days until Colorado Rapids came into Toyota Park on June 19th, a drive down to face Columbus again this time on two days rest on June 22nd, and now with three days under their belt Chicago will play Orlando on June 26th. Things will keep on like this for another two weeks. So far, the Fire has turned this string of play into positive results, undefeated in June 4-1-0.
Look for Wednesday’s starting XI for the Chicago Fire to be its regular first team. Most likely, Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe up top; Dilly Duka, Jeff Larentowicz, Daniel Paladini, Patrick Nyarko in the midfield; and the usual defensive line of Segares, Austin Berry, Bakary Soumare, and Jalil Anibaba. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if we saw Brazilian midfielder Alex in the mix as well; a big surprise would be the fielding of designated player bust forward Sherjill MacDonald.