The player that could be the most important piece in correcting the Fire's defensive woes over the first four games of the season returned to practice today at Toyota Park. Arne Friedrich trained with the club for the first time since returning from Germany where he sought to further rehabilitate his injured right hamstring. "It's a good feeling to be back here in Chicago with the team," said Friedrich at the conclusion of training. "I had my first session today, it was just running a little bit and a little bit of ball work. Everything's fine. I don't have pain anymore so I guess we can celebrate a little bit."
Friedrich's trainer over the last ten years was with him at Hertha Berlin and will also spend some time in Chicago this spring. The German defender's link to a personal trainer won't preclude him from seeking therapy from team trainers. "We also have good therapists at the Fire but the guy who treated me knows my body for ten years and it's an advantage. He's going to be here for the next four weeks as well," said Friedrich.
Although he was feeling good physically he would not speculate on a timetable for his return until he had an opportunity to get through a few days of training in order to gauge his recovery time. "We'll see," said Friedrich when asked about playing against New York on April 7. "Today was my first practice and everything went fantastic but we'll see how my body reacts the next couple days."
"My back and my hamstring are fine. I have no pain left. It's perfect."
Good words to hear for the Fire.
Leon addresses the team's slow start
President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon was on hand at training and fielded questions regarding the club's 0-3-1 start and the possibility of making changes or additions to the team. Leon feels it's no time to panic just yet but will continue to look into different options as they present themselves. "Having the two week break really comes at a good time for us. The ability to get some of the injured players back is going to be incredibly important," he said. "Hopefully now we can hit the re-set button and say that phase is over with and now we're going to move into a more positive phase."
Leon still believes the club is a playoff caliber team but is still pursuing possible additions to the squad. "I believe we're very good with the core group that we have but certainly like any other team, even when you're doing well and you can improve the team and there's an opportunity to do that we will look at that too," he said. "We feel very good about the roster. Four games into the season, we're not going crazy thinking we have to make changes. Certainly if you look at most soccer experts when they looked at our roster at the beginning of the year, there was a real consensus that we had a good team. A team that could build on the success that we had a year ago."
"We're always looking to improve and now that the window has been expanded and closing on May 7 we're very active. Guillermo (Petrei) is doing a lot of work evaluating opportunities but we're not doing it out of desperation. I think that's the main point, we're not going to do a move that you're going to turn around and say, why?"
Leon didn't dispel the notion of pursuing players though loan options as has become popular in MLS over the last few seasons. The extended MLS window gives clubs an opportunity to open up conversations with international clubs nearing the end of their seasons. "Loan options are potentials because a lot of the leagues and players are still playing. MLS finds itself in a unique way because some leagues, some teams know they're not going to make the playoffs or the championship and they're not going to be relegated so therefore there may be more of an opportunity to say - move this player although he's still under contract with us we're thinking about moving him as we're thinking about next year," he said.
He also expressed support for Frank Klopas and the coaching staff in light of the difficult start to the campaign. "A year and a half ago he took over a team that was coached by Carlos De Los Cobos. At that time, we were a team in a very difficult moment. I think we had won one game out of 10 or 11 games. Frank took over that team and created a real sort of focus and the team gradually started performing. I think if he was capable of doing it at that time I think with this group that we have he's more than capable of doing it again."
Leon's also not planning on setting on time frame for a turnaround or making changes stating that he doesn't believe the team will continue to play at the level of the first four matches. "We're operating on the basis that this team is going to improve. You always have contingency plans for everything but the basis for our operation is that we're going to improve. We feel that we had a difficult start, partially because of the number of setbacks that we had with injuries. Last year, we had the benefit of having very few injuries during the course of the whole year. This year they hit us and they hit us really hard and it seems to happen that way all the time when things get difficult," said Leon.
Lindpere or Paladini?
Daniel Paladin played two solid matches in place of Joel Lindpere and it's not set in stone that Lindpere will automatically assume a starting spot in the middle upon his return. Leon cited Paladini's effort and was complimentary of the player who has worked his way into the rotation more often since midway through last season. Klopas pointed toward healthy competition at the position when pressed for an answer on who would start against the Red Bulls when regular season play resumes for the Fire.
"We just have to see. I think it's the same question all year. It's all been about guys that have been in form. We're still trying to find what the right combo is and trying different things. We have options right now, it's about competition like I've always said. That's going to take place right here on the training pitch. He's (Lindpere) been away with the national team and I think Danny's done a very good job so we'll just see. We have some injuries out wide and he can play out wide so we have some options. Hopefully we can get guys fit and healthy so we have more options," said Klopas. The gaffer cited match-ups when asked why he chose Paladini over Lindpere in Kansas City. That may determine who starts where on April 7.
A long way to go
The slow start hasn't alarmed Arne Friedrich just yet either. The World Cup veteran pointed to the remaining 30 games in the season and the team's good run of form last year while securing a playoff berth. "It's a very long season. We have to stick together as a team. In times of struggles and when things are very hard you can learn the most and come together as a team a little bit more," said Friedrich.
"If you compare the last season we played a very fantastic regular season, we made it to the playoffs and then we got cut off in the first round. Maybe it's a little different this season, we start(ed) not that well but maybe at the end we'll do better than last season. We have a good team, we have a great mentality, good coaches and the season is so long. We have very good chances to accomplish our goals," he continued.
The result of the Chivas game was an ugly 4-1 defeat but the team probably deserved a better fate than the lopsided score line would indicate. "I believe the team played a good game for about 60-70 minutes. I think we were unfortunate as we've been these past few games not to get that goal that would give you that opportunity to play with a lead," said Javier Leon.
Klopas wasn't happy with the result either but there were some positives, particularly in the first half. "When you look at the game we felt very good in the first half. We had possession, we dominated the play and we got into good spots but still our ability whether to finish or make that quality pass (wasn't there). Then they scored a very nice goal. We had numbers back and the guy took a great shot. There's nothing you could do. We pushed the game and got the tying goal and we had some good opportunities after that," he said.
"I think it's just being disciplined. I think we pushed the game a little too much and gave them a lot of space. We give up a second goal where we give up a foul and they set a pick," explained Klopas. "It's small details."
- The Fire will play a friendly against NASL side Minnesota United FC at the Toyota Park practice field on Friday at 10am. Klopas is using it as an opportunity to get more players some time on the pitch. "We need to keep building and working on certain things. Maybe we can get some guys some minutes and some guys need a little bit more fitness. We'll take the game serious like we always do," he said.
- Klopas doesn't think Friedrich will be ready for that match. "I don't think he'll be ready for Friday. He's back and he's doing some running and stuff with the ball so hopefully he can progress everyday a little bit more with the ball and see how soon we can get him at least as a neutral (in training) with possession and stuff like that."
- Alex was stretchered off the field on Sunday but his injury does not appear serious. "He's still limping around," said Klopas. "It's a deep bone bruise so nothing really serious other than it's just uncomfortable to walk on. He's progressing every day, he's riding the bike inside. I think with him it's just day to day and we'll see how he recovers."
- Sherjill MacDonald mentioned surgery as an option for repairing an issue with cramping in his leg that has been described as Compartment Syndrome. Klopas brushed off the suggestion of a serious injury concern requiring surgery. "Cramps and tightness. It's tightness in his calves. Other than to keep stretching and working through it. It's cramping and he felt like he was going to pull it so I'm just glad it wasn't a pulled muscle," he said of the decision to pull MacDonald on Sunday.
- Logan Pause trained fully and appears to be fully fit.
- Victor Pineda also participated in full training and will be ready to play for the US in the U-20 World Cup this June.