When Benji Joya came to the Chicago Fire on loan from Mexican side Santos Laguna, he knew it would be tough to crack a first team side that included the likes of Dilly Duka, Patrick Nyarko, and Chris Rolfe. His pedigree at Santos and hard work in Chicago would pay off though, as the young midfielder got a starting nod with the first team Wednesday afternoon, at a point in the preseason usually reserved for first team starters for the Men in Red.
“Throughout the whole preseason with Chicago, I've been working hard, and (a start) is something that you earn. I feel that I've been doing well, luckily today I got the start and I'm feeling great.”
Benji's presence has been felt throughout preseason. He's been a midfield fixture with the reserve side alongside Harry Shipp and Victor Pineda, but his play has been the most dynamic of the young midfielders as preseason closes out, which he also showed in Saturday night's win against Chivas Rayadas. With the Fire up 1-0 in the late going, Joya placed a perfect ball over the top of Chivas' defense to Quincy Amarikwa, who finished with his left foot to seal the win for the Fire in the late going.
Joya, who has played centrally and on the left for Chicago this preseason, took the spot normally occupied by Patrick Nyarko on the right wing Wednesday afternoon. He also played out on the right when coming on in the 79th minute for Dilly Duka on Saturday, although he prefers to play more centrally. “I feel more comfortable as an eight. At outside mid, it takes a little longer for you to get the ball. Being in center mid, we're like the engine of the team, so obviously if we turn the ball over, it's on us; if we make a good pass forward, it's on us.”
Even though he played the last two matches in a position he's not accustomed to normally playing, Joya still had no shortage of strong play in his 45 minutes with the starters on Wednesday, creating numerous opportunities in the offensive third where it seemed at times it was his veteran counterparts that struggled. He echoed that in his brief minutes on the pitch Saturday night. He credits his time with Santos Laguna, as well as learning from some of Chicago's veterans with helping bring him along as a player and chance creator.
“I feel it's something really important for me in my career. Playing with the first team in Mexico, and now coming here and playing with the first team in MLS, it's continuing to develop my play. I feel like I bring new things to the team," he told Fire Confidential.
“Obviously with the first team, you have to be a little more responsible with the decisions you make. I have good, educated players (around me), and they give me the confidence to do what I can do, which is to play my game.”
Fire win Desert Diamond Cup
Finishing the preseason with a 2-0 win over Chivas Rayadas won't mean anything come October but the Fire used the last "practice" match of 2014 to end camp on a high note. Goals from Juan Luis Anangono and Quincy Amarikwa propelled the team to a 7-1-0 record to finish preseason. More importantly they only allowed two goals over those eight contests.
Frank Yallop utilized an eleven which should be pretty close to what we see on the pitch come March 9 against Chivas USA. The biggest difference is likely to be the advanced midfield or second forward spot where Chris Rolfe got the nod ahead of Mike Magee. The league MVP saw his first preseason game action in the 69th minute after re-joining the team on Wednesday night.
Fire line up
D Palmer, Soumare, Hurtado, Segares
M Nyarko (Shipp 65'), Alex, Larentowicz (Pause 85'), Duke (Joya 79'), Rolfe (Magee 69')
F Anangono (Amarikwa 70')
Subs not used: Reynish, Ianni, Pineda, Franco, Jumper, Piermayr, Atouba, Walsh, Gentile, Kinney, Kann, Ritter