Chicago Fire had their second bye week in the first 5 weeks of the season this weekend. Although the Fire didn't play an MLS match, there was plenty to talk about, as the team took on the University of Louisville squad in a friendly at the Fire's Toyota Park practice pitch. Chicago won the game, but most of the talk of the day surrounded German international Arne Friedrich making his Fire playing debut.
Chicago dominated possession and the pace of the game throughout most of the match, and midfielder Marco Pappa scored the only goal the Fire would need with a nice 12th minute strike. After Federico Puppo saw his shot blocked at the top of the 18, Pappa stepped in, collected the ball, and struck a perfectly placed shot into the upper 90, out of reach of Louisville GK Zach Torp. The goal would turn out to be all Chicago needed, in a match that saw Frank Klopas utilize 21 players.
Perhaps the bigger story of the day, however, was the debut of defender Arne Friedrich. The 32-year old World Cup veteran went 88 minutes in his first match with the Fire, and played well slotting in at centerback. On numerous occasions throughout the match, Friedrich directed the defensive line, and was a vocal presence throughout. In addition, Arne showed himself strong on 50/50 challenges, winning nearly every header he went up for.
"I have a good feeling with them and everybody can learn, as well as me. The most important point is that we know each other and everybody knows what the other thinks in the game. Sometimes we have to talk a little bit more on the pitch but this needs time", Arne said after the game. "It was a good feeling but it was my first game after six months so definitely I need (to work). We won which is most important."
Klopas was equally pleased with Friedrich's performance, saying, "You could see his experience in organizing and communicating...I think he'll be ready. That was our plan from the beginning so it was good to push him as much as we can in this game. With every day that passes he gets physically stronger and better".
The other big story during Saturday's match was Sean Johnson getting more time in goal after returning from Olympic qualifying with the U-23 squad. When asked about his performance and whether Johnson exhibited any hangover in the weeks after the US team's difficulties in qualifying, Klopas said, "You just have to move on. Whether you're a player or a goalkeeper you're always going to learn from difficult moments and get better. Sean is a young goalkeeper and he's moved on with that." He also reiterated the Fire's plan to incorporate Johnson into reserve matches to get him back into regular match form. "We have this and also the reserve match in Kansas City where he can get the minutes that he needs in game situations."
The Fire next take on Sporting Kansas City in reserve match play in KC, before returning home to host Houston Dynamo on Sunday at Toyota Park.
Image courtesy of chicago-fire.com