Defensive Mentor


CHARLESTON, SC -- When Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas selected veteran U.S. international defender Cory Gibbs during phase two of the MLS Re-Entry Draft in December, he knew he was getting a smart, solid and accomplished central defender to rebuild the team’s back line for 2011.

“I didn’t know Cory personally but I had heard good things about him from people,” said Klopas. “He’s a veteran that brings experience to our team but above that he’s a very good player and defender that’s done well here, overseas and for our country.”

A month after Gibbs became a Fire player, the club selected highly touted UNC defender Jalil Anibaba to continue the process of retooling from the back. The Davis, CA product was known as a highly talented player with a ton of upside and perhaps just as important, a player with a good head on his shoulders.

Even still, the transition from college to Major League Soccer is never easy, so to reinforce the qualities that are required to be a professional, Gibbs, 31, has taken on a mentoring role for the 22-year-old rookie, with the two being roommates throughout the team’s time on the road this preseason.

“Cory’s helped a lot,” said Anibaba. “I’ve said in the past but all the older guys been helpful since I’ve been here but specifically Cory. He’s taken me under his wing and showed me the ropes. To have someone with at his level and experience take interest in me is something that will only help me improve during my rookie season.”

A veteran of 19 international appearances for the United States, Gibbs has been impressed by Anibaba’s ability on the field and his demeanor off of it.

“As a rookie, Jalil’s stood out extremely well thus far,” he said. “You see the potential he has to be a good or even a great player. His assets are amazing, his strength, ability – defensively, his athleticism and he’s going to come a long way. He’s a great kid to have around, his attitude at his age is impressive and I think he’s started off his professional career very well so far.”

Klopas was also quick to praise Gibbs for the leadership he’s provided for a team that is only returning 14 players from the 2010 roster.

“Cory’s more of a quiet leader,” he said. “People look up to him and I think its great to see the way he’s been mentoring Jalil and some of the other younger players.

The two defenders have found themselves playing on either side of Josip Mikulic in Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos’ new look 3-5-2 formation with all three showing well thus far, but Gibbs is sure to mention the understanding needed to play with just a trio in the back.

“It’s a system that needs to be organized and we need to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said. It’s a style where you have to make as few mistakes as possible. With our organization and focus it has worked out fairly well through our first few matches but like with anything, there are some tweaks we need to work on. Besides that, we’re happy with it.”

De los Cobos will get more of a look at his formation as the club begins the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday against Toronto FC here in Charleston. Though a preseason tournament, any type of competition can help shed more light on the progress made in training camp and the mood around camp is that the side has entered the competition to win.

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.