Positional Breakdown: Defenders

Crandall profiles the Fire's defenders heading into the 2012 season

In yesterday’s positional breakdown, I looked at the battle for the third goalkeeper spot behind Sean Johnson and Jay Nolly. Today I look at the team’s setup along the backline.

Signed: (8) Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Dan Gargan, Cory Gibbs, Steven Kinney, Gonzalo Segares, Pari Pantazopoulos, Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Tweeners: (3) Logan Pause, Victor Pineda, Michael Videira
Unsigned Draft Picks: (2) Justin Chavez, Hunter Jumper
Trialists: (2) Ivan Guerrero, Stavros Stathakis

The entirety of the starting backline from 2011 featuring Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs and Gonzalo Segares have returned to the team in 2012, which should provide relief to Fire supporters. 

Other returning defenders from the 2011 roster are reserve left back Pari Pantazopoulos as well as center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who comes off a season-long loan with FC Tampa Bay of the North American Soccer League. Having sat out all of 2011 after tearing his Achilles in the final match of 2010, right back Steven Kinney remains sidelined and has not been with the team in Ave Maria, Fla.

Center Backs

Breaking it down from the middle, out, Gibbs and Anibaba are unanimous first-choice center backs but , with the news last week that the team will likely be without part-time center back starters, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta, the question of depth has rightfully been raised.

Behind the Gibbs/Anibaba pair in no necessary order are Watson-Siriboe, the team’s first round SuperDraft selection Austin Berry, Supplemental Draft choice Justin Chavez and trialing Greek defender Stavros Stathakis.

With the team’s first two matches split into thirds In Sunday’s match vs. DC United, Watson-Siriboe paired with Berry in the game’s second frame and stayed on the field to partner with Chavez in the third frame.

Greek trialist Stathakis paired with Berry during the second period Wednesday night and stayed on the field to partner with Watson-Siriboe in the third as the technical staff evaluated him before his return to Superliga club Skoda Xanthi on Thursday.

Also seeing sometime in the middle so far in preseason has been Michael Videira, though his time on the right has been more plentiful. Add to that the height of SuperDraft choice and more natural left back Hunter Jumper as well as Segares’ ability to play centrally and there is some depth there, if only unproven.

Fullbacks

As previously stated Gargan (right) and Segares (left) return as the incumbent starters on the flanks but behind them there have been questions of depth.

A midfielder by trade, Videira was tried out on the right a few times last season and the experiment has continued this year with him playing there in the second period of both preseason matches to date.  Anibaba played a great deal on the right before moving centrally towards the end of 2011 while captain Logan Pause has filled in there when needed.

Kinney’s injury issues have kept him from improving upon a solid end to 2010 on the right but one sleeper for the spot is the team’s first Home Grown player, midfielder Victor Pineda who has played a bit there during camp and was serviceable in the role during some reserve matches last year.

On the left, Pantazopoulos served as Segares’ backup last season, though the Costa Rican international played all but two competitive matches in 2011. SuperDraft selection Hunter Jumper has done well so far but the wild card seems to be the return of Ivan Guerrero to Fire camp.

Currently on trial, Guerrero spent three seasons in Chicago from 2005-07 and has played both at left back and in his more usual left midfield spot thus far. When Segares came out of Wednesday night’s match vs. Florida Gulf Coast it was the former Honduran international that entered and kept up a furious opening pace on the left flank. Already slated to play there in the second period, Guerrero was a menace 48 minute cameo.

Adding depth on the left is something that Klopas pointed to for improvement last month and it seems the battle to challenge Segares is one of the most interesting in this camp.