There have been few Fire players that began their career with the club better than striker Diego Chaves did to start the 2011 season. The Uruguayan became the first player in Fire history to score in each of his first three regular season matches for the club and tallied four goals inside his first six appearances.
A few shots off the woodwork and some excellent goalkeeping kept the Uruguayan from increasing his total and Chaves eventually saw his starting role disappear in mid-summer as Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas turned to the Ghanaian tandem of Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko up top.
Still a valuable member of the side, Chaves’ 80th minute insertion in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Chivas USA proved genius as the striker perfectly slotted Nyarko into the box before the speedy attacker set up Oduro’s 85th minute winner.
“I had a good feeling putting Diego in because I felt we needed someone that was able to hold the ball, said Klopas Monday. “He has that ability and also the ability to make very good passes. He can draw attention from defenders, he can go by people but he also can slip that pass to someone else. He made a big play for us.”
Though his goal count may not be where he’d like, Chaves was vital in gaining the team points early in the season and while it may be overlooked, his game winner in a scrappy 1-0 victory at Rochester on June 28 helped propel the team to its MLS-record sixth U.S. Open Cup Final.
Chaves, who hasn’t started a match since the 1-1 draw at Chivas USA on July 2 was pleased to make the most of his time in the victory. Down a man for more than a half, his contribution on Saturday’s winner helped keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.
“It was a good feeling stepping on the field again for more than a few minutes,” he said. “It was a good moment for me to get in for a bit more time and I think I took advantage of the opportunity on the goal. I don’t have frustration. I do what I love so I can never get frustrated. It’s hard not always playing but I’m working hard, I want to do what I can to help the team and we’ll see what happens next.”
A former U.S. international, Klopas understands the frustration of being in and out of a lineup and praised Chaves for his continued effort and positive approach to the game.
“Like anyone I think there are players that want to be on the field playing. Diego has handled it well because I look at his attitude in training and he still gives 100 percent. He’s a guy that hasn’t given up and when he’s called upon he wants to make a difference. That’s the important thing.”
With the Fire Reserves visiting FC Dallas Tuesday morning, Klopas pointed to the value of bringing back the Reserve league in keeping players like Chaves fresh for first team action.
“The Reserve League has been very important for us. Players still get games, stay in form and it’s important not just from a fitness standpoint but one of confidence, they gain both and then they’re ready to play when they’re call upon. Diego was ready on Saturday in part because of the time he’s seen int hose games.”
With a 5-1-1 record (16 pts), the Fire currently lead second place Houston by four points in the MLS Reserve League’s Central Division and a win Tuesday morning in Dallas could bring the side to the brink of the cash prize that comes with winning their section of the league.
Chaves echoed Klopas’ positive comments regarding the Reserve League’s benefit for players and affirmed that the team did have its eye on taking the division title.
“It’s helped me and its good for players that aren’t getting regular season time. There’s a title still up for dispute and prize money involved so we’re looking to take advantage of it.”
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.