The Fire made a splash Wednesday with the announcement that the club had signed German international defender Arne Friedrich. The 32-year-old veteran brings a decade of experience in the Bundesliga with the likes of Hertha Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg but perhaps more impressive are the international credentials he’ll bring from Die Mannschaft.
“It’s a very big signing for us,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas following Wednesday’s training session. “When you have someone come in that has 82 caps with the German national team, someone that’s been a mainstay on the German backline for a long time – he brings a lot to the table.”
A veteran of the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, Friedrich appeared in 13 of 14 matches while helping Germany to a third place finish in both tournaments. He was also a part of his nation’s past two squads for the European Championships, pushing Germany to the final at the 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
Beginning his career in 1999 with German Regionalliga side SC Verl, the versatile defender moved up the Bundesliga ladder, moving to second division Arminia Bielefeld in 2000 before a more permanent stay came about with top-flight Hertha Berlin in summer 2002.
It was in the German capital that he established himself as one of the country’s top defenders, serving as the club’s captain from 2004-10 while appearing in 231 matches before moving to VfL Wolfsburg that summer.
After two back injuries hampered Friedrich’s first season with Wolfsburg, he and the club mutually parted ways back in September, with him playing 15 matches for Die Wolfe.
Long in the works
Following his release from Wolfsburg, the prospect to bring Friedrich to the Fire had been long in the works. Under cover of darkness, the club brought Friedrich in for a medical in the days between the team’s preseason stays in Ventura, California and Charleston, South Carolina.
Addressing the concerns about the back injury that kept him out of the Wolfsburg lineup, Klopas said, “He’s been playing and training since then. We checked him out ourselves. He’s healthy and good to go.”
Losing two center backs in Yamith Cuesta and Josip Mikulic at the beginning of preseason, the Fire made defense a priority, selecting both Austin Berry and Hunter Jumper in January’s MLS SuperDraft. The rookie duo’s stellar play through preseason, combined with Friedrich’s addition provide additional depth and like the Fire midfield, competition upon the Fire backline
Asked how he would shift his backline upon Friedrich’s arrival, Klopas was non-commital, but was pleased with the added depth and flexibility that the team’s current defenders bring to the table.
“We have to see. Obviously we have players that can play different positions. Dan [Gargan] has done well at right back, Jalil [Anibaba] and Cory [Gibbs] have done well in the middle but it’s good that we have competition. The opponents we play will determine who is on the field, but there is good depth on the back line.”
If everything goes smoothly with the visa process, Klopas hopes to have Friedrich at Toyota Park in the coming week as the team continues its preparations for the 2012 MLS First Kick opener on March 17 at Montreal.