BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba didn’t have time to sulk when he was taken out of the Fire’s starting lineup for rookie Austin Berry last week against Real Salt Lake. The second-year defender ended up entering the game in the 50th minute for Dan Gargan, who was bothered by a foot injury.
But Anibaba’s place on the bench served as a reminder of the nature of his job.
“You can’t get comfortable at any time with what you’ve done in the past,” Anibaba told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s what this lifestyle is about. It’s definitely motivating and it’s humbling as well.”
In the Fire’s 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, Anibaba started for Gargan on the right side but slid over to center back when Arne Friedrich left the game with a hamstring injury.
With Friedrich sidelined for three to four weeks with a Grade II hamstring strain, Anibaba and Berry will man the Fire central defense for awhile, continuing Sunday when Chicago travel to Portland (6 pm CT, Galavision). Because of Anibaba’s relative experience, coach Frank Klopas isn’t worried about the young combination.
“With Jalil, when we saw him in the [2011 MLS Player] Combine, he was the most vocal guy coming out of that senior class,” Klopas said. “He’s an experienced guy, and he has a year under his belt. He needs to continue to be the vocal guy that he has been and to help out Austin.”
Anibaba has been benched before, but he’s never been out of the Fire lineup for long. He has his versatility to thank for that.
As a rookie last season, he locked down the starting right back spot early in the year before the Fire acquired Gargan in July. In the Fire’s first game after the acquisition, center back Cory Gibbs was injured in the fifth minute and Anibaba ended up securing a starting spot at center back for the rest of the season.
This year, Anibaba started the year at center back next to Gibbs. Just when the Fire were set to replace the second-year pro with Friedrich, Gibbs went down with a torn meniscus.
When Berry replaced him in the starting lineup last week, Anibaba didn’t sit out any games because of his ability to fill in at right back.
“He’s definitely key. He’s shown how he comes in and helps us with depth,” left back Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “We know we have a guy that we can rely on at right back and center back.”