The pairing of Jeff Larentowicz and Bakary Soumare in Sunday’s 1-0 home victory over the New York Red Bulls marked the fifth difference center back partnership Fire head coach Frank Yallop has tried out this season.
Jeff Larentowicz’s move to the back was predicated after Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado both had poor performances in defense in the team’s 5-1 defeat at the hands of San Jose July 23.
After being replaced by Patrick Ianni the past three matches, Soumare found himself thrust back into the lineup Sunday night, putting in a Man of the Match performance after thwarting a number of Red Bull attacks, from Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
“Obviously I’ve been frustrated by not playing,” Soumare told reporters post-game “I like to be on the field and I’m a competitor but coming into the season we knew it was going to be tough -- a lot of great center backs coming in and it was going to be a fight and sometimes other guys deserve it more than you do. You keep grinding and you hope for an opportunity – you do the best you can and I think we’ve done well tonight.”
Sunday's partner Larentowicz said that the Fire technical staff evaluated combinations at the back throughout the week and that Soumare came out on top to get the start.
“Baky got to play and he did really well,” Larentowicz said. “I think it moves me to the other side of the field because he’s comfortable on the left – that’s the only change but he’s comfortable back there, we’ve both played a lot of games so it happens pretty naturally.”
Soumare gave similar praise to Larentowicz who played his third straight game at center back for the Fire on Sunday.
“Jeff is getting used to the position. He’s a smart player. If there’s one guy that can probably play every position in this team, it’s Jeff, he’s that smart. He’s a great professional and he adjusts well to the game.”
With the Fire earning just their fourth clean sheet of the season on Sunday, the partnership seems likely to continue as the team heads to Cascadia for a difficult U.S. Open Cup semifinal Wednesday vs. Seattle Sounders FC.
“We said in training the other day that it’s a really big week. We don’t want to say it’s make or break but if we make it, it’ll be really nice.”