Orr Barouch - Ave Maria

With Barouch back, Fire have another option up top

Chicago Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko noticed a change in teammate Orr Barouch midway through last season: The 19-year-old was becoming “one of the guys.”

On road trips, Barouch would go wherever his older teammates would go, he’d crack jokes, and his goofy side started to emerge.

“He got comfortable once he earned the respect of the team,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com by phone recently from preseason camp in Ventura, Calif.  “He’s one of the funniest kids. He’s just hilarious. I can laugh at whatever he says because it’s just funny. Even when he’s down or the mood of other players is down, he finds a way to make them laugh.”

Early on, the style of play was an adjustment for him.Barouch, known around the team as a master of impressions, also slowly became more comfortable on the field.  After playing in the Tigres UANL youth system for two years, the on-loan forward became a fixture as a late-game sub for the Fire last season, coming off the bench 26 times and starting twice.

“There’s a lot more running in this league, up and down,” Barouch told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Southern California. “It took me a little while and I slowly adjusted. I had to get stronger.”

The Fire bought his rights from Tigres in December, and he gained experience during the offseason.

The Israeli-born, Los Angeles-raised forward trained with Maccabi Haifa in Israel for a month during the offseason and also played with the Israel Under-21 national team as it prepares to host the 2013 Under-21 European Championship.

“It was great to get a different perspective on how they see the game,” said Barouch, who was born in Haifa and has family there. “They’re a little bit more technical. There was not as much running but more knowing where you are on the field, positioning yourself, more passing.”

Barouch has made it clear he wants to have a bigger role this year, but he has heavy competition for a starting forward spot.

Dominic Oduro scored 12 goals and established himself as a starter last year, and the Fire acquired Federico Puppo and Kheli Dube in the offseason. Nyarko also spent some time up top last year.

Fire head coach Frank Klopas said last week that he likes the combination of Puppo and Oduro, but the 20-year-old Barouch has a chance to earn more minutes this season.

“He’s a good player, and he’s improving,” Klopas said on a media teleconference. “It’s all about how he does in practice and how he does in games. There’s a lot of competition up front, and that pushes a lot of players to have better training sessions. We have different options now.”