BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – As a natural center back, second-year Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba wasn’t used to sending in crosses from the right side when he came into the league last season.
After playing a majority of two seasons at right back for the Fire, it appears he’s getting the hang of it. For the first time in his MLS career, Anibaba registered an assist on a cross when he found Sherjill MacDonald for a goal against Montreal last month. He almost added another with a cross to Álvaro Fernández in the Fire’s last game, a 2-0 win over New York on Oct. 6, but Fernández's header flew just over the crossbar.
“I’ve worked really hard at [crossing], staying after training sessions trying to perfect it,” Anibaba said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Anibaba has played 15 full games this season at right back. In his first nine full games at the position, he connected on two crosses and missed on 24.
In his last six games, Anibaba has had five successful crosses and 17 unsuccessful ones.
Anibaba has felt pressure from veteran right back Dan Gargan, who unseated him at the position when he came in last year. It doesn’t look like Anibaba will give the spot up any time soon, though.
“[Gargan] pushes me day in and day out in every aspect of the game and every aspect of the profession,” Anibaba said. “I owe a lot of credit to him.”
Pineda scores in reserve match
Victor Pineda (pictured, right) has yet to make his MLS debut, but the 19-year-old impressed in the Fire’s 2-1 Reserve League loss to Houston last week.
The outside midfielder scored in the 29th minute when his right-footed blast from the outside of the penalty area found the upper corner.
“It was really exciting,” Pineda said. “I got a lot of support from my teammates and it helped early in the game to get my confidence.”
Reserve appearances have become more and more important for the Homegrown product, who is no longer eligible to play for the Fire’s academy teams like he did this summer.
“I was used to playing maybe two games a week with the academy, and I never realized how much it was helping me with my fitness and to stay sharp,” Pineda said. “I think this game really helped me out a lot.”
MacDonald feeling better
Sherjill MacDonald is finding his form since his midseason arrival in Chicago.
The Dutch striker has stated several times that it will take a full preseason to truly catch up to his teammates and opponents in terms of fitness, but MacDonald has steadily improved.
“[My fitness] is a lot better,” MacDonald said. “I think the last three games, I felt very good … I think it was a very big improvement from the start.”