BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- When the Chicago Fire head to Red Bull Arena with a playoff place on the line Sunday’s regular season finale, they’ll do it without a player that has been the team’s engine through 2013.
Fire vice captain Jeff Larentowicz received a somewhat controversial yellow card in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC, causing him to earn a one-game suspension on caution accumulation.
“It’s extremely disappointing [to be suspended],” he acknowledged following Saturday’s win. “The guys will be alright, I have faith in everyone here – they know the task at hand and they’ll take care of business.”
Words of a leader for sure but no doubt the Fire will miss Larentowicz, who has been the most constant fixture in midfield this season, only missing one previous match.
“He’s been such a key guy for us in the middle of the field,” Fire head coach Frank Klopas said. “The more he’s played, the more comfortable he’s gotten since the beginning of the season. He’s a big piece for us but like I said before, I feel we have a good group right now, the mentality is good, everyone’s in good form. The personnel might change but whoever goes in there, they’re going to give everything for the group. I trust whoever we put in is going to be ready to play.”
The two likely options to replace “Big Red” in midfield would be Alex or Fire captain Logan Pause.
Pause has seen less action in the center of midfield this season but with the attack New York possesses, could be an experienced option for Klopas to plug in next to Arevalo Rios.
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Meanwhile, Alex would presumably give the Fire a bit more going forward but Klopas pointed to the fact that he thought the Brazilian had actually been better defensively than offensively for the Fire this season.
“He’s shown the ability without the ball – he does help the team. When I go back and watch a lot of the tapes, the one thing I’d want from him in the final third is to be a little bit better – his ability when he gets into good spots, to give more penetrating passes and create more goal scoring opportunities.”
Whatever the decision is in midfield, Klopas also touched on the fact that the side’s depth – long a theme for the Fire manager this season – allows him a number of experienced options off the bench with the likes of Pause, Chris Rolfe, Joel Lindpere, Daniel Paladini and Wells Thompson making recent substitute appearances.
“Those are veteran guys with a lot of experience. In big games and moments they’ve been there before. With the position we’re in, it’s good to have them down the stretch right now.”