There are lots of reasons to like Chicago this year. The midfield is improved over late last year, especially by the presence of Jeff Larentowicz, who is having an outstanding preseason.
In the central defensive pairing of Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry the Fire have an ideal blend of young talent guided by veteran know-how. Attacking leader Chris Rolfe gets the full benefit of preseason training that he didn’t have a year back.
Young goalkeeper Sean Johnson, about to begin his fourth season as a starter, is getting to the point where we can’t call him “young goalkeeper” anymore.
But there are also other pieces falling into place, like Logan Pause’s changing role.
Injuries are out there over a 9-month season. Believe it. Every team could use versatile men who can fill in ably at several positions, with precious little drop in experience, guile and ability. Pause is demonstrating the ability to be a valuable utility knife for Fire manager Frank Klopas.
Pause, 31, has been a steady starter for Chicago since 2003. His assignment has almost always been at holding midfielder. This year, with Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere brought in to man the center of Toyota Park, Pause has been shifted out to right back.
Saturday, as the Fire defeated Houston to open the annual Carolina Challenge Cup, Pause added yet another option for Klopas, displaying his work at left back.
Fire left back Gonzalo Segares left the match after 30 minutes with an ankle injury. Pause, the Fire captain, had started on the right but shuffled ably across the field as Jalil Anibaba came on to the play the right side.
Anibaba and Pause are competing for starter duty on the right side of Chicago’s back line. (Veteran trialist Pascal Chimbonda could have a say, too, if the Fire find reason to sign the former Spurs, Wigan and Blackburn right back.)
But if Pause can work along the right or left, not to mention providing an emergency chute for Klopas in the holding midfield spot – or an option during busy stretches – that becomes a tremendous value for Klopas and the Fire.