On the quality of his defensive work alone, the Fire’s Austin Berry will get a few votes in the MLS rookie-of-the-year balloting.
Scoring the odd goal will be sure to get him noticed even more, though.
Berry’s laser-beam header off a Pavel Pardo free kick in the 84th minute helped the Fire cap its fifth comeback victory, 2-1 Saturday night at Toyota Park over Toronto FC.
“I think the whole back line played well, but Austin, he’s so committed to defending,” coach Frank Klopas said of his first-round draft pick. “At times he wants to do everything on the field, which is a good thing.
“But he’s just so competitive. I think he’s gotten so much better with the ball. I think his defensive instincts are very good. And he’s good on set pieces. He’s so dangerous. Great service there by Pavel.”
“It was again a very good game,” said Arne Friedrich, Berry’s partner in central defense. “He’s doing all the time very decent and I guess in very good harmony.
“We talk very much on the pitch. If you see the first (Toronto) goal it was coming from nothing, and if you see the last couple of weeks we did much better.”
The Fire (10-7-5, 35 points) remained undefeated against Eastern Conference foes and will face only Eastern opponents the remaining 12 games of the regular season.
Toronto scored in the 16th minute against the run of play when Ryan Johnson intercepted Marco Pappa’s back pass intended for Berry and scored.
“It was just a misplay, I think,” Berry said. “Luckily we didn’t let it affect us, kept at it, kept doing things we were doing and me and Marco were able to make up for that goal.”
Pappa made amends in the 64th minute when he took advantage of a Toronto failed clearance in its penalty area, deked goalkeeper Milos Kocic and buried the ball in the net to tie the game.
It was Pappa’s team-leading sixth goal of the season, and it set up Berry’s third goal of the season.
“I was just able to create a little bit of space … and Pavel played a great ball and I was able to get up for it,” said Berry, fending off some good-natured ribbing from veteran Dan Gargan in the postgame locker room, another indication he’s feeling comfortable.
“I’ve certainly had enough games under my belt now and the older guys have really been a big help this early in my career,” Berry said. “I can’t thank them enough, along with the coaching staff. Every game now is starting to get more comfortable.”
Newcomer Alvaro Fernandez left the game in the 50th minute with a sprained ankle, but Klopas doesn’t think it is a long-term injury.
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