If Fire coach Frank Klopas knows who he will start at right back in Sunday’s season opener at two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles, he isn’t telling.
“You’ll have to watch the game to see,” Klopas said with a wry smile after Tuesday’s training session at Bridgeview Dome.
No position has seen greater competition during preseason training than that spot. Klopas has two good options for now: Logan Pause, the team captain and an 11-year veteran, or the younger and more athletic Jalil Anibaba.
For instance, he might be looking to keep his captain on the field after Pause was moved from his usual center midfield spot to make room for Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere.
“I’m here to make the team better,” said Pause, sounding like a captain should. “If that means moving around and plugging in and playing different spots, that’s what the coaching staff feels is best for the group.
“I want to win, and that’s to me the most important.”
Pause only has occasional experience on the back line, and he’s not known for his ability to get into the attack, especially from that spot.
The other option for now is third-year pro Anibaba, a former first-round draft pick out of North Carolina. Like Pause, Anibaba probably is more accustomed to playing elsewhere, in his case center back, but he feels comfortable at both positions.
“We’re deep this year, and that’s a good thing,” Anibaba said. “Anytime you have tough competition within the team, that’s what you want. That’s what it’s all about. Wherever I end up, wherever Logan ends up, it’s going to be for the best.”
“We talk about it frequently, about pushing each other,” Pause said of himself and Anibaba. “Jalil’s got a much longer career path ahead of him than I do. I don’t have another 10 years like Jalil does.
“But I love competing. I think it makes both of us better.”
The knock on Anibaba last year at right back was in his ability to send dangerous crosses into the opponent’s penalty area. It’s something he has been working to improve, among other things.
“I’m more tactically aware,” he said. “I’m more overall just my awareness of what’s expected of me. Much better than it has been in the past.”
English Premier League veteran Pascal Chimbonda, a preseason contender at right back, wasn’t with the team Tuesday. He appears to be out of the running for a roster spot, though Klopas was purposely vague about that, too.
Meanwhile, nobody was happier to be at preseason training than Steven Kinney.
“It was good,” Kinney said with a big smile. “I got to participate the whole time finally, you know?”
Kinney saw plenty of work at right back toward the end of the 2010 season before tearing his Achilles’ heel in the final game. After missing the last two seasons with that and other leg injuries, he said he is healthy and fit and eager to get back on the field.
“My gosh, it’s fantastic,” he said with emphasis in his Georgia accent.
The Fire will be cautious with Kinney, however, for now keeping him at center back, where he doesn’t need to go forward as much.
“This early on, since I haven’t been out there, I could slot in there, but trying to go 90 minutes bombing up and down might be a little tough,” Kinney said. “But come here in the next couple of months I could definitely be full and fit for right back.”
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