Defensively, the Fire was just fine in Wednesday nights 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park, and thats encouraging given the fact that coach Frank Klopas went with a rookie in the back again and had to use a sub back there as well.
Klopas gave Austin Berry his second straight start as a central defender. Berry, the clubs first-round pick in the last Major League Soccer SuperDraft, saw his first game action in Saturdays 2-1 road win over Chivas USA because Jalil Anibaba was serving a one-game suspension.
Anibaba was available this time, but Klopas went with Berry again and it proved a smart decision because Berry was designated as the Man of the Match.
"The team went on the road and won, and I didnt want to change anything," said Klopas, in explaining his decision to stick with Berry.
Anibaba got into the match anyway, in the 51st minute when Klopas felt there was a problem with Dan Gargan on the right side.
"He a warrior, but hes been fighting through certain things and he grabbed his leg," said Klopas. "I wanted fresh legs on that side."
So, Anibaba helped the Fire finish out the first clean sheet of the season for Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson who had played four matches without getting one. The Fire (3-2-3) had just one previous shutout, with Paolo Tornaghi in the nets in the second game of the season on March 24.
Johnson, who played well during some trying times for the team the past two seasons, got his career MLS record above .500 (15-14-16) with his 11th career shutout.
But the play of the four in front of him is noteworthy, since the Fire lost two of last years central defenders, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta, in the offseason and mainstay Cory Gibbs to knee surgery after the season started. Arne Friedrich, the German veteran, is still rounding into shape after not playing for six months.
"It (his fitness) is getting better every game. A couple more and I should be 100 percent," Friedrich said.
Even in less than ideal shape and playing beside an inexperienced partner, Friedrich likes what hes seeing with the Fire backliners.
"Playing with Austin is perfect," said Friedrich. "Hes very disciplined and organized on the pitch and very good on headers. Everybody know what everybody else is doing."
"Arne is easy to talk to," chimed in Berry. "The whole back line has done a good job communicating and we got the shutout this time a good showing by us."
Enough for the good stuff.
The Fire still could get the goal that would have produced a big victory over the best time in the Western Conference on a night when long-time defensive stalwart C.J. Brown was inducted into the coveted Ring of Fire. Brown is now an assistant coach for RSL (7-3-2) despite getting some great chances.
Dominic Oduros header off the crossbar in the fourth minute set the disappointing tone for the Fire offensively, and Marco Pappa and Rafael Robayo had good chances as the match progressed. The Fire has nine goals in its eight MLS matches and was blanked for the second time on Wednesday, the middle game of its first busy stretch of the season.
The Fire completes a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch on Saturday when Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City (7-2-0) comes to Bridgeview.