Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

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Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

A two-week break from league games this early in the season may not be ideal, but itll be useful for the Fire in the aftermath of its first loss of the Major League Soccer campaign.

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play its best in a 2-0 road loss to the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, and coach Frank Klopas wont likely be fielding the same team in the next match -- against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on April 15.

During the break the Fire will get two key players, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and German defender Arne Friedrich, ready for action. Neither has played in a game yet, though both proven players have been in training for at least a week.

Johnson had a busy offseason, training with English Premier League member Everton for 12 days prior to joining the U.S. under-23 team on its failed attempt to qualify for the Olympics. While Johnson, who had a promising second season as the Fires starting netminder in 2011, went through some high-quality training sessions, he didnt see much game action. Klopas didnt want to rush him into that against an MLS opponent.

Friedrich, who has played 82 matches for Germanys national team, figures to be a mainstay central defender once hes ready to play. Like many European-based MLS players, Friedrich was competing on a different calendar than MLS players and needed time to round into game shape. Klopas didnt want to risk injury to a 32-year-old player by putting him in meaningful combat too soon.

Both Johnson and Friedrich, though, figure to benefit from low-key matches before Houston comes to town. Johnson played all 90 minutes of Mondays reserve team match in Denver, which was won by the Rapids 2-1.

Friedrich didnt play in that one but could see action when the University of Louisville tests the Fire in a friendly at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the Toyota Park practice field. Another reserve match is on tap for April 10 at Sporting Kansas City. Once those matches are completed, Johnson and Friedrich figure to be ready to go and right back Dan Gargan, who didnt make the trip to Colorado because of a left toe injury, should be healthy enough to return to the starting 11 as well.

Johnson figures to replace Paolo Tornaghi, who was decent overall in the first three games but not in top form at Colorado. Friedrich could make his Fire debut as a replacement for Jalil Anibaba.

Klopas moved captain Logan Pause to Gargans spot at Colorado and gave Colombian newcomer Rafael Robayo his first start in the midfield. Robayo was also the first man subbed out, with Daniel Paladini taking over for him in the 61st minute. Pause didnt go the route, either. Orr Barouch, seeing action for the first time this season, took over for him in the 83rd as Klopas looked for an offensive spark that might produce a tying goal. Barouch couldnt provide it this time, as he had in several games last season.

Klopas other sub was new Uruquayan forward Federico Puppo, who scored the Fire goal in Mondays reserve team match. He couldnt help on Sunday, however.

"That game was there for the taking," lamented Pause. "It was really an unfortunate result, starting the game off well and coming into halftime at zeros. In the second half we kind of lost our shape and discipline and ended up getting punished."

Klopas didnt like what he saw, either.

"It really wasnt a great game -- sloppy on both sides," he said. "For the first half we looked sluggish. On top of that we gave up two goals that weve never given up. Its a game we need to look at, forget and move on."

Getting whipped in Denver shouldnt be a surprise to the Fire. This loss was eerily reminiscent of games in the past. The first Colorado goal was scored by Omar Cummings, his sixth in seven career matches against the Fire. The Fire has won only once in six matches (1-2-3) in the Rapids current home at Dicks Sporting Goods Park and has only three wins in 18 games played between the teams in Denver (3-9-6) since the Fire entered MLS in 1998.

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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