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.