The Fire is certainly having its problems getting started this season, and it’s not just because of the first 0-2 start since 2000.
On Monday the club announced more bad news, revealing that star defender Arne Friedrich has left the team to get medical treatment for an ailing hamstring in his native Germany.
Javier Leon, the Fire’s president of soccer operations, hinted that Friedrich might return as soon as late March last week, but the club now says it’ll be ``at least a few more weeks.’’
Friedrich left Sunday night for Berlin to work with therapist Thomas Fennewald and will be gone ``a maximum of two weeks.’’ He was the Fire’s Defender-of-the-Year in his first season with the club in 2012, and his veteran presence was a big factor in Austin Berry -- his partner in the middle of the back line -- being names Major League Soccer’s Rookie-of-the-Year.
In the aftermath of last season’s playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo Friedrich, 33, made it clear that he wanted to return to the Fire for one more season, and the club was quick to reach contractual terms with him. The former member of Germany’s national team was also excused from the first third of preseason training in Florida but went through the second segment in Ventura, Calif., and played in the first two games of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C.
Friedrich sat out the last match, a tie with Vancouver that was good enough to give the Fire the title in the four-team round robin competition. He didn’t dress for either of the first two games of the MLS season, a 4-0 loss at Los Angeles and 1-0 defeat in the home opener on Saturday against the New England Revolution.
In the club release, Friedrich said deciding to leave for Germany ``was not easy, especially when the team isn’t winning. It’s a worse situation to watch from the stands and not be able to do anything. This is the game, though, and we have plenty of time to make the playoffs. I’d like to play, but it’s not going to happen now.’’
Fennewald has been Friedrich’s therapist for the last 10 years. Friedrich said working with him ``is the best way to get back as soon as possible. He’s the best therapist I’ve ever seen.’’
In addition to Friedrich the Fire has been without captain Logan Pause who has a quadriceps injury. His status for Saturday’s road match against Sporting Kansas City is uncertain. Jalil Anibaba moved into Friedrich’s spot in the first two games with Steven Kinney, out the past two seasons with a variety of injuries that started with an Achilles problem, taking the right back spot.
Defensively the Fire improved in the New England match, but the offense continued struggle. The club has yet to score in the first two matches, the first time the Fire has come up empty in its first two games in the its 16-year history.
While Friedrich’s departure was by far the more significant news, the club also revealed that striker Kevin Gulley is now working with the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League. The Fire has wanted to loan out the 18-year old in an effort to get him some playing time.
Gulley had been playing for the club’s academy team in Mississippi before joining the Fire in August, 2011. He has yet to play in a first team match. With Atlanta he’ll be under the direction of coach Brian Hayes, one-time head man for MLS side FC Dallas.