Joel Lindpere has been around professional soccer for quite a while. Now 32, he turned professional when he was 15 and debuted for his national team when he was 18.
Sunday’s match between the Fire and New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park, however, will be something special.
"Never have I played in the same league against another team that I had played for," said Lindpere. "It’ll be special to me, a rare feeling."
Lindpere was with the New York Red Bulls for three seasons before the Fire acquired him for an international roster spot in January. When the Fire was the first opponent when the Red Bulls opened their new stadium in Harrison, N.J., it was Lindpere who scored the only goal of the match.
In 2010, in Lindpere’s first season with the Red Bulls, he was selected the club’s Most Valuable Player. He describes his stint there as "the best time in my career and life. I can only take great things from that time."
He’s a Fire midfielder now, though, and that changes things.
"I’m definitely anxious to see the old (New York) guys," said Lindpere following a Fire training session this week. "I’ve done whatever I’ve had to do, wherever I’ve played. You’ve got to do what you have to do. I will do my best."
Neither the Fire nor the Red Bulls is off to a very good start in this Major League Soccer season. Between them they’ve won just one match -- the Red Bulls/ 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. The Fire is 0-3-1 and has scored but one goal in those four matches. New York is 1-2-2.
The Fire, last in the Eastern Conference, shares the lowest point total through March matches with the Seattle Sounders, also 0-3-1.
"Last year with the Bulls we lost the first two," said Lindpere. "That wasn’t good, either, but it’s going to be a long season. We know that we’ve got to catch up, and that makes it more difficult. Things are changing around this league, and both the Fire and Bulls don’t want to mess up. It’s a tough situation."
Lindpere started the first two MLS matches for the Fire. Coach Frank Klopas didn’t use him in the third match -- a scoreless draw at Sporting Kansas City -- and Lindpere was on national team duty when the Fire lost 4-1 at home to Chivas USA in its last match on March 24. He returned from national team duty on Friday night but didn’t play in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to minor league Minnesota United FC.
The Fire is counting on Lindpere’s experience to help right a so far sinking ship.
"Everybody’s waiting for that first win. It’s kind of stressful," said Lindpere. "We’ve got to play together and wait for better results."
Lindpere experienced some better results while playing for Estonia’s national team. During his time away from the Fire he came off the bench for Estonia in a 3-0 loss to The Netherlands and a 3-0 win over Andorra in World Cup qualifying matches. He was one of the goal-scorers in the home win over Andorra.
"Those World Cup qualifiers always mean something to every player and I’d been waiting for that home goal for a long time," said Lindpere.
The only other Fire player involved in World Cup qualifying is Sean Johnson, the No. 3 goalkeeper for the U.S. He hasn’t seen action in a qualifier yet, but Lindpere expected to play in some more. Estonia has two more qualifiers in September and another two in October. He also could leave the Fire for friendlies, Estonia have two scheduled in June and two more in August.
Johnson’s chances of being on the roster for next year’s World Cup finals appear better than Lindpere’s, however, because the U.S. has a better chance of qualifying than Estonia does.
"We have six teams (in Estonia’s qualifying group) and one goes," said Lindpere. "And Netherlands is one of the best teams in the world, so what can you do?"
Lindpere has appeared in over 80 matches for Estonia, and his pro career includes stops at clubs in Estonia, Bulgaria and Norway in addition to MLS.
Klopas hasn’t announced his lineup for the Red Bulls’ match, but Lindpere could factor in partly because Brazilian midfielder Alex is nursing a contusion on his ankle and veterans Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich are still doubtful for their first game duties of the season.
The Fire could use them all, as Sunday’s program will be a doubleheader. The Fire and New York first teams collide at 4 p.m. and the reserve teams of both clubs square off at 6:30 p.m.
Friedrich (hamstring) trained in full Monday, but with the Fire reserve team. Pause (quadricep) was a neutral player with the first time and is expected to be ready for game action before Friedrich is. Dilly Duka (hamstring), Steven Kinney (quadriceps) and Mike Videira (concussion) also are recovering from their ailments. Their status won’t be determined until later in the week.
The status of 18-year old striker Kevin Gulley was determined this week, though. He was loaned to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League. Gulley has yet to play for the Fire first team and will get much-needed playing time in Atlanta.