Injuries are part of the game of soccer, and the Fire – off to the worst start in the franchise’s 16-year history – isn’t using that as an excuse for its poor play in the first month of the Major League Soccer season.
Still, the run of ailments is extraordinary and it won’t end going into Sunday’s first Toyota Park doubleheader of the season. The Fire’s first team faces the New York Red Bulls at 4 p.m. and the reserves from both clubs collide at 6:30.
On a positive note, the Fire will likely have captain Logan Pause on the field for the first time. Both Pause and last year’s Defender of the Year, Arne Friedrich, weren’t listed on the pre-game injury report for the first time this season.
Friedrich has trained with the club since taking a two-week visit to Germany for treatment on an ailing hamstring from a doctor there, but coach Frank Klopas has been reluctant to declare him ready for game action this week. Pause, though, says he expects to be available.
Pause was on the 18-man game roster for the last MLS match – a 4-1 home loss to Chivas USA. He didn’t play in that one or last Saturday’s friendly against minor league Minnesota United FC, but Pause said Friday that he’s ``feeling really good…..I’ve strung together some really good days with my health. Hopefully I’m on the other side of it.’’
He’s nursed a quadricep injury since the last week of training camp, making for a disappointing start to his 11th season with the Fire. This is a player who has played in 259 regular season matches and has rarely been hurt.
"Other than a couple concussions a few years ago, I’ve been blessed,’’ he said.
At least his seemingly probable return Sunday is something encouraging for a team that badly needs something good to happen.
The injury list put out by the team on Thursday didn’t list any players as ``out,’’ but it still categorized five as ``questionable:’’ Alex (right calf contusion); Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko (right hamstring tightness); Steven Kinney (right quadricep tightness); and Mike Videira (concussion symptoms).
Though the Fire hasn’t played an MLS match since March 24, the bye week didn’t do much to shrink the injury list. Who knows what kind of lineup Klopas can put on the field Sunday, but it could include midfielder Joel Lindpere. He started the first two matches but has missed considerable time since while being on national team duty with Estonia for World Cup qualifying.
Not since the 2007 season has the Fire run into such misfortune. Dave Sarachan had been a successful head coach prior to that, taking the Fire to the U.S. Open Cup and a berth in the MLS Cup final in a banner 2003 season and another U.S. Open Cup win in 2006.
The Fire started 3-0-1 in 2007, then injuries piled and club went 1-6-1 in the next eight matches. The Fire made a coaching change then, bringing in Juan Carlos Osorio from Colombian side Millonarios, but it was more a case of the injuries healing and Cuauhtemoc Blanco arriving from Mexico for the Fire to salvage an MLS playoff berth.
Pause was part of that team, and can be philosophical about what happened the first month of this season.
"Injuries come and go,’’ he said. ``Sometimes you have seasons with a few more of them. That’s the nature of the beast.’’
This season the injuries started in the immediate aftermath of the Fire’s first-ever title in the Carolina Challenge Cup, which concluded the preseason. A playoff team in 2012, the Fire is 0-3-1 now and has scored only one goal in those four matches. Twice the team has allowed four goals by the opposition. Only the Seattle Sounders, also 0-3-1 and last in the Western Conference, has had as slow a start as the Fire.
The Red Bulls (1-2-2) aren’t much better. They didn’t get their first win until beating the visiting Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Wednesday.
"We’ve got a really good group,’’ said Pause. ``We’ve stayed incredibly focused and positive. We’ll learn from those first four games.’’