Its not a sure thing that Dan Gargan will be at his usual right back spot for the Fire when the club visits the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. The veteran defender was slowed during the training sessions leading into the match by a sore left toe.
But, perhaps more than any other regular season match in Major League Soccer, Gargan wants to play in this one. The fact that Gargan spent the first four seasons of his MLS career with the Rapids is one thing. But this goes deeper than a player wanting to show off against a team that released him in April of the 2008 season.
In this case theres bragging rights on the line with Jeff Larentowicz, a defensive midfielder for the Rapids. Plenty of former teammates have squared off in MLS over the years, but the Gargan-Larentowicz connection goes back much further than most. They started playing together as students at Clark grade school in Philadelphia, then continued on as teammates at Chestnut Hill Academy, where they helped that school rule the Inter-academic League -- the oldest private school league in the U.S. -- as both juniors and seniors.
"Not just sports but, looking back, we had English class and math class together. We spent countless hours together, said Gargan. "And this wont be the first time weve played against each other. But its still special every time. Itll be a fun game for me.
Actually, they were rivals even in their high school days when they werent playing for Chestnut Hill.
"We werent on the same club team, said Gargan, who played for the Coppa youth team while Larentowicz captained Delco Arsenal, which won U.S. Youth Soccer Assn. national titles in 2002 and 2003.
Youth soccer was strong in the Philadelphia area at that time. Two other MLS veterans, Bobby Convey and Chris Albright played for arch-rival Penn Charter in high school matches, and Convey was Gargans teammate with Coppa in club play. Last week Gargan squared off with Albright when the Fire defeated the Philadelphia Union 1-0 for its first victory of the season.
After high school graduation in 2001 Gargan played at Georgetown while Larentowicz performed for Brown. Though Chestnut Hills strong program produced lots of Division I soccer players, only Gargan and Larentowicz are still playing. Gargan is 29, Larentowicz 28.
Gargan was drafted 43rd overall by the Rapids in 2005, and he played in 49 matches for them from 2005-2007. They released him early in the 2008 season, and he signed with Chivas USA two weeks later but personal problems led to him retiring three weeks later without playing a game.
He restarted his career in 2009, playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer League. Toronto FC brought him back into MLS in 2010, and he started 37 times for that club before being traded to the Fire for defender Dasan Robinson on July 28 of last year. Gargan was a key late-season acquisition, starting nine times in a strong stretch run that saw the Fire barely miss the playoffs.
Larentowiczs career is similar. He was the 45th pick in the 2005 MLS supplemental draft by the New England Revolution and stayed with the Revs through the 2009 season. They sent him to the Rapids in a five-player trade prior to the 2010 season. Hell return to the Rapids lineup Sunday after serving a one-game suspension for drawing two yellow cards in the previous match.
Gargan and Larentowicz trained together briefly after Larentowicz was traded to the Rapids, and Larentowicz stood up in Gargans wedding in January. Both their families still live in the Philadelphia area.
Both also know about the altitude in Denver that has been known to bother visiting teams.
"In the time I was there I was in the best shape of my life, said Gargan. "When Id come out for practices I felt I could run for days. Once you hit altitude you feel it. Its crazy how quickly you get dehydrated. Playing in it (on a daily basis) is definitely a benefit, and the teams in Colorado havent taken as much advantage of it as they should.
The Fire hopes the Rapids wont take advantage of it in this the third game of the season. Its a key one, based on what transpired last season. As was the case in 2011, the Fire is off to 1-0-1 start. Last years Game 3 started a tailspin in which the Fire didnt win again for three months. The club doesnt want that to happen again.