Its a good thing Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, is ready to play. The Fire needs him badly now, following Tuesdays surprise announcement that central defender Cory Gibbs will be sidelined 4-6 months following knee surgery.
Gibbs went down during a training session last week and sat out Saturdays friendly against the University of Louisville at Toyota Park, the match in which Friedrich made his Fire debut. Club staffers waited until after Tuesdays surgery at Glenbrook Hospital to release word on Gibbs status. The surgery, to repair a torn meniscus in Gibbs right knee, was performed by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jason Koh of NorthShore Medical Group.
"The last couple days, after hearing about the injury, was basically another low point in my life, said Gibbs, in a statement released by the team. "With the support from my wife, family and teammates and with prayer, I definitely have a more positive outlook. Ive dealt with injuries in the past and have come back to perform at a high level. I hate missing training and contributing in games, so from the first day after the operation Im going to do everything I can to get back as soon as possible."
Gibbs, 32, was a mainstay in the back last season, his first with the Fire. With 19 caps for the U.S. national team, Gibbs was the Fires Defender of the Year in 2011 and scored a memorable goal against Englands Manchester United in a friendly at sold out Soldier Field. Along the way Gibbs also served as a mentor for Jalil Anibaba in his rookie season.
Anibaba played beside Gibbs in the center of the four-man back line in the first three games of this campaign, with Gibbs on the field every minute. Friedrich will move into a center back spot now, but declared himself only 70 percent fit after playing 88 minutes in the Fires 1-0 win over the Louisville collegians.
If a replacement is needed for either Anibaba or Friedrich in Sundays home match against the Houston Dynamo, the logical player off the bench would be Austin Berry. The Fires first-round selection (ninth overall) in Januarys SuperDraft, Berry has yet to play in a Major League Soccer match.
Last season the Fire was deep at the center back position, with Gibbs having Josip Mikulic, Yamith Cuesta and Anibaba as available partners. Family issues kept Mikulic from rejoining the Fire for this season, and contract issues led to Cuesta leaving the club.
Anibaba started as the right back in his rookie season, but coach Frank Klopas preferred him more in the center after the acquisition of Dan Gargan in a trade with Toronto FC late in the campaign. Gargan will start on the right on Sunday, assuming a sprained toe on his left foot has healed. That injury kept Gargan out of the Fires last MLS game -- a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1 -- and he only jogged on the sidelines during Saturdays friendly.
The starter on the left side will again be Gonzalo Segares. In his eighth season with the Fire, Segares will make his 151st regular season appearance, tying him with Jim Curtin for ninth all-time on the Fires career games-played list.