The Fire will have a new face in its lineup Friday night when it takes on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. Austin Berry will man a central defenders spot while making his debut in Major League Soccer.
Berry might seem a liability as the Fire (2-2-2) tries to recover from last Saturdays 2-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders. He was the Fires first-round selection in Januarys MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville and the only reasons hes playing is because Cory Gibbs is recovering from knee surgery and Jalil Anibaba is serving a one-game suspension.
Still, Berry feels hes ready for his first big chance as a pro player.
"I had a strong preseason, and Im getting better every day," he said following a training session in Bridgeview this week. "I feel confident."
Experience-wise, of course, he lacking. Berry has played only in three reserve team matches and a friendly against his college team since coach Frank Klopas finalized his regular season roster. Berry, though, feels hes better prepared than it might seem.
"In college I had some opportunities to train with teams at the next level, so that made me sure about what it would be like," said Berry, "so there were no surprises for me. I knew what I had to work on."
A three-sport athlete in high school, Berry became a student of soccer while at Louisville and was invited to train with the Fire Premier Development side as well as stints with the Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and Sounders of MLS and a club in Sweden.
"All those 10-day training sessions were good preparation for me before stepping into this preseason," said Berry, "and just being out (at Fire training) every day has helped my technical ability. But its not just technical ability, its making the right decisions on the field."
Berrys biggest adjustment was to the faster speed of play in MLS, and he believes playing beside German veteran Arne Freidrich will ease his transition to MLS game action on Friday.
"Organization and communication have always been one of my strong suits," said Berry, "and itll help having Arne beside me. Hes a world-class player whos big on communication."
With Klopas unable to communicate with the club while at the Home Depot Center (he will make the trip with the club to Los Angeles), the Fire will be coached by assistants Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich on game day. Both are former Chivas USA assistant coaches, having worked with that club when Preki was its head coach.
Chivas USA (3-5-0) is coming off a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids last Saturday. The Goats, as the team is called, has a defender, Rauwshaun McKenzie, who grew up in the Chicago area and played for Chicago Fire Premier in 2007. Orr Barouch, a Fire reserve, was with Chivas in a similar development program before turning pro with Mexican club Tigres prior to being acquired by the Fire.
The match with Chivas USA will be the first of six MLS tests for the Fire in May, and the teams first game in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will be on May 29, with the opponent and site yet to be determined.