By ANTHONY ZILIS
The Chicago Fire are struggling – there’s no doubt about it for Patrick Nyarko.
After a heartbreaker on Saturday, in which the Fire dropped two points in the final minutes at Community America Ballpark, they stand fourth in the Eastern Conference with just nine points after eight games.
With the Sister Cities tournament this week, they won’t get to take out their frustrations on MLS opponents.
Still, Nyarko knows his team needs to find whatever positives it can in the two-day tournament, which begins tonight against Paris St. Germain at Toyota Park, a match that starts a stretch of six games in 21 days for the club.
“It’s tough, especially with our team right now, we’ve got a lot of injuries. It’s very difficult to get all of these games in and try to stay fresh, but I guess it’s already scheduled,” Nyarko said.
“You never know if this tournament is going to give you the break to give you a spark.”
Head coach Carlos De Los Cobos listed two objectives for the upcoming exhibitions: for his team’s group of core players to improve and for younger players to get a chance to play.
The lineup Wednesday will feature one small change from Saturday’s game, with forward Brian McBride starting in place of Collins John, and one big one, with rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson making his first start in place of starter Andrew Dykstra.
The 20-year-old Johnson, a Generation Adidas signee, was the second goalkeeper taken in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
“He’s got good size, he’s got good feet. He’s a young goalkeeper with a bit to learn,” Dykstra said. “I guess game situations are good for him.”
De Los Cobos said plenty of changes would be in store for the second half, so rookies like Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Corben Bone may get time.
Playing his starting lineup, however, shows De Los Cobos is committed to performing Wednesday.
“Even though it’s a friendly match we need to take all responsibility. We are representing our club, the Chicago Fire, and for the fans,” he said.
More than that, for Nyarko, it’s a chance for a talented team to finally realize its potential. This “mini-break,” as he called it, may be just what the Fire need.
“It’s a chance to show everyone where we’re at this season,” he said. “It’s hasn’t been a really good run so far, but maybe we need this to get us going, you never know.”
Nyarko is, undoubtedly, having the best season of his short career.
Though the Fire’s breakout midfielder has had his issues with finishing and crossing at times, the converted forward has been a bright spot for a struggling team.
With European teams coming to visit, the Ghanaian said he is always looking at making the leap to Europe.
“I don’t think any player in this league would not want to play at a top level, play in Europe. I’m no different from any other player,” he said. “It all starts here, trying to develop my game here, trying to do the best I can to play very well for the Fire and hopefully some European teams come calling … I just need to stay healthy, keep doing what I’m doing, hopefully they come around.”
“If there’s interest, we’d definitely consider it, but right now I’m just focused on the fire and trying to turn the season around,” he added.
News and Notes
Saturday’s game against the Wizards was a tough one for Dykstra.
Although it was difficult to see from the television angles, Dykstra said the Wizard’s first goal off the foot of Kei Kamara took a deflection off of defender Wilman Conde.
Dykstra later let a shot from rookie Teal Bunbury slip through his hands. Earlier in the game, Dykstra went up for a ball in the box and was undercut by teammate Dasan Robinson, crashing head-first into the ground.
“I tried calling him off the ball … I wish he didn’t duck. I hit my head on the ground and it was the first thing to smack, but I’ve got a hard head so it’s all right. I saw a flash of light when I hit the ground, but I was good other than that.
De Los Cobos said that Tim Ward is still out a few more weeks with a strained calf.
Wednesday’s game against Paris St. Germain will be followed by Legia Warsaw vs. Red Star Belgrade.
Legia Warsaw, w which plays Red Star Belgrade following g the Fire vs. Paris St. Germain match on Wednesday, features Jakub Kosecki, son of Roman Kosecki, a Fire Original.
On Saturday, the consolation game of the tournament will take place at 6 pm, wand the championship game will follow at 8 pm. The Paris St. Germain practice at 5 pm on Friday is open to the general public.