Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fire's refurbished defense meshes

Fire rookie defender Jalil Anibaba -- ISI Photos
The Chicago Fire defense went through a complete makeover following last season, with a new scheme and a new cast of characters.

Veteran Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic and rookie Jalil Anibaba are the projected defensive starters from left to right within this year's new three-back system. And considering the lack of goals Chicago allowed during the preseason (the Fire allowed only one goal in three games at the recent Carolina Challenge Cup), it appears that things have meshed quickly within the back line.

"No one would have expected, the way it's been so far," Gibbs said. "But then again, this is preseason. The numbers that have happened aren't going to count for anything, and we just have to translate into the regular season."

Last year's rookie class eventually played some important roles for the Fire on the defensive side, with Sean Johnson earning the No. 1 goalkeeper spot and defender Steven Kinney establishing himself at right back.

But as Kinney recovers from an Achilles injury he suffered at the end of last season, 2011 first-round selection and University of North Carolina product Anibaba is quickly cementing his presence in the lineup.

"You never know what you're going to expect when a rookie comes in," Gibbs said. "College is a completely different game. But Jalil is an exception. He's a talented athlete, a talented figure on the field. And what makes him exceptionally great is that he wants to learn. Day-by-day he's progressing and he'll shoot right in. It's not something with him that's going to take time. It seems natural."


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