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Thursday, August 25, 2011
Anibaba makes smooth defensive switch

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas made it clear following the team's 2-0 win over Toronto FC on Sunday where he prefers to play rookie defender Jalil Anibaba.

"I like him better as a center back," Klopas said of Anibaba, who opened the season as the Fire's regular right back. "He reads the game better there. For me, I think he can play both. But I see him as a better center back than on the right."

Anibaba's move to center back has been a smooth one, and that was evident when out of the blue he had to replace an injured Cory Gibbs in the opening minutes of a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 3.

"In college, I was able to grow in that position more," Anibaba said. "When I made the transition to center back from attacking mid (where he played in his first two games at Santa Clara), it wasn't easy for me just because it takes time to get used to a new position. It's just a matter of me having more games underneath my belt at center back, and I've been able to transfer my experiences from college at center back to this level."

Anibaba had quite a bit on his plate to open the year. The Fire (3-7-15) lost most of their back line during the offseason and Anibaba was selected as the ninth overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Anibaba then was thrust into a right back slot that he had not played before. Aside from a short stint in the midfield, Anibaba's entire collegiate career at Santa Clara and North Carolina was anchored at center back.

"Right back was a great experience because I got to see the game from different angles and a different perspective than I was used to," Anibaba said. "It definitely helped me grow as a player, fast. I felt like as far as catching up to the curve, it was one challenge I had to take on very seriously because I was also adjusting to the [MLS] level and adjusting to a new position. So it was a definite challenge. But I think I applied myself and did all right."

The Fire's depth at center back is extensive, especially with Gibbs healthy again from a groin injury. Yamith Cuesta was a backup during the Toronto match, and Josip Mikulic did not even make the available 18-player roster after opening the 2011 campaign as a starter.

The back four of Gonzalo Segares, Gibbs, Anibaba and Dan Gargan had a shutout against the Reds over the weekend, and it would be surprising if Klopas decided to change the back line after posting a rare victory.

"The cohesion was there, and the understanding was there from not only Cory and myself, but also Dan and Gonzalo. We definitely had a great understanding, and I think it's a good moment for us as far as getting the win and getting the shutout. But it's pretty obvious that we have a lot of work to do. We have to remain humble and remain steadfast in our endeavors to make the playoffs."

Timetable for Kinney's return unknown: Fire defender Steven Kinney was supposed to be back by now after rupturing his right Achilles tendon on Oct. 23 last year against Chivas USA. He had a successful surgery and was showing some successful signs in training. But a groin strain has kept Kinney on the shelf all season, and he is not sure when he will return.

"I do not know, and every time I try to put a timetable on it, it seems like I get another setback," Kinney said. "I was pushing kind of hard. When you're out for seven, eight months, your body isn't really used to that. I expected injuries and I expected some setbacks along the way. This is one I've just got to take in stride."

Because of the groin strain, Kinney has been limited to riding the bike. Meanwhile, midseason acquisition Gargan has solidified the right back slot in recent weeks. For Kinney, seeing the Fire's season from a distance has been a difficult experience.

"It's tough watching all these ties and stuff, because you feel like you could be out there helping them," Kinney said. "It gives me that hunger to get back out there to help the team. I'm just waiting for that day to get back out there."

Bocanegra nets goal, joins U.S. roster: Former Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra tallied a goal in his Rangers debut on Thursday en route to a 1-1 draw against Maribor. Despite Bocanegra's game-tying goal in the 75th minute, Rangers bowed out of the Europa League with a 3-2 aggregate defeat.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named his 24-player roster on Thursday ahead of the team's friendlies against Costa Rica and Belgium, and Bocanegra is part of the squad. The U.S. hosts Costa Rica at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., at 10 p.m. CT on Sept. 2 (ESPN2), then faces Belgium at King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels at 1:30 p.m. CT on Sept. 6 (ESPN).