When the Chicago Fire signed Germany's Arne Friedrich in the offseason, they knew they had a defender with World Cup experience. And when they drafted Austin Berry in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, they knew they had the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
What they might not have known was how quickly Friedrich and Berry would develop into a solid core at the center of team's defense. Or how quickly the 24-year-old Berry would "grow up" before the veteran's eyes.
"In this state of the season, maybe he looks like a 40-year-old guy because he has problems with shoulder, with his thumb, with his ankle. I'm 33 years old and I'm not lying on the bench," Friedrich said, completely in jest.
Bumps, bruises and all kidding aside, Friedrich knows the Fire probably wouldn't be in Wednesday's MLS playoff game if it weren't for the chemistry between him and Berry.
"No, he's a very good kid. I like him, I try to help him all the time," Friedrich said. "He's doing a great job, he has played a great season so far and I hope he will stay healthy. Then he will for sure help the club over the next several years."
Berry already is proving invaluable. He'll find out Nov. 19 if he's the MLS Rookie of the Year, and even if he misses out on the award, he's learned plenty from Friedrich.
"He's played at the highest level and can communicate real well, get us organized," said Berry, who's also scored three goals this season. "Now we're all comfortable playing with each other, this late in the season. The outside backs, me and Arne and [goalkeeper] Sean [Johnson] and the holding midfielders, we're used to each other's tendencies and we're kind of clicking at the right time of the year."
Learning Friedrich’s native German, on the other hand, has been more challenging.
"We tried for a little bit," Berry said. "I think I got a few sentences down, and then we got away from it a little bit. I'd have to be in more of a class setting to learn it. ... was going too slow. The easiest one was 'gut' for 'good.' "
He and the Fire have that one down, all right.
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