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Suddenly, Andrew Dykstra is the Fire's man on the spot.
With one bold and stunning move this week, new Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos put his stamp on this team, making it his own and turning Dykstra from the guy at the end of the bench into the team's starting goalkeeper and its most important player.
That move included cutting popular veteran Jon Busch, who played every minute of every league game for the Fire in 2009 and was assumed to have a lock on the job this year too.
The Fire's 2010 season - which starts Saturday night when the team helps open New York's sparkling new soccer stadium on national TV (6 p.m., ESPN) - now depends on a guy who has never played in an MLS game.
"This whole week has been quite a change," Dykstra said at Wednesday's season kickoff luncheon, where he probably did more interviews than in his whole pro career previously. "I mean, a couple of days and everything is flipped on its head. But I'm prepared, and I've been preparing since I arrived in March of '09."
Dykstra's career stat line won't be filled with zeroes for long. He will make his coach look like a genius or a fool.
"This is a moment for Andrew," de los Cobos said in improving English. "He is a young player. All the time I listen that he doesn't have experience. But the only way to get experience is playing. He has a very good potential. He showed me in the preseason that he is ready."
"He sat me down and explained what was going on, that he wanted me to start the season," Dykstra said of the coach. "Some butterflies set in, and it was something that you just kind of got to change your mentality and get ready for. And then when I heard the news about Jon I was just completely shocked. I had no idea that was coming. But to be a professional means to put emotions aside and get on with things."
True, Dykstra, 24, will have 10 teammates on the field with him, but goalkeeper is a key spot, as D.C. United showed last season, struggling to find someone to take over the position and ultimately missing the playoffs. When Troy Perkins decided to come home from Europe this winter, United paid dearly to bring Perkins all the way home to D.C. The team had to have a strong goalkeeper.
Is Dykstra that man for the Fire? Nobody really knows for sure, not even de los Cobos. Outside of practices, half of last year's friendly against Club America and 11/2 preseason games this spring, Dykstra's has had a firm seat on the bench since joining the Fire early last year. He missed some of this preseason nursing a shoulder injury that is now healed.
Monday was a painful day for many in the organization, including owner Andrew Hauptman, technical director Frank Klopas, others in the front office who got to know Busch and of course his friends on the field and in the locker room. Busch wore his heart on his sleeve, and he loved playing for the Fire and its fans, especially those in Section 8.
Cutting Busch was not a salary dump. He did not anger the wrong person. He is still on top of his game. He is 33, but that is not old for goalkeepers. There are no other goalkeepers coming. Forget about El Salvador national team goalkeeper Miguel Montes.
"I don't know where those rumors come from," an agitated Klopas said of Montes. "That's not true. We've made our decision. We fully support Andrew and Sean (Johnson, the rookie who will back up Dykstra) and we're going forward with them."
This was de los Cobos deciding the future is now and that Dykstra has a lot of potential. This was another indication that de los Cobos is in Chicago for the long term, that he doesn't see the Fire as a way station to bigger and better things.
"I like the risks," de los Cobos said, "because I know that we have a very good player for the future. Maybe this season he needs to learn, but he is ready to learn."
TV update: The Fire announced Wednesday that former Blackhawks broadcaster Dan Kelly will become the team's play-by-play voice on local television broadcasts this season. He joins color commentator Chris Doran, who returns for another season. Kelly replaces Fred Huebner, whom the team decided not to retain. The team is expected to announce a local broadcast schedule that will have some games on Chicago SportsNet and some on Channel 50.
Roster update: The Fire expects to add Salvadoran left back Deris Umanzor soon, possibly later this week. "He's coming," coach Carlos de los Cobos said.
Captain update: C.J. Brown has been the team captain since Chris Armas retired, but new coach Carlos de los Cobos indicated that honor could go to Brian McBride this season.