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As Designated Players go, Fire not afraid of feisty side
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist

Freddie Ljungberg, now with the Chicago Fire with a Designated Player contract, had issues with his coach in Seattle.


Courtesy Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire designated player Nery Castillo, left, talks with head coach Carlos de los Cobos.


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Published: 8/3/2010 12:08 PM

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The Chicago Fire seems to like its Designated Players feisty.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco arrived in Chicago three years ago with a reputation as something of a coach killer, though his time here was relatively quiet.

To replace Blanco the Fire has brought in two DPs in the past couple of weeks, forward Nery Castillo and midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.

Castillo has been feuding with the Mexican press, a subject he opted not to address when asked by Chicago's Spanish-language media at last week's introductory press conference. Castillo also ran into problems in the Ukraine when he insisted in taking a penalty kick. It's part of the reason he's now in Chicago.

Ljungberg is no angel, either. He hadn't played since July 4 because he refused Seattle coach Sigi Schmid's request to stop whining at the referees. Ljungberg, like Blanco, developed a reputation for hitting the ground easily, then giving the referee a few pieces of his mind if no foul was called.

Throw in Collins John, who also arrived this spring with something of a bad-boy reputation, and it's quite a group of personalities.

Maybe Castillo and Ljungberg will bring the kind of fiery attitude the Fire has been lacking with Blanco gone and John Thorrington injured all year (although Castillo didn't play Sunday at L.A. and Ljungberg went just 32 minutes, the 3-2 victory was a great start). Maybe they will be a challenge for first-year coach Carlos de los Cobos, who seems as respectful and even-mannered as they come.

Fortunately for de los Cobos, he's one of the reasons Castillo, 26, cited for coming to Chicago. Not only are both Mexican, but de los Cobos played against Castillo's father in Mexico, another thing Castillo mentioned at his news conference.

De los Cobos has no such connection with Ljungberg. But at age 33 and with 0 goals and 3 assists to show for this season, Ljungberg has to know he's not going to get many more chances if things don't work out in Chicago.

The addition of the DPs gives the Fire a surplus of stars to draw fans of all types: Castillo (for the Hispanic community), Ljungberg, John (Europeans), Brian McBride (suburban soccer families), plus all-stars Marco Pappa and Wilman Conde.

Castillo, when he's fit, probably will be paired with McBride or John up top. Either combination is enough to get a goalkeeper's attention and keep it for 90 minutes.

Ljungberg will join a strong midfield with the skilled Pappa and speedy assist-man Patrick Nyarko on the wings and Logan Pause or Baggio Husidic at defensive mid.

It's a strong midfield, especially when Thorrington returns. So strong, in fact, that de los Cobos might be tempted to try yet another formation, this time a 3-5-2. In that case, figure Conde to roam the middle of the defensive line (a la Lubos Kubik) with Krzysztof Krol on the left and either Tim Ward or Dasan Robinson on the right, depending on who is healthy. C.J. Brown would go to the bench.

Finally, kudos to de los Cobos for having the courage to pull the plug on the Andrew Dykstra experiment in goal and go with rookie Sean Johnson against the high-scoring Los Angeles Galaxy. Johnson responded with 3 excellent reaction saves and patrolled his penalty area well. He can't be blamed for the 2 penalty-kick goals. It was a great MLS debut.