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DSC_0432-1Next up in our four part series recapping the 2011 Chicago Fire season is the defenders. Arguably the most solid and consistent performers this season, the defensive back line came up with some huge plays at both ends of the pitch. With a mixture of youth and veteran presence across the back it was a little surprising to see this group come together and play well as a unit most of the season. The experience of the back line ranged from players with international duty, players who have played in Europe, and then a player who should have been considered for rookie of the year. All in all, the group - which featured several different players over the course of the year - played well, and we are here to analyze some of the key members of that corps.

Cory Gibbs - You could say that Cory was the motor of the defensive line. For most of the season he was the guy that kept things running like a well oiled machine. I know, I know, one too many factory references, but it only goes to show just how integral he was to this unit. Gibbs has been in the league since 2008, but this was his first season with Chicago Fire. It didn't take long for him to step up as a leader along the back line, offering assistance at times when other players had a breakdown in coverage. Cory was often seen moving from side to side to help bail some of the younger guys out, and the matches he missed due to injury or suspension, the back line obviously missed him. Cory was without a doubt the defensive MVP of this club, and without his experience and leadership we could have been in for a much longer season.

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Jalil Anibaba - In my opinion, Anibaba deserved some rookie of the year consideration. He was a great defender and seemed to get better as the year went on. He obviously benefited from playing with someone like Cory Gibbs, and I can only hope he continues to learn and grow from here. Jalil's move from RB to the center upon the arrival of Dan Gargan really seemed to help his game out as the center position seemed a more natural fit for him. Although Anibaba didn't get his first MLS goal until the final match of the season (where he actually had a brace), he scored one of the most improbable and important goals of 2011 for the Fire. You all remember the ridiculous goal he scored from about 40 yds out in the fog in Peoria to help lift the Fire past the Rapids in the USOC play-in...if you haven't seen it you need to Google it right now. Anibaba took some great steps forward this year, and I look forward to seeing him in Fire red for a long time to come.

Dan Gargan - In my opinion, Gargan was Frank Klopas' most important acquisition of 2011. Before the arrival of Gargan the team was going nowhere. Attitude appeared to be at a season low, and the defense was holding together, but not necessarily gelling as well as earlier in the season. Gargan's arrival did several things for this club. First off, it allowed Jalil to move back to the center, a move I've already touched on. In addition to that he brought a new attitude and fire to the locker room (pun intended). He brought a junkyard dog type of mentality that really seemed to resonate with the guys and breath new life and energy into this stagnant club. On top of that, his defending is pure class and he even netted a goal for the club in a match against the team that traded him to Chicago. Dan Gargan is one of my favorite players on this club. 

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Gonzalo Segares - If you've read any of my stuff this year you're probably getting ready for me to rip Sega apart here. I can't do it. Sure, early on in the season he looked a little lax. I was wondering where the old Sega had gone and who this guy was? But all of that changed when Dan Gargan arrived. I think the attitude that Gargan brought really gave Sega a kick in the rear and helped kind of spur him on to dig down and give it everything he had again. I loved what I saw out of him in the last third of the season, and he was an absolute horse this season, eating up more minutes than anyone else out there. I may have been down on him early on, but if he continues to play the way he was towards the end, I'd love to see him back.

Josip Mikulic - Another guy you all know I'm not a huge fan of. At times he looks brilliant, and at other times he looks lost (USOC). I'm also not a fan of what appears to be his lack of fitness. How many times down the stretch did he have to be subbed out because of cramps? Is he the Carlos Zambrano of this club? He needs some serious polishing. If he was able to pick his game up some, he could be a really key defender, but he just made too many bad reads and tackles this year for me to be a big supporter of his right now. I hope to see better going forward. 

Yamith Cuesta - Another guy that I was impressed by. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw from Cuesta this year. He stepped into some big spots and played some solid defense. I remember early on when he was in replacing an injured Cory Gibbs, thinking that I was actually very surprised by what I saw from him. Early on, I'm a big fan of what Yamith is bringing to the table.