Matt Polster waited a long time for Saturday night.
The Chicago Fire's third-year player made his season debut after a knee injury suffered in the second week of the preseason and later setbacks kept him out of game action until he came off the bench for the final 19 minutes against the Seattle Sounders.
Polster did so at right back, a position he didn't play last season, but has played before. He completed 16 of 17 passes and drew a pair of fouls while the Fire added two insurance goals in the 4-1 win.
"It’s exciting to get back on the field and I just feel like I’m finally happy now," Polster said. "I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I’m just happy I’m here and healthy again and available to be on the field.”
Polster suffered what the team called a sprained left knee during preseason training on Feb. 2. He was initially expected to be out seven weeks and appeared to be reasonably close to that projection when he returned to training in late March. He was seen running and completing individual passing drills in training on March 21.
On April 15, Polster was available as a substitute against New England, but did not play. Then he suffered a setback while he tried to regain his fitness. Polster had a right hip injury and was out for the next three games before finally playing against Seattle.
Right back isn't a new position to Polster, who played center back in college before moving to defensive midfield as a pro. Polster also played some right back during his rookie season and when he played with the Olympic qualifying team last year.
"I have some experience with it," Polster said. "I think there will be moments where I might look like I haven’t done it, but I think if I get enough experience with it and get used to it I think I can definitely play that position.”
Michael Harrington began the season as the starter at right back, but Drew Conner started at the LA Galaxy. Conner again started against Seattle before Polster replaced him. Those three figure to be competing for that spot for the forseeable future.
“We were working on our improvement in our backline on the right back," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We were also talking with [Polster] in playing that position in the last couple of months, but as he got the setback with his injury he needed more time. We were working on his fitness. We were working also on preparing him so when the moment comes he was ready. I think [Saturday] he did very well."
Getting minutes at Polster's previous position in central midfield won't be easy. The trio of newcomers, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho will be very difficult to unseat. All three have made every start when they are healthy and available.
If Polster is limited to minutes at right back this year, he won't mind the position change, if it sticks.
“I think it’s definitely easier than central midfield," Polster said. "I think when you get the ball you have everything in front of you. You don’t really have to worry about something behind you, it’s just the [offside] line itself. For me I find it easier because I have everything in front of me. I’m able to pick my pass and I know what I’m going to do pretty early before I get it.”
Polster said this in front of the Fire's starting left back, Brandon Vincent, so Vincent was roped into the conversation. Vincent gave everyone a laugh with his response as to whether playing outside back is easier than central midfield as Polster said.
“It is," Vincent said. "That’s why I don’t play it.”