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Fire benefit as players return from international duty

Gaston Gimenez and Francisco Calvo have seen upticks in their play after suiting up for their countries.

Gaston Gimenez has shown improvement since returning from national team duty
Courtesy of the Fire

When Przemyslaw Frankowski got back from his productive stint with Poland in the European Championships, the speedy winger looked like a different player with a more clinical final touch. Asked why, Frankowski had a reasonable explanation for his uptick in performance despite not getting much of a break.

‘‘It’s a huge boost [to play with the national team],’’ Frankowski told the Sun-Times through a translator. ‘‘You gain experience. You play in new situations. You really grow.’’

Frankowski, of course, now is plying his trade in France after a transfer to RC Lens that netted the Fire around $3 million, a transaction that likely was helped along by his showing in the Euros. But Frankowski wasn’t the only Fire player to show growth in his play after returning from a major international competition.

Midfielder Gaston Gimenez, a designated player and the Fire’s second-highest-paid performer, played for Paraguay in the recent Copa America. Before he left for the South American championship, Gimenez was struggling through a quiet second season in Chicago that raised questions about his fit and future with the Fire, who hold an option on his contract for 2022.

Since coming back, however, Gimenez has looked more like the player who had a strong 2020 season next to Alvaro Medran, helping to solidify the Fire’s three-man midfield. But Gimenez’s explanation for his resurgence after appearing in a major tournament was different from Frankowski’s.

Actually, he didn’t really have one.

‘‘Honestly, I really don’t know,’’ Gimenez said through a translator. ‘‘I don’t have a response for that question. I just know that when we’re with our national teams, we try to do the best we can, and then we come back and we have to go in right away to be with our club team.’’

What Gimenez said highlights one of the unique challenges of soccer. Unlike most other sports, the top players must jet between their clubs and national-team commitments during the season, often flying thousands of miles and getting little time to rest between competitions.

Like Frankowski, however, Gimenez hasn’t seemed the worse for wear. If anything, the challenge seems to have ignited something in him.

‘‘We want to get in there because our national teams need us when we get there with them and our clubs need us when we come back,” Gimenez said. ‘‘It’s really just a matter of adapting quickly and being where we are to help our team out.’’

Captain Francisco Calvo played in an international tournament, too, suiting up for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup. And Calvo, whose performances had been uneven to start the season, has turned in some of his better outings with the Fire since returning to the team.

Calvo’s play, the steadiness of Mauricio Pineda and the rapid improvement of young center back Carlos Teran were reasons why the Fire had given up only two goals in the four games before their 3-2 loss Wednesday at Inter Miami.