Fire striker Kacper Przybylko bounces back from benching

Przybylko has struggled in his first season with the Fire but scored twice last week against Charlotte.

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Kacper Przybylko celebrates one of his goals last week in Charlotte.

Courtesy of the Fire

Self-belief is a key attribute for any professional athlete. Kacper Przybylko has a reminder of that on his skin, and it’s a message that has been especially crucial this season.

‘‘I don’t give up,’’ Przybylko said. ‘‘I [have] this tattoo, ‘Always believe in yourself,’ and it just means be yourself and it means I never give up.’’

Other than goalkeeper, perhaps no position gets more attention than the lone striker. When that player isn’t scoring, he becomes a target for fans and media and is at risk of being dropped from the starting lineup.

That’s what happened to Przybylko. Yet instead of mentally checking out when he lost his spot to Jhon Duran, Przybylko responded by staying professional in practice and ready to go when he got a chance. He seized the opportunity by scoring twice in the Fire’s 3-2 road victory last Saturday against Charlotte FC.

‘‘You have to tip your hat to a guy like that, a veteran guy who [lost] his job two [or] three weeks ago and stuck with it,’’ coach Ezra Hendrickson said. ‘‘Continued to train hard, and when he got back on the pitch, as he did [against Charlotte], he delivered.”

Przybylko got the opportunity because Hendrickson said he thought his defensive and hold-up play would be a better fit tactically against Charlotte, not because of Duran’s social-media misadventure last week, in which he said he wanted to leave the Fire before walking back his words.

For different reasons, Przybylko had been in the spotlight as he struggled to score like he did when he was with the Union. His goals against Charlotte were his first since May 28 and his fourth and fifth of the season.

‘‘Not the easiest months and past weeks, but I’m very [experienced] in this business and very strong mentally, and sometimes you have these kind of moments,’’ Przybylko said. ‘‘At the end of the day, it’s important to come back. I think I did a great job [against Charlotte]. I’m very happy about it but mostly happy for the team.’’

A productive Przybylko would be a boost for the Fire (8-10-6, 30 points) as they try to make the playoffs despite a challenging schedule. Their game Saturday against the Union (12-3-9, 45 points) in Philadelphia kicks off a three-game stretch in which the Fire — who are seventh in the East with 10 games left — play the top three teams in the conference.

Duran has displayed flashes of his potential, scoring twice July 13 against Toronto FC with a rare combination of strength and speed. Przybylko’s strengths are different. That’s something he showed when he was in the right place to gather in a rebound for his first goal against Charlotte, then controlled a long pass from Xherdan Shaqiri, created room for himself and scored from just inside the 18-yard box for his second.

‘‘I [knew it was] going to be hard to come back after the brace of Jhon, but the most important [thing] is the team, and the team needs me,’’ Przybylko said. ‘‘Whether it’s one minute or 90 minutes, I’m going to give 120% for the victory for the team. Happy that we finally got there, where we are, and you need to be mentally very strong in this business.’’ 

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