Facing the final third of the MLS season, one game at a time


Barouch scored a brace when the Fire dismantled RBNY Jr in a 4-0 USOC quarterfinal win in July.


If it is in fact time for the Fire to let go of pointless dreams of the playoffs, as I wrote in my last column, then let's take a look at how the Fire could approach this Saturday's fixture against the Red Bulls in New York/Jersey. How might the Fire make the best of their final 12 regular season matches in a way that will be productive for next season rather than run the team into the ground in an ill-advised playoff push? One of my arguments was to begin the coaching search in earnest. But then on Wednesday, Klopas told the media after training that the search had not yet begun. Of course.

Still, I contended that the most important shift would be for the team to focus entirely on winning the Open Cup and use league matches to build chemistry and prepare for that tournament. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how Klopas and the Men in Red should plan for this weekend's match. Read on after the jump if you want to join me in some back-seat coaching.

First, a disclaimer: I recognize that this is pretty much pure indulgence. It's easy for fans to watch a club struggle and say, "If only I were in charge, things would be going great." Coaching a professional team is a difficult job, especially during a season like this one. It's hard on the players, too. They're competitive people and most of them aren't getting paid much more than your average American to do what they're doing anyways (though I'd still take six months of soccer over a year-round desk job, which some of these guys should consider, the way things are going). The point of this piece (and any that follow) is to stay engaged with a team that has been hard to follow this year because it's been so frustrating. It's to remain a fan when things aren't going well (can you tell I'm a Cubs fan, too?). And hey, maybe Hauptman will read this and make me coach. I'll let you be the judge of whether I'm qualified...

The Fire have a fairly congested schedule in the second half of August. They play five matches in 17 days, starting this Saturday and ending with the Open Cup semifinal on August 30th. On the plus side, the last four of those are at Toyota Park. Home turf hasn't been a huge advantage for the Fire in terms of results, but at least they won't have to travel.

If the team is going to be serious about the Open Cup, then I'd expect to see our best team resting against Colorado on the 27th. However, that match is still a few weeks away, so the next few games are a chance to figure out what that best team should be. A hint: based on recent results, it shouldn't be the same group of guys that played against Philly and Vancouver.

Cuesta to the bench. Overall, Cuesta has been a great pickup this season. For a young CB, he's been very consistent. He could learn some discipline and earn a few less cards, but he's more than redeemed the Supplemental Draft spot the Fire traded for him. However, he played like absolute crap against Vancouver and has earned a spot on the bench for his efforts. Anibaba did very well at CB against Philadelphia and should return to central defense with Mikulic.

Experiment at LB. Segares has been fairly solid all year, but he's played every game and has tallied nearly as many regular season minutes and appearances (1973 mins in 22 games) as any other season with the club, with the exception of 2007 (2406 mins in 27 games). There are 12 league games and hopefully 2 USOC matches to go, which would put him well above any other year. He's not getting younger, either, and at 29 may need a break now and then coming down the stretch. He remains the best option at LB, but if he's going to be able to play his usual role against Richmond on the 30th, a rest couldn't hurt. Plus, it would be difficult to evaluate the future of the LB position without giving other players a few minutes with the senior team. Pari Pantazopoulos is essentially the only other option and I'd be happy to see him play, given his back story.

Pardo and Grazzini stay in the middle. If these two are really going to solve the Fire's midfield problems, they need to keep playing so that they can learn to work well with each other and with their teammates. Without experience and chemistry, it won't particularly matter too much how good they are if they can't anticipate the other players' movements and runs.

Barouch starts. While young and crossbar-cursed, Orr Barouch has shown the most promise of all the Fire's forwards. He's proven himself in the Reserve League (where he and Nazarit lead in scoring with 4 apiece) and looked dangerous as sub with the first team. With most of the starting forwards struggling to produce regularly, it's time to give Orr a chance at a starting spot.

Switch to a diamond 4-4-2. I admit, I'm not totally against the 4-5-1, particularly if Barouch got a chance to start up top. But a 4-4-2 would allow Barouch to team up with Nazarit and at least give a try at recreating their Reserve League success. While it might appear to make the midfield situation more complicated, it also would allow Klopas to rotate his starting wingers and spread minutes among more or less interchangeable players. While having Chaves and Ferrari injured limits starting options and depth at forward, Pappa and Oduro can also play in front with Nyarko and Bone on the wings.

Give Pineda a few minutes. Why not? The Fire signed him as their first Homegrown Player last season and he continues to play well with USMNT youth sides and in the Reserve League. Some substitute appearances would be good experience and a solid investment in the future.

To summarize, if Hauptman calls me to the bench on Saturday, here's who I'm starting:

Barouch        Nazarit


Pappa                       Nyarko


Pari    Anibaba    Mikulic    Pause

Subs: Since Grazzini's usually been subbing around 2/3 of the way through, it's either a straight switch with Bone or bring Pappa to the center and put Corben on the left. Oduro comes in either for Nyarko or one of the forwards when the Red Bulls defenders are tired, and Pineda makes a late appearance for Pappa or Nyarko, unless three points are on the line.

How would you manage this game?

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