With some playing time tonight, Logan Pause will make his 213th appearance for the Chicago Fire putting him jointly third on the Fire's all-time appearance list with Ring of Fire inductee Chris Armas. After Armas' retirement in 2007, Pause made the defensive midfield position his own and his tireless work in the Fire's engine room often goes unnoticed. In fact, there is a sizeable portion of Fire fans who are vocal critics of Logan even though his performances in recent years caught the eye of former USA coach Bob Bradley who rewarded Pause with 5 starts in the 2009 Gold Cup.
Logan's stranglehold on the defensive midfield position may be loosened by the signing of Mexican Pável Pardo, a player with a wealth of international experience in Logan's position. Pardo's signing gives Frank Klopas another option in central midfield and could force Logan into a move to right-back or even the bench. Let's take a look at some scenarios that could occur in the next couple of games against Philly tonight and Vancouver on Sunday.
In this scenario, the Fire would switch from the usual 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 formation with Logan and Pardo sitting in front of the back four and Grazzini playing in a more advanced role behind the lone striker (probably) Nazarit. Pause discussed this formation recently and emphasized the fact that it frees up wingers Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko by putting less pressure on the wingers to track back and defend when the Fire are not in possession. When asked about the 4-5-1, Pause stated, "In that system, it allows guys like Marco and Patrick to have more freedom. I wouldn't say that it's putting more responsibility on Pável or myself to create, I would just say it's putting less responsibility on Marco and Patrick to defend. It's just give and take."
Verdict: A likely scenario especially because Pause and Pardo trained alongside each other last week and Klopas wants to start his new creative mid Grazzini.
Scenario #2 - Pardo starts on the bench and Logan starts in midfield alongside Paladini
This scenario is very similar to the previous one but with Paladini coming in for Pardo who may not be 100% match fit.
Verdict: It could happen but I think it depends on Pardo's fitness. If he is fit then this scenario is likely. If he isn't fit then Klopas has to decide whether he wants to play with only one defensive mid, two defensive mids, or one striker.
Scenario #3 - Pardo starts on the bench and Logan starts in midfield behind Grazzini
This scenario is similar to scenario #2 but the Fire would play a diamond in midfield with Logan as the destroyer and Grazzini as the creator. Playing with one attacking mid and one defensive mid requires the Fire's wingers to come back and defend. As we have seen in the past, Patrick Nyarko has done an excellent job of tracking back and helping out. Marco Pappa is a different story. His reluctance to come back and defend when the Fire are not in possession has left the outside defender behind him exposed on many occasions this season.
Verdict: Unlikely because Klopas has set up his teams not to lose with a lot of emphasis on defending. Klopas has never had the luxury of an attacking midfielder until now and with Grazzini in mind it will be interesting to see if Klopas abandons his more defensive strategy in favor of a more attacking one. The move is risky, but it could also be very rewarding.
Scenario #4 - Pardo starts in midfield behind Grazzini with Logan on the bench
In this scenario, the Fire would stick with a 4-4-2 but have a diamond in midfield, Grazzini playing at the top of the diamond in the hole behind strikers Nazarit and Oduro, with Pardo playing in front of the back four.
Verdict: Unlikely because it would mean dropping the club captain and one of the most consistent players this season. It would however show that Klopas has faith in rookie Jalil Anibaba at the right-back position. Anibaba has looked very shaky at times but to his credit, right-back is not his natural position.
Scenario #5 Pardo starts in midfield behind Grazzini with Logan moving to right-back
Here, Logan would make the move to right-back to accommodate Pardo. The Fire would continue its 4-4-2 and Logan would replace Anibaba in the backline. When asked about a potential switch, Pause welcomed the move stating, "Listen, I'll move wherever it takes. I want to win, I want the best for this group and if that's right back, if it's on the bench or whatever, my role is just to help this team and I've got no problem to do that." As we know, Pause has played at right-back on occasion for the Fire and I for one welcome this move.
Verdict: Highly likely. In my opinion Pause is the best right-back at the club who is fit. Anibaba's natural position is center back and playing a rookie out of position is a risk that has not paid off for the Fire. The sooner that is addressed, the better. In the absence of Steven Kinney, who won't be back to match fitness for some time, putting Logan at right-back in place of Anibaba makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see if Klopas decides to drop his first round draft pick.
Scenario #6 Pardo starts on the bench and Logan starts at right-back with Paladini starting in midfield
In this scenario, Logan would revert to right-back even in the absence of Pardo from the starting lineup. This scenario is similar to #3 but with Paladini starting in midfield at the bottom of the diamond with Grazzini at the top. Logan would move to right-back in place of Anibaba.
Verdict: Unlikely because I don't see Frank reverting to a 4-4-2 diamond. It leaves the Fire much more exposed, especially on a counter attack, and would put a lot of pressure on Paladini to try and boss the midfield alone. If Pardo is not fit to start, I can't see Klopas throwing Paladini under the bus just to give Pause a start at right back.
As we can see, the signings of Pardo and Grazzini give the Fire a lot of options in midfield. Even though I am not a fan of the 4-5-1, I can see the Fire reverting to this, even in the absence of Pardo. Grazzini is fit and ready to play and looked good against Manchester United at Soldier Field and I can see Klopas wanting to get him into the starting lineup as soon as possible. As I have mentioned before, the 4-5-1 gives Pappa and Nyarko more license to get forward and doesn't require them to track back if the Fire lose possession. Playing with one striker is risky because that striker needs to be able to hold the ball up well and link with the attacking mid and wingers. So far, the only striker who has done that well this season is Diego Chaves who seems to have fallen out of favor recently. Nazarit is capable of holding the ball up and linking with the other attacking players but I haven't seen enough of that to be convinced that he should start in the lone striker role ahead of Chaves.
The Fire are eight points out of the playoffs and if things don't change fast, we will be out of the picture before September. The games against Philly and Vancouver come at a great time for the Fire who are coming off a long break that gave the team plenty of time to experiment with the two new midfielders. The next two games are also a massive test of Klopas's tactical ability. He has had weeks to conjure up the winning formation for these next two games and if the Fire fail to impress, a lot of the blame must be put on his shoulders. I will end by saluting Logan Pause on his willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win. In this day and age, it's refreshing to hear a footballer say he will happily spend time on the bench to make way for another player. For Logan, it's not about him, it's about the badge.