Rather than doing my regular hat trick today, I thought I would throw out a few thoughts heading into the Dynamo game Sunday. It is a big game for the Fire, coming off a tough loss in Colorado when we played pretty poorly. Understandably, confidence has taken a blow in Fire land since the Rapids match. It will be vital for the Fire to come out, start strong, and put in a good 90 minutes. The talent on the team is certainly there, the question is putting it all together for a 3 point performance. Follow me after the break for some things to consider for the showdown Sunday night...
As Tweed mentioned yesterday on HTIOT, the Fire were dealt some devastating news yesterday when it was revealed Cory Gibbs would be out 4-6 months due to a tear in the meniscus of his right knee. It would severely hurt any team to lose a player of his caliber. Although Gibbs has had various knocks in the past that have caused him to miss time, an injury like this is a really hard one to get back from. Obviously, a soccer player's knee is a very important part of the body. So, a player has to not only make sure they rehab and re-strengthen it properly, but they also have to be careful not to push it too hard and too soon. A re-injury can be just as devastating. Cory also faces the fact of overcoming this injury at age 32. Older players typically heal slower and take more time to rehab. I will say this though, if any player can come back from this quickly and even stronger than before, it's Cory. All of us here at HTIOT and the entire Fire family wish him a quick and speedy recovery.
Tweed also had some good points about new signing Arne Friedrich. I don't want to re-tread his article, so I will just say that the signing seems even more like a very smart move at just the right time. Arne says his injury problems are behind him, and once he is in form he definitely has the talent to be the best CB in MLS. I look for him to start in the middle with Jalil Anibaba on Sunday. We will have Austin Berry as a backup CB (who should get very valuable experience), as well as Hunter Jumper who can fill in if need be at CB, although he is a true LB. Sega will obviously man the LB position Sunday, with Gargan patrolling the opposite RB position. Gargan has had some recent knocks as well, but we do have some depth there in young Tony Walls. Although Logan Pause can play RB in a pinch, he is far from the best RB option on the team and I only would want him there as a last resort.
As much as it would be nice to have a healthy Steve Kinney to throw into the mix, he still has not recovered from his Achilles injury and I wonder if we will ever see him in a Fire jersey again. Serious injuries like that can derail careers, even for very young players. Here's to hoping Steve is making good progress and can get back to playing sooner rather than later, hopefully for the Fire.
Keeping in the defensive end of the pitch, I think Paolo Tornaghi gets the nod in goal again Sunday. He and Sean Johnson are in the thick of a fierce starting battle. Sean saw a full 90 minutes in the reserve match loss yesterday to Sporting KC. Paolo was not even on the bench for the reserves, thus pointing to him starting Sunday. And I think that is the right decision. I think Sean still needs a bit more regular playing time to get back into his groove after sitting a lot with the US U23 team. And although it seems he has been performing well in reserve action, he may still be trying to get past the Olympic qualifying disappointment. I definitely think we see him starting again soon, but the time is not right just yet it.
Another advantageous reason for Paolo to start Sunday is that it will help him boost/keep his confidence. He didn't have the best of matches in Colorado, so Sunday will give him a chance to bounce back to the form we have seen early this year. Any goalkeeper can have a rough game here and there, and it's good that Frank is showing confidence in him by giving him another start. One bad game shouldn't cause a goalkeeper to lose his job, especially if the normal starter is not ready to step back in yet. We all know the talent that Paolo has, and I have no doubts he will bounce back. Once Sean is fully into form, then it will be up to him to win the spot back as long as Polo keeps up good form.
One major advantage the Fire will have heading into Sunday's game is the fact that the Dynamo midfield will basically be decimated. Brad Davis is a good bet to miss the game, and Adam Moffat and Colin Clark will also be out due to suspension. This is a golden opportunity for the Fire to take advantage of a severely weakened midfield. I don't care who the team is, when you have that many solid/good midfielders out, that team is going to be hurting.
The question is whether the Fire will take proper advantage of this. We saw a similar situation when the Men in Red faced Philly. The Union fielded had a weakened side, and the Fire were able to notch their first win of the season. However, coming away from that game, I think we all felt the scoreline should have been more than the 1-0 final tally that showed on the score sheet. The name of the game is to get 3 points any way you can, but we have to put the proverbial boot to the throat when we are facing teams that are struggling with key players missing. Those opportunities must be taken advantage of if you want to make the playoffs.
That leaves the midfield/forwards/scoring issue. When the midfield creates, we create scoring chances. When we create chances, they need to be put away, something we have struggled with so far. There would be nothing better than to see 3-4 Fire goals Sunday from different players. While I won't get carried away, it would be good to see someone (anyone) step up and help Oduro.
We can't play long ball all game every game. Defenses are already playing deep to try to negate Dom's speed. Add in the fact that the Dynamo midfield is missing so many pieces, and it wouldn't shock me to see the Dynamo park tour buses in front of their goal. We are going to have to create from the midfield and attack. It could be hard to create scoring chances if the Dynamo have that many players lying deep in defense. I could see something like a set piece play or a corner kick being the deciding factor in this game. Given the fact that we haven't done well on these things lately, the Fire must do better at set plays Sunday. It could be the difference in the game.
We will need Nyarko, Grazzini, and Pappa to be on their games. Honestly, this could be a good time to give Robayo a start in place of Pappa. Pappa has already had an up an down season so far, and we need to see what Robayo can do. I know that he didn't necessarily light the world on fire (pun intended) in his first significant debut time with the team, but let's not judge off one performance. I think the pedigree is there, and we need somebody to be disciplined and stay out on the right wing for once. I would like to see what the offense can do with somebody out on the right wing for a full 90 minutes.
Bottom line, we need somebody to step up and take the pressure off Oduro. It's been said before many times, but it is still an issue. Another serious offensive threat would force a team to have to mark two players rather than one, opening things up for everybody. It would be very nice to have someone on the current roster step up and do this without having to look potentially for expensive options this summer. Hell, if Frank has to lace 'em up and pull on the Fire jersey again, then so be it. We desperately need help up top and if the break through in this department is going to come, there is not a better time than against a team with a crippled midfield.
Although I am somewhat nervous for what Sunday brings, I am also excited and confident. Not just because the Dynamo have some personnel issues heading into the game. We all know what our team is capable of. If the Fire come out and play to our ability, we can play with anyone, I really believe that. They key is getting a consistent, good performance from all areas of the pitch. It seems that in games where the offense looks dangerous, the defense struggles. In games where the defense stands tall, the offense has struggled. You get the picture. If the team can put in a solid performance across the board, we should definitely be able to make some noise. My key to the game is how the midfield plays. If they create and attack, we will be just fine. Sunday can't come soon enough!