Although we play Toronto FC tonight I thought this would be a good time to look over the current roster we have after the transfer window has closed. We added some pieces and we certainly have some new looks to the team. This got me thinking about some of the possibilities that we may see in the immediate future. With the playoff stretch now beginning, it's a good time to look at what we may see on the pitch in the near future.
I am going to categorize my thoughts by the 3 sections of the pitch: defense, midfield, and offense. I have been thinking about how these new acquisitions might fit into the puzzle since they arrived, and tonight should start to give us some answers. Follow me after the break for more...
The understatement of the year would be me saying the defense has been excellent so far. We all know that. Instead, I want to focus on the stellar defense leading to a better offense. Sean Johnson is in epic form. The backline has been very good, especially with a healthy Arne Friedrich commanding the center of the defense. And the defensive midfield of Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause has been exceptional as well. Put together, our defense is becoming one of the top handful of defenses in the league. Heading into the Toronto game (and not including the Houston/NY game), the Fire have conceded 23 goals. This only trails 5 other MLS teams. Those teams would be Columbus, Chivas, Sporting KC, Philadelphia, and Seattle ( 20, 21, 21, 22, and 22 goals allowed, respectively). Those stats are even better when you take into account Arne missing some games, as well as a rookie and a second year player learning to mesh with each other. Throw in Sean, Pavel and Logan, and the recipe is there for a stalwart defense to help carry us into the playoffs.
Now, with that being said, I think this great defense could allow Frank to emphasize more offense. We know Sega and Gargan like to push up the field. And we also have a ton of wingers capable of doing so. With such a stout defense up the middle, I think we can afford to try to see what the offense could look like with an all out attack strategy. I think we have the personnel to do it. However, I'm not saying that everyone should push up and not drop back to play defense leaving 4-5 players all alone in defending. I do think that we could try to see what a dynamic, attacking formation could look like.
If counter attacking is our game where we try to bomb up the pitch, a 4-5-1 look could work. If we really want to have an offensive minded game plan from the start, we could try employing a 4-3-3. I do question us trying to play a 4-3-3 but it is something that does intrigue me. This would cut out a defensive midfielder, but could make us very dangerous on attack. The question ultimately comes down to how flexible will Frank be in trying different looks and formations? Will he truly try new things, or just plug the new pieces into an old puzzle?
This is where things really start to get crazy, especially in terms of win/attacking players. Just off the top of my head, vaild starting midfield options are: Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Marco Pappa, Alvaro Fernandez, and Chris Rolfe. I didn't mention Pardo and Pause because their roles are well defined and we know where they will be and what they will be doing. As you can see at any given time, Frank can mix and match various players in various positions to give the offense many more nuances than we had just a week or two ago even. Fire writer Anthony Zilis even mentioned in his most recent article on mlssoccer.com that Frank could slide Marco Pappa into the middle. This is a look I have been wondering about in the past, and it would free up a spot for the newly acquired Fernandez.
Of course, this look could change Alex's role a bit and I don't know how well that would work since he is still trying to settle into his role with the team. In the end, Frank has to do what works best for the team, and if in fact Pappa does slide to the middle and it works, we could be on to something. Another thing to keep in mind with all these midfielders and wingers is that this could allow Chris Rolfe to finally move up top where he would be best. Until Sherjill is fully fit, there isn't any reason why he can't play up further and behind Oduro. It would be another legit offensive threat that teams have to pay attention to and gameplan for.
I think it's safe to say that any fan that loves going through potential formations is pretty geeked right now. Although I don't think our midfield has been bad this year, I do think it could use a tweak or two and a different look. Now that we have added personnel to allow that, I think it behooves Frank to try some stuff out. After all, you don't know what you have until you try. At worst, if something doesn't seem to work, we have other options to turn to.
As of right now things are pretty much where they were before. Oduro is still the man up top, but obviously would benefit from some help. That's what Sherjill was brought in to do, I am left to wonder when he is ready for a full 90 if Oduro doesn't start to get more rest. Most Fire fans have called for Frank to try starting Oduro on the bench and using him in the mold of a super sub. This makes a lot of sense, especially late in matches when defenders legs are feeling heavy and Odruo could use his blazing speed to absolutely torch defenders. I wish I could mention Orr Barouch in this equation too but I think we all know what role he has on the team and I don't really see that changing soon. Although Orr does have his critics, I will staunchly argue that he hasn't received a full opportunity to shine yet. Even the best players are going to look flat and struggle if they only see the pitch for a few minutes every month or two. Until something changes I don't think we can seriously put Orr into the conversation when talking about the forward starting rotation.
Even though Sherjill won't start against Toronto, it's still something i want to talk about. Let's fast forward to when he is fit (hopefully pretty soon). Depending on formation, what will the forward department look like? Will we roll with 2 up top in Oduro and Sherjill? What about Sherjill and Rolfe? Will one play withdrawn or will we try two legit strikers? Being a DP we know Sherjill will be in the equation unless he is injured. Thus the biggest question mark becomes what will Oduro's role be, and also how this might affect Rolfe. With such a crowded midfield this might finally give Frank the freedom to employ Rolfe as a striker. I know it's something that I, along with almost every other Fire fan, wants to see. This loops around to the same question I have mentioned already: will Frank be willing to give it a look?
My head is starting to hurt with all these possibilities. I am glad I am not the one that gets paid to figure this out. I do know getting to analyze all of these new options is going to be fun, especially for the tactical gurus out there. With that, said, I will leave you with my score prediction in case you missed it on the 3 questions exchange, I am going with a 2-1 Fire win. Ryan Johnson gets the goal for Toronto, while Marco Pappa and newcomer Sherjill MacDonald net for the Men in Red. We hope to see you tomorrow night on the gamethread!