Though there hasn't been much joy in Muddville...err I mean Fire land so far this season, I wanted to start your Monday off with some good news. Yes, that's right, some good news. The Men in Red are finally getting some much needed depth back. While all teams have to deal with injuries and that excuse can't (or at least shouldn't) be used as a crutch for our entire situation so far, there is no denying it has had an impact.
No matter how good a team is or what depth has been built, key injuries can derail any team. And for the Fire they have come at an unfortunate time. Conventional wisdom would say it's better to get them out of the way early in the season. Common sense also tells us that injuries also can't be predicted or scheduled. So having early injuries doesn't mean we won't have these issues again. It's almost been a perfect maelstrom so far, and the fact that we have been missing key players has made our slow start even more galling.
The most important body to have back is Arne Friedrich. His presence in coming back to anchor a shaky back line will be invaluable. While originally it was feared his injury was very serious, the Fire were dealt a fortunate hand when it was revealed he would miss a few weeks, not the entire season. For a defensive unit hemorrhaging goals, his return can't come too soon. He should feature this weekend against the Red Bulls.
Another player who should be ready to go is Logan Pause. While many of us (myself included) didn't want him to start ahead of Jalil Anibaba at RB as we speculated would happen in pre-season, we sure could have used him the past few games. While Logan won't light MLS up at RB, it would have been nice to have his veteran presence on the field during our struggles. I am not saying we would be undefeated if he had been healthy, but I certainly think the hole wouldn't be quite as deep has he been able to play. The RB spot was a weak position in a couple of games. Now that Arne is back, we will see the Anibaba/Pause pairing at fullback.
Sean Johnson and Joel Lindpere will make their respective returns from international play. Sean will be taking back possession of his house. And, although Joel Lindpere has looked lost so far this year, I am very confident that he will get things figured out.
One other player to keep an eye on is young Victor Pineda. After a few month recovery from a meniscus injury, he is back in full training. I know that I thought he would definitely be in the 18 this season and pushing for a starting XI spot. Obviously the injury has derailed that a bit but his return couldn't come at a better time. Frank is still tinkering to find an optimal lineup. This is partly because injuries have forced different lineups onto him, as well as poor play from some players thus far has also forced his hand. Part of the Fire getting into a groove and settling down will be a starting XI that doesn't feature new faces in new positions every week.
While Pineda throws another option into the mix, if some players aren't cutting it right now, it will give him a chance to finally show what he can do in the starting XI. If he shows well, then Frank has hit on a working option for at least one spot on the field. If some players are under performing so far, why not give Victor a chance that he has now earned? I have talked about competition for spots being a good thing in pre-season. Well, that also carries over to the regular season too. Victor can play a couple of different spots in midfield which will be a boost to a team that has featured an ever shifting line up so far. Let's hope the kid takes the opportunity and runs with it. I know I am really excited to see what he can do. Being our first Homegrown Player, there is the added value and pride of how he has worked hard to climb up the ladder. His time is coming very soon I think.
All in all, the Fire should have a "choice XI" for the game Sunday. I keep looking for a breakout performance, where the team comes out mad and hungry and kicks some ass. Unfortunately we are still looking for that but I feel a good game coming this Sunday. As I have stated before, this team is simply too good to play like this all year. Look at the Galaxy last year. Now, in no way am I saying we are on the same level with them. But they were being written off after a couple of rough months to start the season. Look where they ended up.
It's still too early to call the season a loss. Far from it actually. Keep in mind that 5 teams make the playoffs. While we have certainly started in a large rut, it's a long season. We can slowly crawl out of the hole and get back in the race. We are only currently 5 points out of a playoff spot. While it may seem crazy to be mentioning that word right now, that's where we want to end the season. Fortunately some of the other East teams have started slow too, so our situation could be worse. I am a bit surprised to say that, but it's true.
We need to get things going soon. Like this Sunday. If we are still having this conversation 4 weeks from now, then I will be very worried. The first month is gone. Let's crumple that calendar page up, throw it away, and start fresh. It's not time to panic yet Fire Nation. Instead, our resolve should be even stronger to get behind the team and give them everything we have. They deserve it, and we can certainly do that.
So there's a bit of good news to start your week off. HTIOT will be back to our normal routine heading up to the game Sunday. Stay with us all week, and hopefully come Sunday night, we can all celebrate a much needed and much deserved 3 points.