Writer's Note: My usual player rankings will not be provided for this game because the match made me sad and there are not numbers low enough to give out accurate rankings. Thank you and enjoy the following.
Whether you love them or hate them, Guns N' Roses made some iconic songs in the 1980s and perhaps none as eternal as Sweet Child Of Mine. But the song about the woman with eyes as blue as skies and the hair of a warm safe place (whatever that means) was not always destined to be a staple of jukeboxes and the anthem of every drunk karaoke session for decades to come.
No, there was a crossroads in the song. A point where the band members were stuck and lost in the lyrics. As the story has it, Slash, Axl, Izzy and friends were strumming right along in the song until they tried to get out of the bridge into the chorus. Lyrically, they did not know where to go.
One of the band members literally said at that point, "Where do we go now?" Being musical geniuses (or just really high), the band collectively believed saying "Where do we go, where do we go now?" would be a perfect transition back into the chorus.
Well Fire fans, welcome to our version of Sweet Child Of Mine. Here we are, seeing potential for greatness with players such as Harry Shipp, Grant Ward, and (hopefully) Benji Joya just starting professional careers that could take off. But at the same time we feel stuck.
Sure, we've seen the team be near the top of the league in goals scored this year, but they also concede far too often. The back and forth of those extremes have led to draw after draw after draw. As Guns N' Roses would say, we're pretty tied up.
Like Slash and Axl before us, it is time to ask where do we go now. Hopefully we will not have to say it a dozen times like they did before we find the answer.
1) We go to the Cup
The 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup must now take priority over the MLS regular season. I know the coaches and the team have not given up on the season and that is great. Prove me wrong and make the playoffs. But chances are even a strong run would land the team in 6th place at best, meaning the Fire would miss the playoffs and likely sacrifice a chance at the Cup in the process.
You will hear no gripes from me if the Fire sent out Dilly Duka, Kyle Reynish or whoever else they want on Sunday against Kansas City if it meant the absolute best lineup the Fire have to take the field against the Atlanta Silverbacks Tuesday.
The truth is teams don't often get to face an NASL side in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup and while Atlanta has obviously played well during the tournament, the opportunity for a victory is much higher than a game against Real Salt Lake or another MLS opponent would have been.
The tournament is still an achievable goal, even with the roster as constructed. I would gladly finish 9th in the conference instead of 6th if it meant winning the Cup.
2) We go to the place where people make plans with more than 6 months in mind
I don't know if it is a meeting room, a super-secret lair or a Starbucks, but the Fire braintrust need to meet and decide right away that, whatever moves they want to make this summer, all are made with the intention of building a winner for 2015 and beyond.
Sure, it's fun to add that spark for a bit, or bring in a stop-gap like Arevalo Rios, but we're all tired of Designated Players that do not fit the system and temporary fixes. If Yallop is the coach moving forward, figure out what he really needs for his system.
Maybe it's not Jeff Larentowicz. Maybe it's not Bakary Soumare. Maybe he needs a more Alan Gordon-esque player up front. I don't know, but it seems Yallop has tactically struggled to figure out what is best for this squad as constructed at times.
The Fire can no longer afford to miss on DP signings and if that means not signing anyone over the summer then so be it. I'm fine with it as long as a better approach is used in deciding who will come in for the 2015 season. Take some time to look at what other MLS teams are doing and do that. Portland and Toronto don't have to be the exception to targeting and acquiring solid talent that are committed to the team.
3) We go crazy
As I mentioned above, that magic combination of players has yet to be found. At this point it is likely too late even if it is found, but why not give it the best shot. At this point, we're all accustomed to draws and losses. It's not necessarily acceptable but the reality is little can be done at this point. But what can be done, should be done, and that is to try literally every possible roster combination until something clicks.
Go crazy with it. Try Shipp and Joya in the middle with Nyarko and Ward out wide. Take Larentowicz completely off and let Alex or Matt Watson slot in his spot. Play Magee or Amarikwa in a central attacking midfielder role. Play with three in the back.
The worst that can happen is a loss. But at least Fire fans, and more importantly management, can see something new and start to analyze what works best. We are all very well aware of what happens when four are in the back, Larentowicz is holding and Shipp and Ward are out wide. The team loses or draws. That's what happens.
You think singing "where do we go now?" randomly with no context seemed like a good idea at the time? No, probably not. But it worked. Maybe playing Grant Ward as a striker is an idea only a hair metal band under the influence of a plethora of substances would suggest, but why not.
It's time to give fans, coaches and players an idea of where the team can go. That will require taking chances.