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3-5-2 & 4-4-2: Chicago Fire depth chart at this point

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The U.S. Open Cup match against Colorado left Carlos de los Cobos with a new and different puzzle to solve.  Marco Pappa was out for international duty and Josip Mikulic was out with a minor injury.  Pappa and Mikulic had been locks in the middle of the Starting XI so I was intrigued to see the solutions CDLC would bring to the table.

The biggest move of all was we didn't see a 3-5-2 hybrid like we have for the first two games and instead we got a pure 4-4-2 for the full 90.  As I opined in the game recap, we don't know if the 3-5-2 will only be used when Pappa is starting, only when Mikulic is starting or if both need to start for a three man back line to be employed.  Based on all the lineups and some new quotes from CDLC, I attempt to provide a full depth chart after the break for both a 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 setup.

Goalkeeper 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Sean Johnson

2. Jon Conway

3. Alec Dufty

If you couldn't put this one together, you just haven't been paying any attention.

Forward 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Diego Chaves

2. Gaston Puerari 

3. Orr Barouch

4. Dominic Oduro

5. Gabriel Ferrari

6. Davis Paul

Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari are the top choices at forward in either formation by a long shot.  Again, if you haven't figured this out, you aren't paying attention.  Both Uruguayans have two goals in the first three Fire games.  Barouch has entered as a 15-minute sub in both regular season MLS games and came on in the last minute of the USOC match.  Oduro entered against Sporting KC in the 90th minute of the game and made the bench for the USOC match.  Ferrari has yet to crack the first squad.  The team seems to think that Davis Paul is better suited on the left wing but he was a forward in college.  You could just as well put Patrick Nyarko at No. 6 but moving him to forward opens up serious issues at right wing.  

Defensive Midfield 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Logan Pause

2. Mike Videira

3. Baggio Husidic

4. Daniel Paladini

5. Marko Maric

6. Corben Bone

Through 4-5-1, 5-4-1, 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and just about any other formation Carlos de los Cobos has used since he took over as coach of Chicago, we have seen two defensive midfielders in the lineup.  For better or worse, I don't think CDLC can do without his two DMs.  Captain Logan Pause plays deep on defense.  He's almost another defender.  The second DM spot has been taken up by Mike Videira for every minute except when Baggio Husidic subbed in for Videira in the 61st minute of the FC Dallas game.  Videira had just picked up a yellow card and I think that was the direct correlation for his exit.  Even in the USOC 4-4-2 formation, Videira started.  This is important to note because we know CDLC likes to use him after Husidic started 18 games last year, played in 22, and racked up 1,498 minutes in total.  Those minutes combined with his 5 goals and 3 assists suggested to me that Husidic would see big numbers in 2011.  Baggio has made the bench for all three games and again, CDLC turned to him when it was time to sub out Videira.  If Pause couldn't start, I think Videira would play in his spot and Husidic would play in front of Videira.

Right on Husidic's tail in the pecking order is Daniel Paladini.  Paladini played more of a attacking midfielder/No. 10 type position for the Carolina Railhawks last year so he'll stay down on that list until he can play his way up through the Reserves League games.  In today's exhibition against NSC Minnesota Stars, he was playing the holding mid role Videira played.  I could see him being used on the wings depending on the game situation and Paladini has made the bench for all three games.  His free kick skills are some of the best on the team.  That will no doubt come into play depending on late game situations.  Rounding out this group, we have Marko Maric and Corben Bone.  Maric saw his first action of any kind in today's exhibition when he came on for Bratislav Ristic.  Ristic had been playing on the left wing and Corben Bone played on the right wing.  The fact that both players were out on the wing suggest to me the coaching staff is taking a look to see which player is more versatile to the squad.  Both players are suppose to be strictly midfielders.  We might be seeing not just a position battle but a roster battle between these two.  I can't imagine Maric losing since he is taking up an international spot.  In fact, I expect Maric to challenge Husidic and Paladini for their roles.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Corben Bone traded to another team.  He is a former first round pick, CDLC didn't use him much last year and he might be more valuable to the team if the Fire can help bolster a weaker part of the team.

Central Midfield 3-5-2

1. Marco Pappa

The reason I don't list any other player here is because I think Marco Pappa is the key linchpin in the 3-5-2.  If there's no Pappa, there's no 3-5-2.  The Fire would just switch to a 4-4-2 like they did earlier this week.  Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone are technically No. 2 and No. 3 on this list but neither player could run the 3-5-2 the way Pappa does.  I would be surprised if we have a Pappaless 3-5-2 all year.  Someone mentioned the possibility of Patrick Nyarko playing here and that is intriguing.  Ultimately I think Nyarko's poor quality in distance shooting will prevent that experiment from happening.  You also have to factor in that Nyarko would only get this chance if Pappa was out.  If Pappa is not starting, I'd want Nyarko at his regular spot to provide some stability in the lineup. 

Right Midfield 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Patrick Nyarko

2. Bratislav Ristic

3. Daniel Paladini

4. Davis Paul

5. Dominic Oduro

6. Victor Pineda

Nyarko is about as replaceable in the first line offense as Marco Pappa which is to say not really replaceable at all.  However, someone has to play out on the right wing in just about any formation.  You can't switch formations in order to avoid having a RM.  If Nyarko can't go, Bratislav Ristic would get the start.  We already saw this happen on opening day against FC Dallas.  After Ristic it gets a little dicey.  Daniel Paladini strikes me as most ready to play RM than anyone else who has made the bench so far.  Davis Paul could play over there but so far CDLC has used him exclusively on the left side of the field.  Dominic Oduro is a forward but as a speedy guy with decent crosses, it wouldn't be the end of the world if he filled in at RM for a spot start or a 15 to 30 minute sub.  If CDLC really wanted to dig deep, he could start homegrown product Victor Pineda.  The kid has to play at some point right?

Left Midfield 4-4-2

1. Marco Pappa

2. Davis Paul

3. Bratislav Ristic

4. Daniel Paladini

5. Gonzalo Segares 

6. Mike Banner

The only reason Marco Pappa tops this chart is because it is feasible that the Fire could play a 4-4-2 with Marco Pappa in the lineup this year.  It hasn't happened yet but if CDLC is worried about the Chicago defense taking on another team's high powered offense or the early success of the 3-5-2 begins to fade, I think we'll see a 4-4-2 with Pappa on the left.  Davis Paul got the start at LM and he has made the bench in both of the regular season MLS games.  We saw Ristic get playing time at LM last season.  Daniel Paladini plays the role of emergency winger again.  Gonzalo Segares could go at LM in a real tough spot.  Mike Banner is currently injured and will have to fight his way back up the chart.  He received some starts last season at LM but right now the team seems to have passed him by.

Left Midfield 3-5-2

1. Gonzalo Segares

2. Bratislav Ristic

3. Cory Gibbs

4. Davis Paul

5. Mike Banner

6. Dasan Robinson

The next test I'm dying to see take place is what CDLC will do if Gonzalo Segares can't start.  Segares isn't as important to the team in the 3-5-2 as Marco Pappa but he does play a critical role in the midfield.  When the Fire have the ball, he moves up on offense at the same level as Nyarko and when the Fire are on defense, he drops back closer to the back line.  It's a tough role that requires a lot of offense and a lot of defense.  Bratislav Ristic is the best natural backup for this spot but he is also backing up the right wing spot.  Cory Gibbs could play this role but that just opens up holes in the back line I'll address in a second.  I'm also not sure Gibbs brings enough offense to the table.  If we wanted to play a pure 3-5-2 all game or if it is late in the game and the team is down a goal, the best backup would be Davis Paul.  His defensive abilities are untested.  He was most comfortable playing as a withdrawn forward in college.  Banner played LB last season but again he is hurt..  I don't think Dasan Robinson could play this dynamic role but he has made the bench all three games and has entered as a sub in two of them.

Left Back 4-4-2

1. Gonzalo Segares

2. Cory Gibbs

3. Bratislav Ristic

4. Mike Banner

5. Dasan Robinson

6. Steven Kinney

Here it is essentially the same explanations as the Left Midfield position in the 3-5-2.  The only difference is I would not expect or want to see Davis Paul on the back line yet.  Again the presence of Gibbs and Ristic shows it's a little thin on the left side.  I'm throwing Kinney in here because he can play on the defensive wing.  He is currently injured and should be back in May.  The one wrinkle here is Pari Pantazopoulos, the try-out kid who supposedly made the team, has not been signed yet.  The teams has said they see him as a left back.  Given how thin the team is at LB, I'm not surprised he 'made' it.  The tie up continues.  Maybe the league is still printing the last name on his jersey.  I don't know.  For what it is worth, Pantazopoulos started at LB today against NSC Minnesota Stars.

Center Back 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Josip Mikulic

2. Cory Gibbs

3. Yamith Cuesta

4. Dasan Robinson 

5. Kwame Watson-Siriboe

6. Gonzalo Segares

Josip Mikulic started as the only CB in both MLS games.  He missed the USOC game with a minor injury.  He should be ready for the Seattle Sounders game on April 9th.  For the USOC game, Cory Gibbs and Yamith Cuesta started at CB in a 4-4-2.  Gibbs will start at CB or LB depending on the formation.  Cuesta and Robinson are both guys that can play CB or RB.  Robinson has made the bench for all three games and entered as a sub in all three.  Cuesta might have started just so CDLC could take a look at him.  Cuesta was acquired right before the Sporting KC game so we can't really read anything into him yet.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Cuesta start over Robinson when that but Robinson might make the bench over Cuesta every game.  Robinson's speed seems to have diminished over the years but he provides veteran experience.  Let Robinson bring that to a sub role.  Groom Cuesta in the Reserves League at CB and make 'young' mistakes there.  Segares can start at CB but the question is what is going on at LB/LM that this would be asked of him?  I thought Kwame Watson-Siriboe would get more action this year but Orrin Schwarz had some pretty negative comments from CDLC about him.  KWS has not been receiving a lot of time anywhere in pre-season or Reserves League games.  I could see him also being traded.

Right Back 3-5-2 or 4-4-2

1. Jalil Anibaba

2. Yamith Cuesta

3. Bratislav Ristic

4. Dasan Robinson

5. Steve Kinney

6. Kwame Watson-Siriboe

Last, we have RB.  Jalil Anibaba has started here since day 1 of pre-season.  In the two MLS games and the USOC game, he's gone the full 90 all three times.  I think Yamith Cuesta would start if Jalil couldn't go but it's probably a coin toss between him and Ristic.  Where Ristic plays depends on the health of the other players this year.  I could see Robinson getting a start, but again I think his role will be the defensive player on the bench.  The return of Steve Kinney will cause some ripples but he'll have to leapfrog Cuesta.  Kinney's return has to be much anticipated by the coaching staff.  Ristic is the No. 2 or No. 3 sub for too many positions to make me comfortable right now.  Kwame Watson-Siriboe is an emergency spot at best here.

Conclusion

So far so good, but a couple of questions stick out for me.  They should stick out for you too.  Goaltender, Forward, Defensive Midfield, and Center Back all seem solid but the depth on the wing is a big question mark.  Who starts if something happens to Gonzalo Segares is a question without a definite answer right now.  Cory Gibbs looks great at LB, but he is no stranger to injuries and is one of the oldest guys on the team at 31 years old.  The fact that Gibbs and Segares play on the same side of the field is even more worrisome.  I'd say the best answer for either player's backup is Bratislav Ristic but that's also true for Patrick Nyarko.  It's possible that Pantazopoulos will help, maybe Davis Paul acquires some serious defensive chops but I wouldn't be surprised if we use a roster spot for help.  Either trades or perhaps we will see a massive signing this spring.  There are a couple of guys out there who even have some Chicago roots and could help to solidify the wing and that defensive midfield position CDLC loves.  These are good problems to have.  I look for a fun and interesting summer in Chicago.