I don't need to tell you I have been a very vocal proponent of scoring help this off-season. One of the most inconsistent and maddening aspects of the team last year was our ability (or lack thereof) to put the ball in the net on a regular basis. When we get on a roll, we can look lethal at times and we have multiple players who can contribute on the score sheet. But, when we struggle as we did more times than not (as evidenced by our late season offensive collapse), teams are able to effectively game plan for us by focusing on taking one player out of the game.
Simply put, too often we had to rely on one player to shoulder the load, at the same time as playing our best striker (Rolfe) in the midfield instead of closer to goal where he should be. While the mid-season acquisition of Sherjill MacDonald certainly helped out some, I still don't think we have that deadly striker we can count on to finish most chances that he gets. While Rolfe certainly is the best striker on the team, I still feel like having a top tier striker would help take us to the top level of MLS teams. I know that you don't find a top tier striker around every corner, but isn't it about time the Fire had a truly elite scorer again? Fans want to see us spend this "Keane-like" money that Andrew mentions but doesn't seem to ever use.
Starter: Sherjill MacDonald
Since I mentioned Chris Rolfe in the midfield analysis (which is where he played more times than not last year), that leaves Sherjill as the lone striker option. If Frank continues to use a 2 DM look, 1 true striker up top is all we are going to get. Sherjill brought a skill set to the Fire we hadn't seen in a while when he joined the club as a DP in July 2012- a true hold up type of striker. In 14 appearances, the Dutch destroyer combined physical play with the occasional flashy move, turning in 4 goals and 4 assists in 2012. I think we all still remember his brace in New York to help pick up a flailing Fire team, if only temporarily. To be truly successful, Sherjill is the type of player that needs someone beside him to play off his work (i.e. Rolfe). But, we didn't always have that with the formations that Frank likes to use. Playing a striker withdrawn off Sherjill is misuse in my opinion.
The tough part with Sherjill is what would happen if we did bring in a top forward? Chris Rolfe needs to be up top as a true forward, so that would likely mean a reduced role for Mackie- unless Frank debuts the rare 3 striker look (that's a joke people). I like Mackie and I think the team would benefit with having him as a starter up top with Rolfe at ALL times. But, it all comes back to Frank going with a different look and cutting out a DM. Unfortunately with Klopas' known proclivity for the 2 DM look, I am not too confident we will see this. And that is a bit saddening because we might have had a solution to the scoring problem had we faithfully tried out a true 2 forward look. Something has to give in 2013 because we must have consistent scoring if we want to improve upon last year's early playoff exit. And we can't continue to wait until we are behind to find these things out.
Substitutes: Guillermo Franco, Kellen Gulley, Dominic Oduro, Maicon Santos
The list of names I just provided you should say all we need to know about our striker depth at this current point in time (which is still lacking). While Franco showed he was valuable at times (the loss late in the year in KC), I don't expect him to stick with the team for another year. His experience is nice to have around the team, but he certainly is not a player that can help shoulder the load and net a handful of goals in 2013. I think his soccer career is nearing it's end, so for all intents and purposes he is out of the picture.
While Kellen Gulley presents an intriguing skill set, it sounds like he still has some maturing and growing to do. You can't really fault a 17 year old kid for that. Needless to say, he isn't anywhere close to the picture in 2013 barring horrendous injury issues (which proper depth would help curtail). I am excited to see what he has, but I would say late 2014 at the earliest.
And now we have Dominic Oduro. While I haven't met or talked to a Fire fan that has disliked him on a personal basis, we all know what his lack of finishing is like. Dom can dazzle one play and then miss a sitter the next. And, to be honest, the role he is in with the Fire right now is perfectly suited for him. As I have stated before, his best role on this team (and most MLS teams) is as a super sub off the bench. Let opposing defenses get tired, then bring him in and let him loose on the opposition.
So what's the problem you may be asking if he is in the role he should be? Well, he is not happy with not starting. Especially since he has started a large number of games since coming to the Men in Red. Frank's job is to put the best lineup out on the pitch however, and barring injuries a starting XI without Oduro is the best look. Oduro's unhappiness is understandable, but he just isn't cutting it as a starter. The chances he creates are wonderful, but the lack of finishing negates many of them.
I don't expect to see Oduro with the team in 2014. In fact, if Frank can find the right deal this offseason or at some point in 2013, I can see Dom being traded. If we can find a team that is in desperate need of striking help (as the Fire were when we acquired him), his value might be a bit inflated. I don't expect we would get a ton out of him because of his well known lack of finishing. Dom helped us through a transitional time and is a great teammate and person. But his time in Chicago is coming to an end and soon, I believe.
This brings us to the new guy, Maicon Santos. This guy has been on more teams in the last few years than blown calls in a Chris Penso officiated game. I will say this, Maicon has great flashes of scoring. The problem is consistency and why he has been on some many teams in such a short time. We already have one inconsistent striker. The more worrying issue for me is the team carousel. That doesn't just happen by chance. There is a good reason why he can't stick with a team. For our sake, hopefully it relates more to his play (which isn't a good thing anyway) and not to his locker room presence or relation with teammates. We have a good group of players, I don't want to see that ruined. I tend to think there could be another, unknown reason (at least to the fans) for his well-traveled ways. Frank is smart enough not to bring in a troublemaker to the locker room.
While I applaud the Santos move for depth and am cautiously optimistic at a 5 to 6 goal campaign, this move does NOT make us markedly better in the striker department and it should not be looked at as such. Bottom line, we still need help.
Well, as the team stands now, back line depth should be #1 priority. An injury or two could be absolutely devastating if we don't build more depth before 2013. But striker has to be 2nd (with winger/CAM in the discussion). If we could count on Flaco to round into form, assuming he stays, and contribute 5 or so goals that would help. Same for Nyarko, Mackie, and Alex. The problem is that, other than the clear scoring ability of Rolfe, we never had another player that stepped up to be that role player to pour in some goals. Different players took turns scoring at times, but not with any regularity. The most likely player that could have done this in 2012 left the team (Marco Pappa).
Right now, the addition of Santos makes the forward core a bit better. But has the team done anything yet to show that it has taken a step up to the next level of serious contender? I don't think so. While there is still time left in the window and Frank is working hard, right now I don't see the team much ahead of 2012 at all. IF (and that's a big if) Frank would actually pledge a true attempt at a real 2 striker look, that could help greatly. Assuming Rolfe and Mackie can play together like we envision, that could work well. The problem is the players behind them. Will Santos and Oduro mean a truly lethal strike corps? No.
There is still work to be done up top. At this point, bringing in an elite striker would greatly surprise and shock me. I can't see it happening, not this year. So that leaves a foreign signing, of which we haven't done quite so well with lately (I'm looking at you Puppo), or a trade. If we could flip Oduro and maybe another player or some cash to bring in a guy that can give us 8-10 goals per year, then we would start talking. There is still time this off-season, but the clock is ticking and overall the striker position still needs to be improved. I have confidence in a true 2 striker look with Mackie and Rolfe. C'mon Frank, show us you can be flexible when you really need to be.