The midfield. Currently viewed as the strength of the team. But is it really set right now? Let's break it down:
Defensive Midfielders: Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Mike Videira
This is clearly the strength of the midfield. Pavel Pardo is in a class by himself. He was easily the Fire's most consistent player, playing at a high level nearly every game. The resigning of Pavel was a move that the Fire had to make coming into this season. His terrific passing ability, sense of position, effort and veteran leadership are of great value. Without him the starting midfield loses a significant amount of punch.
Pause matches ably next to Pardo and will always do the dirty work allowing the rest of the midfield to concentrate on getting forward and creating offense. Logan will never give his doubters what they want. At this point it doesn't matter since he is paired next to a creative defensive midfielder in Pardo. Logan is always best when paired behind or with more offensively talented players. His willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the team is one of his great strengths as a player. When paired with high quality players, this works out exceedingly well.
Both are backed up ably by Daniel Paladini. Paladini is a traditional MLS defensive midfielder. Physical and full of bight with a bit of offensive ability thrown in. Great to see him back in Fire red.
I am not a fan of Mike Videira to say the least. He is a hardworking practice player who can sub in and at least give you minutes without truly embarrassing himself. He has seen time at Right Back during this preseason. This is a move I can not endorse but it is the position where he could screw things up the least. Personally I think he is expendable.
Left wing: Marco Pappa, Corben Bone
Let's just get this out there. Marco Pappa did not have a good season last year. He disappeared for long stretches and then would have a highlight reel game just to remind you that he is indeed talented. His defensive ability improved as the season wore on at the expense of his offensive creativity. His performance during the USOC Final was dreadful and illustrated his complete lack of ability to influence a game when he is the focal point of the opposition's defense. He is better when the spotlight is on his teammates allowing him to play against a single defender.
Another big question regarding Marco is his motivation. Last year his play declined during the "Twente is buying him" phase and never really recovered. He is an incredibly talented player that has to learn to play with his teammates. He lacked any sort of on field rapport with Sebastian Grazzini. Consistently crowding him and getting in his way has he cut towards the middle of the field instead of smartly pushing down the wing in an effort to create space and open passing lanes. If this can get fixed there is hope yet for Marco. If not, he is destined to be viewed as another Justin Mapp.
At this point Corben Bone is a solid squad player who had a nice run during the middle of the season last year. Klopas used him less than de los Cobos but he will again be on the team and in the mix to make the bench. Bone has also slotted in the attacking midfielder slot as a Grazzini replacement. This makes some sense as his nice run during the middle of last season came when he was deployed more centrally. More positional usefulness should help him in his quest for minutes. He is going to have a difficult time earning minutes with the amount of midfield talent present on the team.
Right wing: Patrick Nyarko, Victor Pineda
Nyarko is considerably more effective as a right winger than he is as a "forward". While he was consistently listed as a forward playing next to Oduro, his on field positioning was that of a pushed forward right winger. He would also track back and play defense consistently. I think most people considered this a five man midfield with Oduro as the lone striker. With that in mind I expect Patrick to see the field consistently on the right side of the midfield. Last season was a good one for Nyarko. Before the arrival of Grazzini and Pardo he was easily the team's best overall midfielder. He can create, defend and will always give you workman effort. If the kid could score goals he would be long gone by now. I find that Nyarko is significantly underrated by the Fire fan base and MLS fans in general.
Victor Pineda finally gets his chance for significant minutes this season. Look for him to dress on a regular basis and be injected into the game for midfield spark. I'm looking forward to finally watching Pineda play on a somewhat regular basis this season. He appears to have started brightly during camp. Note his assist to Orr Barouch during Saturday's outing.
Attacking midfielders: Sebastian Grazzini, Rafael Robayo, Alex (trialist)
Grazzini is the straw that stirs the drink. He had an impressive run with the Fire after joining in the summer of 2011. Having Grazzini for the whole season is a very exciting prospect. My main question regards his health. He had hamstring issues throughout the season. This was blamed on the lull between the end of the Argentine season and the start of his time with the Fire. I'm not convinced. His time starting for All Boys was down to the bare minimum in 2011. When he did start he typically played only 60-70 minutes. Having a capable backup behind him is of utmost importance.
Rafael Robayo is considered a box to box midfielder. Fire house writer Jeff Crandall claims he can play on either side of the midfield. Other observers say he is more of a central midfielder who is adept at linking play. I haven't seen much of him in his time with Millionarios but be assured we are all excited to see him play. Any time you can poach the captain of the Colombian league champions during his prime, you do (he isn't the gamble that Julio Martinez was). When he joins camp we will find out where the Fire intend to play him. I expect him to push Pappa or Pause out of the starting midfield (this is assuming it is still a 5 man midfield).
Alex is a player we know little about. He has been coming in as the backup for Grazzini so far this camp. The team is in need of another central attacking style midfielder to provide cover for Grazzini. Alex looks like he might be the guy.
While the midfield is undoubtedly talented it is still a bit of a mess as to how everything is going to shake out. Of concern is how things are going to shake out offensively. Where will Robayo slot in? Who does he push to the bench? How many midfielders are going to start each game? Not helping Frank's first big test as going into his first full season is new boy Rafael Robayo's visa issues. Not having one of your expected starters (he wasn't signed to sit on the bench) is something that could cause issues during the beginning of the season. Hopefully things get worked out shortly.
I'm optimistically guarded about the quality of the midfield. The defensive portion is top notch and the overall talent is better than it has been for several years. I'd feel significantly better if Robayo was in camp. Competition for minutes is going to be fierce this year across the board. That can only lead to good things. Hopefully Frank can put together the right group of guys.