Last Wednesday's game against DC United reinforced a point that many Fire fans have come to the conclusion of: it's time for Dan Gargan to be re-inserted into the starting XI. Although the team as a whole had an off game against DC, Jalil Anibaba was especially deficient at the RB position. He had a large share of the blame on a couple of DC's goals, and ever since moving to RB to make room for Austin Berry in the starting lineup, he has struggled to be honest. The guy can play a mean CB but unless it's a dire emergency, he shouldn't start at RB when Dan Gargan is healthy. Follow me after the break for a bit of analysis...
Jalil is a natural CB. That is what he played in college and what he is the most used to. Guillermo Rivera over at Fire Confidential tweeted the other day that, at one point, Dan Gargan was nursing a knock he had picked up. However, it sounded like that was only a valid excuse to miss a match or two. Jalil has seen the start at RB for much longer than that, so at this point Frank must believe the Fire are a better team with Jalil on the pitch instead of Dan. I respectfully disagree with that. When picking a best XI, assuming everyone is healthy, Dan Gargan is my starting RB any day of the week and twice on gameday.
Dan brings a welcome toughness and tenacity into the starting lineup. He is able to push up the field and help out on offense (thanks to the solid duo of Berry and Friedrich staying back). It's also nice to have Dan's long throw-ins as an added bonus when we are deep in the opposing team's third of the pitch. There is also a wealth of experience that Dan brings with him every time he plays, and added together this makes Dan a must have on every gameday.
I think one reason for Frank giving Jalil the nod ahead of Dan may have something to do with Austin Berry. The rookie sensation continues to impress overall and has constructed a very strong resume for Rookie of the Year with only a handful of games to go. He has developed a nice rapport with German International Arne Friedrich, and at this point there is no way that he doesn't start if he is healthy. This presents Frank with a dilemma when you add Jalil into the equation.
Being in his second season, Anibaba is still learning and growing as a player. Although every minute of playing time is valuable for anyone, it holds especially true for a younger player still learning the league. I would put Anibaba in this category. Honestly, I don't think Frank wants to lose the invaluable learning that Jalil acquires every game by starting him on the bench. While this is a valid and even noble thought, we have to have our best XI out on the pitch whenever possible. Although losing playing time is certainly not ideal for Anibaba, at the end of the day these are the types of tough decision that Frank gets paid to make. And right now the Fire need to have Gargan in at RB more than getting Jalil every minute he can get. Anibaba is a good enough player that he will be fine even if he starts on the bench most games.
Another factor to consider is that Arne Friedrich will most likely leave after this season. Although any Fire fan would love nothing more than him to stay, he is using this season to prove his health again and then likely move back to Europe. This opens the door for a Berry/Anibaba CB duo that I can see developing into one of the premier duos in the league eventually. And they would be young, allowing the Fire to have the opportunity to have two great players at the heart of the backline for a long, long time. This is a luxury that most teams do not have the chance to experience. Yet the Fire are set up nicely for it sooner rather than later. Jalil will get his chance sooner rather than later and that is yet another reason that Gargan should be starting, even though it would relegate Jalil to the bench.
We can also seriously talk about throwing Steven Kinney back into the mix at RB as well. Steve impressed me in 2010, but unfortunately suffered a serious Achilles injury that he is just now coming back from. He should be match fit any time now, and could jockey for a roster spot as well if he can find the form he had in 2010. It's great to see Steve back, especially after such a long road of hard work and recovery. Counting Dan and Steve, this gives us two very good RB's to use as needed. Considering this, I just don't see a need to play a CB out of position at RB.
I really do believe Jalil is going to be a special player for the Fire for quite a long time to come. But he made some mistakes the other night that a regular RB should not and is not going to make normally. Given the fact that the playoff race in the East is a jumbled mess, any and every error could end up being deadly. That's why we need a longtime player like Dan Gargan in his usual position rather than someone still trying to learn the ropes, so to speak. Jalil will get to team with Austin Berry soon enough at CB, and until then Frank needs to put the best XI out there against Houston next Sunday. And that best XI includes the Kraken Dan Gargan.