As we look forward to the end of the offseason and to the start of preseason, we have to wonder what is going through the head of head coach Frank Klopas. What kind of moves will he make? What kind of formations and tactics will he employ throughout the 2013 season? These are the 2 major questions in my mind that I will delve into and try to answer for you.
Last week we saw the Fire make their first subtractions and first addition of the offseason. Now I don't want to go into the specifics of these moves but I would like to review the roster and salary situation as if going into the second phase of the re-entry draft. The roster as of right now looks like this:
GK: Sean Johnson and Paolo Tornaghi
Defense: Steven Kinney, Hunter Jumper, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Gonzalo Segares, Tony Walls
Midfield: Alvaro Fernandez, Daniel Paladini, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Wells Thompson, Victor Pineda, Mike Vidiera, Joel Lindpere (Trade with New York)
Forward: Dominic Oduro, Chris Rolfe, Kellen Gulley, Sherjill Macdonald, Maicon Santos (selected in the first phase of the re-entry draft)
With this current roster our salary, based on the 2012 figures, is roughly $2.77 million. That number takes into account all of the players out on loan that will more than likely not return, players on the re-entry draft list, home grown exemptions, and Alex being out of contract. I also guessed that Friedrich's new contract is roughly the same amount (possibly a little higher) and also the fact that Segares took less money to stay in Chicago. The salary cap for 2013 will be roughly $2.95 million give or take, which leaves the Fire very little wiggle room. With 22 of 30 roster slots taken by current players, that's quite a few slots to be filled by the start of the season. With both of these figures taken into account it will be hard for Frank and company to bring in some impact players that are desperately needed. Yes I know that there is the mysterious side of allocation money which could be used to buy down players salaries but how much do we have? And will we use it to bring in those impact players? I personally don't think it will happen. Some moves can happen within the league but I just don't see it happening. Plus if you take a look at this article, Frank basically says not to expect too many moves this off season.
The needs of this team are still there despite these problems. Frank still has to address the need for capable backups in the midfield and also in defense. I'm not going to touch on the need for a proven goal scorer because we already 2 DP's on the team as of right now, and it is hard to see Andrew Hauptman spending the #keanelikemoney or #puppolikemoney (depending on how you look at it) for the striker that we need. I'm actually okay with our current forwards because as long as Rolfe plays up front off of Macdonald he can be effective. However I want to discuss the need for capable bench players for the positions of midfield and defense. I know that we have the core of our midfield still intact from the end of last season with our starters still with the team. But beyond that we need players to back our midfield wings, specifically Nyarko and Fernandez. Behind them there is no one on this team that can come in off the bench and be as effective. Yes there are those calling for Fernandez to be gone but I still think he can make an impact with this team. Yet another position in the midfield that we need to address is the position of center attacking midfield (CAM). I think this position still needs to be addressed even though we were able to trade for Joel Lindpere. Lindpere is perfect to play alongside either Pardo or Pause because he would give us that box to box mid that would go great in our system. However that still does not address the need for a playmaker. Since Grazzini left in the middle of the season this last year we did not have a player that could efficiently work the play-making role. I will touch the need for this a little later on when I discuss some of the coaching strategy from the 2012 season and looking to the 2013 season.
In the back we need to sign an experienced center back that will provide cover for Berry and Friedrich. Also, unless Hunter Jumper can prove that he is going to be a capable left back that can provide Segares some cover than we have to look at that position also. I personally am not going to get my hopes up for the impact players that we need but at the same time I hope they can sign some capable backups to provide some depth for the team. Depth is key in order for this team to have a successful year in 2013, so we don't have a repeat of last season where it was virtually the exact same lineup week in and week out. With more depth the lineup can be altered slightly every week so Frank can employ different tactics when facing different teams. Having more depth for key players like Rolfe, Nyarko, Pardo, and Friedrich, means they can get the rest that they would need throughout the season.
This leads me to delve into what our tactics and formation should look like in the 2013 season. Overall this past season I thought that Frank did just okay when employing tactics. He started the season employing the same tactics he had used during the amazing run that they had at the end of the 2011 season. He primarily used a 4-5-1 formation which allowed him to stick with 2 defensive mids, 2 wingers and that lone striker up front working in the middle with the CAM. This worked towards the end of 2011 and also worked at times during the 2012 season. The only problem with this formation is that when the opposing teams had applied high pressure against the Fire, this formation had no answer to it. Playing with 2 defensive minded midfielders forces the lone striker and other 3 mids to take up the work load of creating chances on the offensive end. This also led Frank to play a primarily counter attacking style of play. The Fire always gave up the midfield in order to trap the opposing team in the Fire's defensive end in order to try to break out quickly with our speedy wings or, at the time, our speedy striker. By the middle of the season opposing teams had caught on quickly on how to neutralize the speed of Oduro which effectively left our wingers to pick up the slack of scoring and at times he used Rolfe as a lone striker also which does not suit his attributes.
The Fire brought in MacDonald to be the forward that can hold the ball until players can make runs to try to give the team a different look. At this point, Frank, to me, had moved from a 4-5-1 formation to more of a 4-2-3-1 with Rolfe playing a withdrawn forward role. This worked great up until opposing teams had figured out how kill every Fire attack. Teams figured out that if you pressed high and took Rolfe out of the game then there was no offense coming from the Fire. If you look at the remaining games of the 2012 schedule, especially those versus Philadelphia, Kansas City, New England, DC and Houston, that blueprint is evident. The thing that was frustrating was that Frank had no answer to this when it happened. It seemed as though Frank never liked straying from his original game plan until it was too late. You can notice many times in games that he would start with a 4-2-3-1 formation, and wait until the team was down, and only then send on forwards to try to create more offense.
Looking towards 2013 I think the key to the Fire becoming a dominant team lies with Frank getting away from playing with 2 DM's. As Ryan Sealock has discussed with me and others, and has pointed out, this is a tactic that limits our offensive chances. I agree with this observation. I honestly believe that the best formation for this team would be a 4-1-3-2. Have the traditional back 4, 1 DM, 2 wingers with a CAM, and 2 up top. This is easier said than done though. We already know who will play up top. We know who our wingers are going to be, but who will play CAM position in the midfield? The first name that pops out at you since it seemed he played there last season is Rolfe. I am against that idea in every way possible and think that Rolfe is a forward, period. I believe that Rolfe is best suited up top with Macdonald so he can make runs off of Macdonald. If Rolfe can be used in this way than I believe he can score 15 goals or even more. If he plays the CAM position you are taking the player that has the best shot on the team and putting him further away from goal. Can Alex play that position? Maybe he can but the team has to first re-sign him. I know that Ryan Sealock has hopes that Alex can fit into the CAM position but I'm a little less hopeful about that. With the addition of Lindpere he may be the guy that can help generate attacks and also move forward to contribute to them to. We have seen him for a few seasons now in New York and the guy is a work horse. He would fit perfectly in the middle to help the attack and also get back on defense. He is that box to box mid that Robayo was supposed to be for this team. Lindpere would be able to help Pardo or Pause if the Frank decides to go with just one DM.
Playing a 4-1-3-2 will also allow Sean Johnson more options when taking goal kick or free kicks that are in the Fire's half. Throughout 2012 Johnson was playing as many dead ball situations that he could short. I understand the concept that you will be able to retain possession and create offensive opportunities through the back. When the opposing teams noticed that this was happening every single time they would apply pressure to either force our back line to punt the ball up field our force Johnson to find another option long. With 6 players playing primarily in the defensive half this left fewer targets up field to collect those long balls. With a 4-1-3-2 this would still give the Fire the option of playing short but also have more targets up field that can collect the long balls.
Whatever Frank and company decide to do there are some changes that need to be made to both the roster and coaching tactics in order for this team to win the league and the US Open Cup. The 2012 season was definitely a step in the right direction, but can they continue going in the right direction? I along with every other Fire fan hope so. With training camp starting in a few weeks we should start to see where this team will go with the fine tuning of the roster.