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Monkey In The Middle: Talking CF97 Midfield Mix

After disappointing results in the first five games, finding the right chemistry in the midfield will by crucial to turning the Fire's fortunes around; having Big Red and Watson roam the middle of the pitch at the same time does not look like the answer

Watson and Big Red have played their roles well, but when it comes to the midfield, there can only be one (at a time).
Watson and Big Red have played their roles well, but when it comes to the midfield, there can only be one (at a time).
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not one to hit a panic button five games into a season with 29 contests left. But I'm also not one to not hit something, perhaps something like a wall or table or human face, after five games into a season and only four points to show for it.

It's a start that gets the nerves a bit unsettled. It's a start that makes one feel like Frank "The Tank" Ricard in a locker room, yelling at everyone to stay calm out there while he throws a chair against the lockers.

The start would be more bearable if the road game in Portland was not the only happy result. A road loss to Chivas and home draws to an out-­of-­form Red Bulls side and offensively challenged Union side felt more like losses. A road draw to United in wet conditions was bearable enough.

The next five games must be much better than the last five, that much is clear. What remains unclear is the team's identity in the middle of the field, at least if Saturday is to be an indicator.

Many fans have pointed to the team's inability to defend set pieces as the greatest weakness on the squad and rightfully so. I agree it has been the most glaring issue, but one I believe can be remedied with an improvement in communication and focus. The team has shown the ability to defend, it just must find the consistency.

An issue that may be more difficult to solve is the lack of identity in the midfield. The individual pieces are there, but the puzzle has not fit together yet. The best path to a couple wins in the next five games would be for Frank Yallop to solve that puzzle quickly.

Coming out of Saturday's game, it seems the answer may lie in figuring out the Jeff Larentowicz-Matt Watson relationship. There is no doubt both men played well, which only makes the problem more difficult. While they did their job, it seemed far too often it was the same job being done. The offensive urgency was underwhelming. Both men at heart are defenders of their territory and look to win the ball for the team and move it to someone else to spark a push.

One solution could be moving Watson to a fullback position, where he played well while filling in for Lovel Palmer. Another of course could be starting one of the two men and subbing in the other when the time calls for it.

The key is going to be finding that second inside midfielder to go along with Mike Magee. Alex can be the source of much frustration, but when he came on for Watson the attack seemed revived Saturday. Watson is more in control, often smarter, but not as capable of the special moments winning – not drawing – a game requires.

One look at the heat map shows Alex was positioned almost exclusively ahead of the center line on the pitch while Watson hung back in more defensive areas. Of course some of this comes from instruction from the coach, but it makes little sense to keep Larentowicz and Watson in the back when it is Larentowicz at the end of the day responsible for the first 1 in a 4-1-4-1.

A closer look at the match stats show Alex only had four less completed passes - despite playing barely half Watson's minutes - and had two key passes to Watson's none. Again, I don't put it all on Watson, who I am sure had more defensive instructions, but it shows the better chance for attack still comes with Alex.

I have had very few complaints with Watson or Larentowicz this season, but I was miffed by the pairing on Saturday. I believe both in the midfield will stifle the attack too much. If the team is to turn its fortunes around in the next five, it must be inspired to score.

Whether it's Alex, Dilly Duka or Benji Joya, finding three forward-thinking midfielders to play with Big Red or Watson should be the goal moving forward. Montreal's midfield will look to push Saturday; hopefully Yallop can find the right chemistry in the middle of the pitch that has eluded the club early in the season.