It feels, in some ways, like we've been delaying judgement on this season; it's a feeling remarkably like sanity. By this time last year, most of even the most die-hard Fire supporters were staring hard at that bottle of hemlock on the ledge; this year, we win twice in 11 games and we're still saying, "It's early. There's time. Let's wait and see."
Now comes the gauntlet, though. Now comes the judgement. Three games in six days against very good, very hungry teams from the West. A home-away-home week that means the exhaustion of air travel twice in three days, sandwiched around a game at altitude. This is the crucible; what will be forged?
Whatever happens, it starts today. Two weeks ago, the common knowledge was the Gals would be visiting minus Lando and Gonzalez; instead, of course, we get Keane and Donovan in full humiliation mode. Whatever consolation could be derived from Donovan's previously uninspired MLS form has been stolen by his obvious (and completely understandable) jump in motivation.
The Fire's vaunted offense will miss Mike Magee's movement, and the complete redundancy of the Juan Luis Anangonó / Quincy Amarikwa pairing against Columbus has many folks thinking the Fire might shift to a single-striker set. Also of concern: Which Dilly Duka will show up? Has he come around in practice, or might we see Grant Ward getting a surprise start in the high right-sided wing position usually manned by Patrick Nyarko?
This is the space where, if I'm posting early enough, I say what I'd do if I were Frank Yallop. I'd go 4-5-1, with a double pivot of Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause, Harrison Shipp in a free role starting from the middle, and Duka and Ward on the wings. What will Yallop do? We'll post the lineups here as soon as they're announced. LET US DO THIS THING.