San Jose thin at CB, but settled tactically
So far this season, San Jose have been very consistent in using a 4-2-3-1. Captain Chris Wondolowski plays the lone striker, Sanna Nyassi slots at right mid (RM) and Matias Perez Garcia runs the show from AM. Things have been unsettled at the LM spot, with Shea Salinas starting the 1st game against FC Dallas while Innocent Emeghara started last week in the win at Seattle. The trials continue at one of the DM positions. JJ Koval has played both games alongside Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi in game 1 and Fatai Alashe in game 2. In the back, the Quakes have seen no changes with Shaun Francis at LB, Paulo Renato and Victor Bernardez at CB and Marvell Wynne at RB. Youngster David Bingham has been playing between the pipes.
For the Fire's visit on Sunday, there are several tactical questions which need to be answered by "new" Coach Dom Kinnear. Who's going to get the start at LM, Emeghara or Salinas? How to solve the CB situation? Last week, both CB's had to leave the game. First, Bernardez was ejected with a red card for Serious Foul Play at 52min. Ty Hardin was slotted in at CB after the ejection. Then, Renato pulled up lame (looked like hamstring) and had to sub out at the 64 minute mark. Who get's the start next to Hardin? Is Renato healthy enough to play 90? Do we see Tyrone Mears get the start in the middle?
Yallop's surprise yields flowing football
Last week for the home opener for the Fire, I was surprised and delighted at the line-up put out by Coach Yallop. All of us were expecting a 4-4-2 or some form of 4-3-3. But it was great to see FY figure out how to address the tactical two-edged sword - how do we keep both Shipp and Maloney on the field without one/both of them (usually Shipp) playing defense on the wing for 90+. Wave of the Coaching Wand - puff of smoke - presto - the Fire started last week in a 4-1-4-1. Brilliant! Quincy Amarikwa at striker, Joevin Jones gets his first start at LM, Harry Shipp and Shaun Maloney in the CM slots and Michael Stephens at RM. Rookie Matt Polster gets the start at DM. The first choice back four of Lovel Palmer at LB, Adailton and Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and Eric Gehrig at RB. Veteran Jon Busch gets the start at GK in place of Sean Johnson (out with injury).
In this formation, starting at about the 20 minute mark of the first half, the Fire played the best 45 minutes of football I have seen since the Fire of the 90's. Ball on the ground - players moving off the ball, passes to feet - classic Fire possession football. Then at 59 minutes, Coach Yallop chose to address the fact that Matt Polster was on the edge of his second yellow card - since he was already in the ref's book for Persistent Infringement, a card he'd received four minutes in!! (Insert wild tirade about MLS referring in general and this referee in particular - include something about the 400 repeated fouls by the Caps on Quincy A - none of which saw yellow).
So rather than sub in another defensive midfielder in a like-for-like switch, Yallop made his second bold move by deciding to go for the win at home. He brought on Kennedy Igboananike for Polster and changed the formation to 4-4-2 diamond. Two strikers up front, Maloney pulling the strings in the middle, Shipp and Stephens doing the running on the outside. Palmer to RB - Gehrig to CB - Jones to LB and Big Red Larentowicz to the DM spot at the bottom of the diamond. Trying to put pressure on the Caps defense - trying to find a win at home. Unfortunately, all the air went out of the Fire attack. The Fire and the Caps traded possession but the Fire couldn't find a way thru for the game winner.
What about this week?
So what formation should we Fire fans expect this week at San Jose? The answer to that questions depends upon several factors. Is David Accam fit enough to go 45 minutes? Has Matt Polster continued to impress at training this week? Is Razvan Cocis match fit? Has Igboananike (still need nickname here fans) pushed hard enough to unseat Amarikwa at striker? Have one of the veteran mids picked up their game enough to oust one of last week's starters to get into the first 11? While we don't yet know the answers to those questions, let's hedge our bets and pick two formations.
If Accam is fit for 45 minutes, the formation should be 4-3-3.
Putting Accam on the outside would make the left side of the Fire attack two burners - David and Joevin - being fed thru balls or over the top by either Shipp or Maloney. The right side should be the same - with Kennedy or Lovel as the burners. This formation should put the most pressure on the Quakes while allowing the Fire defense plenty of depth and width.
The formation changes if Accam isn't fit, or to start the second half even if he plays, back to what I consider to be the current second-choice formation for the Fire - the 4-1-4-1. There were many positives in the play last week in the 4-1-4-1, especially if we contrast it to the previous 4-4-2 against the Galaxy. If Accam is again a scratch, the Fire should start the first eleven from last week - in the same positions - after another week of training focused on making and finishing chances in the final third.
Which formation do we see? We'll all find out at game time on Sunday on FS1. Players fighting for position - fighting for playing time - which formation to play? - who's in form? - who starts today? It's a great time to be a Fire Fan.