clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Right back Roulette

New, 6 comments

With Michael Harrington out, who should the Chicago Fire start at right back Saturday in a big rivalry game?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Harrington is out of the lineup and a number of supporters seem pretty happy with that.

After picking up a red card for unleashing his inner Jackie Chan on Brek Shea Friday, the journeyman defender will have to watch Saturday's match with the rest of us. In the meantime, new coach Veljko Paunovic is tasked with a difficult choice.

During his weekly media call Monday, Paunovic said young Brazilian Rodrigo Ramos is certainly in the running to start at right back Saturday while Michael Stephens could also get a shot. He also said Johan Kappelhof showed well at right back Friday and Eric Gehrig is getting close to full health. Needless to say, there are options.

Let's take a closer look at those options and the likely scenarios.

Rodrigo Ramos

Fans are clamoring to see more of the 19-year-old Brazilian right back. He has already shown some flashes of potential, most recently in Friday's match when he came on late and combined with David Accam to nearly setup a game-winning goal. But the problem is he only a 19-year-old still very new to the country let alone the league and has only 11 professional appearances to his name.

It would be one thing to see Ramos making his starting debut against a team like Colorado who would be traveling to Chicago to play a non-conference game. It's quite another to make your starting debut against the team's biggest rival that is an MLS Cup hopeful and frustrated with an 0-2-0 start.

While he would not have to handle the relentless speed and pressure of Ethan Finlay, Hector Jimenez is still plenty comfortable connecting with Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara as the trio has developed a chemistry.

Ramos has already shown the upside that has people believing in him as the future starter, but the situation he would be walking into Saturday may not be the ideal time for that future to start. If he did start, and if he did produce, he would likely have secured his starting spot for the season.

Johan Kappelhof

The Dutch defender had the best game of his very short Fire career Friday. While normally tasked with center back duties, he moved to the right after Harrington's departure and quickly became more influential. His desire to get forward almost led to a goal with Kennedy Igboananike, who failed to get the final touch on the chance.

Kappelhof has more experience than Ramos, playing higher level competition while in the Dutch top flight. Paunovic said Monday that Kappelhof's versatility -- his ability to play center back, defensive midfield or right back -- is something the team wants to use.

If Paunovic opts to go with a 4-2-3-1 to start Saturday's game, I would like to see Kappelhof get a shot at right back with Jonathan Campbell and Joao Meira in central defense. If Paunovic deploys his variation of the 3-5-2/5-3-2, then chances are he will be unwilling to move Kappelhof off one of those three center back positions.

Michael Stephens

This name surprised me a bit, but Paunovic, without prompting, brought up Stephens as someone who would definitely get a shot during practice this week. I love the tenacity and energy Stephens brings when he plays and he had some nice performances last season when paired up with Matt Polster to handle more defensive duties.

But Paunovic has not opted to play Stephens in either of the two games this season, choosing Ramos as the first defensive option off the bench. It would be a big jump up the pecking order for Stephens, but a move that could be worth the risk. He has the most MLS experience of the three mentioned and is more familiar with Columbus.

Eric Gehrig

This would be a surprise and could be a great move. I'll always prefer Gehrig as a center back, but he can play right back and there is no one on the team more hungry or motivated to make a big statement. Paunovic said Monday that goalkeeper Matt Lampson would need to control his emotions going against his old team? You know who else played for Columbus? Gehrig. You throw that motivation into what is an already boiling pot of frustration and you have one determined individual.

Paunovic said Gehrig is still making very good progress, which is starting to sound like 'Sean Johnson can win his spot back.' Both statements are true, but both have a tinge of subliminal messaging. The Johnson line sounds more and more like 'It's Lampson's spot to lose' each week and the Gehrig line sounds more like 'We could probably play him but like the guys ahead of him better.'

Gehrig is a smart man. He knows if and when he gets an opportunity, OK will not cut it. He'll have to be great. There may not be a better time for him to make a statement than on Saturday.

Who would you pick to start at right back Saturday?