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Roundtable: Are the Fire deep enough to compete?

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Vastly improved starting XI is backed by a very inexperienced bench

Orlando City SC v Chicago Fire
John Goossens (L) will be one of the few experienced hands on the Fire bench this season.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This week's roundtable topic: No one questions that CF97's starting XI is improved over, basically, any group the club have assembled the last handful of seasons - but the bench seems a little thin. Or is it? Discuss.

John Carollo III: Our defense is barren on the bench. Dekovic was a good idea, but he [takes up] an international slot. We need to get another (better) RB before we can even think about some major attacking DP. And we have just 3 CBs, so that's an added issue going into this season involving depth. Midfield and attack are golden, but defense is a major issue.

Mike Tooley: As it is currently composed, the squad is very thin in some areas. I still believe right back needs to be addressed, there is zero depth there. As John said we have three center backs. Ideally we would want one more at some point. As long as Polster recovers and there is not a long lingering injury we have solid options through the middle and some younger guys who could see a few minutes as well. Depth up front is solid, we have more options this year than previous years. All in all the back line is the biggest cause for concern.

James Bridget Gordon: I think the Fire has the same problems with the bench that is has in previous years-- thinking that all you need are warm bodies. There's no point in having a backup defender on the bench if you don't trust them to do their jobs if sent out there. This has been an issue before (even under Pauno) where the coach doesn't really have confidence in the bench so most of the starters have to do 90 minutes. Even if they're tired, even if they're having a bad game, even if they're injured in some cases.

The Fire has enough warm bodies. I'm not convinced they have actual depth.

Sean Spence: We're all concerned, but I'm worried we're reasoning more from past results than the current situation. At least, I assume that's what everyone's default filter has to be after so many years of downcast football. So let's take it a little deeper. The general consensus around Fire media is that the likeliest starting XI is the one from the Saturday's thrashing of TFC: Bava; Vincent, Meira, Kappelhof, Harrington; Accam, Dax, Juninho, Alvarez; de Leeuw, Nikolic.

That leaves the following people on the roster still available (we'll get to injuries in just a minute, keep your pants on): Matt Lampson, Stefan Cleveland, Jonathan Campbell, Patrick Doody, Matt Polster, John Goossens, Daniel Johnson, Drew Conner, Djordje Mihalovic, Collin Fernandez, Joey Calistri, Luis Solignac, David Arshakyan.

Injuries to consider: - Lampson sprained his MCL a week and a half ago, and we haven't heard a lot since. Figure him to be out for a while.

- Polster still isn't running on the side during practice, and the initial estimate was that he'd miss three weeks of the season. He's not going to be back to full fitness until will into April, even if all goes well.

I'm going to kick off this more in-depth part by quietly removing Collin Fernandez and David Arshakyan from the discussion, for two entirely different reasons. Fernandez remains virtually unseen, racking up 75 minutes (in decreasing slices) in the first three preseason friendlies. He'll surely be moved to Tulsa for seasoning.

Arshakyan ... it's hard to say this. There's so many.

But the gigantic Armenian might be <quietly> the worst striker we've ever bought. <looks up, horrified, imagining gasps> I know. It's a lot. One thinks of names like Puppo. Nazarit. Franco. But he's up there.

It's not so much that he does stuff wrong as he looks like he's not sure what it is everyone's doing and how it relates to him, like this human game has ceased to make any sense because the fungal life form which took over his nervous system on the flight to Chicago is so new at this that it's having a hard time accessing his memories, either eidetic or muscle. He's just roaming around, trying to make this extremely long monkey-body do the things he sees the other monkey-bodies doing, and how is this pleasurable? It'd be soooo much easier just to lay down in a dark, slightly damp room, and just sleep, sleeep, sleeeeeeeeep ...

Mike: By removing him do you believe we won't see him named on the bench often if at all?

Sean: I’m saying that if he’s getting a lot of minutes, we’re in trouble.

Mike: I still think we will see him get some minutes in certain situations. If Polster, Campbell, Goosens and Solignac are the first few names available to come off the bench I think that is pretty solid.

John: That Kylo story was a real journey. I agree, he doesn't look good.

James: Kylo?

John: Arshakyan.

James: Why are you calling him Kylo?

John: He looks so much like Adam Driver, the guy who plays Kylo Ren.

James: No he doesn't.

John: We went over it a while back.

James: And no we didn't.

John: I guess that's your opinion.

And yes we did.

James: No, you did, Sean laughed at it, and the discussion moved on. You presumed consensus.

Sean: Folks, Arshakyan is awful. Let's remember how much we have in common!

Brian: I don't think Arshakyan is awful, so there's that. But anyway, the bench is.... well, it's ok.

If you think about it, we have Lampson, Meira/Campbell, Goossens, Johnson, Solignac, doody, and one more guy in there... that's not bad. Its thin in some spots, but it’s not bad.

James: Ehhhhhhhhh

John: It's still pretty thin for a team that is already pretty thin on the pitch.

And I don't think they're going to keep Doody around. Honestly, his career is in the USL now.

James: And I'm sure our bench problem will get better once we sign Schweinsteiger.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaany day now.

Brian: Yes. It’s thin. It was also thin going into last season, too. I don't think that all said and done we are in a bad spot.

Sean: Wait - ‘as good as last season’ really shouldn’t lead to feeling like ‘This is fine’ as a Fire fan unless you are literally the dog sipping coffee in that meme.

Jack Kelly: Overall, I am satisfied with the squad depth that we have. Obviously positions like RB could use some patching up and maybe a healthy goalkeeper, but I think that those are issues to address if need be. The beauty of having a USL affiliate is that we can _sort of_ pull up guys as need be. Overall, I think that NR and Veljko did a god job of bringing in the pieces that we need and retaining the players that were important. Going into the season, I'm happy with what we have. *Especially* when you compare it to last season.

John: Midfield is fine too, though. It's that defense that worries me. We just officially signed Dekovic, which looked like a smart pick, so maybe he could be on the bench, but he's an international.

Mike: Dekovic is Croatian so I am automatically a proponent of his. It will be interesting to see what they plan to do with him. I am not quite ready to rule out Arshakyan being a serviceable forward coming off of the bench. He didn't arrive until August last year and our season was basically over. We have brought in some really, really disappointing forwards in the past and on DP deals too.

Sean: Arshakyan supporters: I may be off-base with the 'fungiform takeover' hypothesis. It could easily be some kind of spirokete or a different organic brain illness. But he plays, to this point, like a guy who's pretending to be familiar with something alien to him. And it's interesting that removing him from the discussion has become a way of him dominating the discussion. Those f--king Sith, I tell ya. DAMN YOU KYLO! <roar of callback-joke applause>

Jack: One other thing: I rate Arshakyan. I'm mostly saying this because it rubs Sean the wrong way, and well, conflict is fun. However, I do think that it is important to have a big, physical striker in a league like MLS. Alan Gordon isn't exactly the most coordinated guy either, and he came up big for LA over the last few seasons. Rapids fans should be happy that they have him.

Sean: Being tall doesn't make Alan Gordon Alan Gordon. It's his timing, his ability to create that little bit of space (by pushing off, usually; this ain't rocket science), and his kamikaze aggressiveness when the ball is in the air. Have you seen any of those things from Arshakyan? If I was evaluating Arshakyan based upon his FIFA profile, I'd be more inclined to agree; but after watching literally every game moment of his competitive football career since his arrival in America, I've seen no indication he's anything like the classic No. 9 you're imagining him to be.

Sean: So is the consensus that we're set in the attack? The starting trio of Accam-de Leeuw-Nikolic backed by Johnson, Solignac, Calistri, and he who shall not be named? That's all good? If we focus on 'wide players' instead of 'attackers,' we've got Goossens, Johnson, and maybe Calistri backing Accam and Alvarez. Good there?

Central midfielders: Goossens, Conner and Mihalovic (and injured Polster) backing Dax and Juninho. Goossens looks much more comfortable out wide, and the two Homegrowns are completely unproven. (Here's to hoping this is the beginning of an inspirational story for those two former national champs - but always, prior outcomes deflate our nascent optimism.) And we just signed Brandt Bronico, who at least promises some fantastic alliterative headlines if he can make a mark.

Wide defenders: Doody? and ... uhh ... Calistri? backing Harrington and Vincent. We've already heard Doody called a USL-level defender in this conversation, and Calistri's a career attacker whose zeal and work-rate recommended him as a stop-gap wingback ... which is essentially Harrington less his huge amount of MLS experience. If either starter gets hurt, we'll probably have to see Kappelhof at right back ...

Central defenders: ... which isn't too bad, because Campbell is a solid backup. After him, though? If not Doody, who?

John: Dekovic is listed as a LB for UNCWhereverTheyAre, but he's looked like a half decent CB with us. He'd bring a bit of depth there.

And I don't think Kylo is NOT servicable, but he isn't quality enough to be using an international slot on him at this point. Yes, I'd use an international slot on Deko before Kylo.

Sean: Bottom line - the number of healthy substitutes on the roster with an actual professional track record is vanishingly small, even including Arshakyan. List begins: Solignac, Goossens, Campbell, Doody, Arshakyan LIST ENDS. That's not enough, in my opinion, to challenge in a top-flight league basically anywhere. The Fire going to need some folks on the current roster to raise their game in order to keep pace over the long dark of Moria MLS.

Ruben Tisch: Do we kow how much cap space is left? Rosters don't finalize for a few weeks, no?

Sean: Rodriguez talked recently about two Designated Players the club lost out upon, and in that said they had the space to bring in another DP. So obviously there’s some resources out there.

John: My day-to-day bench is (including current injuries): Cleveland (Lamp is injured, right?), Meira (Campbell starts for me, but could be this spot), Deko, Conner, Calistri, Goose, Soli

Predictions for the season

Jack: I am going with a resoundingly over-optimistic fourth place finish in the east. I think that Fire are going to start strong and then ride a slump all the way to the playoffs.

James: For what it’s worth, I'm going to say 7th in the conference. They're better, but the rest of the conference and the league has too much of a head start right now and there are no obvious openings, even with the expanded playoff field. I think it'll be 2013 all over again: just barely missing out on the playoffs right at the death but with a measure of hope for next season.

John: 5th. I think we can hit the high end of my projected range as long as we keep focused on the games that really count against Atlanta and DC and games against teams "above us".

Mike: I think Fire can reach 5th or 6th. Yes, we may be thin and depth could be an issue. Some younger and less experienced players are going to have to step into certain situations and make an impact. But our squad is stronger than it was last year. I think asking for a bench full of starting XI calibre players with a lot of MLS experience is just too much to ask considering where we were the past couple of seasons. When I look around at the other squads who I expect we will be competing with (around 5th to 8th range in east) I forsee them having similar issues with depth that we could be looking at. There really shouldnt be a large gap in points from 5th on down to 7th or 8th so yea... I am going to say 5th or 6th.

Sean: The Fire's outcomes could vary wildly based upon luck. If they're lucky enough to stay healthy, than they're challenging the top 3 in the East and considered a remarkable turnaround story. A couple of injuries, though - especially a couple of injuries at a single position, like, say, centerback - and the whole thing comes unsprung. My best guess is the Fire run hot and cold all season, finishing fifth and causing some noise in the playoffs.