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Roundtable: Right back? Attacking midfield? What’s the Fire’s most pressing need?

Encouraging Opening Day draw has Hot Time staff at odds over what needs changing

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC
Brandon Vincent (L) had a strong game on the left side of defense Saturday.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

James Bridget Gordon: Alright! The Fire played a soccer game over the weekend and this one actually counted! A 1-1 draw against That Yellow [expletive deleted] Team, which isn't bad compared to recent season openers.

Thoughts? Overreactions? Pronouncements of dooooooooom?

Brian Bottei: The Fire last took points on opening day in 2013. The fire had 49 points in 2013. That is a higher point total than any of the Fire's point totals since then. I'm not drawing conclusions, but I'm drawing conclusions.

Jack Kelly: My reactions from the game: (1) Juninho is really good. Like, he's so good, that he didn't even have to play and we saw how important he is going to be to the team. Fire looked a little shaky without him as McCarty struggled to control the whole middle of the park by himself. (2) David Accam is still the King. He took Mensah's soul when he turned him around in the box. And the finish itself, a classy curler. (3) Bava is also good. I think he will quickly put to bed any questions surrounding who the true #1 is in between the sticks

Mike Tooley: Bava made a couple of big saves. Columbus is probably kicking themselves for not putting this game to bed in the first half. This was like two games in one. The first half was pretty bad and just reminded me of everything that was wrong with the squad last year. The second half went the opposite direction. We outplayed them and since we were still only a goal down at half time we were able to get a result. Standouts for me were, Vincent, Meira and Dax.

Brian: Can we give Goossens a hand, too? Came into a position outside of his normal and really gave a solid showing in the second half. His ball that got deflected to accam is exactly the kind of entry pass that VP is looking for right now.

Mike: Yea, I would say that’s fair. He was quite good in the second. In the First he just looked uncomfortable and really had no impact at all.

Jigs loses the plot, brickbats all ‘round

John Carollo III: Scorching Hot Take incoming: I think Accam should be benched. Sure he scored a goal, but look at the rest of the game. He holds onto the ball too long and loses it easily. He's a ball hog and needs to learn how to play well with others. There was a time where we had him as basically our only option going forward, but now we have others. He needs to learn to pass the gosh darn ball.

On the D, Harrington. Enough said… well, maybe not. He actually improved a bit in the second half (as the rest of the team did), but he's still not a good idea to start. He was serviceable as a backup in the second half. As soon as we get a new RB, I'd be cool with him as a spot backup.

James Bridget: Re: Accam, I'd be willing to go along with that if the rest of the forward line were capable of scoring goals. As it is, Accam has become accustomed to having to do everything himself. It seems he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

John: Just rewatching highlights now:

  • Bava doesn't move a muscle on the goal.
  • Niko is going to be emulating Filipio Inzaghi with all these offsides (not a bad thing, I liked Inzaghi)
  • If distribution is the reason we dumped Sean, Bava is a downgrade.
  • We have the same "Curse of Emil Heskey" as we've had previous years: we seem to be able to create chances, but unable to score goals

Mike: Completely disagree with you on Accam, John. Niko, De Leeuw and Alvarez all had fairly poor games as well IMO. So just singling out Accam because he didn’t make a pass or two and saying he should be benched is taking things to the extreme. He was the only one threatening Columbus throughout the second half and running at their defenders. He remains a game changer (proof provided by his finish).

John: They had poor games because the ball almost always went through Accam who almost always lost it.

Mike: He also created a number of chances during the course of the game... and scored our only goal. The more you attack and take chances going forward the more you are going to risk losing the ball as well.

James Bridget: Yeah Jigs, those are exactly the kind of problems you run into when you only have one good player.

It's one thing to expect Accam to do everything himself, but to want to blame and punish him for trying to do that and coming up short is a little odd.

John: It's fine when our only other options are Iggy, Alvarez and LaBrocca. Now we have De Leeuw and Nikolic, two guys who can score if they get service. Accam was a great one man show when we needed him, but now that we have options, we need to use them. Accam isn't doing that. It's nice to have a guy who can create something out of nothing, but he doesn't need to try every time when there's help.

James Bridget: I'm not convinced we do have options. De Leeuw's better than we've had since 2013 Magee but not at Accam's level (yet). Nikolic is yet unproven. Your faith in our forward line is speculative.

Mike: I don't see why we should be defending Nicolic yet. Like James said he hasn't proven himself, it has only been one game. This is where I give Accam the benefit of doubt because we have seen him provide almost all of our threat recently. If the logic is that he should be benched because he gave the ball away too frequently, apply that to the rest of the team and we probably won't have 11 players to field next week. He is human, afterall.

Brian: And remember, guys... we took what 10-12 shots on Saturday? We probably had at least 100 possessions. So that's one out of 10 possessions that result in a shot, and 1/10-1/12 of those that resulted in a goal. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think Accam did anything wrong...

It’s really hard to get a shot off, let alone score. Single-digit percentages of possessions result in shots. Multiply that between another single-digit percentage and 1-5 percent of all possessions in a game result in a goal. I don't think saying that we should bench Accam because he gives the ball away (like everyone else) is a good idea, because Accam demonstrably turns more possessions into shots than any alternative.

John: I'll go do the math.

Mike: I just feel like we have many more pressing issues with the squad than to worry about a guy who is one of our better players. Given the current composition of our squad Accam is a lock to start when he's fit.

The debate moves to Harrington

Jack: We CANNOT bench Accam. I agree with Mike that the rest of the "forward" players didn't look that convincing. Accam is proven in this league and I think that he is a leader on the pitch. He has a winning mentality about him and I think that the rest of the squad feeds off his energy.

Also, Harrington wasn't as bad as I was expecting him to be. By no means was he good, but he almost looked like a mediocre right back in this match. I consider this a step in the right direction.

Jack: cc: his wife whose Twitter handle I have already forgotten

John: I agree on the Harrington part. He wasn't complete and utter sh*t like he usually is, but he still wasn't a starter.

Jack: Well, actually he was.

And I mean, there's not a lot of options that I can think of for the Fire to bring in. He at least has played in the league. I think that playing in the back line of an MLS squad is very different than that of other leagues

Mike: He cannot be the long-term plan at right back, so I am still hoping we sign someone to play there. I recall a point in the game when he had plenty of time to swing a cross into the box and he hoofed it straight out of play behind the goal. Those options you mentioned Accam possibly having now... well they also won’t score goals when crosses don't even land in play.

Sean Spence: Harrington’s obviously not much above a replacement-level player in this league at this point, but I think what’s being missed here is he’s playing his natural role in this tactic - a very offensive-oriented wingback. His role is not as a shutdown fullback. He’s supposed to be positioned that high on the right - look how comfortable Kappelhof looks finding him in that position. It’s a tactical choice that he’s following through on, not him running forward because he’s clueless.

Jack: That can be said about any position though. MLS as a league is very ... different?

I think that adjusting trying to just bring in a player and place him in the lineup isn't a feasible solution. You have to get used to the brutal travel schedule and the differences in fan culture here. It is a strange transition for a lot of players that come in. I'll be interested to see what Nikolic will think of Toyota Park next weekend after playing in front of crazed Legia fans for two years

James Bridget: I mean ideally we could get someone in the league

Jack: Hopefully it is a good atmosphere, but I'm not quite sure that the Harlem End can be on the same level that the Polish ultras are

James Bridget: The problem is that the Fire have such a poor reputation that no one wants to come here now. And we have to rely on international players who aren't familiar with the FO's recent history, HGPs and yoots.

Jack: It seems like a lose-lose. We saw with McCarty that he was very critical of the club. He definitely did not want to come to Chicago, what will get other big name players to want to come from within the league?

James Bridget: And MLS/NASL players who've been cut loose recently and are low on options.

We have too many former Fire players still playing and dispersed throughout the league, warning their new teammates not to pick up the phone when it's a 708 number.

John: *cough* 773 *cough*

James Bridget: Bridgeview is 708, dear.

John: Don't they still have corporate offices in Chicago?

Jack: Maybe McCarty still has a New York number and he can call on behalf of the club.

Mike: Jack, do you mean we should not be looking outside of MLS for a right back? I understand there is a transition and the culture of MLS is different but there have to be a number of right backs outside of MLS we could bring in that can have a more positive impact there.

Jack: Side note: Did anyone watch the Timbers vs. Loons game on Friday? I really rate Justin Davis their LB. He was one of the few players to make the jump from NASL to MLS with the team

John: They have issues at RB as well.

But who could we get?

Jack: And Mike, I think that the Fire should be looking within the league for a RB. I don't think using an international roster spot on a RB would be in our best interest

John: Weird, never noticed it was still in my area code.

Jack: Hot Take: Sign Davis and move Vincent to right back.

Too bad Minnesota will never let him go because, you know, he's the fans man

John: Vincent is originally a CB. Teaching him LB and suddenly moving him over doesn't sound like an easy idea.

Jack: He's smart, young and athletic. He would be just fine.Mike: I do understand that part of it. I believe we can still find a RB who is solid and will not take up an international spot though. It is an area where we need to improve.

James Bridget: I love fullbacks and I'd probably squee if we signed Leighton Baines to a DP contract. But Jack is right. (I know he's a left back, we can work something out.)

John: That's our new DP right there!

I'd say Baines is more likely to be able to move to the right than Vincent.

Jack: You wouldn't move Baines - he's a career left back. Vincent would have to deal with it lol

Mike: A. J. DeLaGarza would have been a sweet pick up but that's gone.

Jack: But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

James Bridget: That should be the motto for Fire fandom always and forever. It's a hell of a lot better than "it was just banter."

Jack: Can we just have Joevin Jones back please? I know he is currently playing on the left for Seattle but he plays up and down both wings for Trinidad and Tobago.

John: I thought it was "Eh, good enough."

Mike: Joevin is playing too good for Seattle to give him up to someone else in MLS.

John: JJ was great, but we probably pissed him off when we traded him.

Jack: Sadly, I agree, Mike. Also, he takes up an international roster spot I believe -- I'm a walking contradiction goddammit.

James Bridget: We are vast and contain multitudes.

Jack: What do we think of Meira? To me, he never does anything great, but also, he never really messes anything up.

Mike: I thought he was one of our better players in Columbus.

John: He was pretty damn good the other day. I'm cool with him starting over J-Camp if he does that every game.

Jack: He and Kappelhof could develop into something legit, I think.

John: Again, we can move Kap to the right and play both of them, but NOOOOOOOOOOooooOOOO. NO ONE WANTS THAT EXCEPT ME!

Jack: Kappelhof is a proven CB both abroad and loosely in MLS last year.

Mike: Sorry, I don't like that haha. I think Kap should be playing CB every game.

Jack: He was too good in the Dutch league not to play as the spine of the our team. Especially because VP loves to play out of the back in very "Dutch" fashion, if you will

John: While we're figuring out the RB situation, that should be our band-aid. I'm not saying it should be our backline for the whole season, but just until we sign a new RB, because we know they're gonna sign one. I don't think Harrington should be out there, and that's a way to do it.

Jack: I'm very much of the mind-set that the best players in each position should be playing that position. For this squad, Kappelhof should be at CB and Harrington at RB. They're listed at those places for a reason.

Jigs gets stuck in again

John: But what about Goose at CM?

Jack: John, that was not by choice - we have this one Brazilian dude named Juninho that will actually playing there.

John: But we had Djordjie Mihalovic, Drew Conner, and Brandt Bronico. Why not start them since that's their position? Goose's position is on the wings.

Jack: I mean, to say that Goose isn't a CM wouldn't exactly be right. He's an attacking midfielder in my mind.

John: He can play as a CAM, but not a 6.

Jack: Therefore, he can play on the wings, behind the striker or alongside another CM. Perfect example of this is Cazorla for Arsenal playing as a 6 when he is a CAM.

John: He was out there as a 6.

Jack: I also don't love these FIFA labels for positions (CM and CAM lol), but I digress.

John: Fine, but that shows the difference even further between a 10 and a 6.

Jack: But to quote the classic film Division 3: Football's Finest, "the best players [should] play"

John: My point was that if we're going to play Goose slightly out of position, we should put Kap slightly out of position for a couple weeks before we cover up the right.

Jack: Well, we can agree to disagree.

James Bridget: Last question before we wrap up: why are Columbus such a Yellow [expletive deleted] Team?

John: The world may never know...

Jack: As the philosopher JBG once said, "Crew Yellow is the official color of shame and regret." Their bitterness over their poor kit color selection doomed them from the beginning.

John: My God, you did the quoting thing!

Jack: It'll also be included in this week's Fire20! #spoilers