Ah, the seemingly eternal question that all Fire fans have asked is where is our “Number 10.” A creator, visionary, a true difference maker. Many fans believe that is the missing piece for this squad to compete like last year’s third place finish. Could it be he is already on the roster?
I believe he is. His name is Jon Bakero.
I know, I know, a rookie? Yes, a rookie. We should start a rookie on opening day. I know there will be growing pains, but there will be magical moments too. Bear with me here.
First, consider his college career. From Bakero’s profile on the club website:
Bakero had 37 goals and 26 assists in 88 career games for the Demon Deacons. He won the MAC Hermann Trophy as a senior with 16 goals and 14 assists during the 2017 campaign. In addition to the nation’s top college honor, Bakero racked up a laundry list of accolades in his senior year: Senior CLASS Award, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American, and First Team All-ACC. He helped lead Wake Forest to NCAA Tournament appearances in each of his four years with the Demon Deacons, including a trip to the national championship game in 2016 where they fell to Stanford in penalty kicks.
He can play, he just needs to be given a shot. Moreover, he will have freedom to play his style, with Dax McCarty and the great Bastian Schweinsteiger taking care of the bulk of defensive duties. Add in Tony Tchani and now we are cooking.
This past weekend in a friendly versus the Tulsa Roughnecks FC the Fire played a 4-2-3-1 with Schweinsteiger as the “10,” and they barely won 2-1. That might not have been why the game was so close, but playing Basti out of position when you have a good player on the wings who can slot into that spot is not a recipe for success. Basti needs to play under Bakero.
I envision two possible scenarios: a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-3-2-1, both of which are formations where Bakero can shine.
In a 4-3-1-2, imagine Basti, Dax and Tony Tchani holding it down defensively and playing forward with vision and getting the ball to Bakero playing in front of them and a free wheeling Aleksander Katai finding space up the field with Nemanja Nikolic going forward. I understand the hesitation, but given a chance against this Sporting KC team that is pretty weak in the midfield as this past weekend showed us, it could work.
The alternative is a “Christmas Tree” lineup, with the same three man center midfield of Tchani, Dax and Basti. Katai and Bakero would play ahead of them with Katai playing more touchline-oriented and a bit back of Nikolic instead of higher up the field like in the other formation.
Both formations give Bakero space to create and a safeguard in case he does not. The fullback play will be important in both formations and both Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster have showed consistently they can get up the field and contribute.
There are still defensive questions and it might not click right away, but against SKC, Bakero can be a difference maker. If it works, this position can be settled for the coming years.
Of course, he will struggle, but sticking with him and maybe in the summer signing a forward could be the better alternative to over-spending on a mediocre player.
Agree, Disagree? Let us know in the comments.