Raheem Edwards is still yet to hit his stride in his current role with the Chicago Fire.
He was acquired in late July of 2018, but only played a little bit of left back in his 13 appearances last year. He still went into the 2019 season being the presumptive #1 at leftback. Unfortunately, he was only able to make one appearance before his LCL sprain kept him out for almost two months.
That appearance was the home game against the Seattle Sounders on March 16, in which the brutal opening half hour from the Fire saw Seattle score twice within 15 minutes.
Leftback Nicolas Hasler was taken off after 35 minutes to make way for Edwards, who scored the Fire’s opening goal to breathe life into the game, and was dangerous from the outset. He was named as Hot Time’s Man of The Match. Following all of this, I was excited to see more from him.
In his absence, the Fire have struggled in the fullback department, but is his return from injury the beginning of a strong fullback run for Raheem Edwards?
Upon return, Edwards made his first start of the season at home against NYCFC. I expected more from everyone in that game, including Edwards. He then followed that up with a bad performance against DC United last night. Ulises Segura had his number all night.
Edwards struggles on defense most of the time, but he isn’t a natural defender so this is to be expected. For how fast he is, he is surprisingly easy to get behind. His quickness isn’t enough if his mark is able to lose him easily, which is how Segura got the better of him multiple times against DC.
He’s not all bad on defense though, he has a really good nose for winning loose balls. Part of it is his quickness, but he also has a great sense for when he can pick up a loose ball or not. It’s a quality seen in defensive midfielders like Mo Adams or Dax McCarty, so given that he’s not a natural defensive player it is a good sign that he possesses this skill.
Part of his ball recovery skill ties into something he’s really great at on the attacking side of the ball–taking his space. Raheem Edwards is really good at progressing the ball forward when an opportunity comes to him. Whether it’s dribbling forward to suck in a defender or making vertical passes to Aleksandar Katai or Nico Gaitán, Edwards knows how to push the tempo. This is also something Matt Polster was good at when he played fullback for the Fire.
A fullback with this skillset might only be effective in situations where the Fire are the better team and in control of everything. It reduces his defensive responsibilities and allows him more freedom to get forward. The Fire have gone back and forth all season on whether they want to be a team that controls the game or sits back and reacts to it. If the Fire can control games I think we will see the best of Raheem Edwards.
There is an alternative to him if he can’t cut it, though. Francisco Calvo has said that he prefers playing in the middle, but he definitely has the ability to play left back. If Marcelo gets some game time and plays well while Edwards struggles, Calvo could be moved out left. If Edwards wants to keep his spot with the Fire and make the Gold Cup roster for Canada he’s got to show that he can be reliable. The extra motivation could be a great jumpstart to his return this season.