Here’s what we learned.
Wednesday night was sublime. Three goals in 14 minutes. The floodgates had opened against a quality opponent in the five stripes, and the Fire were finally making good— turning their expected goals into actual goals. CJ Sapong continued his wonderful form, scoring a brace in what had to be one of his better performances in a Fire shirt. Nico Gaitán had what had to be considered his best game since he joined the team. And to cap the night, Fabian Herbers making his first start capped off the evening of scoring with a goal of his own. The Fire were looking like they were turning the corner on the season, that maybe after all, there was a chance to make something of the season.
Than Saturday came.
Sporting Kansas City was the exact opposite of Wednesday. The club were listless, limp and ineffective. They couldn’t string three passes together, and mostly everyone was poor. Even in their most dangerous of moments, the players looked uncoordinated and uncomfortable. It was like they’ve never played together before. Everything looked so wrong and so far away from the delight of seventy two hours ago that it boggles the mind that they’re the same football team.
The biggest shame is that this isn’t the first time this has happened this year. That aforementioned Colorado game where they won 4-1? That was followed up with the now second worst performance of the season in the Bronx against NYCFC, and that carried over to the match against Montreal the week after. If the pattern holds, and there’s no reason to see that it wouldn’t, FC Cincinnati is going to be hell this weekend. And the What If’s will keep being asked.
On Left Backs
The problem with not having a natural fit at any given position is that there will be trade-offs between all the players that play there. Plug in a midfielder, say, Jorge Corrales or Jeremiah Gutjahr, you lose something defensively. The idea with this band-aid is that they’re comfortable playing on the left while in attack. Their offensive potential from overlapping runs and crossing ability will outweigh their defensive liability and that their athleticism can cover that portion of the game well enough for the center backs can come help.
On the flipside, playing another defender on that side means sacrificing the attack. With someone like Grant Lillard and Francisco Calvo, the idea is that the offense will be just fine without the help from your fullbacks, and are talented enough to play without the threat of long runs on the wing or the extra body in attack that those runs provide.
The Fire are in a position where they need both.
The offense isn’t good enough or creative enough to create opportunities without making use of the overlapping runs from fullbacks. That isn’t really a knock on the Men in Red, though. A lot of very good teams rely on those runs to create the necessary space for their actual offensive players to work, and the Fire are no different.
The defense makes too many mistakes to risk playing a non-defender there. I’ve lost count at the amount of times opposing teams have taken advantage of Fire midfielders being played out of position.
The Fire are damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to left back, and it’s their own fault.
Fabian Herbers is a striker, but not one of the glamorous ones. He’s not flashy or has it in him to score the spectacular goal. He’s more Michael de Leeuw or Alex Morgan instead of a Sam Kerr or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In a sense, that makes him perfect to play in the Djordje Mihailovic role that he’s been playing in since DM has left for the Gold Cup.
He’s impressed me with his work rate and has done a decent job of shutting down opposing playmakers while being dangerous in attack when he gets an opportunity. I’m certain he’ll be relegated back to the bench when Djordje comes back and is reintegrated with the squad, probably as soon as this week vs Cincy. But I think he’s earned more playing time, and I expect to see his number called more often off the bench.
Those are my takeaways from this last weeks games. What about yours? Leave them in the comments below!