It’s been a while since I’ve been able to have this space to talk and analyze the Fire’s on-field performance. The nature of two games a week plus my outside commitments have left no time to post What We Learned articles and talk about some of the interesting things happening on the pitch in Fire land. And with Raphael Wicky out and a lame-duck coaching staff in his place, there was really only one thing to write about:
Who Stays and Who Goes
We’ll revisit this after the final stretch of games when, hopefully, more fringe players see some amount of playing time to evaluate them, but from what we have, there are some clear delineations of players the organization needs to preserve in their blowup of the roster. The list of players that need to stay outside of all of their young developing pieces at this point is only one and is Fabian Herbers.
No one really thinks about the value of these kinds of squad players until it’s time to evaluate and blow up rosters that aren’t working, and even then you tend to lose sight of what happens to guys like them because you’re concentrating on the impact players who weren’t impactful or the young guys who are the bright spots for the future. However, guys like Herbers are just as important as those pieces. Fabian Herbers is not going to win any MVPs and probably shouldn’t be starting 30 games a season, but every good team has guys like him. He plays multiple positions well enough that he can fill in in a starting role for injured players or come in off the bench in the middle of the games without much dropoff in quality. He opened up the play that got Robert Beric his 5th goal before he walked off injured, and for several weeks before that, was mimicking the role of a box-to-box midfielder rather successfully. If there was one veteran that the Fire have to keep on this current roster, it’s Herbers.
As for who needs to go, I find myself concerned about Miguel Navarro’s ability to defend while maintaining his danger in attack. There are lots of times when he’s getting caught out in attack and fails to get back in time. He gets beat 1 on 1 a fair bit of time as well, and sometimes he keeps players onside by not being level with the rest of the backline. With players like AJ Reynolds and Jonathan Bornstein capable of playing that position, I wouldn’t be surprised if Navarro was quietly moved on from.
I’m Worried About The Young Attackers
Obviously, the lack of goals scored for the 2021 Fire has been a big talking point this season. But it’s not all been Robert Beric offsides and Gastón Giménez shots into row Z. The fact is, the Fire’s young players have not been getting the job done. Chinonso Offor has not been able to take advantage of the good positions he manages to find himself in and Stanislav Ivanov hasn’t shown even that.
I’m less concerned about Offor of the two. The reason for Offor’s inability to score are more easily correctable. He has a tendency to let his confidence get carried away too much to where he stops making the correct play and starts to take on more than he needs to. For example, I think it was in the game against Kansas City where he had a wide-open player to his right and instead of passing it for a shot or a give and go, he forced a short through traffic that was easily saved. Experience and understanding will help him recognize scenarios where he can recognize those smarter plays and set his teammates and himself up for better scoring opportunities. And hopefully, we can then start looking at his finishing abilities.
As for Ivanov, I’m not really sure what to make of him. You can see flashes of potential, but he really is too green to be of any use at an MLS level. There are times where he disappears from games and you forget he’s even out there, and when he does show up on the ball, he looks like he’s thinking instead of playing. You could say he has the opposite problem of Offor. The game is moving too fast for him and even when he does, he doesn’t possess the skills to properly make plays. That’s going to have to get better over the offseason, or else it’s going to be the end of his MLS career, and go down as another swing and a miss for Georg Heitz.
Going into next season, it’s imperative that you can count on someone to be that secondary goalscorer. If we assume that the FO is going to use their free DP slot to sign another striker (which is not a guarantee by any stretch) then at least one of these two has to develop into a reliable second option for the offense which has to score more goals in order to be a going concern in MLS. But the fact of the matter is that I’m not sure either young player is up to the task. I guess time will tell.