A bye week can be frustrating when your team is on a winning streak or starting to heat up. When your team is floundering, a bye week is relief; it’s a way to re-group and re-focus. A cynic would say that the Chicago Fire even messed up their bye week. Winger Patrick Nyarko picked up a hamstring injury in a friendly lost 1-0 against the NASL’s Minnesota United. It would seem unwise to play Nyarko this weekend against the New York Red Bulls given the beating he has been taking thus far this season. MLS even featured an article about Nyarko already being excessively fouled. Nyarko joins several players who are listed as questionable (i.e. very unlikely to play) for Sunday’s match: Dilly Duka, Alex, Michael Videira, and Steven Kinney. These losses are mitigated by the returns from injury of captain Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich and from international duty keeper Sean Johnson and midfielder Joel Lindpere. Pause may find himself starting at rightback, though Friedrich might only be a bench option as he’s still not match fit. However, these glimmers only deepen the darkness.
Even with the return of the two veterans, Chicago still finds itself in a precarious state. Chicago have taken the dubious route of filling their roster with midfielders (13) to the detriment of the defensive line (the Fire have 6 defenders). Rumors circulated recently that Chicago was working a trade with Philadelphia for centerback (and former Fire player) Bakary Soumare. The move would have been a smart one, yet nothing has happened and it appears nothing will. The addition of Soumare would mean that Jalil Anibaba could be dedicated to the rightback position which has been a particular train-wreck so far. Four games in and Chicago have used four different players in the slot (Anibaba, Wells Thompson, Michael Videira, and Steven Kinney), none of whom are actually fullbacks. The stubborn idiocy of refusing to sign a true fullback or to fully commit to training and playing an actual defender like Anibaba or Kinney in the role revels the mess Chicago has become. A team without defensive depth is a team that will lose.
On Sunday the starting line-up could conceivably be a hodge-podge of players forced out of position. We’ll most likely see a defensive midfielder at rightback (Pause), a central midfielder playing left winger (Lindpere), and a forward playing as right winger (Chris Rolfe). Most likely, the backline will continue to see the pairing of Anibaba and Austin Berry, the midfield will see in-form Daniel Paladini continue to partner with lack luster Jeff Larentowicz, and the striker duo will see Sherjill MacDonald (himself struggling with a calf injury that apparently requires surgery) partner with Maicon Santos.
With Nyarko out, Chicago don’t have a single player that has scored a goal for the team (excluding Anibaba who picked up a salt in the wound own-goal against Chivas). Nothing about this set-up instills confidence. A look to the bench heightens the concern. Only two defenders will be available, the not fully match fit centerback Arne Friedrich and leftback Hunter Jumper. Wide midfielder-cum-emergency rightback Wells Thompson will likely sit next to rookie left winger Yazid Atouba, central midfielder Corben Bone, and forward Quincy Amarikwa. Klopas has made it clear that he has nearly zero confidence in Jumper and Bone, routinely by-passing them for selection even when their status as back-ups would seem to suggest their deployment. A team that lacks clearly defined roles is a team that will lose.
It will be the fifth match of the season for Chicago and they are already struggling with injury and with personal. Going into New Jersey, the Fire can’t expect a win. At best they will probably go in looking to walk away with a non-embarrassing draw. Such a mentality this early in the season would be a disaster, yet there it is. I don’t know if it’s in the clubhouse, but I know it’s in more than a few supporters. The performance of the team thus far has been obscenely poor. Anger is the currency now. Chicago need to redeem itself Sunday, it is a must win, and prove that they are team that will be relevant this season. A draw will not be a moral victory, only a victory will be will be a victory.
(image courtesy of Brian Kersey/Chicago Fire)