In the game of soccer, any team playing a match without seven - that's right seven - regular starters doesn't stand much of a chance. So when the Fire, who has been bit by the injury bug in a major way for the last month, got key contributions from a quartet of youngsters in their 2-0 road win against the Kansas City Wizards on Sunday, they couldn't help but feel good about it.
"I've said all season that at some point throughout the year you're going to use everyone on this roster," said Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "So it was nice to see guys like Austin [Washington], Peter [Lowry], Stefan [Dimitrov] and Mike [Banner] get some minutes in the game and really help us. With the many injuries that we've had I felt real good about the group in terms of what we did [in Kansas City]."
Though Washington, Lowry, Dimitrov and Banner had combined for only 402 minutes of MLS play before Sunday's game, each played a big part in ending the Fire's two-game losing streak. In fact, three of the four players came up huge in the match as the substitute Banner scored the Fire's second goal and Washington and Lowry each had solid contributions in their 90 minutes on the field.
But beyond their good effort on the pitch Sunday, Hamlett is more impressed with each player's commitment to the Fire and their ability to stay sharp despite a definite lack of opportunities.
"These guys have put a lot of work in throughout the year, throughout the week and it's hard because they don't get their chance," said Hamlett. "Frustration comes in and it's just a matter of trying to stay positive and keep working hard and waiting for that moment and when the moment comes [playing within] your role. To see that with Austin, Banner, Peter and Stefan is real nice."
Other Fire personnel are taking note of the play of the youngsters as they fill in for their injured teammates, and they - like Hamlett--have been impressed.
"I'm not surprised that those guys have done well," said John Thorrington, for whom Peter Lowry had been filling in while Thorrington was out with a groin injury. "I think the organization can be proud that we have 24 guys and we're not a team of 5, 10, or 15 but we're a squad of 24 that is prepared to play whenever called upon."
But what about the youngsters themselves, what have they thought about their performances in the last couple of weeks? Well, they - like the rest of the team - are happy.
"When we get the opportunity I feel like all of us have been doing well," said Mike Banner, whose goal on Sunday was the first of his career. "All the reserves and all of the young guys have been doing well. We've thought the whole season that we have 24 players who can all play and start at any opportunity and I think anyone can do well."
Personally, I've thought that the Fire's youngsters have acquitted themselves nicely not only in this recent stretch of games, but throughout the whole season. They certainly have done well "playing within their role" and though they might not always turn in the most spectacular of performances, there is definitely something to be said for a side full of reserves and youngsters going on the road and winning a game - regardless of the competition. So none of these players may be knocking on the door of a full strength starting 11 anytime soon, but it's certainly good to see that if they are called upon, they're ready to go.