Headed to San Jose with not much more than pride on the line, the Fire are saddled with another batch of possible injury issues. Freddie Ljungberg, Bratislav Ristic, and Gonzalo Segares were all held out of a short training session this morning before boarding a plane for California (read Sam Stejskal's wrap up here). Nery Castillo will miss his second consecutive match with what has been identified as a quad injury and did not travel with the team while Mike Banner also was left home with an achilles issue.
From the sound of things it appears that the Fire are coming to grips with the reality of missing the playoffs and are looking to find time for younger players against San Jose and possibly FC Dallas on Saturday. Carlos De Los Cobos implied that Dasan Robinson and Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be the pairing in the middle and Steven Kinney will return at right back. Corben Bone may even get an extended run. What would a line up infused with youngsters look like?
Defensively, the Fire need to find out what they have in Watson-Siriboe given that CJ Brown may retire and Wilman Conde's status for next season is up in the air. Regardless of what Watson-Siriboe shows in the remaining six matches, center back is a position that needs to be addressed at some point in the off-season with a reliable addition. Right back is also another area of concern. Steven Kinney has shown well at times but he lacks the pace to be a top caliber right back. Both Kinney and Robinson are serviceable at right back but an upgrade here could be considered as a secondary need.
Things get really interesting at midfield. Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko have both flashed moments of brilliance but the reality is neither one should be considered a player to build your franchise around. Both are young with room to improve and will continue to be productive but only if the right mid-field general is found heading into next season. Freddie Ljungberg's addition provided a brief spark but his game is much too similar to that of Pappa and Nyarko to formulate a truly effective midfield. All three players look to dribble on the run first before passing and employing the one-two touch system that De Los Cobos is attempting to implement. More often than not Fire attackers were stationary on Saturday night while one of the trio attempted to dribble through multiple defenders. The Fire are very easy to defend while these three are dribbling in circles.
It's not hard to figure out why both Pappa and Nyarko both appeared to play better early in the season. Injuries and call-ups aside, both had the freedom and room to operate before Ljungberg and Nery Castillo arrived. All four players need the ball at their feet to be at their best. Pappa and Nyarko have not figured out how to be effective without the ball and there simply has not been enough time to make it all work.
Adding Corben Bone to the mix as a central attacking midfielder will provide yet another line up change, but at this point....so what. The Fire need to find out which players will be protected in the upcoming expansion draft and which young players are willing to step up given rare game action. For all of John Thorrington's hustle and bite, he's just not an acceptable solution as your first attacking option out of central midfield. He's not a particulary proficient passer and doesn't look to shoot when presented with the opportunity. He's also not suited for Logan Pause's holding midfield position due to his propensity for hard fouls in dangerous areas. Pause, even with his shortcomings is still the best option at the "holding" spot but this is an area that will also need a long look during the winter.
The Ristic/Pause combination contemplated last week was scrapped in favor of moving Ristic to right back because of injury. Ristic seems to be willing to run at defenders and distribute the ball like a central midfielder so why not gather a look (other than in training)?
The forward position should be priority number one when addressing needs for next season. There is currently noone on the roster who instills confidence when presented with a finishing opportunity. At this point Castillo has shown close to nothing and hasn't provided much reason to be hopeful that the Nery of 2007 will resurface. Calen Carr managed to provide a little room to operate with speed against Seattle this past weekend but Carr isn't much more than a change of pace substitution.
Collins John is under contract for another season so the organization needs to know now if he's going to be worth keeping for another year. Ljungberg has played most of his minutes in the withdrawn striker role although it seems that he's more effective as a central mid. Will we find out if he can form any sort of connection with Ljungberg? Will De Los Cobos even be here next year to ponder any of these decisions? It's going to be a busy offseason.
Vs. San Jose
The Earthquakes are playing their third game in seven days on Wednesday night so there may be some advantage with tired legs. I wouldn't mind seeing a line up consisiting of Kinney, Watson-Siriboe, Robinson, and Segares in back with Pappa and Nyarko on the wings and the Pause/Ristic combo in midfield. Bone can either start or come in at the half if Ristic isn't cutting it.
If Ljunberg is the best option at the playmaking forward spot (which he currently is), then let's see if he can get anything going with Collins John. Although Ljungberg has a player option for next season it's still very possible that he could not be back in a Fire kit in 2011.
Forget Madden.....September 28 is the day I've been looking forward to in terms of video game goodness. I'm not very good at it but the game itself is great to look at.