When Matt Watson was traded to Chicago in exchange for an international roster spot from Vancouver few Fire supporters knew who he was. The Englishman, a listed midfielder who made 36 appearances over two seasons for Vancouver, came into Chicago on March 5th, 4 days before the start of the 2014 campaign.
After dropping their season opener to Chivas USA 3-2 in Carson, Frank Yallop employed Watson in central midfield alongside team captain Jeff Larentowicz. The positional result was a success, as the club battled to a 1-1 draw with the offensive-minded Timbers. With Lovel Palmer handed down a two game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, Yallop would again call on Watson in week three, this time at right back. The result was equally successful, despite another draw, as Watson stood out with a solid performance on the backline.
"It felt a bit uncomfortable at times (at right back). I think I'm just trying to feel the position out and work out what works for me, and obviously communicate with the guys about what they're supposed to do," said Watson after the match. "I haven't got it naturally out there yet, so there's a lot of thinking out there for me. I think the more I'm back there the more comfortable I'll be."
Some of those nerves were apparent early in the match on Sunday, as Watson seemed to make adjustments as the game progressed. Once he got his feet under him and made those early adjustments, he played well as a stand-in for Lovel Palmer and garnered the praise of Yallop as well. "Maybe some early moments, a little bit he had to get used to that position," said Yallop after the game on Sunday, "but once he did, you saw he sticks to his task, and he does all the things I ask of him. He’s slotted in well with the injury situation we've had, the suspension as well, so, I thought he played well.”
The importance of Watson's play against New York and Portland should be lost on no one, especially when one recalls the depth issues that plagued Chicago in recent seasons. It's also important to remember that he was involved in less than two weeks of training with the team before getting his first start. That was a fact also not lost on Yallop, who was familiar with Watson and knew exactly what qualities he would bring to Chicago. “I’ve known Matt for a number of years....but I just like those type of players that can slot in anywhere; I kind of get what I want out of the player, and he does that, he gives you 100% at any position he plays."
"I think the first week is always tricky. Just coming in I didn't know anyone, so you just try to make friends and try to feel out where you fit in amongst the guys. They've obviously welcomed me in and made it very easy for me socially here," he told Fire Confidential.
"I think we can definitely still be better on the ball, you know, we play direct at times. I think a little too much and it's hard work for the strikers battling for balls. I think we almost invite pressure on ourselves sometimes by playing so direct. So I think we just need to relax, put our foot on the ball and keep it for a bit, and not just try to score goals as soon as we get the ball back," Watson said of the Fire's play through three games this season. "It's a whole team thing, not just individuals. I'm guilty of it myself, I played a lot of long balls (vs New York). It kind of gives them possession straight back, then wave after wave of attack is coming back at you. I think if we can take that extra time. If we get the ball, let's keep it for 5 or 6 passes before we try to pick off a pass to score a goal. That's one of the biggest things we have to work on."