Eric Gehrig knows today's matchup between the Fire and New York City FC is an important one. After twenty days without a match, the Fire take the field again Friday night in hopes of continuing their unbeaten run, and making the most of a hobbled NYCFC team that will be missing key players when they enter Toyota Park.
“New York's coming in, and they're going to be hungry, but we haven't played in a while and we're hungry too,” Gehrig told Fire Confidential this week. “We've won two straight at home now. When you win games at home you put yourself in a good position to make the playoffs, and that's what we're looking to do on Friday.”
The Fire's momentum was halted abruptly after wins earlier in the month against Philadelphia and Toronto FC. A game against New England was rescheduled at the Revolution's request, due to a US Men's National team friendly. Soon after, a CONCACAF Champions League Final bid for Montreal Impact prompted the league to mandate a move in the Fire's April 18th match to a later date.
Despite the schedule changes, the team has been able to use the last three weeks to tighten up their fitness, as well as treat injuries to players like Quincy Amarikwa, Michael Stephens, and Matt Polster, all of whom sustained knocks in the early stages of the season. Gehrig sees a balance between carrying momentum from their prior wins with focusing on improving things on the pitch to help the team succeed in the long run.
“Obviously it wasn't ideal that we had the (Montreal) game rescheduled, (and) coming off two straight wins you want to get out there as soon as possible while momentum's going forward. At the same time it was a good chance for us to push ourselves and work hard. It's tough when there's no game in sight, but...our level was sharp, and we made some really big strides with fitness, and that's something that's going to add up later in the season.”
The break has brought about some much publicized competition within the squad, as players have been jockeying for starting spots in training during the break. For Gehrig, that competition came before the extended break even started, as Frank Yallop slotted him at right back over Lovel Palmer, who had locked in the starting spot that dated back to the start of the 2014 season. Defensive lineup shuffling necessitated Gehrig's move to right back early on, as Joevin Jones was shuffled into midfield due to the absence of Fire DP David Accam. That shifted Lovel Palmer to left back, with Gehrig moving to right back. It's a spot he has yet to relinquish to Palmer.
“It's been healthy competition,” Gehrig said after training this week. “We're both guys who've been around the league a while. At the end of the day, we're going head to head, but we're trying to play the best soccer we can individually and leave that decision in Frank's hands. I think once Lovel or I get caught up in thinking about other stuff, as far as things you can't control, that's when it starts effecting the team and effecting your play. That's not what we're about,” Gehrig said. “Everything's been good.”