The long, unintentional, early season break is almost over and the Fire can finally look forward to a competitive match this coming weekend. New York City FC, a team winless in their last five matches, comes to Toyota Park on Friday with injuries to several key players. The expansion side will face a Fire team that has had almost three weeks to prepare and heal injuries of their own. The break came as a result of two rescheduled matches against New England and Montreal thereby dampening immediate hopes of building on a 3-2 win against Toronto FC which was easily the team’s best overall performance this season.
On the flip side, the Fire have had the opportunity to work on something of an extended training camp enabling players like Shaun Maloney and David Accam to make up some of the practice time missed this spring. “The guys are calling it mini preseason because it’s so long between the games. We really pushed the guys fitness-wise,” said Frank Yallop during his weekly media conference call. “A few guys have missed a lot of preseason so I think it was good to get our fitness really amped up and we did,” he said referencing Maloney, Accam, Jeff Larentowicz, Kennedy Igboananike, and Matt Polster, who have all missed some training time this season. The two week-plus break has allowed for some catch up as players gain time on the field together even if it’s not in full ninety minute competitive matches. “It means you’re going to see those guys really shine in the games for real soon,” said Yallop noting that Maloney and Acccam have looked sharp during the last few weeks.
The Fire played an intra-squad scrimmage match last week and held another one this past Saturday. The session was closed to the public and media as Yallop apparently worked on line ups and tactics for the game against NYCFC. The scrimmage wasn’t exactly like a competitive league game but there were elements of an actual match weekend incorporated and intended to mimic a typical schedule. “It was eleven on eleven and it was just a training session basically,” said Yallop. “It wouldn’t be like a normal game,” he said of holding the session behind closed doors. “We did some coaching in the middle of it and stopped it. It’s just like a normal training session, I wouldn’t call it a proper game.”
Players participated in regeneration activities this weekend in the same manner that they would have with a typical Saturday game and were given the day off on Monday. “We wanted to mirror a week where we had a normal game in MLS and try to make it exactly the same type of scenario without putting the guys out and playing Saturday night. We played it at eleven o’clock in the morning and just did our normal preparation and got after it. It helps but it’s not the real game," said Yallop.
"It was good to play about 80 minutes. I think we’ve worked very hard in the last two weeks so I didn’t want to push them too much for a 90 minute game and then get someone injured in the last ten but the guys have really looked sharp, looked focused, and they can’t wait to get playing against a team other than themselves."
Quincy Amarikwa and Michael Stephens did not participate in the scrimmage or in training over the last two weeks due to injury. Yallop summed up their availability for the match on Friday but training over the next three days will determine to what extent either participates. “Quincy's been out twelve days so it’s been a while. He's just got to get some (time) in training but obviously his fitness level is down," said Yallop. "Mike Stephens’ (ankle) is still a little bit tender but has started running a little bit. I expect Mike not to be available for the game but Quincy should be available to participate in the match."
Razvan Cocis has been participating in full training for the last few weeks and he is a candidate to replace Stephens in the line up come Friday. "He's another one who’s been out for a long time but he’s looked sharp when he’s come back. I feel he did well on the weekend in the game we had. He’ll be in for a spot too. It’s never good for the players but it’s good for a coach to have options and pick the ones that you think are going to get it done and look sharp in training and in games when they get a chance to. It’s a good dilemma to have," said Yallop.
Perez getting closer
Another player who could be in the running for a center midfield spot is Victor Perez, who is seemingly rounding into game shape. "He came in unfit. Maybe not unfit but not game sharp," said Yallop of Perez, who hasn't played in a competitive league game for months. "We’re still getting him up to speed with things. He played pretty well in the game this weekend. It takes a while, like I always say, for these guys to catch up to the pace of play here and his own fitness level. He’s looked good. He’s good after the ball and he’s very knowledgeable in the area. I never say when or if he’s going to get a starting spot because that’s unfair to the guys that are playing and unfair to him. We’ll see how he does. If it comes a time where I want to play him, I have no problems playing him. I gave him a few minutes in our last game. He’s getting up to speed and getting closer to being game sharp."
- Patrick Doody is starting at left back for Saint Louis FC while on loan and Yallop said he's been pleased with his performance so far. "Doody’s done well. We liked him a lot in preseason. It was great for him to go full time to Saint Louis to get a lot of playing time down there and he’s done well. He’s one for the future for us," he said.
- Yallop thinks depth at fullback is a strong point with Eric Gehrig continuing to get looks ahead of incumbent Lovel Palmer. ”Eric Gehrig has slotted in nicely at right back. I played him a lot at centerback in the preseason because of the injuries we had and different things. He’s done fine. Lovel is another guy that’s played quite a bit this year. He hasn’t played lately but he’s right there fighting for his spot to play. We’re pretty healthy in those two areas right now with JJ, Cochrane getting his time in Saint Louis, Lovel, and Eric. It’s pretty solid."
- Greg Cochrane was with Saint Louis FC last week but is expected to rejoin the Fire this week.
- Newcomer Jason Johnson is also finding his way in training. “He’s got a powerful left foot. He’s a big, strong boy. He’s done okay," said Yallop.
- A near capacity crowd is expected for the match on Friday.
- Last week Yallop mentioned that the trade sending Alex to Houston would result in cap space "for next year". The Fire are assuming Alex's contract for 2015 which would leave that total on the books against the cap this season. Jason Johnson's contract does not count against the cap as a Generation Adidas player.