There may not be a full-fledged battle for the starting goalkeeper position just yet, but Jon Busch’s start last Friday night in Columbus coupled with Frank Yallop’s response to questions about the decision does lend to some speculation. During his weekly conference call, Yallop indicated the Johnson could have started although he was experiencing some discomfort with a jammed finger. “I could have played Sean,” said Yallop. “I’ve always said that if I want to play someone, I will play them when I need to or when I want to. There was always a plan of getting Jon games, and he’s a very good goalkeeper, as we know. That was the reason for playing Jon and it kind of worked out nicely in Columbus, where he started his career, and he got his 300th game. We got a good result and it all worked out nicely. We’ve got two quality goalkeepers.”
When pressed for naming a starter for the coming match against the Montreal Impact on Saturday, Yallop remained non-committal although he did say Johnson is still the main ‘keeper. “It’s like the start and call back scenario. I’ve got two great goalkeepers, and that’s all I’ll say. Who I play and when is kind of irrelevant. Sean’s been here a long time, four years, and he’s number one if you want to call it that. He’s done very well for me and I just wanted to make sure that I keep everybody game sharp and ready.”
While citing injury and call-up interruptions to Johnson’s season so far, there is a sense that he’s not quite at the top of his game at this point. Odd circumstances like the cut to his arm suffered in England, the infection to the cut, and an eye injury have all played a part in disrupting his in-season rhythm. “Sean’s a quality goalkeeper. He’s fine but when you don’t quite get a good 5-6 weeks of uninterrupted play or practice under yourself, especially goalkeepers, they miss days and they don’t like it,” said Yallop. “He’s quality. Sometimes it’s good to come out of the line-up and look at it a little bit, or one game or whatever I decide.”
So, who will start against the Impact this coming weekend?
“You’ll find out Saturday,” said Yallop.
Two draws on the road
Before picking up points in the last two road contests against Eastern Conference opponents, the Fire lost two consecutive games after winning three in a row. Finding consistency is something that hasn’t happened yet this season but Yallop is encouraged by the last forty-five minutes in Columbus.
“If we could put the first half in New York and the second half in Columbus together it would be great,” he said. “Goals change things and we got two-nil down and we stepped our game up. You’ve got to hand it to Columbus. They’re a good side and never easy to play against. I just think we didn’t really play our game in the first half in Columbus. The subs made a difference, but just in general we started to play better as the game wore on.”
While Yallop does believe the team is “feeling pretty good”, the lost opportunity in New York still stings but the periods of attacking dominance statistically is cause for optimism. “We should have beaten New York, but we didn’t. I still felt, in the Columbus game, that we looked like we were going to tie it and deserved to tie it. We’re in a decent place right now. We’ve just got to get more points obviously, than the actual record shows. I think performance-wise, we’re happy. I think we had 20 shots away from home. That’s a good stat. That’s not sitting back and getting hammered and getting lucky to tie 2-2. That’s a team that’s taking it to the other team and trying to win. That’s a big change from last season, and if we keep in this form away from home we’re going to get the wins. It’s just getting the full ninety minutes together on the road, and in general getting the full ninety minutes together where we can play well and put the domination into wins,” he said.
The play from the forward position showed some signs of life against Columbus but those came while the Fire were in all-out attack mode in trying to recover from a two goal deficit. Regardless of when it came, Kennedy Igboananike, Quincy Amarikwa, and goal scorer Jason Johnson all contributed last Friday night. “All of them have had pretty good looks,” said Yallop. “It always nice when a forward scores, obviously JJ scored on the header. David Accam is in a good spot from Kennedy’s good run and cross although it was deflected, he got into a good area. It’s about time we got a little bit of luck in front of goal for one of these guys. It was nice to see us score with two headers and two crosses. They’re working hard and they’re trying their best and hopefully it will really start showing in all the games we’ve got coming up.”
Mike Magee is back in full training and could be in contention for a spot this coming weekend and there was another welcome sight at practice on Monday morning. Patrick Nyarko participated as a non-contact player and is progressing with an eye toward a return to availability in the next few weeks. “Patrick actually joined in today (as a neutral), so he’s getting closer, “said Yallop. “I think Mike is ahead of Patrick. He looked okay today. He’s a way off still but at least he joined in and did okay.”
While Magee is “looking good” according to Yallop, another option at outside midfield with the play-making ability of Nyarko will certainly help, although he will need to work his way back into contention for minutes. “He’s got to replace somebody on the roster. Right now in the 18, our guys are doing okay. It’s a long haul back but it’s good to have them back in training and back in the stream of things,” said Yallop.
A target for Nyarko’s return could be the US Open Cup game on June 16 or possibly the DC United match on June 24, according to Yallop.
Matt Watson has also returned to training and is available after recovering from a concussion suffered in the Real Salt Lake game.