Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being. During his weekly conference call, Frank Yallop told reporters that David Accam has returned to training and is expected to be available for the US Open Cup semifinal match in Philadelphia. “He trained today, we’ll see how he reacts tomorrow to it but we’re hoping he’s available for the game on Wednesday,” said Yallop.
Although some supporters and media alike questioned whether or not Accam should have been held out of the Portland match on Friday night considering Accam’s injury history on that particular turf field, Yallop said he never really considered sitting the attacker to preserve him for the Open Cup. “Not really. We had just come off a good result against Dallas and we kept the same line-up. We felt our continuity was good and just wanted to keep rolling with what we had with a similar game plan in going to Portland,” he explained.
“They didn’t have a ton of chances but we didn’t either,” Yallop said of the match on Friday. “We didn’t play at all very well in the final third but the game plan itself was pretty well going to plan with them being a bit stifled. They got kind of a ricochet and it opened the game up then. I felt we were right in the game and doing okay, but no I wasn’t going to rest him once he said he was healthy.”
The result never came and Accam left the game late in the first half after tweaking his hamstring. When asked what his reaction was to seeing the Fire’s best offensive weapon signaling for a substitution with the most important match of the season just five days away, Yallop didn’t back away or second guess his decision. “Obviously not a good signal to get,” he said. “You can’t look at he got injured there the last time. He did, but whether it was the surface or not, if I didn’t play him and we got beat I’d be trying to explain why I didn’t play him. He was ready, healthy, and ready to go. Maybe it’s just timing but it felt like only a stab anyway rather than a pull. He trained today and looked as quick as ever. He’s probably protecting it a little bit but he didn’t really look like he was limping to today and so that’s a good sign. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
The Fire may have avoided a huge bullet.
“Massive” USOC semifinal
In another bit of good news, Yallop said that both Mike Magee and Gilberto trained in full on Monday morning and both should be available for selection on Wednesday night. The Fire will have close to a full strength squad available against a Union side that is missing an important piece in Vincent Nogueira but newly acquired midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta has had two games to get accustomed to teammates.
“They have quality,” said Yallop of the Union. “Every team in our league has certain qualities that you’ve got to be ready for and they’re no different. They’re a very high pressing, high tempo team at home. We’ve to expect that. We’ve got to make sure we don’t concede an early goal. We’ve got to make sure we do all the right things to maintain a clean sheet and do well and be way more dynamic and better in the final third than we were in Portland. There have been games where I think we’ve done okay. Orlando we got three goals, New England we got two, we got two against Dallas. We didn’t do very well in Portland. Neither did they. It was kind of a nil-nil game written all over it, which wasn’t the intention.”
“Philadelphia is in the semifinal of a Cup and they’re at home. They’re going to come out and get at us and we’ve got to be ready for it. We’re no different if we’re at home playing somebody in a semifinal. We’re going to go for it. We’re going to try our best to get that result and move forward. We have a good idea who’s going to start. The system they do play is very similar to most teams in the league with an underneath forward in Madaina. For me it’s making sure that we figure out their system and play our game and come out a winner,” he said.
The importance of the game isn’t lost on Yallop and the technical staff. The club’s history in US Open Cup play has been something supporters hold in high regard and the team is aware of it. “The importance of the trophy and the prestige of winning the Open Cup is massive and this club’s won it a lot. I haven’t won it all as a coach. I’ve been to the Final and lost to Chicago with the Galaxy. It hurt. It still hurts. Any time you get to a Final and don’t win it, it doesn’t feel good,” said Yallop while warning that the thought of hosting a Final is enticing but one more win is required. “First things first. We’ve got to get a result in Philadelphia. We’re primed and ready for that but I think it’s massive for the club especially when the season hasn’t gone well in the league play. We’ve started to get looking at the team I envisioned and hopefully it’s enough to get past this game and host it and go on and do well but I’m not getting ahead of myself. We have a tough, tough game in Philly that we’re getting ready for. We want to win that one and then look forward to the next one once that gets done.”
Yallop said he was very happy to learn that the Final would be at Toyota Park. The team was on the flight to Portland on Wednesday morning when the results of the draw came through. “It would have been nice after we got through the semifinal to know that because you’ve got a massive game coming up and you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. It will be everything if we can get through this game and host a Final. You can’t ask for more. If we can get through this game on Wednesday with a great result then it’s on to hosting.”
“We’re desperate win it, that’s for sure. I’ve been talking to Jeff Larentowicz, and it’s like ‘this it – this is the one’. In league play you get a chance to play another game but this one, you lose and you’re out. We want to win this game and we’re desperate to do it.”
Despite the Chicago’s standing in the Eastern Conference table he doesn’t think the Fire or the Union are writing off the regular season just yet. Both are at the bottom of the standings but in close enough range to maintain within mathematical reach. “I feel we’ve still got a chance of making the playoffs. We’ve got games in hand. Especially on Philadelphia but they’re right down where we are. We’ve got to go on a run but at some point teams do, and I feel that we’re still capable of doing that. It’s not just, let’s get to the Open Cup Final and blow the league off. That’s not the game plan. We’re hoping to win on Wednesday and win on Sunday. I would think that Philadelphia are thinking and hoping the same. Our focus never changes. We want to win in the Cup and we want to do well in the league. If there’s points on the table we’re going to try and get them. We’ll try our best to do that.”
The task at hand may be even more daunting considering that the Fire have not won on the road all season. In fact, the team is winless away from home in all competitions over the last nineteen matches (0-15-4). That ugly fact isn’t lost either although Yallop didn’t have a clear explanation defining why he thought the team has struggled so mightily. “That’s a good question,” he said. “We don’t set up any differently. We kind of do the same tactics that we do at home, maybe we play a little bit deeper but not by intention. I don’t know. Obviously, most teams win their home games or tend to be good at home. Teams that do well in the league usually have a good road record also. Looking at the Champions, the Galaxy haven’t won in quite a long time on the road but their home record is outstanding. For us, we just have to keep plugging away and we hope that tide will turn and we’ll get that win. I watch all the games, and sometimes teams get kind of pummeled on the road and they get a result. It hasn’t happened for us yet but it’s not from a lack of trying. We’ll keep going and hopefully this will be the first one to get under our belt.”
Still in it
The odds may be slim but Yallop reiterated that he’s not giving up on making the playoffs. The Fire will need to start winning immediately following the USOC match with another game in Philadelphia. Draws probably won’t do much good at this point, even if they come on the road.
“You settle for a point but you’re trying to get three in any game you play,” he said. “The reality is that it’s difficult to win every game if we’re away from home. If you do get a point it feels like you’ve got something out of the match, but again we’re games in hand on teams but we don’t have the points in the bag so we’ve got to start winning and picking up points. This is an important week and the next two games (after Sunday) are at home so we’ve got a good chance of getting our season back on track.”
If the team does manage to turn it around and rack up of a string of consecutive victories, the Fire still may end up scoreboard watching because of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. A long string of wins in succession seems to be the only chance at this point.
“The table doesn’t lie. We’re in the position we’re in because of how we’ve done this year no matter what I say. It is what it is and we’ve got to get on with it. I don’t tend to worry too much about the others teams. I just look at the gap that we’ve got to catch up. We do have games in hand and we do have points available to get to jump above teams. That’s what we’re trying to do. I don’t need to keep explaining to you guys because you’ve heard it before but when we’ve got everybody available and playing okay we’ve proved we’re not a bad side. I’m excited if we can keep this team healthy and moving forward, the next 4,5,6 games are make or break in our season. My big thing is making sure these guys are focused and ready,” said Yallop.
“It’s a big week. We’re excited about the game Wednesday. We’ve got Philly in the league on Sunday and then two homes games in a row on the following Saturday and Wednesday to try and get maximum points. If we can, we’re right in it.”
The Fire declined a bid from Hull City for Shaun Maloney last week and it didn’t sound like the Scottish attacker is going anywhere soon. Even if the Fire lose out on Wednesday night. The offer from Hull came too close to the close of the MLS summer window for the Fire to make a move to replace Maloney, even if they wanted to consider an offer.
“We got the sort of final-ish offer two or three days before the end of our window and it wasn’t a significant offer,” said Yallop. “It was more of them feeling the waters out, I think. Shaun was passive on the whole thing. He said, ‘look I’m a Chicago Fire player, if someone comes in and you accept the offer then I’ll talk to them – other than that I’m a Fire player’. He stuck to his word. Everything is fine. When it’s done, the offer didn’t get increased and the window closed for us. It didn’t give us any time to get any more players other than free transfers. Shaun is with us now and that’s good for everybody.”
Cyrus on the way
Trinidad & Tobago defender Daneil Cyrus was signed on loan last Thursday and Yallop is hoping that the 6’-4” international will be ready for game action soon. “Daneil is still in Trinidad awaiting his passport. We expect him in the States sometime this week. Maybe, hopefully he could be available for the Sunday game. More importantly, after this Sunday he should be here ready to go. He plays two positions. He plays right fullback and he plays center back. At this point it’s just great to have another good young player in that spot.”
The back line has looked more composed and efficient of late with the return of Jeff Larentowicz and Joevin Jones. Eric Gehrig replacing Adailton and Lovel Palmer at right back is probably the team’s best option at this point. “I think the back four has gelled pretty well. It’s been consistent and no one has sort of been in and out of the line-up (recently). It looks more like a focused unit back there with not chopping and changing quite a bit. I’ve been happy with their play, and not just the back four, but the whole team is defending quite well.”
Polster at RB
The more steady line up choices in the back have Matt Polster back into his more natural position after spending some time at right fullback. When asked where he thought Polster’s best position was Yallop chose to respond with a little levity. “Center forward. Just kidding,” he joked. “I think he’s a center midfielder to be honest. I moved him because of the lack of depth in those spots. When Lovel went down, I felt Eric was doing a nice job in the middle and Polster can fill into that spot, which he did against Dallas very well. He’s a central midfielder. I think he’s more of an “8” than a “6” that sits. I think he can push on the run and get beyond people alongside. When we’ve got Razvan, (he’ll) do that number 8 role and he’s (Polster’s) more of a sitting (mid) and breaking plays up. He’s a good young player and he’s done very well.”