After the international break MLS and the Fire are back in full swing heading into the final two rounds of the season. There are still friendlies to be completed on Tuesday night, but the Fire should be at full strength come Sunday at DC United.
Fire Interim Coach Brian Bliss said during a media conference call this afternoon that the team has been using Academy and guest players to fill out the sides during training over the last two weeks. “These first two days, yesterday and today, have been light in terms of the actually bodies in camp,” said Bliss. “In training we’ve supplemented with one or two we brought in from our academy team that do well and have done well and have earned that opportunity to come in and help us. It just was dumb luck that this early part of the week has coincided with a break in the high schools with Columbus Day and the teacher’s workshop so we’ve been able to grab some players from there and supplement our numbers. I’ll be honest with you, those kids have done well and the level of play in general has not dropped off with those guys added in. A good surprise, not that we didn’t know the players, but it was a good surprise that they were able to hold their own. We’ll have to monitor tonight’s games to see how many minutes our guys get in Trinidad or the Ghana game, and Matt Polster as well, and see how they look coming back into Chicago on Wednesday. We’ll probably allow them another day Thursday to recover but we expect all those guys to be full on board for Friday, which will be our most important training day going into Sunday.”
Academy players who participated in training this week are defender Cristian Sanchez, forward Jack Shaw, and midfielder Jesus Perez.
Accam on the go
David Accam is expected to start for Ghana against Canada in the nation’s capital but should be ready to return for the Fire’s match on Sunday. “His game is being played in DC so that’s great for us. The travel time and the distance to get back to Chicago is obviously light compared to when he has to travel to Africa for games. We’ll monitor the game tonight and see how many minutes he gets. Hopefully he performs well and comes out if it injury free. He’ll be expected to be back here Wednesday, which is a day off for us. We’ll get him into a regen program with the other guys on Thursday and flush out any of the game that he’s got in him Tuesday and have him ready to go Friday for training. Again, all contingent upon these guys all coming back without any injury. We’re expecting that to be the model,” said Bliss.
Polster shows versatility
Matt Polster has played both center midfield and right back for the Fire and the US U-23’s have moved him around where needed as well. The ability to help in different positions makes him valuable on the club and international level. He’s shown the ability to adapt quickly.
“He got his first international taste of it a month before in September when he went to England and played them in Qatar. I’ve been there, a lot of guys have been there and it’s not easy the first time you called in because you’re unsure of the atmosphere, you’re unsure of where you stand, and by all accounts in that first trip he did really well. I’ve watched three of the four games so far that he’s played in for these other qualifiers and I think he’s given a good account of himself. The coaching staff has realized that and that’s why he’s been involved in every game where some other guys have not. Does it mean that the other guys aren’t good? No. It means that Matt has done well and earned those minutes. He’s also shown a little bit of flexibility, just like he has with us, on where he can play. He can play internally, he can play right back, they even used him in the last game in the second half as a right midfielder at some points. I’m not saying that’s his strong suit, but showing a little bit of flexibility in his game is very good and I think he’s done well. Kudos to him.”
Rodriguez starts Oct 19
Newly hired General Manager Nelson Rodriguez begins his full time tenure with the club next Monday but he’s already been involved in Bliss and the technical staff in assessing what’s in store for next season. Bliss has said that he would like to be considered for the permanent coaching job but that hasn’t come up yet during talks with Rodriguez.
“I’ve had quite a few conversations with Nelson. We go back 18-20 years to when the league started and he was working at the MetroStars and I played with the MetroStars. We’ve got a long standing relationship and the conversation has been good. We have not discussed my role as a coach or my role as a Technical Director. In general, no. We’ve discussed roster issues, preseason, deadlines that we need to meet for league requirements, and things of that nature. I’m sure when he gets on board full time on the 19th there will probably be further discussion about my situation and what role and capacity I’ll be in.”
Bliss hopes to have a mixture of young players and veterans next season whether or not he’s retained as the head coach or he continues in his role of Technical Director. There are players in the pipeline but he still feels there is room for another Designated Player.
“We’ve got some good kids in our system in the younger age groups in the Homegrown status and we have a couple of kids that are labelled Homegrown as well, that are in college. Whether it’s freshman, sophomore, juniors, I think we have a good lineup of kids underneath us. That’s not to say that we want to strictly go with Homegrown signings. It’s always nice that you can add players in that category because it justifies what you’re doing at the younger age groups and developing players. I personally would always say that if you’re unsure of a draft pick and you think you have something equal to that in your system, I would always err on taking the kid in your own system because he’s probably been around a while, he knows the market, he knows the way the team trains most likely at that point, and would probably have a better chance at succeeding than, let’s just say, a random third or fourth round draft pick from the California area. That’s kind of how I see it. In terms of the other guys on the roster, I think with the vacancy of Shaun Maloney, I would say that we probably need to shore that up with another player in that DP category. That’s going to take further discussion with whoever the coach is, and obviously Nelson and myself depending on what happens there. I would think that would be a need based on just general results and statistical analysis that we can all do, we probably need something in the back line to shore that up or down the spine. To summarize I would say it needs tweaking with a couple of additions. Not an overhaul,” he said.
Coping with Johnson’s absence
The Fire will be without starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the final two games but Jon Busch has filled in admirably in his place at numerous times this season. Bliss sees Johnson as one of the top players on the club.
“He’s been on the keys to our club in terms of the core guys. He came into the club as a young player and he’s developed over time. Obviously, he’s gotten himself into the full National Team pool and he’s progressing nicely. When you’re missing guys like that it’s never good but we’ve got Jon Busch and Alec Kann who are very good in the deputies role, let’s call it. Jon showed his wares last week when we played New England at home and kept in the game in a couple of critical moments and really allowed us to win that game. I’m not saying one is better than the other but we’ve got some competent guys that can fill just like we’ve got some competent guys that can fill in as field players as well. In the end when you’re missing key guys for longer stretches of time it can be cumbersome.”
Igboananike in ’16?
Kennedy Igbonanike started the first game after Bliss took over from Frank Yallop but he’s not played I the last two contests. Bliss said that isn’t an indication that he won’t be back in 2016, however.
“He’s guaranteed next year and we think he’s a good player. I think he’s a good player. He’s scored 6,7,8 goals, maybe ten if you count some of the Open Cup games that’s he’s participated in. His future is with our club. I see the game a little bit differently in terms of how we line up and players that play in those roles but a club can’t exist without having strong starters and guys who can come off the bench. I’m not saying he’s either one of those because he’s done both. He’s trained very well. He gets after it. I’ve got no complaints about the way he approaches the game at training. His minutes will come at some point. I’m just not sure when. But again, every coach sees it a little bit differently in terms of how the team lines up and unfortunately Kennedy’s been on the outside looking in. Not because he’s not playing well or training well, it’s just coach’s choice let’s call it.”
One of the Homegrown Players who could get more of a shot next season is Collin Fernandez. The rookie saw limited time with the first team this season but is earning high marks regardless.
“Collin has done well. Unfortunately it’s tough for an 18 year old kid to get onto the field and there’s not many other MLS teams putting their young 17,18,19 year olds onto the field week in and week out. Collin’s biggest stumbling block will be this first season, 2015 and the mental side. I’ve had two meetings with him already about preparing himself for next year and being a year older he won’t be looked upon as a rookie or an 18 year old. The chronological age will say he’s 19 but it’s looked upon far different from his teammates and he’s looked upon far differently from the coach because of that one year’s difference. He’s on a good path right now. He does well when he goes into the U-19’s/U-20’s. He’s on a current trip right now. We’re thinking positively about his projection and where his career is going,” said Bliss.
While addressing the Fire’s lack of Hispanic players, Bliss said that he’s someone that will look in the direction of Latin America for talent.
“If you look at my history, maybe not so much in Kansas City, but certainly in Columbus and some of the players I’ve looked to bring in, I would say that I’m the king of the Hispanic player. I favor those types of players, not because I don’t think the other guys are good, it’s just the way that I see the game and the market value. The Latin market tends to be a little bit better than to go to Central Europe. Both players are quality players but when building a roster I think there’s some value to be had in some of the players from Latin America. I won’t shy away from it. I’ve been pretty forthright about bringing those types of players to Columbus. Some of them worked out and some of them haven’t but I prescribe to those types of guys. Will there be more of those next year if I’m around? Maybe, but they’ve got to be the right fit for the club, not just because of their heritage.”
New kit sponsor
Bliss didn’t address this as part of his conference call but expect an announcement in the near future regarding a new shirt sponsor for 2016. Valspar Corporation, a paint and coatings manufacturer based out of Minneapolis has come to a multi-year agreement with the club to have its logo represented on the kits starting next season.
The Fire unveiled a sneak peek at the primary jersey for those in attendance during their 18th Anniversary party last week. The traditional red kit with a white stripe across the chest is set to return and Valspar will be a part of it, replacing Quaker after four seasons as the sponsor.