After Friday night’s let down in New York, Fire supporters were waiting for some good news and Frank Yallop provided a bit of that during his weekly media conference call. Yallop told reporters that Mike Magee could be available for selection soon. The 2013 MLS MVP participated in full team training on Monday morning and showed no ill effects after practice. While noting that his movement was still a bit hindered due to the long layoff and injury recovery, Yallop did open the door for a possible return to the 18 against the Montreal Impact at home on May 30.
“He won’t be available this weekend,” said Yallop. “Maybe next weekend, I’m not sure. We have a number of games coming up into June. Between the Montreal and Orlando game (June 6), hopefully we’ll see Mike back on the field at some point.”
The Fire could have another attacking option in the next few weeks if there are no setbacks during training. Patrick Nyarko’s return should follow some time in June or early July.
The New York tie (loss of 2 points)
Finishing chances was again a problem last Friday night as the Fire could have put the game out of reach early in the first half but failed to do so. The expansion side found new life with a stoppage time goal in the first half and converted another of their few looks after the ninetieth minute to equalize. “We had a bunch of chances in situations, if we had just been a little more calmer, we could have scored at least five goals. That was the most frustrating thing to come out of the game on Friday. I know there was ten men but we played fantastic up until that point and then continued to,” said Yallop.
The Fire’s dominance throughout most of the first half led to the red card and numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach. The fact that they once again couldn’t capitalize wasn’t lost on the technical staff however. “We should have seen them off, let’s be honest,” Yallop acknowledged. “We were in their box, even in the last ten minutes, four times where if we pick the last pass out correctly we score. I don’t think it’s from lack of trying, it really isn’t, because our guys kept going and they’re trying to do the right thing. We watched the tape of the game again and there’s so many positives with our play. From getting chances, to creating all the good play, and the tactics are working, and getting in good spots and not pulling the trigger or pick that guy out and then in our box they don’t really get a ton of chances but they’re punishing us. Frustration is a good word (to describe it), but I can’t keep saying that. We’ve got to learn. We’re growing, it’s the ninth game this season. It was another game that was kind of weird. Two-nil up, they get a red card and they come back into the game and end up tying it. I know it was away from home but it shouldn’t make a difference. We should have saw them off but we didn’t. They had an opportunity late in the game and they scored.”
In summing up the match and attempting to describe what he believes has to be addressed in order to avoid repeats of Friday night, Yallop again cited the need to improve of both ends of the pitch. “Its that game savviness,” he said when asked what was missing on Friday night. “Before they scored their last goal, I think they had about ten passes. It comes from the goalkeeper, throw it out wide, play it into the middle, play it out, and none of us got a tackle in or got a challenge in. I understand once the ball got around the goal, you’ve got to be careful because you don’t want to give up a free kick around the edge of the box with good players in Diskerud and Villa, but we could have fouled them higher up the field or did something to disrupt the flow of their passing in that last sequence. Sometimes it doesn’t go in, but when it does go in you’ve got to look at the whole picture. It just looks bad. It doesn’t look good. Having said all that, we could have scored five goals. There’s two things that didn’t quite go right in that (goal scoring) play. We had a chance to score and we didn’t score, and we allowed them to score. It is what it is right now but we’re trying our best. What I do like is the way we played for long stretches of the game, not just the first half. I thought the second half up to sixty-five minutes were fine. Then we had spells late in the game where we broke and we should have done a lot better than what we had but we didn’t.”
While the Fire’s struggles in front of goal in the final third has been a focal point of the conversation, the defense has shown improvement this season. That upgrade hasn’t cured the tendency to allow what some would consider “soft” goals. Deflected shots that find their way into the net and teams scoring twice in three shots on target are symptomatic of some of the issues that have led to dropped points this season. “Any kind of goal is always concerning. It didn’t seem like the team that we’re playing against has to open us up and create an unbelievable goal. We seem to be giving up soft-ish goals. The thing for me is making sure that we’re on the same page as a unit. It’ not just the goalkeeper and the centerbacks, it’s everybody. Team shape in the final ten minutes of the game is very important. Being in the right spots at the right time to counteract what they’re trying to do,” he said while adding that the team will continue to work on closing out games.
Michael Stephens returned to action on Friday night in a substitute role but is ready to resume starting if needed. Stephens injured his ankle in the 8th minute of the Toronto game on April 4 and the Fire’s central midfield combination seemed to look its best with Matt Polster and Stephens playing together. “(Stephens) came off the bench and did okay,” said Yallop. “We’ll see for Friday, I think the team that started the game did pretty well. Hopefully Jeff (Larentowicz) is okay to continue. I think he did fine. I ‘ll make a decision later in the week if he starts. I think Razvan and Matt Polster did well in the middle of the park. We’ll see.”
“Razvan is a different player to Mike,” said Yallop when asked about the strengths of Stephens in comparison to Cocis, who started on Friday night. “I like Razvan, he’s finally got back to fitness. I think that he has a goal threat in him, we saw that on Friday. They’re different players. Mikey is a real partner and possession type guy. Razvan is more of a loping, sort of arriving late type central midfielder. I thought Razvan did a nice job in there. I played Mike out of position a little bit (on Friday night at right mid) but he’s played there a lot for LA. I just wanted to see the game out in the end by putting both Quincy and Mike on. I thought it would just lift the team and see the game through and off we go. JJ (Jason Johnson) was obviously the same. They’re both good players.”
Yallop did say that he sees Stephens helping the team in a spot other than right midfield where he appeared on Friday night. “I think he’s more of a central midfielder and I think he’s more comfortable in that spot too. He was out for a while with that injury but now his fitness has come way up. He’s in contention to play now.”
Yallop chuckled at a report that claimed Serie A side Fiorentina was interested in a transfer move for Stephens. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it. If there is interest, well done. Could you tell them to call me?”
“I’ve used a lot of combinations. It will figure its way out. There’s no individual that’s grabbed it. Not one of our forwards has scored yet. It’s up to those guys. When they get a chance, stick it in the net and play well and then we’re off to the races. They’re frustrated too. Between Kennedy, Quincy, Guly, and JJ now, it’s up to one of those guys to say I want the spot and I want to score goals. It’s easy saying it but they’ve just got to do it. They’re up for it. I think the spirit has been great. It’s not for lack of trying but we’re just not quite getting them right now. Things change though.”