The complete solution to the Fire’s scoring problems probably doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one man but help is on the way. Mike Magee resumed training with the team on Monday morning and is nearing a full return barring any setbacks in recovery. Frank Yallop outlined what he hopes is the timetable for the 2013 MLS MVP’s eventual return during his weekly media conference call today. “Mike trained today. It’s his first day with the team, non-contact spare man stuff,” said Yallop. “He’s worked really hard to get to this point. The progression is getting through this week (with) probably all non-contact stuff, but obviously with the group and then getting into full practice, I would think by next week and just see how he goes. It was good to have him out there. He’s not moving around like a spring chicken right now but he’s involved in the play and joined in and wasn’t any worse for wear after the session so that was good.”
The Fire are anxious to get Magee back onto the field but won’t try to accelerate the recovery knowing that caution may be needed in order to complete a full rehabilitation of the injuries. Magee had hip surgery as well as knee problems which shelved him in July last year. “We have to tread carefully. We don’t want to push and then all of a sudden we’re going backwards. The medical staff has done a good job with Mike, from the surgeon to Adrian Lamb – our fitness guy – to get him to this point so we don’t want to ruin that. He’s ahead of schedule and he’s feeling pretty good so let’s hope that continues,” said Yallop.
It seems that any lingering effects from the hip surgery are past but there are still reasons for a cautious approach with regard to the other issue. “I think the hip is doing pretty good. The knee was the issue that was holding him back a little bit before. I think it’s cleared up and he’s feeling pretty good. That’s obviously good news but it’s early, remember that,” Yallop cautioned. Fitness and getting physically prepared for game action is the other concern but that will take care of itself if the hip and knee problems are cleared up.
Magee scored 21 goals during his MVP campaign but Yallop doesn’t necessarily expect or need him to reproduce those kinds of numbers this year. “The season that he had before last he was pretty good on conversion rate,” he said. “If he scores half those chances then we’re doing okay. He’s a good finisher and he’s a good player. It was good to have him back on the field but we’ll see how he goes on. He’s been out for 7-8 months. That’s a long time in soccer or any sport. It’s going to take him a while to get his feet under him and get going. It’s just nice to have him involved in training right now.”
Defense and recent form
The lack of scoring punch has been the main problem so far this season and everyone is well aware that the Fire have only managed six goals through their first eight matches but one area that hasn’t been much of an issue is defense. The revamped back line has had some isolated issues but has shown considerable improvement from last year’s squad.
“I’ve been pleased,” said Yallop. “The amount of chances we’ve given up is not that many but I think the execution of the chances from the other team has been good. If you look at the goals on Saturday, they were two very good goals. They could be avoided by us in certain areas, but they were two very good finishes and two good plays.”
After reviewing the RSL game, Yallop and the technical staff believe that the overall play in the last two games hasn’t been bad but it hasn’t been good enough to produce victories either. The defense has been punished for each mistake while not generating enough on the other end to recover from them during the last two games. “That’s soccer. It’s won and lost in the two boxes. That’s not different than any game but group-wise and playing-wise it’s been okay. We’ve played some decent stuff but we’ve got to win and we know that. That’s the thing that’s frustrating right now.”
“You don’t want to concede any goals but realistically we’ve got some good attackers in this league and it’s a pretty wide open league. Every team that we play is not sitting back trying to get a result, they’re trying to win. That opens things up. We’ve played well enough and created enough chances to score more goals as well, and we haven’t and that’s our issue at the moment. Through confidence, through better technique or whatever you want to say it’s just not been going for us in front of goal right now. We’ve got to keep creating chances and getting working on our runs and our finishing and all the stuff that goes with that,” said Yallop.
Midfielder Matt Watson left the match early in the second half and needed some help in getting off his feet and into the locker room. He was diagnosed with a concussion and a timetable for his return is open at the moment. “Matt is doing okay. I think he got a slight concussion so the first (concern) is Matt’s health,” said Yallop. “He’s getting taken care of. I think he rode the bike this morning to kind of move him around a little bit. He got hit pretty good. We’ll go through the protocol for what we need to do with a head injury and a concussion. He will not be available for the weekend for sure but we’ll see how he gets on next week with this training regimen.”
Watson has been ruled out for the upcoming NYCFC match but another central player should be available. Mike Stephens was left out of the 18 on Saturday despite his participation in training last week as the technical staff felt that he needed to regain full fitness after missing time recovering from an ankle injury suffered in the last match against NYCFC. “With Mikey, we just want to get him fit,” said Yallop. “He had the injury and came back and wasn’t right. He took another week off or so to get it figured out. He’s been training the last 5-6 days. He trained this morning and looked pretty good. We’ll be sure he’s okay and then we’ll see for Friday’s game and how he looks and how we fit him into the team again if that’s what I want to do.”
- Yallop addressed the upcoming string of seven consecutive matches against the Eastern Conference. “The next seven doesn’t define your season but it makes a big part of it,” he said. More on that coming up.
- The tight confines for soccer in Yankee Stadium is something that will be considered when choosing a starting line-up come Friday. “We’ve got to have some sharp feet on the field because there’s not a lot of room. It’s very condensed with a lot of players in the central area with the field being narrow,” said Yallop.