After taking over the coaching duties from Frank Yallop last Monday morning, Brian Bliss didn’t have much time to prepare or change things significantly before a match in Montreal last Wednesday followed by another game in Toronto on Saturday. Two training sessions before facing the Impact, and another two before taking on TFC prompted similar looks tactically but Bliss told reporters that the attitude amongst the players is in a good place.
“We didn’t get a lot of time in terms of training but the guys seem to be willing, good spirited, up for the challenge. However you want to describe it. Usually sometimes in this situation with as many losses as have mounted up you’ve usually got a lot of finger pointing and a lot of divisiveness in the locker room. That doesn’t seem to be the case. At least, from what I’ve noticed. I wish we would have had more time at home to do some training prior to, but the flipside was we got a lot of togetherness while on the road. Maybe that was a good thing too,” said the Fire’s interim coach.
The Fire lost both of those games and now have lost five consecutively. All five were one-goal losses but on the positive side, there aren’t many signs that players have quit on the pitch despite an all-time club high 18 defeats. “I can’t complain on effort,” said Bliss. “I thought in Montreal everybody battled. I wouldn’t say it was the best of played games from either side. It was a little bit disjointed in terms of the flow of the game. It was more physical but the guys were certainly up to the challenge, I thought in the first (half) we had the better of that game. It’s the same old, same old. We’re not able to close it out. Toronto was a little different story. The flow of the game was pretty much in Toronto’s favor. We were combative. We played a little better in the second half in terms of holding onto the ball and using the clock a little bit. We had a couple good chances in the second half but I think overall we ran out of legs and maybe some ideas in that game as opposed to Montreal.
When asked if players are looking at the final run of matches as more of an audition for 2016, Bliss didn’t discount that idea but did say that he’s not making it a point of motivation in preparation for ending the season. “That’s always the case. You hear that in any sport. When you get down to it, coaches want to come out and pound the table and say – you’re fighting for your jobs next year. I don’t want to get down that path because I don’t want to get into a position where I’m trying to threaten guys to play better or buy into what we’re trying to do. They’ve got to find their own way to do that and show that. In some respect, guys are trying to play for next year but they also should be playing for themselves, a little bit of self-pride, plus the fans. That’s what they should be rallying around. Not so much rallying around a job.”
In scoring two goals against his former team and being involved in several other opportunities, Gilberto showed that he’s a player that very well could be a big part of the squad in 2016. There may be another coach making that decision once Nelson Rodriguez finds Yallop’s permanent replacement but it sounded like Bliss would vote to include him in plans going forward.
“He’s a typical number 9. He’s got pace. He’s Brazilian, so he’s got a fair amount of technique as well. He’s got a knack to score goals. He’s got power with either foot in shooting,” he said. “I think on the second goal he showed his ability to hit with pace but with also with a little bit of finesse as he carved that in to the post. He’s got the speed to break away from players. I think he’s got a little bit of size as well to combat the bigger central defenders. He’s got a pretty good package when you put it all together. Are we going to say we’re building everything around him? I wouldn’t say that, but he’s certainly got the ability in terms of the package that I just described to be a force in the league, no doubt.”
Bliss started Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto up top against Montreal and changed to a combination of Mike Magee and Gilberto in Toronto. There is currently no set and definite first choice pair for the remaining three matches, although it seems that Gilberto will continue to start. “I think every game poses its challenges. One of the challenges I thought we had in Toronto, being on the road for a second game, (was) trying to maintain a little bit of the ball. That’s why I dropped Mike Magee in there next to Gilberto and underneath Gilberto. He’s got some good passing sense and he’s more of a possession player than a turn and spring type of a guy. That’s one of the things we’re faced with when you’ve got Patrick, Kennedy, Gilberto, and Accam out there. It’s a little bit of a race track. That’s not to say that’s not good, but I thought having the ball and having some possession would have been key for us. Mike didn’t necessarily get it done so much for us in the first half, but I thought he changed the way he played a little bit after we talked at half-time. He helped us connect a few more passes and obviously the quick one touch pass that he put Gilberto in for was kind of what we were looking for in the first half, it just didn’t come to him. I think every game has its challenges. There’s no set line-up or formation. Harry can do that role as well. It could be an option for us looking at the weekend,” said Bliss.
Shipp’s best spot
One point of contention this season among fans and some media is that Harry Shipp has been played out of position on the outside. Bliss echoed that sentiment but explained the reasoning for the moves made by his predecessor on the bench. “Harry’s a good player. He’s not particularly built for wide play although we’ve stuck him out there. That’s just the nature of it. You try to get your best guys out there and you kind of shoehorn some guys into positions. Harry’s adept at doing that but I think sometimes what happens is (against) teams that are quite adept at running on the flanks, we tend to get outnumbered when Harry slips inside and he can’t recover to the flanks. So (the last 2 games) we went with a little bit more of what I would say are natural wide guys, so there was always two versus two in the channels as opposed to two versus maybe one and a half. Harry is more suited to be inside and maybe underneath a guy like Gilberto. As I said before, he can play like Magee and he’s got the passing range and vision, kind of like Mike does.”
Jones to the bench
Joevin Jones has apparently lost his starting spot at left back under Bliss but may return to the position soon. His flexibility and offensive ability has kept him in the mix however, despite the recent dip in form. “Joevin plays really three spots. He can play internally. He can play left mid. He can play left back, depending on if he’s coming off his former club team at W Connection, his national team, or he’s played with us. He’s got some versatility. After he’s come back from the Gold Cup, it’s no secret, he hasn’t been in his top form like he was prior,” said Bliss. “I figured I’d try to give him a break and put him into the line-up as a sub in maybe a couple of other places we know he can play just to see if he could find a little bit of form and find his game. I thought he did okay in the Toronto game coming off the bench actually. He gave us a couple of plays that led to some stuff. I would think somewhere along the line in those last three games you’ll probably see him back at left back, doing what he was capable of doing in the first half of the season.”
Doody earns praise
Jones’ replacement at left back, rookie Patrick Doody has played well enough over the last two games to continue getting playing time. He’s not the dynamic playmaker out of the back that Jones can be, but he’s provided a steadier hand as natural defender. “He’s actually done fine. We tracked him in Saint Louis with some of the stuff that he’s done there and got some good reports from the coaches down there. That’s a good story, that he went and got some games there and worked on his game and improved. I didn’t have any hesitation about dropping him in over there,” said Bliss. “Looking at the road and looking at where Joevin’s been the last four or five weeks, I felt we needed a little more concentration on the defensive side of things rather than the attacking side and I think Doody gave us that in spades. He battled and battled and he shut some guys down over there and stopped some crosses from coming in. He was holding that down pretty well. I commend him for that because it’s not easy to be thrown into that. He did well.”
Centerback Ty Harden missed the Toronto game due to a groin strain. He was replaced by Daneil Cyrus in the line-up on Saturday. He may also miss the upcoming New England match. “Ty has had a little bit of a groin strain. He had to step out of training on Friday, so he was a Friday late scratch from the line-up and probably in the same boat heading into the weekend.”
Patrick Nyarko always takes a beating and this season is no different after returning from a torn ACL. He took another knock this past Saturday which led to his replacement before the hour mark. “Patrick had a collision in the first half that caused him some swelling and some pain on the outside of his knee area, just below it in the shin area. I believe he’ll be fine going into Thursday’s training and should be available for the weekend.”