The dark days in Bridgeview keep getting darker. A tough home loss to the Columbus Crew has made this weekend’s rematch in Ohio a must-win. At this point, the only thing keeping hope alive for most fans is the Fire’s run in the U.S. Open Cup, which continues Wednesday at Toyota Park against Orlando City FC. With every loss, the frustration among Fire fans increases, and the calls for changes of coaching and ownership grow louder.
This writer has already put out a series analyzing Frank Yallop’s performance compared to other Fire coaches, and it looks grim. But Yallop is not the main reason this season has gone south. He can be blamed for the defensive rebuild last season, but cannot be blamed for the epidemic of injuries faced by the team this season.
A World of Hurt: Chicago Fire’s Injury Problems
The following players have each missed significant playing time this season due to injury:
Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko, David Accam, Jeff Larentowicz, Shaun Maloney, Razvan Cocis, Mike Stephens, Adailton.
The following players have missed at least 3 games due to international duty:
Joevin Jones, David Accam, Shaun Maloney
Nine players have missed significant time, and they are nine of the best players on the Fire. Accam and Maloney have missed the most time, and are the two most highly paid players on the team. Everyone on those lists but Michael Stephens is a first team choice for Yallop. Larentowicz, Cocis, and Magee form the spine of the team. They have not yet played a game together. Accam and Nyarko form the left and right wing tandem that had fans salivating when Accam was signed. They have not played significant minutes together, with the exception of a few minutes in the second half of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Columbus. Joevin Jones and David Accam formed a fearsome partnership on the left side during several early season games. The two have not played together for over a month. Mike Magee has not played a single game with Shaun Maloney. The team has now been without its starting center back pairing for several games. Harry Shipp is starting to show some of the same fatigue that plagued the rookie around this same time in the 2014 season, from the constant 90 minute performances he has had to put in with no healthy creative players available to support him. Chicago have not had anything close to a first choice eleven on the field since May.
What could that preferred lineup look like? How about a 4-5-1 of Jones, Adailton, Larentowicz, and Lovel Palmer, with Cocis and Matt Polster in front of them. Accam, Maloney (or Shipp), and Nyarko as attackers, with Mike Magee leading the line. Is there any doubt that this lineup could make the playoffs easily?
There are two main criticisms often raised from the #YallopOut crowd, offered as proof that the gaffer is not fit to manage the Fire: Harry Shipp is on the wing instead of a central position, and Guly Do Prado is still playing. Both are valid critiques, however Shipp is still on the wing because Accam, Nyarko, and Jones haven’t been available. A team with a glut of defensive central midfielders and no healthy wingers is just going to have to play a conservative 4-4-2. The do Prado experiment has been a failure, but nearly every manager will play at least one player that fans don’t like; do Prado’s continued playing time is not a reason to fire a coach.
Perhaps we should listen to Mike Magee when he says “Before you hang him, let’s give him a chance with his team”.
In Major League Soccer, the loss of just a few key players can devastate a club. For an example, look no further than the Fire’s last victory. The Seattle Sounders have one of the best rosters in MLS, but without Marco Pappa, Clint Dempsey, and Obafemi Martins, they have struggled to gain any points. The Fire’s struggles have been much more serious, but they have also never had their first team roster on the field. Frank Yallop may not last this season as manager, but whoever is in charge come autumn should be very careful about making changes to this roster.The Chicago Fire have more than a few pieces to build around.