Depth could be key to helping Fire end 2-year playoff drought
There are no answers here, just educated guesses.
Will the Fire end its two-year playoff drought?
This looks like a playoff roster again, thanks to last week's moves. The Fire seemed to be sliding toward the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings after losing playmaker Sebastian Grazzini a month ago, but the Fire acted smartly to trade for Alvaro Fernandez.
Coach Frank Klopas says "El Flaco" can play anywhere in midfield, but look for him to play in the middle in much the same role Grazzini played. From there he can help the Fire possess the ball better and set up a few more scoring chances.
Fernandez could be the key to the final 13 games of the regular season.
Is the Fire a MLS Cup team?
If this team can score by committee more than a goal a game, it has a chance, but it faces an uphill battle. There is no go-to player up front, nobody who makes opposing goalkeepers shake in their gloves. That's the missing dimension to this roster.
The Fire has great depth. Won't that be enough?
In other words, can a club win with a group of competitive near-equals rather than high-quality players leading the way (see: Los Angeles Galaxy, N.Y. Red Bulls)?
The Fire is very proud of its depth, and it has a number of good players.
The problem is Klopas can't play all of them at the same time, and none of them are capable of taking over a game.
The league has figured out how to deal with Dominic Oduro's speed; his 5 goals so far are below pace to match last year's 12. Along with midfielder Marco Pappa, Oduro leads the team in scoring.
Chris Rolfe is capable of producing some amazing goals but has never done it in large quantities like a Chris Wondolowski, Kenny Cooper or Will Bruin.
MacDonald's history suggests fans shouldn't expect a bounty of goals from him either, though he adds a dimension that Oduro and Rolfe can't with his size and ability to play as a target forward.
At least the Fire is prepared if injury strikes again.
So who sits?
That's the hard part for Klopas. Fernandez, Pappa (suspension) and Gonzalo Segares (sprained ankle) sat last Saturday. All three will be in the lineup very soon, possibly as soon as this Saturday, and MacDonald probably won't be far behind.
Don't be surprised if Alex and Oduro find themselves playing as substitutes when Fernandez and MacDonald are ready. It's anybody's guess who sits among Pappa, Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko, however.
For now it seems there's only room for two of the three at a time.
If the Fire offense doesn't respond to Fernandez and MacDonald, Klopas might have to do something he doesn't want to do, like sitting one of his holding midfielders, captain Logan Pause and World Cup veteran Pavel Pardo, to get one more attack-minded player on the field.
Any concerns on defense?
As long as Sean Johnson keeps playing goalkeeper like he's Spiderman, the Fire will be strong. Austin Berry is a rookie-of-the-year candidate at center back, and he has World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich next to him.
Segares is a rock and looked well enough Tuesday to return to left back, leaving Jalil Anibaba and Dan Gargan to thumb wrestle for the right back spot.
If Cory Gibbs can return from knee surgery, the defense will be loaded.
Any chance more help is on the way?
Not really. The only options are a trade within MLS and signing an international player who's out of contract. Neither option will bring a difference-maker.
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