Welcome to the Analyst’s Corner. A retooled, less structured version of What We Learned. Here I’ll be talking about all the on-field tactical stuff I notice throughout the course of last week’s game, and try to contextualize it with larger trends through the season.
On Shaqiri and the Midfield
One of the questions we all had when the Xherdan Shaqiri signing was rumored to be a done deal, has where was he going to play. We all figured he would play in the middle, as that’s the presumption when you sign a designated player and give him the number 10. It didn’t take long for us to find out, as Ezra Hendrickson said in Shaq’s introductory press conference that he would be the starting CAM for the squad.
However, was that really in the best interest of results? The early returns say no. The fact of it is that it’s been way too easy to bully Shaqiri out of the game in the middle of the park. Yes, the lack of wingers has exacerbated the problem somewhat as it was easier for defenses to collapse the middle with no wide threat. His passing numbers are reflective of this. Since he came off during the Minnesota United match, his pass completion percentage has been hovering around 66 percent, not exactly where you want your high-profile playmaker to be. It’s time to try something else.
He’s at his best when he’s forced out wide and someone else (mostly Brian Gutierrez) takes his spot in the middle. This is because the Fire can hide him out wide, as much as you can hide someone of his stature, and create space for him by overloading the wing and creating man advantages. Several times during the loss to Atlanta as well as against the Red Bulls, Shaqiri rotated out wide and the Fire was more successful for it. It may be time to play him wide.
That leaves the question of where to put Jairo Torres. He played out on the left for Atlas, but Chris Mueller slotted there when he came on in the second half. My solution— play Jairo Torres in the middle. Torres likes to cut into the middle a lot from the wing and is really effective once he gets into those spots. So the idea is that you start in the places where your players are most effective, and see how things go from there.
Rafael Czichos is Too Important and That’s A Problem
The thinness of the roster is something we’ve always talked about in regards to this Fire team, but we’ve always talked in terms of player quality from spot 1 to spot 28. We’ve never really talked in terms of communication and leadership. Because it’s such a young team, there’s a real lack of leadership and communication, aside from Czichos. It was real obvious what happens to the defense when Czichos isn’t in the lineup. They were playing like chickens with their heads cut off. We know that all four of the defenders out there are MLS quality in terms of talent, but their relative youth and lack of leadership qualities mean they’re just as poorly organized as the worst of the defenses of the last few years.
There isn’t really anything we can do about this except encourage them to take on more leadership positions while Czichos is on the field so that when he’s inevitably off the field again, the team will feel more comfortable playing without him than they looked against Atlanta.
The lack of leadership is a real problem throughout the squad, and not just in defense, but that’s the most obvious manifestation of it. Aside from Czichos, Shaqiri, Jonathan Bornstein, and maybe Gaston Gimenez, there’s no one on the squad who we can really see leading a team. It’s time for some of these kids to step up and take on bigger roles as the season progresses.