The Chicago Fire backline has been in flux this season. A string of disappointing results coupled with a few injuries has seen head coach Carlos de los Cobos start seven different defenders in the club’s four matches.
To analogize, it’s safe to say the Fire backline has been
tinkered with more than Liverpool during a European Cup run.
In last Saturday’s 2-0 win at DC United, fifth-year defender Dasan Robinson returned from injury to make his first start of the season on the right, while first-year Polish left back Krzysztof Krol made his return to the first 11 after beginning the previous match on the bench. They joined central constants C.J. Brown and Wilman Conde in keeping United scoreless throughout the match and helped lead the club to its first victory of 2010.
“I liked the backline against DC,” said de los Cobos following Wednesday’s training session. “We had strong players throughout the lineup. Overall Wilman and CJ did very good work. Krzysztof and Dasan had very good moments and they were strong as well. Those two have a priority function to defend and they carried it out well.”
While the team lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, the shape would switch at times when Krol made darting runs to overload the left side. The former Real Madrid man created a number of chances and earned a dangerous second-half free kick after being fouled just outside the United penalty area.
“I like to go forward,” said Krol. “In football it’s very important for the left or right back to go forward five or six times in one half in order to cause trouble for the other team’s defense. Now that I’m a few games in I feel more and more comfortable going into the attack.”
While Krol pushed forward, the backline would shift left to fill in his space. Robinson’s inclusion in the lineup was a big part of this strategy. The Evanston, IL native isn’t the flashiest guy on the field, rather a solid, stay-at-home type that worked perfectly in the strategy against United.
“That was our idea initially going into the game,” said Robinson. “The coaches have given me the freedom to go forward as well but I want to make sure I’m taking care of my first responsibility and that’s defense – that’s what I’m all about.”
With the backline helping Andrew Dykstra earn his first career MLS shutout, it seems de los Cobos will stick with the same back four this Saturday against Houston. If he does, it will mark the first time the Salvadoran manager has kept his backline in tact in consecutive games.
Consistency could go a long way in helping the Fire recover from their slow start. Dropped points in the previous three matches mean the club has to play catch up in order to stay marred in what will be a tight Eastern Conference playoff race this season.
While it seems early to start mentioning anything related to an MLS playoff race, points have taken on a greater importance in 2010 with the number of MLS teams increasing to 16, while the 30-game season stayed the same.
This campaign marks the first time in MLS history that half the league’s teams will not feature in the postseason, making it more difficult for clubs to replicate the Cup runs of Los Angeles in 2005 and Real Salt Lake last season. Though still early, dropping points in winnable matches will be the death knell of some clubs this year.
“It gets more difficult every year,” said Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas. “While expansion is good, more teams coming in means the dilution of talent takes place and playoff spots become more difficult to obtain. It will be even harder next year when the league goes to 18 teams.”
The Fire will hope to build off Saturday’s result and redeem their home opening loss to San Jose on April 10 when they welcome a rebuilt Houston Dynamo squad to Toyota Park this Saturday night.
Going through a season of firsts, Krzysztof Krol isn’t getting bogged down in matchups -- more readying himself for a battle.
“I just want to play again on Saturday, no matter the opponent. I just want to play my game, if I do that, I’ll be successful.”