Juggling Leftbacks

Much has been said about the juggling Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos has done with his starting 11 this season. One position that has seen perhaps the most fluctuation is at left back, where the manager has started four different players in 22 matches over the course of 2010.

The question of the starting left back position bewildered many when the former El Salvador boss ran out three different players at the position in the club’s first three games of the season, choosing Mike Banner on March 27 at New York, Krzysztof Krol on April 3 at Colorado and then Salvadoran international Deris Umanzor April 10 vs. San Jose.

Since that time, Krol looked to have locked down the spot, starting 14 of the Fire’s 22 matches at left back, but the reacquisition of Gonzalo Segares blurred the line, giving the club a surplus at the position.

Since rejoining the Fire on August 6, the Costa Rican international has appeared as a starter in every match he’s been eligible, playing four games before being banned two matches following a red card he earned for a foul against LA Galaxy midfielder Leonardo September 4 at Toyota Park.

 During the two-game suspension, de los Cobos again tried Banner as a pseudo left back in a formation that morphed between 3-5-2- and 4-4-2 and then Umanzor in a straight 4-4-2 this past weekend in Philadelphia.

Those changes were necessitated by suspension but de los Cobos also said form has factored into the equation as well.

“Deris [Umanzor] had a good match on Saturday,” said de los Cobos following Tuesday’s training session. “[Kryzsztof] Krol started and played a lot of matches earlier this season. Players have different levels during the season and now I sometimes believe it’s better to play with Mike [Banner]. With Gonzalo [Segares] out for two matches I needed to use a player that I thought was better at the time and so that’s why I chose Mike and Deris the past two matches.”

The predicament is an embarrassment of riches in some cases. Both Umanzor and Segares feature in their national teams, Krol has European experience and while Banner is not a left back by trade, his ability on the ball has seen him move around to different positions on the field when the side is in a pinch.

Umanzor’s inclusion in the Fire lineup Saturday came after his return from international duty with El Salvador the week before, assisting on the first goal in his country’s 2-2 draw with Honduras in Los Angeles on September 4.

“I saw his game against Honduras and thought he had a good match. He took a lot of confidence away from that performance and deserved to play Saturday and I thought he played well again – he was focused all the time.”

With Segares now available for selection this Saturday against Real Salt Lake, the safe money is on the Costa Rican international returning to the starting eleven though de los Cobos is adamant that play on the field is the most important thing when it comes to selection for a match.

“When someone deserves to play, the least important thing to me is the name of the player. I respect all the players but its necessary to play the ones that I think have earned it.”