In his first three games as head coach of the Chicago Fire, Carlos de los Cobos proved that he isn’t afraid to shake things up in the starting lineup.
The rookie MLS coach previously made the majority of his week-to-week changes in the back line, keeping the pool of starting midfielders and forwards relatively stable from game to game.
But for Saturday night’s match at D.C. United, de los Cobos switched things up in the attack. He started midfielder Justin Mapp in favor of forward Brian McBride and switched from the familiar 4-4-2 formation to a previously unseen 4-5-1.
And while some of de los Cobos’ earlier changes didn’t exactly pan out, his managerial decisions worked to near perfection Saturday, when the Fire picked up their first victory of the young season by defeating the still winless D.C. United 2-0 at RFK Stadium.
De los Cobos' most effective lineup change might have been the decision to bench McBride for the opening 75 minutes of the match. The 37-year-old veteran looked far from his best in his three starts to open the season, but he did very well in a substitute’s role in this one, setting up the Fire’s first goal and scoring the second.
Just as impressive as his assist and goal was McBride’s willingness to chase after balls in the attacking third. The famously fit McBride looked quick while hustling after D.C. defenders and applied a lot of defensive pressure on United.
De los Cobos also did well to give Mapp his first start of the season. Mapp, who hadn’t made an appearance in the first XI since last October, looked good on the wings Saturday night. He made several dangerous runs down the line and did well while tracking back, notching a couple of excellent tackles.
The match was Mapp’s most complete performance in quite some time, and if he’s able to repeat his strong showing in the future, de los Cobos will have some difficult decisions to make.
One decision that should no longer be difficult for de los Cobos is who to start at left back. Polish defender Krzysztof Krol made his second start in three matches Saturday night and looked good. Krol did well against D.C.’s attackers and made a couple of very nice runs down the wing.
His overlap of Mapp -- and subsequent dribble down the left sideline -- in the 74th minute looked particularly dangerous and he did nicely to end his venture into the attacking third by drawing a free kick from a threatening position.
Another bright spot for the Fire was winger Patrick Nyarko. For the fourth consecutive game, Nyarko posed great danger to the opposition’s defense, and the determination and hustle he displayed while setting up the Fire’s first goal was impressive.
Unfortunately for the Fire, Nyarko came off due to injury in the 84th minute. It was unclear what the specifics of the substitution inducing injury were, but he did feel the brunt of a head-to-head collision only six minutes before coming off.
Sill, there's always room for improvement. The team certainly could have done better with their shooting and de los Cobos will want to run through some finishing drills in training this week. The Fire won’t be able to get away with squandering good chances when they take on Houston next Saturday at Toyota Park.