If you were Frank Klopas, what would you do now?
The head coach of the Fire watched his team have its biggest offensive explosion of the season on Saturday night in a 4-1 romp over D.C. United at Toyota Park. It materialized without one of his best offensive players. Patrick Nyarko wasn’t available at the last minute due to a case of strep throat.
Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere was brilliant in Nyarko’s place. Do you keep Lindpere on the field in next Saturday’s big road match against the Houston Dynamo or come back with Nyarko if he’s healthy?
And, another player who led Saturday’s rout -– striker Chris Rolfe –- also faces the possibility of reduced playing time. Javier Leon, the club’s president of soccer operations, told the media at halftime of Saturday’s match that another forward will likely be signed this week. That player, reportedly 24-year old Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangomo, won’t be coming in to warm the bench. He’ll carry Designated Player status.
With Rolfe’s partner up top, Mike Magee, in the battle for Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot and a member of the league’s Best XI in the All-Star voting, the new arrival could take Rolfe’s spot –- though Rolfe isn’t worried about it.
Klopas took the usual stance of "It’s all about the team" when questioned about personnel decisions after the D.C. United blowout.
"It’s important when you bring a guy in that he fits in with the group, that he can adapt quickly," said Klopas. "That player has to realize that he has to sacrifice and do anything he can for the team. For us, that’s the most important thing."
Not every star acquired by the Fire for late-season heroics has worked out. Remember Nery Castillo, Freddie Ljungberg and Guillermo Franco?
Anangomo, 24, is a young player in his country’s national team pool. He’s been playing for Argentinos Juniors in Argentina’s first division but was more impactful with Ecuadorian club Nacional, where he scored 30 goals in 73 matches in 2011-12.
Rolfe, the No. 2 career goal-scorer in Fire history behind Ante Razov, scored two of his four goals for this season in the first half against D.C. United. Rolfe started his MLS career with the Fire in 2005, left for a stint in Denmark in 2010 and returned in 2012. He’s long been one of the Fire’s most popular players.
The new forward’s arrival could also hasten the departure of the lone current DP. Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, a bust this season, wants to go to a club where he’ll get more playing time -– preferably in the Netherlands or Belgium -– and the Fire hopes to work out a loan agreement with a team there.
As for Saturday’s win, it came before the biggest home crowd for an MLS match this season: 17,190. It also snapped a two-game losing streak and set the tone for the third of four meetings between the long-time rivals on Aug. 7. That meeting, also in Bridgeview, comes in the semifinals of the summer-long Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
Anything less than a convincing win on Saturday would have been disappointing, since D.C. United (2-14-4) isn’t the powerhouse it was in the early days of MLS. With ex-Fire midfielder John Thorrington wearing the captain’s armband, United saw its winless streak stretched to four matches. D.C.’s lone goal, by Luis Silva in the 58th minute after the Fire had already scored four times, was United’s first in four matches.
Magee’s penalty kick to complete the Fire scoring boosted his goal total to 12 for the season (six came in eight games with the Fire) but the real star in this one was Lindpere, an off-and-on starter all season. An offseason signee who played for the New York Red Bulls last season, Lindpere has five assists in the last five games after getting two against D.C. United.
He made a great move down the left sideline before setting up Rolfe with a high chip in the second minute. In the 11th Lindpere scored himself -- his first goal in a Fire shirt -- from 15 yards, finishing a play after getting a pass from Jeff Larentowicz on the right side. A Lindpere pass also sprung Rolfe for his second goal in first-half stoppage time.
"I’ve been starting most of my career, but that’s the way it is," said Lindpere, who also had an assist in last Wednesday’s reserve match. "It’s a team game. I will always find ways to do my job and help the team. It doesn’t matter if I start next game or don’t start."
The next game is a big one. The Fire (7-9-3) is five points behind the Dynamo, which holds the fifth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A Fire win would really tighten up the playoff race in the early stages of the second half of the regular season. A loss would make a Fire playoff run much more difficult.
Both teams had their starting goalkeepers –- Sean Johnson for the Fire and Bill Hamid for D.C. United -- on national team duty on Saturday. They’ll be with the U.S. squad for Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal against El Salvador, and the Fire will still be without Johnson at Houston if the Fire is in the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field next Sunday.
Paolo Tornaghi started his fourth consecutive match in goal for the Fire on Saturday. He’s conceded 12 goals in his five league appearances this season as Johnson’s backup.
If you were Frank Klopas, what would you do now?