Why roster depth could determine direction of Fire’s season
To move up from 11th in the Eastern Conference, the Fire’s entire roster will need to contribute because the tight fixture list likely necessitates squad rotation.
The Fire are about to find out if they have enough depth to make the playoffs.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Montreal Impact was the first of eight matches this month. The Fire (4-7-4, 16 points), who visit Sporting Kansas City (7-5-2, 23) on Wednesday before hosting DC United on Sunday, are 11th in the Eastern Conference, one spot shy of the playoffs.
To move up, the entire roster will need to contribute, and the busy schedule likely means changes to the lineup, though Fire coach Raphael Wicky hasn’t done much of that after the season resumed in late August. That means the lineup which picked up seven points over its last three matches, one that had just one change during that stretch, likely will be different.
Though defender Johan Kappelhof (hip flexor) made a cameo appearance Saturday for his first action since March and midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski could be returning soon, Wicky and the Fire will be further challenged by the absences of midfielder Gaston Gimenez (Paraguay) and defender Miguel Navarro (Venezuela) for about five games, as both are playing on national teams.
“The depth of the roster is important, and even more because we have to release obviously national team players who won’t be here, so that will be an opportunity for other guys to step in, and then players who maybe haven’t played that much in the last five, six weeks, will get the opportunity, and that’s why we need a big roster,” Wicky said. “That’s why everyone trains every day hard, and they need to be ready when their moment comes, and I’m confident they will be.”
Part of that falls on the players.
“It’s going to be challenging. We have to be professionals,” striker Robert Beric said. “We have to be able to take care of our bodies. We have to make a good regeneration after every game, have a good sleep, rest at home, and going from game to game to try to be in the best shape.”
Goalie Bobby Shuttleworth, 33, echoed that statement. At his age, he knows he has to pay extra attention to detail when it comes to being ready for a lot of matches in a little time.
“It’s just as an older guy, you have to really maintain focus on that kind of stuff because if you fall behind, then it’s difficult to physically get yourself in a position where you feel fully ready to try to put in a top, top performance,” Shuttleworth said.
Wicky, an accomplished midfielder during his playing career, sees one positive with the busy slate.
“At least [from] my experience, I liked when we had a lot of games,” Wicky said. “You don’t train that much. It’s just playing and recovery, playing, you get into a rhythm. So, I think the players like it. It’s a little bit different in this country because of all the traveling, but you have to deal with it.”
NOTE: Due to the vice presidential debate airing on WGN-TV, Wednesday’s broadcast is only on ESPN+.