Two Thoughts On Fire v Crew
The Fire fought back from an early deficit, took the lead, but ultimately failed to hang on, and they shared the points with Columbus on Thursday at Toyota Park. Here are two quick thoughts about the match.
Pauno ain’t playing the kids
Speculation has been raised in the media on whether Veljko Paunovic would provide playing opportunities to his younger, less experienced players once the Fire were officially eliminated from the playoffs. The Fire’s lineups in recent matches have shown no indication of a youth movement. Paunovic wants to win games, regardless of the circumstances, and he’s putting his first-choice players out there. Whether his approach is the best one is ripe source for debate.
On the one hand, putting the best possible team on the field shows that the desire to win trumps all other goals. Paunovic also remains consistent in his season-long message to the players; that the players who are doing the best in training and in matches will be the ones who play the most. The flipside, of course, is to ask whether winning matters if there is nothing to play for anymore.
Does Paunovic want the Fire to avoid a precedent-setting second consecutive Wood Spoon? If that is his motivation, he should just forget it. As a fan, I want to see 11 players giving everything they have for the badge. It will not make me feel better if the Fire finish 19th in the league than if they finish 20th.
The other possibility is that the Fire’s younger players are simply not good enough to compete. If that’s the case, then Paunovic’s ability (and by extension, that of Nelson Rodriguez) to evaluate talent has to come into question. The Fire have drafted three good players in the last two years: Matt Polster, Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent. But what of Collin Fernandez, Joey Calistri and Alex Morrell? Paunovic brought Michael Stephens on for Michael de Leeuw on Thursday for a cameo appearance. None of Fernandez, Calistri and Morrell are good enough to even play five minutes?
Following Thursday’s match, giving young players a chance was the topic of the first two questions in the post-game press conference. Paunovic displayed some annoyance with the questions. But he’s got his mind made up: the Fire are playing to win.
The Fire can’t hold a lead
Thursday’s match concluded in the same disappointing fashion that so many others have this season, with the Fire conceding a late goal. The Fire had turned around a tepid first-half performance into a 2:1 lead. They were looking like a competent soccer team, but lacked the killer instinct to get that third goal, thus leaving the door open for the Crew. And the visitors tore the door open to level the affair, and were not far away from getting the win.
The Fire have struggled to score goals this season and that begets an inability to put away results. One mistake transforms a positive result into disaster. Thursday was the eighth match this season in which the Fire have dropped points thanks to conceding crucial late goals. That amounts to 12 points that were frittered away, which would have given the Fire 40 points. While that potential total of 40 points would leave the Fire short of the 50 points that Rodriguez was hoping for in the pre-season, 40 points would have shuttered any discussions about Wooden Spoons.