The endless downpour of games continues this week, as D.C. United hosts the Chicago Fire. For our purposes, that means once again trying to figure out which normal starters are going to be rotated by United's opponent. It's a complicated question, because Frank Yallop a) has a roster that lacks specialists and b) is entirely willing to try players in new positions.
The rep he established with San Jose's "Bash Brothers" was that he's a 442 lifer who only knows one tactical approach, but that's false. The truth is that Yallop, for years, has been willing to juggle formations and roles within those formations. Figuring out who he's going to rotate is a bit like trying to find water with a divining rod. As such, I'm going to try to cover as many possibilities as I can rather than narrow it down to one definite group of eleven that I expect.
The Fire have had some acceptable results lately since moving to a 4231, but the man who centers the attacking trio - that's Scottish playmaker Shaun Maloney - will miss out tonight due to national team duty. That likely means Harry Shipp will move into the middle, but only if the Fire maintain a 4231 (or, if they drop the wide men back, a 4411). I also don't think Mike Magee will make his return tonight despite suiting up for an hour with Saint Louis FC in the USL.
If Yallop just plugs people into the existing formation, this is what I think we'll see:
This kind of gives you a sense of the number of moving parts involved for the Fire. In goal, Jon Busch appears to have pushed Sean Johnson to the bench. Central defense is also likely set, as there's less of a need for rotation there. That means Jeff Larentowicz - who, thanks to Chicago's proclivity for winning penalty kicks, is the team's leading goalscorer - will partner Brazilian journeyman Adailton.
From there, we have plenty of questions. Eric Gehrig has started the last two games at right back, but the presence of Lovel Palmer means that Yallop has an experienced option to rotate in for fresher legs. Of course, Palmer might also end up stepping in at left back, where the attack-minded Joevin Jones covers a ton of ground and may need a rest as a result. Greg Cochrane hasn't been involved much at all this season, but he could end up seeing minutes here as well.
In central midfield, Matt Polster will probably - but not definitely - start again. The issue here is that, as Yallop knows, rookies are not used to the physical grind of MLS coming out of college. Polster may need to be rested tonight to preserve him over the long haul. If he sits, look for homegrown player Chris Ritter to step in. That'd be quite nice for United, as Ritter lacks Polster's awareness and his ability to keep things simple.
If that spot is possibly open tonight, the other holding midfielder's role is wide open. Razvan Cocis has taken the role over recently with some composed, alert play, but the Romanian has dealt with injuries more than once since coming to Chicago last year. I think he's going to be rested, but there are several candidates for the job. It could be Ritter if the Fire want to go really defensive tonight, but they also have players like Michael Stephens and Matt Watson available as well. Victor Perez was brought in on loan after a series of roster-shuffling accidents left him ineligible to play with Spanish top flight side Levante on loan or at Valladolid, the club that held his rights. However, after making a cameo days after signing with Chicago, he hasn't played a second. This might be Yallop's chance to incorporate him into the team, but I'm thinking we see the energetic but technically limited Watson instead.
Further forward, Yallop has been flipping Shipp and David Accam based on matchups. The idea has been to use Accam's speed against the weaker fullback, since Shipp is going to wander inside no matter what wing he's on. However, with Shipp probably moving into the middle, we could see young Jamaican Jason Johnson get a start as a left winger. Accam will probably play on the right this time around, but Yallop will likely switch his wingers more than once throughout the game. Of course, he could also opt for Guly do Prado as his #10, which would see Shipp on the wing.
Regardless of where Shipp and Accam play, they're by far the biggest threats for the Fire. Accam is very smart about setting defenders up so that they have to either keep up with him in a footrace - which pretty much isn't happening if your name isn't Marvell Wynne - or get your positioning perfect. Perfection is rare, which is why players that mark Accam tend to get booked and/or sent off. Shipp, meanwhile, is as creative as they come and has carte blanche to roam the field looking for the ball.
Up top, Kennedy Igboananike is just starting to prove why Chicago was interested in him as a Designated Player. However, I think he's going to end up being rested for the Fire's home game against Orlando on the weekend. Most likely, that means Quincy Amarikwa will come in. Amarikwa is never going to be a great scoring threat, but he is relentless, physical, and quick. If he starts like I expect him to, United's central defense will have their hands full.
Yallop could also send out a 442, in which case I'd look for Shipp and Accam on the wings. Amarikwa would be partnered by Johnson most likely, but we could also see Guly up front as a target man of sorts. Accam could also move up top, with a handful of players (Johnson, Stephens, and Watson) all possibilities to fill in opposite Shipp.