Loaded Chicago Fire has some tough decisions to make

Fire Celebrates (AP)  

The Chicago Fire boasts the deepest team in the league, so deep in fact that head coach Denis Hamlett is being left with some extremely tough decisions to make.

After starting out the season with Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe on the bench due to injury/recovery issues, Hamlett handed starting roles to second-year players Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa. Both responded by playing very well. Now, with Blanco and Rolfe healthy and ready to return to action, Hamlett must decide who to start and who to sit.

It might seem easy enough to just bring Blanco back into the fold, as well as Rolfe, but Hamlett isn't one to mess with something when it is working. We saw a glimpse of that early last season, when he kept standout defender Wilman Conde on the bench after the Fire started the 2008 season very well.

Hamlett has that tough decision to make yet again. Does he stick with the lineup that has gotten Chicago off to a 2-0-1 start, or does he shake things up and look to spark an attack that hasn't yet looked like a dangerous one.

Let's consider the possibilities.

John Thorrington's red card suspension should make it that much easier for Hamlett to make lineup decisions this week for the Fire's visit to San Jose on Saturday, though you wonder how much easier. This is the front six the Fire has used to start the season:

————–McBride—-Nyarko————-

Mapp——-Pause——Thorrington—Pappa

Without Thorrington, the Fire could plug in Blanco, but that would give Pause a LOT of defensive work to do in this formation (assuming Hamlett sticks with two forwards):

————–McBride—-Nyarko————-

———————-Blanco———————

Mapp————————————Pappa

———————-Pause——————–

Hamlett has stated in the past that he would rather not play Pause alone with Blanco in the middle because of the extreme workload Pause would have to carry in that scenario. So basically that means that for Blanco to start, Nyarko would have to sit, which would bring the Fire back to the look it had last season:

——————McBride———————-

————————-Blanco—————–

Mapp————————————-Rolfe

—————Pause——-Pappa————-

Pappa would play centrally and while he isn't a defensive-minded midfielder he does have the energy and work rate to do much more than Blanco would in a similar role. Yet another option for the Fire would be to move Wilman Conde from central defense into a defensive midfield role alongside Pause in this lineup:

——————McBride———————-

————————-Blanco—————–

Mapp—————————–Pappa/Rolfe

—————Pause——-Conde————-

Segares——Soumare—-Robinson—-Ward

———————Busch———————-

This might actually be the best solution with Thorrington suspended, but it does leave Nyarko on the bench. And yes, there's still that decision to make on who to start between Chris Rolfe and Marco Pappa.

What would you do if you were the Fire head coach? Here are your options:

As you can see, there are a bunch of combinations the Fire can use, and even more once Thorrington returns. In other words,the decision isn't as easy as you might think.

Which lineup did you choose? What lineup do you think would work best for the Fire?

Share your thoughts below.

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32 Responses to Loaded Chicago Fire has some tough decisions to make

  1. RedLine55 says:

    Blanco will be able to provide McBride with better, smarter services…but he slows the game down SO much. McB has looked frustrated the past few games, so maybe having Blanco in the middle and a speedy winger (rolfe/pappa) to provide good crosses, McB will be able to knock in a few.
    How is San Jose this year? i don’t think I’ve seen ‘em play yet this season.

  2. mike says:

    With San Jose’s weakness’s particularly in the final third and the central midfield, I’d thin this was the time to get Blanco on the field as AM. I’d leave Nyarko and McBride up to Mapp and Pappa on the wings. Rolfe in for McBride at 60 min, other subs to depend on situation.

  3. cbr says:

    you have to let blanco play, he’s in a contract year and he stated a few times that he’s not ready to hang them up just yet

  4. chente says:

    is there any consideration given to not starting mcbride? he hasn’t looked as dangerous as nyarko and last season rolfe seemed better than mcbride too. just wondering? it seems like having two old farts in the starting 11 makes us too slow.

    also.. i say bench ward, put thorrington in defense when he comes back…and then play rolfe some place. ward’s the worst player on the field and isn’t there some old rule about playing the best 11?

    how’s this:
    mcbride – nyarko
    mapp – pause – pappa – rolfe
    segares – soumare – conde – thorrington

  5. EDB says:

    Blanco isn’t coming back next year, and with the team playing well without him I would think to bring him in at 60 minute. Then sell him during the summer transfer window

  6. gofirego says:

    these are good problems to have. injuries and suspensions will happen, of course, and then you have the fire fighting also for the superliga and the us open cup as well as home-field advantage in the east (which is paramount, given all their recent road losses in conference finals, including the last two seasons). That’s a lot of games.

    I don’t have the immediate solution, although all of the above scenarios could work. All i know is i wouldn’t yank Mcbride. Even when he isn’t scoring, he does a lot of work on and off the ball. with better service, he will get his goals. I expect at least 10 this season.

  7. DC Josh says:

    Blanco is the anti-christ.

    Having said that, I’d bench him every game. He is too old and slow. However, he has great vision and passing ability.

    But all he does is piss off the opposing fans by telling them to f-off when they are booing him for diving. Use his big ass to shield defenders until they touch him which is when he falls down and calls for a stretcher. Make that stupid hopping trick move when he’s drunk a red bull before the game and actually has energy to burn.

    Based on this, I’d bench him. The Fire is an amazing team without him. He is a waste of time and money.

  8. enfilade says:

    I have Rolfe on my fantasy team, so he needs to start damn it!!!!

  9. Barry Jive and His Uptown Five says:

    C.J. Brown is injured. A torn quad, I think.

  10. Wade says:

    ———McBride——

    —–Blanco———–

    ————Rolfe—–

    Mapp————-Pappa

    ——–Pause———

    Seg.–Sou.–Con.–Thor.

    Let Blanco and Rolfe float. Blanco will anyway and pushing Rolfe out wide limits his strength–finding pockets infront/behind the striker to exploit the defense. Rolfe has shown a willingness to defend and track back so, he should be ok at the head of a diamond formation–especially, b/c McBride also does well defensively. Pushing Thorrington to the back allows Chicago to add a better player to the starting 11 (Pappa) who can attack from the r.b. position–and Pappa can pinch in from there and give Thor. space on the flank. Pappa can also be shifted in or wide defensively depending on how the other team lines up/plays.

    Finally, Nyarko can enter the game at any time in multiple positions and change a game with his speed and activity. Especially effective when the other team has been chasing Chicago’s passing game and fighting with McBride for 60-70 min.

  11. Juan from L.A. says:

    I’m not a big fan of Justin Mapp…

    Blanco slows down their game but his mentality of the game is like no other…

    Pappa plays both sides…he’s never played in the middle and that would be interesting…

    Rolfe is a starter…

    This would be my lineup…

    —-McBride—–

    —Pappa—Nyarko—-Rolfe

    —Blanco—Pause——

  12. Chase says:

    Sell a 36 year old in the final year of his contract at the summer transfer window???? Good luck finding a buyer that is willing to pay more than $1…

    I’m not saying that some Mexican teams (or even a couple of MLS teams) wouldn’t want him, but there is not a sane team in the world that would spend money on an old player they can get for free in the fall…well now that I think about it, AC Milan might be willing…

  13. Bevo says:

    ———–McBride——–Nyarko———–

    ——————-Pappa——————-

    Mapp———————————-Rolfe

    ——————-Pause——————-

    Without Thorrington I dont see how you could start Blanco in the midfield. Plus he is all but gone by the summer or end of the year. He is effective off the bench as we saw against Dallas. If Pappa is going to be the future of the midfield. He needs the experience now.

    How to fit Rolfe back in the line-up is a much more difficult question.

  14. Bevo says:

    @chase:

    LA will take him they are collecting fossils already.

  15. Adam says:

    I second that CJ Brown is out with injury. Dasan Robinson looked good @ DC and should be slotted into that central role.

  16. Roman says:

    Hamlett will not get rid of Nyarko, he’s too in love with his work rate up front. And I think because Blanco played 90 minutes in a Tuesday charity game that he won’t start tomorrow, not enough recovery at his age.

    He’ll move Pappa into the center and Rolfe out right. All three will frequently change positions.

    Here’s the lineup:

    ——McBride——Nyarko——-
    ————-Pappa————-
    Mapp———————-Rolfe
    ————-Pause————–
    Segares—Conde—Soumare—Ward

  17. rednow.red4ever says:

    I don’t want Blanco and Mapp out there at the same time. I give the edge to Blanco between the two. I think you can’t much worse than Mapp’s crosses from the left- though we have seen some improvement this season.

  18. notabbott says:

    I think Hamlett goes with what he ran for the balance of the first half against New York. Pappa in the middle, Nyarko on the right, and then Blanco takes the open space up top. It could be Rolfe on the right instead, but my hunch is that Denis will go with the guys who bonded on the field last Sunday, and let Rolfe do his damage off the bench, whether that’s for Blanco, Nyarko or McBride, or someone else if we’re behind.

    Hamlett could have moved Conde into the d-mid spot last week, and picked Tim Ward for that instead, so that’s not going to happen. Anything that gives Conde more responsibility is a bad, bad idea. He’s already been responsible for one goal against and for us going down to ten men. I just hope all the misplaced praise from the press gives him a ton of trade value.

  19. The defensive starter who is coming back from injury is Dasan Robinson. He is targeted for the Central Defender spot with Boukare.

  20. CapeCodFutbol says:

    Anything without Mapp.

  21. Nats says:

    The Fire are the ugliest team in MLS, and have been since 1998. Overly defensive, grind it out, ugly, nasty soccer. It’s a shame that you’re even covering them.

  22. rob says:

    Ives, i’m both thankful and impressed by your chicago fire knowledge… I obviously love and hate being so deep, I think Hamlet is painting the picture that if Blanco goes, we’re still good, so blanco needs to toughen up. We’re lucky Lider Marmoll wasn’t good as advertised (as much trouble we went to keep him).

  23. EDB says:

    A mexican team would buy Blanco. He went on a transfer over the winter, and I’m sure he would have other MLS suitors because of his ticket draw. And even if it was 500k, why not do it? Make some money back, when it seems they don’t need him.

  24. seth|NYC says:

    Why is Chris Rolfe grabbing Thorrington’s penis? Is that a Chicago thing or something?

  25. Colin Ferguson says:

    Check out the gloved hand in the pic. it looks like there might be a little too much celebrating going on

  26. Slyboy says:

    The Fire are the ugliest team in MLS, and have been since 1998. Overly defensive, grind it out, ugly, nasty soccer. It’s a shame that you’re even covering them.

    Posted by: Nats | April 10, 2009 at 04:21 PM

    Sounds like jealousy… And i am not even a Fire supporter (SJ baby). Earthquakes are probably gonna stick two DMs (Corrales, Elliot) with Arturo and Huckerby on the wings, and Convey taking that LB spot. Gonna be a great game.

  27. brett says:

    you cannot take out Nyarko…. he (and Ward) have been the most consistent this season… you CANNOT take out Pappa, outside of Nyarko (and ward) he’s been one of the top players… here’s the solution

    ———–Nyarko—-BMB————–
    Rolfe———-Blanco————Pappa
    —————Pause——————
    Segares—–Conde—–Baky——–Ward
    —————Busch——————

    bring Mapp in as a super sub. Since his game against FCD, his performance has dropped… let Rolfe and Pappa start on opposite sides, allowing them to cut in and use their strong feet to shoot… Blanco will service BMB and Nyarko better… Rolfe and Pappa will be able to cover Blanco’s inability of playing defense… that leaves 2 forwards and Blanco up top to control the ball…. problem solve

  28. Jeff says:

    ——————McBride—-Nyarko————-

    ————————-Blanco—————–

    Mapp—————————–Rolfe

    —————Pause——-Conde————-

    Segares——Soumare—-Robinson—-Ward

    ———————Busch———————-

  29. Toby says:

    My question is how can you take a Chris Rolfe calibre of player and keep him on the bench? Even in a recent article on the Fire site that talks about Pappa, DH seemingly chuckles at the fact that Pappa at times plays out of control and creates problems while in the short time he has had on the pitch, Rolfe has had more shots on goal than anyone else on the team–go figure. DH made some really questionable player moves last year and he is up to the same old tricks this year. Methinks he has another agenda up his sleeve.

  30. abzues says:

    ————-mcbride—nyarko————-
    —mapp—blanco—-pappa—rolfe—-
    ———————pause——————-
    ———sega—–conde—soumare—-
    ———————busch——————-

    This is the lineup I like. I like Pause in a defensive mid position. I like the idea of Rolfe serving McBride. He can shoot from the outside and I feel he can serve a good ball. I like Pappa and Blanco as the crafty mids. Mapp, I can take or leave, but he might get lucky. His one or two good services a game might land at the foot or head of Nyarko or McBride, you know, before Mapp quits for the game and disappears for the last 30′ or so. I also like the idea of Rolfe and Pappa floating back and forth, overlapping, to keep San Jose’s defense on their heels. Especially with Blanco sucking up the double team and freeing up a man. Whatever the formation, San Jose’s going to be the team to experiment with. It’s early in the season, so a loss or tie won’t be the end of the season. It’s best to get this sorted out now and find something that works. Let’s get this squared away and for God’s sake, NO MORE SINGLE STRIKER!!!!!

  31. Steve says:

    I think most of the fan base will tell you that Mapp should be the odd man out.

    But…if you need any further evidence that this is keeping Hamlett up at night check out the distribution of answers on that poll. I’ve NEVER seen that even a distribution on an internet poll.

    Still with 7 points from the first 9 I’ll take this problem over the problems in NY, Columbus and Houston.

  32. Joe says:

    I bet Hamlett was so happy to see Thorrington get a red so his decision is a little easier. He doesnt know what he is doing and any coach can pick a lineup for the Fire and go out and win. He was our 3rd choice last year when we were looking and he has been with the club since 98. He was passed over on every coaching change and then we had to settle for him when the FO failed to land a coach with decent skills. I think Nyarko needs to come off the bench and the same with Mapp.

    ———-McBride————–
    ————–Blanco———–
    Pappa———————-Rolfe
    ———Ward——-Pause——-
    Segares—-Conde–Baky–Robinson
    ————Busch—————

    Tim Ward did enough on Sunday to be given a chance to play DM. Thorrington should sit on the bench for a while. His tackles are TERRIBLE. EVERY game he has the ability to make a crazy late tackle that is worthy of a red. He has 2 yellows and 1 red in 3 games. Everyone that wants him at right back is not a fan of the Fire and know that he would be a liability in the back and they would have a easier time scoring on us.