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:
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):
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:
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:
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.