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Fire Mon Mar 17 2014
The ceaseless march of time has been a perennial topic for reflection and lamentation in literature and art. This is beyond understandable. For as the wheel of time turns, we find ourselves oscillating between three extremes: either wishing time would slow down, so that we could hold onto a present moment longer; that time would hurry up, so we can get to the next of those moments we'd like to savor; or, wondering where all of those moments have gone. In Western art we see this represented through works of memento mori, paintings and sculptural objects meant to remind the viewer of the inevitability of death, that life is something to be cherished and well-lived.
In sports there is such a prevailing sense of immutability with star players that they seem to be exempt from time. In the prime of the Michael Jordan era, the notion that he might one day cease playing for good was a near impossibility for the mind to conceive. The fact that a sports star continues to be a person, even when their faculties for consistent production have left them, is something hard to deal with as well. This is because the story surrounding them becomes so much larger than the truth of the person at the center, and to see the narrative die long before the person, it can be immensely disheartening. Its like Superman somehow being killed, but Clark Kent living on.
But as goes life, so too go sports, and older players must make way for the new. One of the hardest paths to maneuver with regard to this, as a manager, is making the right calls for how and when to make this happen. Conventional wisdom suggests that if you have a reliable core of starters who comprise the first team, then game after game they ought to get the run-out, because it can be best to go with what works. The danger with this in soccer is that over the course of a regular game only 50% of the whole squad—eleven starters, plus 3 subs—ever see playing time. Choosing to sit a proven starter is a big decision, and one which can cause tension on the field or perhaps worse, in the locker room. But these moments are necessary; think of them as memento mori, but for starting positions. Remember that you must try harder, because there are always younger, more hungry athletes.
So it should not be taken lightly that for Sunday's game in Portland, head coach Frank Yallop chose to start 5 players making their Chicago Fire starting debut. Quincy Amarikwa, Patrick Ianni, Matt Watson, Benji Joya, and Harrison Shipp all got the nod and played admirably to boot. Against a side like Portland, who finished atop the Western Conference standings last season, this seemed an interesting move on the part of Yallop. Amarikwa, who got the start in place of Juan Luis Anangonó, looked solid, hungry to prove his role should be as a starter. As the Fire's lone Designated Player, Anangonó has yet to find his scoring pace, with just two goals in 14 appearances since joining last July. Starting on the bench will probably be seen as a referendum on Anangonó and his place in the team, but it is a little early to tell still.
Amarikwa and the midfielders Matt Watson and Alex had a few good looks at goal, but the towering Portland keeper Donovan Ricketts was on top of his already impressive form. The Fire's lone goal came in the 19th minute, after Portland defender Norberto Paparatto fouled Amarikwa in the box. A penalty kick was awarded and Jeff Larentowicz converted from the spot putting the Fire ahead 1-0 early, a scoreline which they protected valiantly until a defensive gaffe on the part of Patrick Ianni let Gaston Fernandez slip a rebound past a prostrate Sean Johnson in the 79th minute. Things got a bit dodgy near the end of the match as second-half substitute Patrick Nyarko was shown a red card in the 86th minute for a hard tackle on Diego Chara, leaving the Fire to protect the draw with 4 minutes of regulation play, and 5 full minutes of stoppage time.
In the end the new starters showed well for Frank Yallop. Going into this game Fire fans would not have expected to see a lot of tinkering, with Portland being such a formidable opponent. On top of this, Yallop has garnered a reputation, at previous teams, as a coach whose lineups did not always favor younger players. But the experiment was a good one, with Shipp and Joya looking to be great additions to the team already. It will be good to see how Yallop takes the information gleaned from this match and applies to to the remainder of the season. Hopefully as well we get the opportunity to see Magic Mike Magee make an appearance this coming Sunday, because we're all due for another moment that we hope will never end.
The Fire's next match will be their home opener on Sunday, March 23rd at 2:00pm. Tickets are available, as well as the ever popular Pub-to-Pitch bus service which operates between 6 different bars in the city, ferrying passengers out to Toyota Park for just $10 round-trip. Couple that with the fact that they are BYOB, and you are now cooking with gas.