Doran: Reserves have important role
Under the hot sun of last Saturday morning, the Botswanan forward fired at goal and scored for the home team, sealing a 3-0 victory.
But it wasn't Fire forward and Botswana international Dipsy Selolwane, it was Thuto Nhlekisama - a kid whose family knows Dipsy's family back in Africa. And the game in which Thuto scored wasn't a World Cup qualifier, it was a "Hoosier Cup" semi-final for high school team in Indiana.
But Dipsy and Thuto share similar roles with their teams - they are reserve forwards. And when added to the mix they are expected to throw defenders off kilter and surprise goalkeepers with their energy and tenacity. They bring fresh legs, fresh perspective and a whole lot of eagerness to the game.
So much of that seems to come easy - for Dipsy, Thuto and many of the soccer world's reserves. And there are a lot of them. If the average youth team carries 18 players, then a third of the roster could be considered "reserves." Big picture: One-third of all youth players you meet come off the bench - and the rate's even higher among college and professional teams.
I think strong reserve performances come from watching the game from the sidelines and making the argument to one's self and teammates that "I should be starting." Reserves simply want to prove themselves - to coaches, fans and the guy who start in front of them. And they learn from starters' mistakes.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan is a big fan of those fresh perspectives the reserves bring to the game. He showed tremendous confidence in using defender Denny Clanton, midfielder Scott Buete and forward Sumed Ibrahim - all reserves for much of the season - as starters in the 3-1 victory over D.C. United last Saturday. (Note: Injuries, national team call-ups and suspension took five regular starters from the FIRE line-up.)
Coaching a player from reserve to starter is probably easier than coaching a starter to a "reserve" role, and that's the challenge in Dallas with MLS veteran Jason Kreis.
Faster opponents and talented options have made it difficult for the Burn staff to insert Kreis as a starter. The league's all-time scoring leader typically sees 10-20 minutes of second half action and, so far, that doesn't "sit very well" with the veteran.
Should he remain in that role, Kreis could go from being one of the most prolific starting forwards to one of the most dangerous subs in the league. Or he could find his starting role again, but with another club.
Reserves are a critical part of the equation for any team. Knowing how they can change a game or maintain a result helps coaches with decision-making. It's up to the players to know their roles and muster the drive at the right time to have an impact.
Chris Doran is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. He is also the voice of the Chicago Fire, calling their games for English radio.