By the numbers: Going south
only that focusing on match results isn't terribly useful in that regard. Seeing as all we as fans have to go on are these results, this presents a bit of a problem. However, a little bit of digging can yield some indicators of what we might expect come April 2 in Dallas.
First and foremost, the center of our midfield is back. Despite the crack about his goal against UAB, Jesse Marsch has seen a lot of action in the preseason and this is a very good thing. Chris Armas, after sitting long enough to make me very uncomfortable, also seems to be game fit again. Having these two guys in the mix is going to be critical to unleashing outside midfielders Justin Mapp and John Thorrington into the attacking half of the field.
Second, the question of what to do now that Ante Razov and Damani Ralph are gone is still very much open. The likely starting pair of Nate Jaqua and Andy Herron hasn't seen a lot of time together in the preseason. This is where the objectives of this particular period of time get murky. Some coaches use this stretch to invite players to camp who might eventually work out, but also might not, or to experiment with combinations of players while there's no pressure to produce.
With regard to the striker situation, head coach Dave Sarachan seems to be in the latter category. From the looks of it, he's been throwing a couple of rookies and new signings into the mix up top with third-year forward Jaqua to see what they might be able to do. The two starting spots -- I'm not about to concede that the lack of proven firepower might reconfigure the team into a 4-5-1 or a 3-6-1 formation -- still seem to be Herron's and Jaqua's to lose. Figuring out who the first guy off the bench will be when we need a goal, though, as well as who will be challenging those two for the starting 11, is one of those decisions that may seem trivial at the time, but could wind up being awfully significant in the long haul.
Third, if you read the descriptions of the Fire's preseason tallies, you might notice that 10 of a total 28 have come via crosses, and four of those from second-year defender Leonard Griffin. In recent seasons, this seems to have been an area of particular weakness for the Fire, as both Razov and Ralph tended to do most of their work with the ball at their feet, and Jaqua -- the Fire's biggest target -- wasn't lined up near the penalty area nearly often enough. We may be seeing how the UCLA product was able to keep the rookies at bay, while the recently-waived defender Danny Clanton was not. With injuries keeping Tony Sanneh and Samuel Caballero out of large chunks of the preseason, and with Mario Ivan Guerrero taking a knock in last week's final preseason tune-up, Griffin may have an opportunity to grab himself a starting job out of the gate.
Overall, I'm not sure if the MLS preseason would benefit from more consistent structure, or whether or not that would simply satisfy fans' lust for easier interpretation, but it is what it is, so we make what we can of it. While just looking at the Fire's record in the run-up to the 2005 season doesn't seem to indicate one direction or another, closer inspection shows that this team is starting to take a pretty coherent shape. I'm willing to concede that the end justifies the means, even if those means are tough to follow sometimes.
Chris Costello is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.