Since signing on as Head Coach and Director of Soccer for the Chicago Fire on October 31, 2013, Frank Yallop's task of welding together a harmonious side - from back to front - has proved onerous. Between the incongruous collection of players left over from Frank Klopas' tenure and futile attempts to rake in enriching signings of his own in his first season, the end of 2014 precipitated Yallop's recourse to clean house, declining 2015 contract options on 11 players.
Glowing from their 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact - fueled by a lights-out performance from Kennedy Igboananike and the bright midfield pairing of Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis - the Men in Red are beginning to feel the effects of the booming depth in the center of the park, a refreshing constituent of Yallop's reconditioned team.
“It’s huge, especially since we have this stretch of game after game," Polster said. "If somebody does go down for an injury, I think we have the players to come in and perform at the same level.
“Honestly, I think anybody who comes into the midfield will perform as best as they can. We have the players to do it: like [Matt] Watson, [Michael] Stephens and Raz [Cocis], and [Chris] Ritter as well. We have a lot of midfielders and I think each one of them can do the job that’s needed.”
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The Fire (4-5-2, 14 points) will have to rely on that depth as they face a quick turnaround Wednesday night for their first midweek fixture of the season against conference rival D.C. United (7-3-4, 25 points) at 6 p.m. CT on CSN+.
One player the second-year head coach has regularly heaped praise on is Polster, a Southern Illinois-Edwardsville standout and the Fire's seventh overall selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.
Having grown accustomed to the playing style in Chicago and starting in all but one match this season, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has become the surprise package for the Men in Red and a bulwark in Yallop's midfield, which will be put to the test in the first of six matches in the month of June.
“Credit to him, he’s really settled in, listened to meself and the coaching staff, and we give him every confidence to be a very good player," Yallop added. "Whoever he plays with or whoever he’s around, it doesn’t really matter for Matt, he’s just doing that job very, very well. He’s settled in and his confidence is growing. I think he’s got a chance to go on all the way. He’s a really good kid, and I want him to do well."
Following a series of matches that saw Ben Olsen's side scramble for points, the Eastern Conference leaders will play their sixth match in less than three weeks, while the Men in Red seek their first away win of the season and look to keep their unbeaten record against conference opponents alive in their first visit to RFK Stadium since last October.
A fixture with the club since 1997, Olsen has forged an effective playing style since superseding Curt Onalfo in 2010, imparting the tireless work ethic that served him well in his playing days to his current batch of talent. Yallop - chary of the attacking prowess of a side that will be without former Fire forward and D.C.'s leading scorer Chris Rolfe due to suspension - will stick to the blueprint that has helped his side to a three-match unbeaten run.
"They're a good side," Yallop said. "I know Benny [Olsen] well, he's a good coach. They're one of those gritty teams that just seem to - even if they're not playing particularly well - they get results. That's always a sign of a good team.
"It's going to be tough, but we've done okay this year against everybody. We're not afraid to go in there and play our game. Hopefully it's enough to get something out of the match."