As the Chicago Fire prepares for its first trip to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC for the second time in three weeks, Frank Yallop and his technical staff are still in the process of mending the team's offensive struggles, which materialized in the 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Friday night's match in the Big Apple, however, will commence a run of seven matches - all against Eastern Conference opponents - spanning a 41-day period that will serve as the barometer in determining where the Men in Red stand come July.
Yallop addressed the media in his weekly conference call Monday morning following the team's training session, underscoring the importance of amending the away form while providing additional updates on other news tidbits surfacing inside the Fire camp.
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Mike Magee nearing return
"Mike trained today," Yallop said. "It was his first day with the team. He's worked very hard to get to this point, so the progression is getting through this week with probably non-contact stuff, but obviously with the group and then get him into full practice, I would think by next week and see how he goes.
"It's good to have him out there. He's not moving around like a spring chicken right now, but he was involved in the play and joined in and wasn't any worse for wear after the session."
The 2013 MLS MVP underwent season-ending hip surgery last September and has been favored for a return in June, but extra precautions are still being taken to ensure a sound recovery.
"We have to tread carefully," Yallop added. "We don't want to push and then all of a sudden we're going backwards again. The medical staff's done a good job with Mike, from the surgeon to Adrian Lamb - our fitness guy - to get him to this point. We don't want to ruin that. He's ahead of schedule and he's feeling pretty good."
Midfielder Matt Watson, who departed in the 53rd minute of Saturday's match after sustaining a concussion, will not be available for the Fire's trip to NYCFC. Meanwhile, Michael Stephens could be available after training for nearly a week following an ankle injury that left him out of the last three games.
Defensive form and offensive output
Behind the Montreal Impact, the Fire are currently tied with NYCFC for the second-least amount of goals scored in MLS. It's certainly not the most flattering of statistics for a team that has still seen its designated forwards' scoreless drought persist, but Yallop is perceptive as to what those problems can be attributed to.
"It's been frustrating all around," he said. "We had a meeting this morning. We've played pretty well enough to win maybe another game and we haven't done it. We're getting punished for our mistakes and not taking our chances when they come. That's soccer; it's won and lost in two boxes. Group-wise and playing-wise, it's been okay. We feel we're playing some decent stuff, but we've got to win and we know that.
"We've played well enough and created enough chances to score more goals, but we haven't and that's our issue at the moment, through confidence, through lack of technique. It's just that little bit of edge, that mental toughness and being ruthless around goal, and not being nice. In both boxes, we've just got to be a bit more ruthless and tough."
By the same token, Yallop credited the Men in Red's opponents when discussing the performances from his back four, citing the clinical finishing that has eluded the Fire for the better part of the previous nine matches.
"I've been pleased," Yallop said. "The amount of chances we've given up is not that many, but the execution of the chances from the other team has been good. If you look at the goals on Saturday, they were two very good goals; they could be avoided by us in certain areas. Two very good finishes and two good plays.
"You don't want to concede any goals, but realistically, we've got some good attackers in this league and it's a pretty wide open league. Every team you play is not sitting back trying to get a result, they're trying to win."
Upcoming schedule vs. NYCFC, Eastern Conference opponents
“We’ve just got to go in here knowing they’re desperate to win,” Yallop said. “We’re desperate to win, too. We’ve lost two in a row. We’re desperate to get on the mark in our away form.
"There's pressure to win every game, so games against conference opponents are very important. We're still sitting in sixth spot ... we've lost five matches already, that's not good. These games coming up are very important. The next seven don't define your season, but it makes up a big part of it. We want to be ready and try and get wins in those games coming up.
Following a disappointing 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls in the first-ever New York derby on Sunday, NYCFC will return to play on its home turf at Yankee Stadium, which, measured out to be approximately 70 yards by 110 yards, has drawn some criticism for its upkeep and narrow dimensions.
"You've just got to deal with it. Obviously it's a tight pitch and one that they're more used to than us," Yallop said. "We've got to have some sharp feet on the field because there's not a lot of room; it's very condensed with a lot of players in the central areas.
"It comes into my thoughts, so we're just trying to pick a team that we feel is going to get after it and, for me, have a good performance and get a win."