What was a big game on paper never quite felt like one on the field.
The Fire and New York City FC played to a 1-1 draw on Saturday and neither team hit fifth gear. That likely has to due with the fact that it was the third game in eight days for both teams and key players were coming back from injury on both sides.
David Villa didn't played in New York's trip to Montreal on Wednesday and David Accam and Bastian Schweinsteiger came back from injury for the Fire, but both played limited minutes.
With a combined five shots on target, neither team created a ton of chances.
"It wasn’t really back and forth action, but two good teams squaring off," NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. "It was good. I think it was a fair result."
The Fire began the match with a 30-pass sequence that lasted 105 seconds. It led to nothing, but it's worth a mention. NYCFC attempted and completed just one pass in the first three minutes.
Both teams had stretches of dominant play, but neither peppered the opposing goal much. NYCFC picked it up a notch a few minutes after the Fire took the lead and got the equalizer via Villa just before halftime. There was a short surge from the Fire a few minutes after Schweinsteiger entered, but it was New York which was putting on the pressure in the final 10 minutes. There wasn’t the urgency shown by the Fire to get a win the team really needed in the race for playoff seeding, but that also may have been due to fatigue from three games in eight days.
While the draw didn't exactly change anything in the standings, the match did give a glimpse of how Accam and Schweinsteiger are doing in their recoveries and showed the first look of how life after Michael de Leeuw could be for the Fire.
Accam's unusual stint
Accam didn't start the match even after not traveling to San Jose. His hip injury is something that has bothered him for weeks and it sounds like it will be an on and off issue for the rest of the season.
So Accam started off the bench, which allowed coach Veljko Paunovic to start the same attacking four he did in the 4-1 win in San Jose. When de Leeuw went down with an injury midway through the first half it forced Accam to enter earlier than Paunovic had planned. It's not often players who sub into a match also have to sub out, but that's what happened with Accam.
He still showed off his speed to beat or get around defenders on a few occasions, even in the second half, but Accam didn't take any shots. He completed just seven of 14 passes in his 56 minutes on the field.
After the game, Paunovic said Accam played more than they had planned for him to.
"We wanted to give some time to recover and rest and get ready for the coming games and the playoff push," Paunovic said.
It's not clear if that means Accam will stay on a limited workload heading into the playoffs or if he will be 100 percent after the week off the team has, but his injury will be something to watch the rest of the season.
Schweinsteiger had missed the previous four matches and played 19 minutes on Saturday. He completed four of six passes and lacked his typical sharpness on the ball, which isn't a surprise.
Afterwards, he said he wasn't yet 100 percent. Like Accam, the week off should be important for the German.
He played in a more advanced role in his short time on the field, filling the spot Michael de Leeuw typically plays. Perhaps that will be an option going forward with de Leeuw hurt.
Life without de Leeuw
Speaking of de Leeuw, Saturday's match showed a few possibilities for how the Fire will play without him. No one on the Fire does what de Leeuw does. He has played underneath Nemanja Nikolic and leads the team with eight assists.
His runs, positioning and knack for creating chances for his teammates out of nowhere will be tough to replace, especially for a team which has had trouble creating chances in the past couple months. Beyond his ability, there aren't others on the team who can play that withdrawn striker/attacking midfield role as comfortably as de Leeuw did.
When Accam replaced him in the 30th minute, Paunovic had him play at striker for a few minutes to get loose without strenuous defensive responsibilities. After that, Accam and Luis Solignac both had stints on the left wing with Arturo Alvarez staying on the right wing.
Once Schweinsteiger entered he played de Leeuw's spot in an effort to limit his defensive responsibilities post-injury and allow him to influence the attack more. Schweinsteiger flanked by some combination of Accam, Solignac and Alvarez could still be dangerous. The problem then is how the Fire fill the other deep midfield role next to Dax McCarty.
Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic have both filled in while Juninho remains out with a knee injury. If Juninho is ready to start in two weeks, Schweinsteiger taking de Leeuw's spot makes sense. If not, that may force a formational shift from the Fire with de Leeuw out.