Dykstra stating his case in net
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- With six games under his belt -- 20 percent of the MLS regular season -- this seemed to be an appropriate time to get inside the mind of the Chicago Fire's Andrew Dykstra and his first season as the team's No. 1 goalkeeper.
The preseason fiasco of the late switch with Dykstra taking over Jon Busch's previous role has died down, and the 24-year-old has had ample opportunity to get into a comfortable place as Chicago's last line of defense.
"My personal play, I feel it has been very good," Dykstra said Tuesday following the Fire's training session. "When you look at young keepers that start out, you typically see a lot of dumb mistakes. And I can probably only say I've had half a dumb mistake, and that was the one against San Jose."
That play, during the Fire's home opener against the San Jose Earthquakes, was more or less a no-man's-land communication error between Dykstra and Fire center defensive back C.J. Brown. The Quakes' Arturo Alvarez took advantage of Chicago's inability to clear the ball in that situation, resulting in San Jose's first goal and an eventual 2-1 win over the Fire.
Since that match though, the Fire have a 2-0-1 record and have surrendered only one goal in that span. And from a communication standpoint, Dykstra thinks he and his back line are very much on the same page.
"I don't think it's something that I needed to harp on," Dykstra said. "Communication, a lot of it is just playing with each other and getting used to each other. So I knew that was going to come. It's the little technical things I need to work on, but that's coming."
One helpful aspect for Dykstra's situation has been the back line's ability to keep opposing teams' scoring chances either down or long-distance, such as the recent 1-1 draw against Chivas USA. Dykstra credits his defensive front for easing the chances dealt toward him in the net. Most of the saves he needed to make were directly toward his body.
"I think having [Wilman] Conde and C.J. is huge because they have great skill and play smart defense," Dykstra said. "It couldn't have been better as far as being set up with guys I can learn from and feed off of. Our outside guys have been changing a little bit, but the guys we've got in now are starting to become very disciplined. ... We're limiting through balls and limiting those weird situations. We know what our duties are and our responsibilities in the back line. It makes things much easier for me."
In every match this season, you can clearly see Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos' desire for possession and attack. Gone are the days of regular 50-50 balls and punting. But Dykstra said De los Cobos' style is allowing for a little bit of leeway. You can probably point to a play such as Dykstra's free kick on-the-fly assist to Brian McBride during Chicago's 2-0 victory over D.C. United.
"We're finding a middle ground," Dykstra said. "We started out and we said, 'Everything out of the back, play with the feet.' I think he's starting to adapt to the American style of some guys just running with their heads cut off, flying all over the place. They're going to press a lot more, they're better athletes, they're going to run harder. I think he kind of figured it out a little bit that we can't always go short. He's kind of saying, see what kind of options we have. If it's comfortable, we'll do it, but if not, go long."
Dykstra still is building his resume. He has faced minimal situations in which he is bombarded with a slew of shots. He has only been on the road for three matches, with this weekend's trek to Toronto FC's BMO Field on the horizon. Perhaps 20 percent of a regular season is not enough to gauge the true barometer of his overall play, but Dykstra likes where everything is headed.
"I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm at," Dykstra said. "I'm a learner, so it's only going to get better."