The Portland Timbers travel to Chicago to take on the Fire tomorrow night after serving a bye week this past weekend. It's a great chance for the Timbers to earn some needed road points heading into the mid-season. The Timbers recently travelled to DC United and managed to win 2-nil. The Chicago Fire, as with DC, have struggled through the early parts of this season but seem to be rebounding. To help us figure out how the Fire is managing its 2013 season, I spoke with the guys over at SB Nation's Chicago Fire site Hot Time in Old Town.
1. The Chicago Fire are having a rough go at it this season, especially considering their impressive run late last season. What's going on in 2013?
That's a really good question. When the season started everyone had high hopes for this team. With the additions that the Fire made during the offseason, a majority of the supporters were excited to see what 2013 would bring. Unfortunately the Fire did a complete 180 to what they did in the final few months of the 2012 season. The offseason acquisitions(Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dily Duka) were underperforming, one of our starting and most influential center backs(Arne Friedrich) started the season injured and still is, we have had a merry go round at right back, and our key offensive pieces(Sherjill Macdonald and Chris Rolfe) have failed to finish their chances. On the field in the first 10 games at times there seemed to be no chemistry between the players. I do have to say that despite a horrible start, the team is playing much better in the past 3 games.
Mike Magee has already scored 2 goals in his first 2 games, which is saying a lot considering this team's goal scoring struggles so far this year. Prior to his arrival the Fire had scored only 7 goals in 11 games, which is just awful for any team, but especially for one with the pre-season expectations we had. Magee brings a winning mentality and leadership that has been missing from this team. The one thing that I noticed from last Saturday's match versus DC is that he is very vocal on the field. During the match he was constantly talking to his teammates in order to be aware of where everyone is on the field. This is a welcomed change/addition and it should only help the Fire as they look to try to get back into playoff talk. Timbers fans should take notice of this and how it impacts the game.
3. The Timbers and Fire meet only once per season, as such, the Fire's roster is a bit of a mystery. Who are the impact players for the team? The big names who will cause some damage.
Mike Magee as I discussed in the previous answer is of course one. Another big name is recently re-acquired Bakary Soumare. He brings stability and composure to the backline as evidenced in the last couple of games. Patrick Nyarko is a player I love because of his speed and ability to take defenders one-on-one. He has been quiet so far this season in terms of stats but he has the skill set to be a provider for whoever starts up top for the Fire. I also can't say enough of our young goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Sean has been one of the best young keepers in MLS, and he has shown it by making huge saves in order to keep his team in every single game. For example, just watch the save reel from the match a couple of weeks ago versus Real Salt Lake.
4. In the same vein, who are some players who are perhaps not considered big names, but are still incredibly dangerous at either end of the field?
The first name that comes to mind is Daniel Paladini. Mainly coming in off the bench, Paladini provides that spark and energy that the team needs in the 2nd half. I also think he has been the Fire's most consistent player throughout this young season. Another player that I think will start seeing more playing time is our young Brazilian midfielder Alex. I predict that he will start in the center of the midfield for Frank Klopas versus the Timbers. Alex has shown a promising skill set that can help him develop into a dependable #10, or so Fire fans are hoping.
5. Predicted starting lineup? (First and last names please!)
Sean Johnson (GK), Jalil Anibaba (RB), Austin Berry (CB), Bakary Soumare (CB), Gonzalo Segares (LB), Logan Pause (CDM), Patrick Nyarko (RM), Alex (CM), Dilly Duka (LM), Chris Rolfe (FW), Mike Magee (FW)
Big thanks to the guys for answering my questions. You can read more about the Chicago Fire at their site Hot Time in Old Town.