Another chance for the Portland Timbers to redeem themselves tomorrow. More importantly is that it's also a chance to finally win a game on the road. As much as we would all love for the Timbers to be able to coast through the season with home wins (which are getting rarer each week) it's simply not possible to rely on them all the time. Simple fact of the matter is that no team will ever take the Timbers seriously until they begin winning on the road. So, where better than to start at a restructuring, transitioning Chicago Fire side?
The Chicago Fire are a bit of an enigma at the moment. In recent years they've gone through a number of Designated Players but have yet to really find their legs. It's been a few years since they were ever really considered MLS Cup contenders. To help me understand the team a bit better, Tweed Thornton, editor of the SB Nation Chicago Fire blog Hot Time in Old Town, has answered a few questions.
My Questions Answered
Diego Chaves is confirmed to be out for this Saturday's game. How does this affect Chicago's squad heading into Saturday's match?
Chaves’ suspension is a bit of a blessing and a curse. The Uruguayan forward has four MLS goals this season but his last one came on April 23rd. While he scored in U.S. Open Cup play not too long ago, other Fire forwards Orr Barouch, Cristian Nazarit, and Dominic Oduro have scored more goals in MLS play since May. In fact, Oduro has four tallies and Nazarit has two in that time period. The trend under Frank Klopas was to continue to give Chaves the starts and the minutes but those times might be a changin’ as Diego has been a substitute in two of the last three games.
With Grazzini just announced and being confirmed to be available to play against Portland on Saturday, what kind of impact do you think he could make? What can you tell us about the player? Do you believe he'll even play at all on Saturday?
Sebastian Grazzini is a 30 year old midfielder from Rosario, Argentina. He has been playing club soccer in Argentina for three clubs in the past three years, the latest being Atletico All Boys. Grazzini has a history of being an attacking minded midfielder as demonstrated by scoring 5 goals in 22 games for All Boys last year. His last game was on June 11th so hopefully he should be in game playing form unlike one of the Fire’s big signings last summer, Nery Castillo. Also unlike Castillo, Grazzini is not a designated player. He’s not a star but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a big contributor either.
Right now the Fire midfield has been a rotating mess of Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Baggio Husidic, Corben Bone, and Michael Videira. Each of those five has started at least five games and at one point in the season been a part of the substitution scheme. If Grazzini can simply come in and play well with others while providing a spark, he could be a hero. Paladini and Pause have received the lion’s share of the minutes and it’s not that they are absolutely failing but they and their midfield counterparts are not answering the call either. I believe Grazzini will come off the bench this weekend but he should be in the starting mix after that. How long he stays in that mix will be up to him. See Diego Chaves above for an example.
[Note: Grazzini has confirmed he won't play, but Tweed believes we may still see him pay 5-10 minutes.]
Chicago currently sits with just 2 wins and 12 draws. What do you attribute to this? How will Chicago break this winning funk?
I attribute the plethora of draws to having a wealth of above average talent but no real elite players. This is a deep team that has started 18 different players at least 5 times (it’s just 13 players with at least 5 starts for Portland for what it’s worth) but there’s no David Beckham or Thierry Henry here. The Fire don’t win ‘positions’ on the starting lineup card by much if they do at all but when they lose them, it’s by a close margin too. The depth has shone through in the U.S. Open Cup where 20 players have appeared in 4 games and the Fire have outscored their opponents 9-3. The depth has shone through in the MLS Reserves League matches where Chicago has outscored their opponents 11-2 and lead their division. In MLS regular season games, teams have fallen asleep or gone into cruise control and the Fire have taken advantage almost every time. Portland witnessed that back in April when a 3-0 lead became a 3-2 nail-biter before Portland snapped back into form and scored another goal.
Unfortunately for Fire fans I think Chicago just needs more time to get out of this funk. The team has had two head coaches. Carlos de los Cobos was high octane but lacked defense as witnessed by getting outscored 15 to 19 in 11 games. Frank Klopas has brought the defense together as witnessed by giving up 5 goals in 8 games but now the offense is a mess having used 8 different combinations of midfielders and forwards in 8 games and only scoring 5 goals total. The addition of Grazzini will only mean more combinations. This is a work in
progress. This is a product of the modern 18-team and rising MLS. If you want to get into the top 3, it takes a lot of work to get out of the middle of the pack. The solid base is well on its way to being cemented here in Chicago. Someone on the team needs to find an elite switch in 2011 or look for the front office to find it for them before the 2012 season starts.
Projected Starting line up?
Sean Johnson; Bratislav Ristic, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Marco Pappa, Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko; Dominic Oduro, Cristian Nazarit
Questions I Answered
Everything was coming up roses for Portland until the friendly on May 25 vs. Ajax. Do you blame the mid-week friendly at all for starting the fall? Either way, what has made the Timbers shout Geronimo since then?
No I certainly don't blame Ajax or the simple fact that it was a midweek game on the unfortunate fall for the Timbers. The Timbers were simply riding a wave of energy from their home opener. It was a great run, but they were still lacking on the field even despite some impressive wins.
The real fall from grace, so to say, has more to do with the fact that the Timbers are simply lacking in key places. Defensively, more so than anywhere else, they are mistake-prone and often allow a striker to get a wide open shot on Troy Perkins. All in all, they're probably the main reason for the abysmal last couple months the Timbers have felt.
Fire fans are still suffering bad flashbacks from Jorge Perlaza's brace against Chicago back in April but he only has four total goals on the season. Is he contributing in other ways or has there been a let down since his great performance vs. the Fire? On the other hand is there a player that barely featured against Chicago but has seen his stock rise in the past few months?
No, I definitely wouldn't call him a let down. At least not in the same way people are referrning Kenny Cooper as a let down. Jorge Perlaza came to Portland late in the pre-season without any prior understanding of English. I think it was a forgone conclusion that he was going to take some time to get adjusted. Bringing in Diego Chara has helped speed up the process a bit which we all saw against Seattle last weekend where he cut a quick pass over to Perlaza who popped it into the top left corner. Great stuff.
I think Darlington Nagbe is really starting to show what he's capable of. Troy Perkins is also a player that was still injured back then, but has since been a staple amongst the team. I know his GAA is high right now, but he really has come up with some phenomenal saves and I, personally, believe that most of those goals are a diret cause of having a somewhat benign defensive backline.
The Timbers are halfway through their first MLS season. Are there any aspects of the fandom that have gotten better and perhaps something that has gotten worse? What's been your favorite part of the Timbers being in Major League Soccer so far?
Well, the sell out attendance in MLS is nice and I believe it will persist for many years. The waiting list for 2012 season tickets is already a few thousand large. While the Timbers drew well in the USL for the last few years (averaging ~10,000) is nice to see a fully packed stadium each and every game. Aside from that, not much has changed since joining MLS in terms of fandom. The Timbers Army is just as rowdy and the games are still a hellofalot of fun.
The best part about being in MLS now is just to see Portland being apart of the bigger picture in American soccer. I don't think anything else could be greater than that. In 20 years, I'd like to think Portland joining MLS is considered one of the many steps in securing a long lasting future for the sport here.
Projected starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Mamadou "Futty" Danso, Kevin Goldthwaite, Steve Purdy; Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, James Marcelin, Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza
4-5-1 formation, although it could easily mirror last weekend's 4-1-4-1 formation with James Marcelin dropping back.