Last weekend the Chicago Fire lost 3-2 at Chivas USA. On Sunday the Fire come into Portland, potentially without the services of reigning MVP Mike Magee. For a look into what's going on with the new regime in Chicago, Sean Spence of SB Nation's Chicago blog Hot Time in Old Town gives us a few thoughts ahead of Sunday's noon game.
1. There's a new regime in town with Frank Yallop in charge. How do you expect the Fire to respond to last weekend's surprising 3-2 loss at Chivas USA?
In his weekly conference call, Yallop made it clear that this week has been one of adjustment for the team - "we've pushed them really hard, physically" was the comment that spoke volumes. Under Frank Klopas, these kinds of flat, uninspired performances surfaced far too often, eventually costing Klopas his job. Expect to see a Fire squad imbued with a little bit of desperation - and, possibly, quite a bit of youth, as Mike Magee, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka are all carrying ongoing injuries, which could open the door for exciting young players like Benji Joya and Harrison Shipp to see the field.
2. What are the chances that Mike Magee plays against the Timbers and to what degree did his absence contribute to last weekend's defeat?
It's interesting - Magee hasn't been with the team much in preseason. When camp opened, he was still on USA duty; after a few days in Florida, he slipped back home to deal with 'personal issues,' and the dread word 'holdout' has been whispered. Now he's back in camp, but fighting a hamstring injury which hasn't let him practice regularly; I'd guess he's very doubtful as a starter, and somewhat doubtful even for inclusion in the gameday 18.
All that said, Magee's arrival turned the club's fortunes in '13 not just due to his goals - the guy is an uncompromising, ruthless competitor, and his excellence and demanding mien created a sense of accountability and a cutting edge to a locker-room which might just have too many decent, kind fellas and not enough vicious, hard-nosed d-bags. "They just couldn't get going," Yallop said, a worrying sign for a team that seemed to miss Mike's snarling and pointing last week. Absent Magee, we'll see if they can remember how to summon the necessary intensity. Of course, TA will help there, I'm certain.
3. Portland continues to give up set piece goals. Anyone to keep an eye on, either providing service or getting on the end of it?
Rolfe's service has been very sharp in the early going in 2014; if he plays, he should take most of the dead-ball opportunities. Bakary Soumare is a man-mountain who wants to flare out to 10 yards and hit pure volleys - it's madness, but he can occasionally stroke one, as he showed in a preseason match. On corners, Jeff Larentowicz has the size and moxie to cause problems, especially when marked by one of the Timbers' rather more diminutive midfielders.
Bonus: What is up with those kits?
Those kits were focus-tested with four different groups. The first were eyeless cave fish; reports that the entire school was found floating upside-down the next day have not been verified. The second group, inmates from a federal super-max prison noted for its liberal use of solitary confinement, rioted within seconds of the kit's revelation, demanding to be relieved of the burden of commenting and returned to their sanity-destroying solitude.
After some minor adjustments based upon feedback from the owner's office, the kit was given two further tests. The third group were adolescents kidnapped from a weight-loss camp; court records (since expunged) hint that the families of the deceased children were paid handsomely to keep silent. Finally, using family connections through the Canadian spirits business, the final test group were composed of infernal creatures of every description; the succubus declared it 'un-*bleep*-able', Yog-Sothoth and the King in Yellow are proudly rocking the kit at this very moment.
Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Bakary Soumare, Gonzalo Segares; Jeff Larentowicz (c); Patrick Nyarko, Alex, Harrison Shipp, Benji Joya; Juan Luis Anangonó. I'm guessing all the doubtfuls miss; if Rolfe makes it, he'll swap in for Shipp, while Duka would replace Joya if fit.
Doubtful: Mike Magee, hamstring. Probable but hurting: Chris Rolfe, foot contusion; Dilly Duka, hamstring.