An unfiltered look at exactly what I was thinking during the 1-1 draw between the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas.
On FC Dallas Right Back Jackson:
•Overwhelmingly active. Is he going to make it to halftime without being gassed? (5′)
•Seriously, this guy’s heat map will be absurd. (8′)
•How is he not tired? How have the Fire not exploited his free-wheeling ways? (30′)
•Yellow card — maybe he’s tired. (33′)
•The governments of Brazil and the United States should get together and study Jackson, because I am fairly certain he is a short-circuited robot. Studying his internal processors and energy sources might help solve the world’s energy crisis. Looking for renewable energy sources capable of consistant high-level power output — the answer is Jackson. (78′)
On FC Dallas’ new centerback Brek Shea.
•I thought it would be difficult for Shea to look at ease on the backline immediately. I was right. Shaky early. (12′)
•That straight red card was questionable to say the least. That’s about all I have to say about that. (56′)
•Is this Fire offense only going to be opportunistic? Initial reports indicate that they will have a tough time creating from nothing — rather only capitalizing on the failures of the other team. (15′)
•Fire goal (17′) — Well, if FC Dallas is going to make mistakes like that, opportunistic might be victorious. Nice service by Pappa, but everything was sloppy after that. Terrible clearance followed by a terrible volley, followed by a late reaction save by Hartman. Diego Chavez had no choice but to score, Hartman gave the ball right to him.
•Chavez deserved the goal, I noted in the 12′ that I liked his tenacity. Five-foot-ten, 150 lbs, but the man plays huge on the pitch. A few inspired runs in the middle of the field makes me think he’s the man for the striker job.
On Fire rookie rightback Jalil Anibaba
•He’s no Jackson… (5′)
•Looking shaky early — Ferreira and Rodriguez exploiting him early. (10′)
•Beaten out wide by Loyd, and that mistake leads directly to the FC Dallas goal. While the Fire goal was luck and helped by poor play, FCD’s looked to be all class. Loyd beats two defenders wide, cuts in and is able to find the feet of his striker Rodriguez, who finishes with a classy back heal. Fire goaltender Sean Johnson angry with defense. Frankly, he should be — lax effort wide led to problems inside. (18′)
•It should come as no surprise that Carlos de los Cobos has admitted defeat and moved the Fire into a 4-4-2 formation. Segares steps back, taking some pressure off Anibaba. The move only took 30 minutes and proves that the 3-5-2 doesn’t work without strong play from the rookie.
•Fire have a great counter and Daniel Hernandez quells it. A smart yellow card. End the attack, regain positioning. Hernandez shows why he’s one of the most underrated players in MLS. (36′)
•Gibbs looking solid on left, Mikulic has not been a factor thus far — both of these are good things for the Fire. (40′)
•Logan Pause is as cool, calm and collected as anyone on the field. Man of the match form thus far. (45′)
•This might be the best opposing central defending midfielder both teams see this side of Seattle. (45′)
•The opportunistic attitude I’m claiming the Fire have — I don’t know what better opportunity there is than having the opposing team a man down. (56′)
•Pappa and Chavez showing good chemistry in the box. Crossbar still ringing from that shot. (50′)
•Support on attacks looking weak for Chicago. They realize they are a man up, right? (59′)
•Oh, hello Mr. Puerari, you are remarkably fast. Jackson can attest to that when he finds his jockstrap. (60′)
•The play started off after Daniel Hernandez couldn’t keep the ball on the attack after a FCD setpiece. Opportunistic. (60′)
•Sean Johnson has poise beyond his years and athleticism that’s outside this realm. He’s young and aggressive, but there’s not a save he cannot make. (70′)
•Mikilic is fantastic in positioning. Even with Anibaba struggling, he was able to maintain poise and position while covering up for the rookie. The young kid is starting to look comfortable and is excellent with the ball on his foot. (74′)
•Orr Barouch seems like a solid talent, but the Fire are going to want Calen Carr to recover quickly. (88′)
•FC Dallas dominating before stoppage time — the Fire realize they have an extra man on the pitch, right? (88′)
•The Fire start turning it on late. Hartman is better. Where was this effort for the past 30 minutes? (90′)
•It’s a draw, both sides shaky in opening game. Both sides answered some questions about their rosters. I’m fascinated to see how they stack up against established teams with expectations. The experiment continues. (FT)
Fire man of the match: Logan Pause
In the MLS, teams like to maintain an expectation. See LA Galaxy or Red Bull New York and take in the flash and starpower — watch the Colorado Rapids and you’ll witness tough, no nonsense soccer. Most clubs have a brand, a style — something you can count on seeing night in and night out.
Heading into the 2011 MLS season, prognosticators, supporters and casual fans had no idea what to expect from FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire. Both teams experienced massive roster turnover in the offseason, and the new names on the team didn’t incite any rushes on season tickets — there are no Beckhams or Henrys here.
With mystery veiling the decisions of both teams in the offseason, it was only appropriate that they began to answer the questions that surround their squads by opening the season as foes.
And isn’t it also appropriate that the Toros and Fire played to a 1-1 draw?
It turns out that some questions will take more than one game to answer. Re-creating a brand, an expectation, takes a bit more time. Luckily, there are a few dozen more games on the way — plenty of time to develop some expectations.
In a league that is short on rivalries, FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire try hard to maintain whatever semblance of a rivalry once existed between the two teams. Names have changed, conferences have realigned, but the Fire and the club formerly known as the Burn still play for the Brimstone Cup each year.
The rivalry, while competitive on the field, was always a battle of the haves and the have nots. While FC Dallas made the playoffs annually (it’s nearly impossible not to do so in the MLS), the team frequently dropped out after first-round games. Meanwhile, the Fire were consistently amongst the class of the league.
But in 2010, that changed. After finishing third in the Western Conference, FC Dallas upset the defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake on it’s way to the club’s first MLS Cup birth. The Fire meddled with the mediocrity FC Dallas made an annual habit.
Form in the 2011 debut will be vital to both teams, not just because a win starts off a campaign successfully, but also because of the questions both rosters carry into the season.
Roster turnover was significant for both squads, and the replacements make expectations indeterminable.
For FC Dallas, the roster changes veils the team in ambiguity.
Gone are Dax McCarthy (DC United, via Portland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Atiba Harris (Vancouver) and Jeff Cunningham (Columbus). Those losses equivocate the Dallas roster, as all players were acquired without player compensation coming back to the Lone Star State. The changes increase an already significant onus on the team’s two best returning players.
Lucky for Dallas, one of those players is the reigning MLS MVP, David Ferreira. The 31-year-old Columbian attacking midfielder will again by the fulcrum of the Dallas attack, and roster attrition for his supporting case will force him to match or improve upon an eight-goal, 13-assist 2010.
While, Ferreira has no choice but to regain his MVP form, midfielder Brek Shea will will be learning on the fly. Shea will move to centerback for the 2011 season, with the expectation he will be the rock of the FC Dallas defense. By all accounts Shea, who had a breakout campaign in 2010, is more than capable of moving back. The question still remains, Can a player that has been attacking his entire life merely flip a switch and start to defend? There might be some growing pains for the young American national, and FC Dallas by proxy.
Shea will have little room for error, though. His partner in central defense (great band name, btw), George John is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery and has been rusty in preseason play.
Jackson Goncalves, most recently of Brazil’s Sao Paulo FC and the versatile Zach Loyd will be the likely fullback starters against Chicago. Jair Benitez is still serving his suspension for a spitting incident in preseason.
Retaining veteran midfielder Daniel Hernandez was vital to FC Dallas keeping it’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Hernandez fills the defensive midfielder role as well as anyone in the league and his toughness on the pitch leaves no questions as to why he is the team’s captain.
The midfield is young and built around Ferreira. Martin Chavez will flank out wide opposite 23-year-old Eric Avila. Another Eric, this one of the Alexander variety, will play next to Ferreira.
Alexander’s play is part of the reason Dallas let Dax McCarthy go in the expansion draft — his form is vital to the team’s success. Without a capable partner, Ferreira, already the most fouled player in MLS, will be an easier target. Strong play from Alexander creates room for Ferreira to work his magic in the open field.
Up front, Dallas has a striker conundrum. Milton Rodriguez is the elder statesman of the group and had a strong showing after being brought to Dallas during last season. Alas, an injury kept him out of the MLS Cup playoffs. Young gun Ruben Luna was a supersub last year and has made clear that he’s gunning to be the team’s starting striker. His form is preseason backs up his words.
Luna, only 19, is young, but recently signed Designated Player Fabian Castillo is even younger, at 18 years old. Singed earlier this month, FC Dallas has not made apparent how they plan to use Castillo, but his talent will likely make it hard to keep him off the field.
And then there’s 14-year veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, coming off one of his finest seasons in MLS. If the team itself is a work-in-progress, Hartman provides enough experience and fortitude to cover up some mistakes. But if the team doesn’t find chemistry early, Hartman will have to be the team’s best player to hold the squad over.
It’s a mystery as to what teams will take the pitch in Frisco on Saturday, but at least there will be a team — not just an abstract theory of a squad. If both teams are works-in-progress, then both teams will have a baseline of progress to start from after their tie.
To say that the Chicago Fire has undergone a roster turnover heading into the 2011 MLS season would be to make a strong understatement. Gone from Toyota park is Fire mainstay C.J. Brown, local hero Brian McBride, ticket sellers Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg, the dynamic Wilman Conde, the versatile-but-injured John Thorrington and the untapped potential of Collins John.
Who’s going to replace them? I could tell you the names, but you wouldn’t know them.
For a team that underperformed in 2010, the foreboding 2011 season will be an experiment — and that’s certainly not something Fire supporters are keen on hearing. Goals will come at a premium, and an unfamiliar defensive will take time to settle, if it settles at all. For a club used to winning consistently, it seems nothing will be consistent in 2011.
Not all hope is lost in Bridgeview though, as the Fire did not purge its entire roster, bringing back its leading goalscorer from last season, Marco Pappa, who will again be asked to be the talisman of the attack.
Last season, coach Carlos de los Cobos tinkered with a 4-5-1 formation at the trail end of last season. At the time, it was to help Pappa and winger Patrick Nyarko create more scoring opportunities. Such opportunities were created, but the single-striker system proved incapable of finishing such chances.
The five-wide experiment will continue in 2011, but this time around, de los Cobos will add help up front, shifting the team to a 3-5-2 formation. That’s where the new guys come in.
The Fire three-man backline will be comprised of new players. Thirty-one year old Cory Gibbs, most recently of the New England Revolution, will be the new left back. Croatian import Josip Mikulić will be the all-important centerback in the formation — all important not only in his position, but also because of the company to his right, rookie back Jalil Anibaba. The North Carolina product was the ninth overall selection of the latest edition of MLS SuperDraft and has been receiving rave reviews this preseason. That said, Mikulić might have to be cleaning up the rookie’s messes early in the season.
A three-man backline, no matter how formidable, is always vulnerable to a strong attack, so defensive depth will be a key for the Fire. Gonzalo Segares is expected to play mostly as a wide midfielder in 2011, but as a converted defenseman, he will be able to drop back into a fullback or centerback role, depending on the situation. The versatile Segares’ form, not only at midfield, but as a de-facto defenseman could be on par with the form of the Fire in 2011.
Depth on the backline is strong on the outside, weak in the middle. Segares can always return to defense if needed, but Kwame Watson-Sirobe showed quality minutes last season for the Fire at fullback and would be a more-than-capable step in should Gibbs become injured or Anibaba shows rookie jitters.
Steven Kinney sustained an achilles tendon injury in the final game of 2010 and will not be back until May at the earliest, but if he can regain the form and fitness he exhibited at the trail end of the season, he’ll be a perfect fit as a fullback on a three-man backline, possibly taking a starting spot over by June.
Goals were not easy to come by for the Fire in 2010, as Pappa, an attacking midfielder, paced the team with seven goals. With most of Pappa’s strikes coming from outside the box, the Fire should not expect him to lead the team in goals in 2011. That stated, the Fire’s five-wide midfield did create chances at the end of the season, with Patrick Nyarko leading the charge, despite two bad ankles. Healthy, Nyarko could be poised for a break-out season.
Logan Pause and Baggio Husidic will play as holding midfielders, with Husidic moving forward in opportune situations. With Pappa playing in front of the duo, the Fire are solid in the middle and out wide. On the bench, the Fire maintain that interior strength at midfield, with Mike Banner and Marko Maric capable of providing quality minutes in spells of Pause and Husidic. It would not be surprising to see Maric earn some starts this season as well.
Out wide, the Fire have depth issues. Pappa can be put at a wing, but the top replacement for Nyarko and Segares is Corben Bone. The 22-year-old Wake Forest product only saw 114 minutes in 2010, and without a massive jump in the offseason, he doesn’t look to be a factor player for the Fire in 2011.
The player that is receiving plenty of ink this preseason is central attacking midfielder Daniel Paladini. Let’s provide some more. A former Chivas USA player, Paladini played with the second-division Carolina RailHawks in 2009 and 2010, where he was named to the league’s Best XI twice. In 57 games he notched ten goals for the RailHawks, earning him another shot at the MLS. Paladini could take on a big role for the Fire this season, as the lack of depth out wide might force Pappa to move to a wing, making Paladini the main man in the Fire attack.
The Fire will start from scratch up top, looking to two Uruguayans to be finishers in 2011. Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves didn’t play together in Uruguay, but they have reportedly shown solid chemistry in preseason. Chaves will likely start the season in a the true striker role and Puerari will play behind in support — how far back in support will be dictated by Chaves’ play. The better he plays, the further back Puerari goes, possibly as far back as Pappa, making the formation a newfangled 3-4-2-1.
The Fire do not have an abundance of reserves at the forward position. In fact, they have one reserve — Calen Carr. That’s not to say that Carr isn’t capable, in fact, 2011 looks to be the year of Carr’s breakout. Carr rejoined the team in August, starting four games and scoring three goals on 13 shots. Carr could be a super sub in 2011, but if he shows a goal-scoring touch early, a starting job will be his.
The last line of defense, the goalkeeper, is the least of Chicago’s worries going into the 2011 season. Sean Johnson played well down the stretch last season and has put himself in consideration for a US National Team spot. A sophomore slump is certainly possible, but Johnson will be the No.1 keeper for the Fire unless an injury or catastrophically poor play arrives.
The experiment that is the 2011 season will be an interesting one to watch, as each and every failure will push de los Cobos closer to unemployment, and each success will push him closer to a coach of the year award. A new, risky formation with new, unproven players is the ultimate roll of the dice, and there is no telling what the payout or loss will be.
Cold consolation is watching your once-proud team usher two legends into retirement with a meaningless rout of a confused and ill-favored foe. 4-1 felt nice, and it was fantastic to see Bake score a clever goal, but what did we learn about this team from last night’s game?
Pundits will say before these kinds of games that the teams “have nothing to play for save pride.” I tend to disagree, preferring to emphasize the opportunity, in a game like this, to see something different. [harpomarx] Winning 4-1 sure is something different. [/harpomarx] But if what we’ve learned is we can absolutely kick the ass of one of the worst teams in the league while using mostly players that’ll be gone next year – what’s that? Who freakin’ cares? I’m talking about starting Ristic, Umanzor, and Conde – all of whom are out of contract after the season.
Of the trio, Umanzor was the only one that really played poorly, but in so doing he was only doing-what-he-do: Run all over the place like a terrier, pass to no one in particular, and cause problems by simple chaotic fierceness; a Salvadoran Heyduk. I assume that Segares and Krol are under the control of an evil sorceress or something, because otherwise whywhywhy?
Ristic has shown a lot along the right side in the last few games, and I have no problem starting him from a performance standpoint. He is out of contract, so clearly both sides are feeling out the other, and I suppose that part of that may be seeing him in an extended run in a stable position. Then why Conde? Because we know exactly what Wilman has to offer – he’ll knock some guys over, his first touch will be awesome, he’ll soar the prettiest 40-yard diagonal ball to no one you’ve ever seen. What did we learn from starting Wilman Conde?
Clearly, I have no view into the machinations behind the scenes in the front office. Maybe the lineup was confirmation that Ljungberg’s going to pick up his option, and Conde’s staying put, and Ristic has CFSC1997 tattooed across his shoulder blades. To me, the lineup looked like a team on auto-pilot, the kind of selection an artificial intelligence set to “cup final” might throw out there: Effective but (as this is decidedly not a cup final) pointless.Next year is what matters now, and has been since the playoffs went away for us. I would have liked the lineup to reflect that.
All that aside, it was genuinely lovely to see CJ Brown and Brian McBride get a victory lap. As a parade float, this game was fantastic. I just tend to want my parade float-moments to happen after trophies.
Now that is how to throw a birthday party.
I watched this one on my laptop in bed feeling torpid, working on the composition of a post spitting derision on the club’s 13th year – just to give a sense of my state of mind at kickoff. I was expecting lung-bursting runs to nowhere, lots of gesticulating at officials, and a suspects’ lineup of Fire defenders making the consternation gas-face.
What the hell was this? Moving off the ball? Attacking with a discernible stop-start pace? Quick combinations in tight space? This is not my terrible Fire; this is some other thing.
- Man of the Match, for me, was Nyarko, despite his banged-up ankles. At this point, with the season lost, I’d like to see Pat get a rest – getting his ankle ready for 2011 means more than the drive to finish 9th.
- Lowry doubtless noted my raised-eyebrow reaction to him in the starting lineup. “Stick it, blogger,” he replied, turning in 90 minutes of intelligent industry. Loved the finish on the goal – like the Fire’s overall play, it displayed an understanding of subtle changes in tempo – having turned Marshall, one step and half-beatstab! … to the far post for the goal.
- Ljungberg looked fantastic again in a roaming trequartista role.
- The teams actually lined up in very similar shapes – 4231s with the center of the 3-line filled by a floating creator. The mirrored formations meant there was little easy space on the pitch, and it also highlighted how much more work Ljungberg puts in on defense than Barros Schelotto for Columbus. As a result, Lowry didn’t have the defensive workload that Moffat (a similar player) was burdened with for the Bananas; he could and did roam forward to good effect, knowing Freddie would cover.
- I’m guessing Segares is still hurting, because Ristic at left back? Wild. Wilder still is that he goes out there and plays like a champ for the full 90, giving Gaven and Rogers nothing on his wing and covering the centerbacks like second nature. I really hope this is quality showing and not just form, because I’m excited to have Ristic back next year.
- Speaking of back next year, has Nery Castillo blundered into the fabled MLS Mexican Career Tar-Pit? The man needs to show something more than a scouting report; when you’re 26 and making more than a million dollars a year, we shouldn’t need to sift through your game to find signs of promise. Three games left, fella; show us something!
- CJ’s a warrior. Hope he never leaves the club.
- Kinney’s grown on me despite my irritation at losing Ward.
A lovely evening of lovely football. Is it wrong to feel like screaming “WHY NOW?”
I’m in this hammerlock. See, I’ve written about the Chicago Fire Soccer Club in this space a couple of times now, and each time, my increased scrutiny has been followed by a pronounced funk.
Understand, I’m a modern person. I can repeat “correlation does not equal causation”; I read a text, I imagine the narrator. Supporting a club isn’t a modern stance. I could stand and shout next to Piltdown man and both of us would feel right at home. That part of me STANDS AND SHOUTS THAT I AM JINXING THE TEAM.
I know I have nothing to do with the Fire’s collapse down the stretch this season. It’s the tides, and the stars, and McBride getting on, and de los Cobos looking for the exit already, and Conde throwing in the towel by running over the other guys. It’s fate, and Castillo making excuses, and Freddie caught between two systems. It is what it is.
I just find it hard to feel otherwise than this: I contributed. Somehow, someway my words tilted the balance. (The moon comes up, I feel its gaze upon me, its female power. ‘Did I make it go away before?’ my prehistoric fan-brain wants to know.)
And so, for the remainder of this blighted season, this blog proposes to chronicle, in detail both hallucinatory and (potentially) gruesome, the experience of a true believer very far from the promised land. Analysis? Lineups? A Jedi craves not these things.
Is this team broken? The season is over, and now the question is: Do we keep the spine of this team, and fill in the fleshy bits, or is the cancer bone-deep; must we purge the roster and begin again? Because this season is over, and the next will be on us quickly.
The standings are bleak: We’re one point ahead of Chivas USA, who are the only team between us and DC United. We’ve got a couple of games in hand, but who, in their right mind and based upon current form, would think we’ll turn those into points?
More later. Now: Bleakness. Darkness. Frustration.
I was an adult when the Fire came together, and their immediate success gave me a glimpse into another kind of fandom, one that many people like a great deal: Occasional heartbreak – just enough to keep it interesting – but more often triumph, jubilation. But the seasons have ground on since then, and the reminders of the fleeting nature of success have piled up; now the Fire are the focus of my feelings, and now the Fire have me looking at hope sidelong.
But I’ll face it, just for a moment: A win today in Utah not only brings to an end the longest unbeaten streak in MLS history, but it would almost certainly herald the arrival of the long-awaited de los Cobos style promised to the Fire faithful in preseason. It’s hard to imagine our Fire out-scrapping a team this hard-eyed and stable, so a win would mean real growth, and real growth would mean hope of continuing the roll through the rest of the season, cannonballing into the playoffs winners of seven of eight or something. The Royals are missing their best player, Javi Morales, so there’s that. We get Segares back from suspension and Pappa back from injury. We could do this! Yay hope!
Hope belongs in the corner for a reason, however. Real Salt Lake haven’t lost at home for more than a year for a reason. Even with a win, we’re still longshots for a playoff berth. If not championships, then moments. If not victory, then artful consolation.
So we’re at this point in the season now – a lifetime of Cubs fandom has taught me how to handle this point in the season: You put the hope just out of view. Sure, you know the hope is there; you know the Fire could win six of the final eight, sneak into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league (beat Red Bulls in a final for the ages …); you know the Cubs could sweep the four-game set in St. Louis, take five of six from the Braves, be right back in it; you also know, entirely, with every part of your being, that these outcomes (and others of a similar color and shape) are unlikely in the extreme. You know that it’s far more likely that the Cubs lose three of four to the Cardinals. It’s much more likely the Fire will not make much noise, and that next week’s posts will all be about who to keep and who to jettison in the offseason. We’re at the part of the season where the hope starts to look desperate and clingy.
But it’s still there. Freakin’ hope.
We’ll know soon enough – the next stretch of the schedule is murderous. All we have to do is beat the Royals in Utah, where they lose never, and then follow that up by beating our two closest competitors for the 8 spot (Seattle and San Jose), and then follow that up by beating the two hardest teams to beat in the league (Columbus and Dallas), and then crush the soft-landing part of our schedule (KC, DC, Chivas USA). Oh. All righty then. No problem.
Going unbeaten in that streak, we’d have to win five of eight to get to 44 points, which is how many we’ll need to be safe this year (Even 43 points is below my current projections for Seattle, Colorado and San Jose). Lose one game, and the Fire would need six wins from the other seven.
So that’s where we are, hope-wise. A loss doesn’t snuff it out, and a win in Salt Lake (!?!) would fan the flames. Come on, boys! Dale Fire!