Ahead of this afternoon's clash between the New York Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire, we swapped three questions with SB Nation's Fire blog A Hot Time In Old Town.
Once A Metro: Can you give us a breakdown of the changes that have occurred since Frank Klopas replaced Carlos de los Cobos?
A Hot Time In Old Town: At first glance, it may appear that not much is different. Carlos de los Cobos flirted with his old 4-1-4-1 formation for a couple of games but both CDLC and Frank Klopas have primarily used a 4-4-2. Klopas’s player starts and substitutions are roughly the same as his predecessor’s. Baggio Husidic seems to be an early beneficiary of the coaching change because he has had more starts in Klopas brief reign than under CDLC. Midfield competition Daniel Paladini was becoming a favorite of Carlos de los Cobos. Overall the difference between Husidic and Paladini is quite minimal at this point and probably represents a legitimate position battle than anything else. In Klopas’s first media availability after taking over, he stressed ‘minor details’, ‘making tweaks’, and ‘small changes’. He has lived up to his words.
The most noticeable change is the team’s defense is playing better. After allowing 19 goals in the first 11 games, Chicago has only allowed 1 goal in their last 5 games. Chicago fans have read this a couple of times now but Frank Klopas also brings a strong sense of the club history to the team. Klopas scored the first two home goals for the Chicago Fire franchise in 1998 and he scored the last goal of that season when he knocked the ball home against Columbus in overtime in the U.S. Open Cup final. When the Fire defeated the Crew in Columbus two weeks ago, Klopas said ‘I told the guys before the game that in the history of the Fire, we've had some great players, but we've always been a team no one wanted to play against. We have the kind of personality and the players with this team. Let's get back to what the Fire use to be'.
You can’t buy that kind of club history. It hasn’t been all roses either because the offense has shrank to two goals in the last 5 games but Klopas does enter today’s game as an undefeated coach.
OAM: With Christian Nazarit suspended and Gaston Puerari transferred to Club Atlas, who will lead the Fire's attack and in what style would this frontline play?
AHTIOT: The loss of Nazarit and Puerari is simply an attack on the overall depth of the team. They have hardly been primary catalysts for the Fire attack. I don’t want to diminish the positive impact that Puerari had on the team nor Nazarit’s promise for the Fire future but together they only scored two of the 17 Chicago goals this season.
The main question facing Frank Klopas tomorrow is how to play Marco Pappa now that he has fully returned from Gold Cup action. In Pappa’s absence, Ghanaians Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro played on the wings but Pappa is most comfortable playing on the left wing. Since Oduro is a natural forward and Nyarko is more at home on the right wing, Nazarit’s suspension might just mean that Klopas has an easier defense for starting Diego Chaves and Oduro up top while putting Pappa and Nyarko back on the wings together for the first time in over two months. Pappa, Chaves, and Oduro have combined for 12 goals this year and Nyarko has looked like his old self recently breaking in to the box for ground and aerial assists. The second half substitutes might not be as good but the Fire first string attack could be at its best in quite sometime.
OAM: Chicago has suffered from quite the injury ordeal lately. Who should the Red Bulls expect to be in the lineup and who will be the biggest absence?
AHTIOT: The Fire starting XI will likely be Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Patrick Nyarko, Baggio Husidic, Daniel Paladini, Marco Pappa; Dominic Oduro, Diego Chaves. Injuries have come in and out but there hasn’t been one injury that has sunk the team’s ship to date.
Logan Pause will be out today with concussion symptoms and that’s probably the most significant injury because he is the team captain. Pause’s overall play is easy to miss when he is on the field but when he has been out the Fire midfield often looks worse. This past Wednesday against Real Salt Lake was a great example. Baggio Husidic and Daniel Paladini need to step it up otherwise New York could have a field day.
And now our answers to A Hot Time In Old Town's questions....
AHTIOT: Greg Sutton started the first game of the season, Alex Horwath started a game after that, and then Bouna Coundoul was in the net for the third game of the season through May 15th's match against Chivas USA. After that Greg Sutton became the starter once again. Who do you think will start this Sunday against the Fire and who do you think will be the starter at the end of the year?
OAM: I expect Coundoul to replace Sutton. Hans Backe stated that he needed time to decide on which goalkeeper will start against the Fire, but I think that statement was mostly the Swede not wanting to throw Sutton under the bus. Bouna has waited since being demoted, impressing with Senegal, and he deserves a return to the starting eleven. Coundoul was benched due to his erraticism, something that Sutton has shown plenty of during the last two matches. I wouldn't be surprised if the club splurged on another keeper during the summer window, but right now the job is Coundoul's.
AHTIOT: How badly has New York been hurt by player absences due to Gold Cup play? What players have stepped it up or not met expectations?
OAM: Really, really badly. Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers have done well to carry the team's attack without Juan Agudelo, Dwayne De Rosario, and Dane Richards, but the RBNY defense has been shockingly exposed during the past month. Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes have not adequately replaced Tim Ream and Rafa Márquez as the team has been leaking embarrassing goals as of late. The terrible defensive performance against Seattle, while the back-line's worst, was in line with New York's last couple matches.
AHTIOT: The media put high expectations on New York this season and those expectations received a boost when your club landed Dwayne De Rosario. What were you expectations going into this year? Did you think the club would be over or under 9 points from last place in the Eastern Conference halfway through the season?
OAM: A possible Supporters' Shield, an MLS Cup, or CCL qualification were my hopes. I didn't/don't expect all of them, but I still think a championship or continental competition in 2012 are attainable. The Suporters' Shield is possible as well; however, I think that route to the CCL is highly unlikely unless the club explodes after the Gold Cup final - which could potentially occur considering the strength of RBNY's attack. I'm not worried about the club's current position and I don't think Backe should be either with the number of significant absences New York has suffered through this season. Once, everyone has returned and are fully focused on the MLS season, the Red Bulls should breakaway from Philly.