The New York Red Bulls went into their last match against the Chicago Fire coming off of an almost three week hiatus from league play in mid-June. Now the two teams face off in a midweek matinee at Red Bull Arena sandwiched between New York playing the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union for a total of three games in six days. In case you lost track, the Chicago Fire are 4-1-1 in their last six matches including impressive wins against Sporting Kansas City, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the 3-1 dominance over the Red Bulls.
Hot Time in Old Town is on point as always in their answers to our three questions ahead of the match, and you can check out Once a Metro's thoughts on their questions regarding the Sebastian Le Toux trade, Ryan Meara, and how Hans Backe may approach tomorrow's match here. Once again, special thanks to Ryan Sealock for providing his insight into a fellow Eastern Conference team New York will still play one more time in 2012 (October 6th). On to the questions!
1) The Fire are currently just one point behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings. How did that happen? We talked just a month ago and the gap between the two seemed a lot wider.
The Fire have been playing pretty well lately. We have knocked off some top teams recently, including Vancouver, Sporting KC, Columbus, and New York previously. We are still having trouble with a lack of consistent scoring, with Dominic Oduro being our only main threat (and a shaky one at that). Chris Rolfe is a threat up top but is miscast in the midfield right now helping fill a couple of holes we have there.
To be honest, the defense has probably been the biggest part of our success recently. Sean Johnson has been phenomenal and in the form that had many saying he has the potential to be the next great US goalkeeper. Gonzalo Segares and Dan Gargan have been solid at LB and RB, respectively. Jalil Anibaba is having a good sophomore season, mostly playing CB but also filling in at RB. The big surprise has been rookie Austin Berry. He has broken into the starting lineup and I don't seem him leaving it. He has shown skill and poise beyond his years. I think he will be a legit frontrunner for Rookie of the Year if he keeps up his stellar play. Added together, the defense has been great for us lately and deserves the most credit for our success. Depending on who we bring in before the window closes, we will hopefully be able to slot Chris Rolfe up top behind Oduro to add another scoring threat (as well as any striker we might bring in). Chris has been helping fill the midfield hole recently but is miscast a bit out of position when he does that.
2) Dominic Oduro was in the mix for the golden boot last season but has only scored one goal in his last ten appearances, nine of which he was in the starting lineup. He was caught offsides on a couple of goal scoring opportunities against Vancouver on Saturday night and has an astounding 31 total offsides calls against him just midway through 2012. What's different about his play this year, or is scoring goals a more widespread problem for the Fire (they sure didn't have any issues scoring last month against the Red Bulls!).
As I mentioned in the last question, goal scoring has been a consistent issue for us this year. Oduro still has all the same skills as last year, but since he has been our only real goal scoring threat, defense are starting to lay really deep in front of goal. This cuts out a lot of the long balls he was getting and negates his speed. This is also a big reason for the high number of offside calls too. Although Dom did have a good season last year, he still is prone to conversion issues when he should be scoring a goal. This has cropped up many times when he is in on goal vs. the goalie and ends up kicking it straight to him. Houston cut Dominic because of his scoring issues. While he has been better for us, the issues are still there and he is not that top line striker that can really take us to the top. Fans are getting a bit frustrated as the Front Office has touted that we have the means to go sign a big name player if the fit is right. Instead it seems like we try to do it on the cheap with no names that are a risky acquisition. The biggest need for the Fire is a top line striker that is a proven goal scorer. Unfortunately lots of teams are looking for the same thing and those types of players never come cheap.
Going back to Dominic, he also seems to be gassed and just plain tired. I think heavy legs is playing a role in his lack of production lately, as well as offside calls too. With Rolfe or another big name up top with him, that will help unlock things again for Dominic. The questions is who that player is and when will they arrive?
3) You can't escape being asked a transfer rumor question since it's that relatively brief midseason period that MLS teams can make major changes to their rosters. Can you run through any additions or departures since the transfer window opened? Any other mumblings about who might be coming or going?
To recap, we lost Sebastian Grazzini due to "family issues". His departure has been labeled "indefinite" but I would be shocked if he ever returns to the Fire. Team sources even stated that his nameplate has been removed from his locker. That doesn't sound like a returning player to me. His loss is massive. If Alex can at least do an admirable job filling that role we should be able to get by IF we get reinforcements up top. Having a good defense has helped but the best teams can score goals when they need to as well. Rafael Robayo is rumored to be heading back to his former club, Millonarios after what can only be called a failed signing. He was expected to come in as a dynamic box to box midfielder, but since he has arrived he has whined and complained at a lack of playing time. When he did get on the pitch, he was unimpressive and just not cutting it. He has made fun of MLS in general, stating he wants a bigger challenge. Fire fans are asking why he is complaining about the league and playing time when he is under-producing in the chances to play he does get. If he can't cut it in MLS how will he be able to cut it in a higher league in Europe? His departure will open a much needed international slot, but it also creates a second midfield hole to fill.
The Fire have been scouring the transfer market and have been linked to Sherjill MacDonald of Germinal Beerschot of the Belgian Pro League. Sherjill even tweeted that he was coming to Chicago, but those tweets have mysteriously stopped the past week or so. He needs an international slot open for him, so until Grazzini is officially let go or Robayo (or someone else leaves), he seems to be stuck in limbo. However, his strike rate leaves something to be desired and he isn't the long term answer at forward for the Fire. Other than Sherjill, there haven't been hardly any players linked to the Fire in any sort of reliable way. Time is running out and there is work to do. An already uneasy fan base with the owner could become more unhappy if the team's glaring holes are not properly filled.
Bonus question: Chicago will be missing defender Arne Friedrich due to a red card suspension on Wednesday. How do you expect Frank Klopas will adjust the starting lineup?
Dan Gargan has mysteriously not been in the starting lineup the past couple of weeks. With Friedrich out, I expect to see Gargan back in the starting XI. Look for a backline of Gargan, Anibaba, Berry, and Segares.
Score Prediction: I am going with a 1-1 draw here [Editor's note: OAM predicted the same thing]. Goals from Rolfe and Henry. While it would be nice to put up another 3 goal outing against New York, our options at forward are not there to score multiple goals week in and week out right now.