Saturday, July 31, 2010

Game Preview: LA Galaxy

I hate to use so many extreme adjectives in the young history of this blog but the game against LA Galaxy today might be one the most unpredictable games in the history of the MLS.  Galaxy are at the top of the table and have dominated most of their games this year but a 1-1-1 in their last three MLS matches that include a loss that to the weak New England Revolution have put the inevitable Supporters' Shield on hold.  Throw in a CONCACAF Champions League 4-1 loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders despite starting Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle and you have a team on full crisis mode.  Will Donovan and Buddle start after playing this past Tuesday against the Islanders and getting minutes in the Thursday MLS All-Star game?  Don't forget the fact that the LA Galaxy enjoy a six point lead in the MLS standings and could still beat the Islanders with a three goal win this Wednesday.

On the Fire side of the coin, there's no telling how they will play either.  For almost every game this year Carlos de los Cobos has featured a 4-5-1 offense.  They even played 4-5-1 against Pumas despite the fact that CDLC announced the team would switch to a 4-4-2 offense with Nery Castillo on the team.  I figured with the team eliminated from SuperLiga's next round, we would get some practice with the new 4-4-2 formation.  Castillo is out but new acquisition Freddie Ljungberg is in.  Ljungberg couldn't possibly start after one practice with the team could he?  If we are fighting for points here, will CDLC turn to the familiar 4-5-1?  Let's not forget the goaltender controversy either.  I think Sean Johnson is going to be in goal tomorrow but it is all up in the air.  I hope with the long break the Fire can take a risk on the 4-4-2 and start this lineup:


Maybe Corben Bone will start in Ljungberg's place but I can't see anyone else playing the attacking mid right now.  I think our lack of chemistry will play against us and a draw would be lucky.  If I'm the coach, I start playing how I want us to play the rest of the year and use a game against the best MLS team as somewhat of a wash.

Point & Counterpoint: The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse


The MLS has never seen a team with as much international experience as the new 2010 Chicago Fire.  Brian McBride, Nery Castillo, Collins John and Freddie Ljungberg have a combined 506 English Premiership appearances, 108 English Premiership goals, 194 international caps, and 51 international goals.  Combine them with the 'squires' of Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko, and the Fire offense has gone from lifeless to doom inducing in just ten days.  Defenses will have no idea what formation the Fire are going to play with.  They will have no clue as to which player to focus on.  Design a defensive strategy around the big EPL four and MLS All-Star and team leading goal scorer Marco Pappa will make you pay.  You thought Patrick Nyarko could dribble his way through defenses before, just wait until he isn't being double or tripled covered.  How do you even rank the scoring threats now?  Is Marco Pappa still No. 1?  Is Brian McBride a No. 4 or No. 5 scoring threat on the team?  What other MLS team has ever had this kind of quality and quantity?  It is the end of the world for the competition.  The Four Horseman of the ApocaEPLse have arrived.  Welcome to hell back lines of the MLS.


The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse have arrived but the one who will be judged and face the wrath of the soccer gods is the Chicago Fire.  The MLS has never seen a team with as many egos as the new 2010 Chicago Fire.  Freddie Ljungberg is a diva who will have his own fans signing "You're going home in a Cook County Ambulance" by the second game.  Nery Castillo and Collins John placed a bet four years ago to see who could waste their talent in the most spectacular way.  I'm not sure which one is winning.  The only comparison to the four horesman that Brian McBride belongs in is that of death.  He is listed at 38 but he is playing like he is 83.  Opposing defenses will not know what formation Chicago is going to use but neither will the Fire.  Good luck getting all of these players on the same page.  I know when the defense is struggling and the team has a goaltender crisis, it is always best to bring in huge egos that are injured or out of shape.  The four or five midfielders who got this team to at least the edges of playoff contention are really going to appreciate battling for the remaining CDM spot and figuring out ways to get Carlos de los Cobos to implement a 3-5-2 just so they can increase their odds at playing time.  Grab some popcorn people and enjoy the show as the apocalypse hits the Chicago Fire's 2010 playoff hopes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Second DP

From the Chicago Fire Facebook page: 

"Get ready Fire fans - we're going to announce a second DP on shortly...don't miss out on the big announcement! Who do you think it might be?"

Do you think it will be another player in the 'picker' style or an established player for marketing glitz?  Somewhere in between?  Maybe I was wrong about Andrew opening up the wallet wide after all.

UPDATE 1: The Fire just announced that we have acquired Freddie Ljungberg's talents from the Seattle Sounders.  Quick thoughts -

  • The price cannot have been that high since the Ljungberg/Seattle marriage was one in the separation stage.
  • Nyarko and Pappa on the wings have been some of the few bright spots this season.  Ljungberg has a large preference to play on the wing so formation watching will be interesting
  • The price must have been too tempting to pass up given the above and Ljunberg's lack of performance/health in Seattle to boot.
  • The Fire could put out a lineup with Nyarko, Castillo, Pappa, McBride, John, and Ljunberg all on the same field.  That's a metric ton of firepower right there.  I'm not sure where everyone would play (4-3-3?) but the entertainment value of the Fire for August 8th is going to blow any other game this year out of the water.

UPDATE 2: The Fire traded a draft pick in 2011 or 2012 to the Sounders.

"Freddie Ljunberg, an MLS Best XI selection and two-time All-Star midfielder for the Seattle Sounders FC, has been traded to the Chicago Fire today in exchange for a conditional selection in the 2011 or 2012 SuperDraft."

Given what Ljunberg could bring to the team, I like what has been done here.  Draft picks are very hit or miss and Ljunberg has the potential to turn the Fire into top offense in the league.  It would take everyone getting on track very quickly but few teams even have that potential.  Two weeks ago it looked the Fire were competing for the worst offense in the league.

American Pickers

The History Channel has come out of a funk recently where all they had were shows on 2012 end of the world conspiracies and alternative history ideas.  Chasing Mummies is a fascinating look at the work of Zahi Hawass and shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers have a unique way of tying in American history to modern day life.  In American Pickers, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fitz go to random properties and offer to buy 'junk' that is just lying around their lots.  Whether it is in an attic, garage or some shed, Mike and Frank will see some value in something and attempt to give a lost item a second chance.

I'm not aware of any camera crews following the Fire but we have our own version of American Pikers right here in Chicago: Fire Owner Andrew Hauptman and Technical Director Frank Klopas.  Andrew has given Frank a budget very similar to what Mike would give Frank on the History Channel show and our Frank is scrapping by on whatever he can find.  While New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy seemed poised to bring in big names like Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, and Ronaldinho, our club does not have those kind of resources to tap into it (our club is also not named after an energy drink either so perhaps New York still has the short end of stick).

At the beginning of the year we brought in Collins 'Mr. Twenty' John.  English Premiership team Fulham purchased John from the Dutch club Twente and went on to see him score twenty goals at the age of twenty between the years of 2005-2006 or as I like to say twenty-05 and twenty-06.  John lost his starting job at Fulham and proceeded to bounce from England's second division, back to the Netherlands and finally to Belgium before signing with the Fire.  John has been a bit of a dud because he only has one goal and has not even taken the field for that many games because of a mysterious stomach issue.  As I've watched his season unfold on and off the pitch, he just seems to have bad luck and no clue yet on how to turn it around.

If it weren't for Collins John, I would probably be really excited for Frank's latest rummage find of Mexican international Nery Castillo.  Many say there is really no comparison between John and Nery but Castillo had great club success with his first team, Greek squad Olympiacos, and then bounced around with three different clubs in three years with no very little success.  That... is... just... what... John... did.  The glass is half full personality will point out that Castillo attracted the attention of top clubs like Manchester City even in his dry spell and off field issues of his parents passing away while also personally getting a divorce took a toll on his on field performance.  He is still a talent that many Mexican fans wanted to see on the World Cup squad despite the fact that Castillo was not even in top shape.

I will say that his YouTube videos make him look otherworldly at times.  Everyone has sharp goal highlights (ahem, Collins John, ahem) but he has speed and dribbling that could rip some MLS defenses to shreds if that form is recaptured.  That is an important note too because on American Pickers they always have to clean up their latest find and work to get it back into shape.  Nery will need some time to shake the rust off before becoming that one centerpiece in the room that makes everything around it look better.  Maybe Frank is really onto something here and Collins John and Nery Castillo are like matching pieces found at different locations.  The Fire place that is Toyota Park could certainly use some new decorations on the mantle.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chicago Fire Mid-Season Report Cards

Chicago Fire Mid-Season Report Cards
A+          Marco Pappa
Leading the team in goals (6) and second in assists (4), he has played almost every minute of every game this year.  That includes the games in the SuperLiga, US Open Cup, Sister Cities Cup, and the AC Milan friendly.  I do worry about fatigue later in the season but he is young and there is no reason to think he won’t be nominated for Goal of the Week a couple of more times this year.  He’s simply Head of the Class.
A-           Sean Johnson & Steve Kinney
It should tell you a great deal about the season when the only other players getting As are backups.  Sean Johnson has yet to put up a single minute in the MLS but has looked good when given time.  He and starting goaltender Andrew Dykstra have equal talent but Johnson seems to have better command of the backline.  I would not be surprised to see Johnson take over the starting job.  The same goes for Steve Kinney at RB.  Kinney has been solid in his performances while starter Tim Ward has been terribly inconsistent.  These two could be a big part of the Fire’s future.
B+           Brian McBride & Patrick Nyarko
Brian McBride has lost a step this season…. okay, several steps.  He still is second in goals scored and is tied for second in team assists.  I look for him to have a big second half as the team switches away from the 4-5-1 that got to be very predictable and newcomer Nery Castillo opens some more space for him in the 4-4-2.  Patrick Nyarko should also benefit from Castillo’s arrival because teams figured out that he cannot shoot the ball.  After climbing to the team lead in assists, Nyarko has been neutralized in his last couple of games as teams would defend against the pass only.  Nyarko had less routes to maneuver the ball into the box and the Fire's multiple game goal drought began.
B             Krzystof Krol & Baggio Husidic
For now both of these players are solid Bs but I expect Krol to go higher and Husidic to go lower.  Krol has done a great job at moving up field and crossing the ball into the box.  You couldn’t ask for much more offense from your LB but at times he has not been a pillar on defense.  Husidic is third on the team in goals scored.  However he has mainly benefitted from being in the right place at the right time.  It is better to be lucky than good but being lucky does not always guarantee a spot in the lineup.  Husidic’s playing time looks to decrease as the team switches to a 4-4-2 lineup and a starting midfield spot is removed.
B-            C.J. Brown & Corben Bone
C.J. Brown might be the reason Andrew Dykstra loses his starting job.  Dykstra hasn’t helped himself as much as he could but it doesn’t look like C.J. wants to do Dykstra any favors.  They appear combative with each other and Brown falls back at times when he should trust Dykstra and get in the face of attackers.  You could pass blame on to management for making Dykstra the starter right before the season but a vet like Brown should embrace the situation and not try put so much on his shoulders.  Corben Bone gets put into this grade because he has looked more than capable in the midfield at times (downright dangerous in the game against Pumas) but other times he has been too much hustle not enough quality touch.  I think Bone is gaining confidence with every start and will have a great second half.
C+           Wilman Conde & Kwame Watson-Siriboe
Put Conde in the costing Dykstra his job camp.  He has not been solid in his place this year and coach Carlos de los Cobos has even tried putting him in at defensive midfielder.  He looked terrible in the All-Star game and really needs to regain his form for the Fire to go anywhere.  He is a fierce competitor and I think he was trying to get things done on offense himself when the team wasn’t scoring any goals.  You don’t want your CB doing that so hopefully the team will start putting some balls in the back of the net and Conde will settle in.  Watson-Siriboe is doing all right for his rookie season.  He’ll play less as the season goes on but Carlos de los Cobos might want to rest Brown or Conde at CB… or just light a fire under their feet.
C             Mike Banner, Peter Lowry, Logan Pause, Dasan Robinson
Four guys that have been with the team for awhile now and will probably each start a game or two along the way but are best utilized as subs.  Each player has had a moment or two this season when they looked great (Mike Banner’s free kick against New York Red Bulls, Logan Pause’s long range goal against Toronto FC stand out) but primarily these guys just provide depth to the roster.  It is hard to expect any more than that from them even though I think de los Cobos does just that with Pause. 
C-            Andrew Dykstra
As I’ve mentioned, this has as much to do with the defenders around Dykstra and the way the front office rolled out the move as it does with the keeper’s own play.  It is tough for any goalie that is named the starter less than a week before the start of the season.  It is tougher for rookie goalies.  It is even tougher for goalies who are replacing a popular veteran goalie that is a year removed from being MLS Goalie of the Year.  At the time I was somewhat excited.  In retrospect, it was a terrible decision unless the front office had been honest about rebuilding.  Dykstra even looked uncomfortable even playing in front of friends and family in D.C. when the Fire won 2-0 and the likely tipping point for his starting job was when Monarcas Morelia put in 5 goals two weeks ago.  Sean Johnson has started the last two games and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get more starts especially if the Fire fall out of the playoff picture.  If Johnson does come in to the save the day, Dykstra should be traded so he can start over fresh and hopefully lessons will have been learned all around. 
D+          Tim Ward
He looked like a lock at RB to start the season but it’s been a very rocky road for Tim Ward.  When he hasn’t been injured he has given away the ball much too easily and has not contributed on the offensive end.  I’m not sure he is playing at 100% because he has looked better in the past but with Kinney knocking on the door and the Fire desperate for points, I think he is on a short leash as we go into the final stretch of the season.
D             Stefan Dimitrov
Someone has to be down here and while Dimitrov hasn’t had that much playing time he hasn’t done anything with those few minutes he has had.  He has basically been invisible on and off the field.
Incomplete         Calen Carr, Collins John, John Thorrington,  Deris Umanzor
It is obvious that Calen Carr and John Thorrington get an incompletes because they have been injured all season.  I’m giving an incomplete to Collins John because he has looked good, he has looked lethargic, and he was also out for weeks at a time with a mysterious illness.  Let’s hope he is back up to speed and can thrive as strike partner with Nery Castillo.  Deris Umanzor has been played all over the place but looked quite good at defensive midfielder against Pumas.  If that is where he is going to play the rest of the season, we have reason to be optimistic.  If Coach Carlos is going to continue to have him be some kind of patch in player, we should be worried.  The jury is still out on him.
Hello and Goodbyes       Justin Mapp, Julio Martinez, Nery Castillo
Brought in by Carlos de los Cobos, I imagine El Salvadoran international Julio Martinez was let go by technical director Frank Klopas.  The general consensus was that Martinez just could not cut it in the MLS.  Justin Mapp we thank you for your long service to the Fire.  I would have given him a B- for his season this year.  I think many would have given him a F for his complete time with the Fire.  So much potential yet so much money wasted.  Let’s move onto happy things like Nery Castillo.  The Mexican international was signed a week ago to save the 2010 Fire team.  Here’s to hoping he can set the curve and everyone will have As when the full season report is written this fall.