Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coming Soon...

Consider it GoLiveInTheFire 2.0

Three Questions with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart

To get a read on the Seattle Sounders, I exchanged three questions with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart.  My questions are in bold and his answers are in regular font.
1.  Fire fans love new arrival Freddie Ljungberg. He has taken over as a captain on offense and the results have been very positive. Why did Seattle trade him at such a low cost?
He wasn't going to be playing anymore. There was a fissure between he, the coaching staff, and some players. How or why this developed will likely never be known, but he'd stopped playing for Seattle while he started to explore other options. Considering that no team in Europe offered any transfer fee (if they had Seattle would have taken it, as they need to buy down some DP salary cap hits) the fact that Freddie was dealt for only a conditional pick in one of the next two drafts shows that the market for the Swede was quite low.

Seattle likely wanted allocation dollars more than anything, but a former MLS Best XI player didn't net that in a fairly active transfer window. His value as a player has taken a hit, and with his contract up in just a few months it was even lower. I'm almost certain that he hates the league, and I don't expect him to be in Chicago next year.

2.  The Sounders, like the Fire, have 2 DPs. Has there been talk of signing a third DP?  Given realistic boundaries (availability, cost, chemistry, etc), who would you want them to sign?
The best use of that 3rd DP slot would be for Seattle to retain the services of Fredy Montero. His contract is also up shortly, and losing him on a Free would be painful. By signing him as the 3rd DP this off season Seattle would be retaining the uses of a very young highly prolific goal scorer. He's a symbol of what the team is at this point, and can actually be used in marketing as two year starter who can dominate the league for long stretches.

It would also continue the movement that Seattle is making towards bringing in young international talent in their pre-peak period. Alvaro Fernandez, Fredy Montero, Osvaldo Alonso, and Steve Zakuani are the start of this, but you can even look at the likely Centerback pairing next season of Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado who will also be outside of that peak period of 26-30. Since MLS isn't a top 10 league in the world, a team can be built around players that are climbing the ladder trying to improve their skills. Seattle is certain to continue in this direction.

3.  The Fire played a Wednesday/Saturday combo last week and seemed to suffer in their Saturday game because of it. How do you think the Sounders will play having played this Wednesday?  

Seattle has gotten a bit used to the Double in its breif history. Last year's US Open Cup winning run, plus this year's run to the Semi-Final and their activity in both the Prelims and Group Stage of the CONCACAF Champions League have meant that they have had more than a dozen competitive Doubles in less than two years. The Sounders are a deep team, and Sigi tends to rotate players into and out of the lineup with fair frequency due to injury, or just match up concerns.

This is most true at the second center mid (where Sturgis starts now, but has been played by Evans, Vagenas, Ianni, Seamon) and at the right midfield where I feel like nearly every player seems to play at some point. The Rave Green are also home for this stretch which should help a bit. We actually don't expect many starting lineup changes (just Zach Scott for Leo Gonzalez due to Red Card suspension), but I would expect to see earlier than typical substitutions, including maybe one at halftime again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

MLS Roundup


Philadelphia 1 - Colorado 1
The Union were quite unlucky not to score more goals.  Le Toux and Mwanga created chance after chance with no luck until they connected in the 71st minute.  The halftime show for this game showed only Philadelphia highlights, I kid you not.  It looked like Philadelphia was going to be really unlucky when Jeff Larentowicz scored a goal off post corner kick madness in the 59th minute.  Justin Mapp came into the game as a sub... yeah we aren't mi$$ing anything.  This game helped because Colorado is up on us by 7 points and we have 3 games in hand.  Best to keep them close even if it means giving a point to Philly.

Los Angeles 1 - New York 0
Another day, another goalless game for Thierry Henry.  Edson Buddle scored in the 13th minute and that no doubt had the Fox Soccer Channel folks salivating for a goal war.  Instead the Red Bulls do not get any goals or any points and the Fire are just 10 points behind in the standings with 4 games in hand.  Three wins and a tie?  Yeah I think we can do that.  Catching LA Galaxy though?  They might as well be in another... well yeah, you get the point. 

Salt Lake 2 - Columbus 0 
Javier Morales provided all the firepower in this game with goals in the 11th and 60th minutes.  This was a borderline help as I don't think we can reach Columbus but keeping them down doesn't hurt.  If anything Real Salt Lake's success makes the wounds of last year's semi-final defeat feel better.  At the time I thought we had lost to a fluke team but hats off to them, they have the mark of a dynasty starting.

Seattle 0 - Chivas USA 0
Zach Thornton and Kasey Keller stifled both of their opposing offenses and fans left the Home Depot Center without a single goal.  This game is a big big help to the Fire because I fully expected Seattle to get yet another recent victory.  Seattle is ahead of us by 8 points but we have a whopping 5 games in hand.  Our match in Seattle on August 28th and the home match against them on September 25th are going to be key games in the playoff race.


New England 1 - Houston 0
Houston's season is really going to pieces so for them to get the odd win here would have been nice.  Illja Stolica scored in the 62nd minute to give Revs the victory.  Don't look now but the Revolution are tied with us with 21 points.  We have two games in hand but much of that advantage will be lost if the team can't beat New England this Wednesday at Toyota Park.  I'll have more on that matchup later.

Dallas 3 - D.C. 1
D.C. United continues to be an almost guaranteed three points for whoever they play this year.  Dallas was coasting after goals by David Ferreira (36th minute) and Eric Alexander (49th) until Dallas' own Jair Benitez made it interesting for D.C. in the 80th minute with an own goal.  Jeff Cunningham put out any D.C. hopes for points in the 93rd minute after he caught Dejan Jakovic snoozing.  Cunningham then continued to embarrass D.C. goaltender Bill Hamid to make it 3-1.  There is nothing spectacular about FC Dallas but they just refuse to lose.  We have 3 games in hand on them but a difference of 12 points.  I don't think they are a team we could realistically catch.

San Jose 1 - Kansas City 0 
Chris Wondolowski scored in the 35th minute for the Earthquakes and that is all she wrote.  A tie obviously would have been best but I would even take a KC win.  The Earthquakes just seem to be a more solid team and they are talking about adding a designated player.  Meanwhile KC confirmed this week that they are investing into Omar Bravo but not until the 2011 season.  Wizards now trail us by one point with three games down and the Quakes are up by 5 points on us with a 2 game disadvantage. 

Yes, we have games in hand on every team.  16 games played while every other team has at least 18 games played.  We'll start picking up on teams this Wednesday when we are the only match of the day. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Big Announcement

Big announcement coming for the blog.  Hopefully everything will be unveiled in the next couple of days.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sean Johnson Wins Save of the Week

Another week, another Sean Johnson Save of the Week!

I'm beginning to think the population advantage of Chicago might be coming into play here... but then again you have to be nominated first.  Congratulations to Sean Johnson, let's hope he can keep it up.

MLS Roundup


Philadelphia 1 - Salt Lake 1

I really hope some first timers to PPL Park didn't get lost or mistime going from the parking lot to the stadium.  If so, they likely missed the only goals of the game.  Danny Mwanga scored off of a brilliant pass from Sebastien La Toux in the 9th minute while Fabian Espindola probably got himself a goal of the week nomination just 7 minutes later.  Philadelphia has been like a bizzaro 2010 USMNT scoring early and giving up goals to lose or draw after their early success.  I think this game hurt because Real Salt Lake totally imploding is less likely than Philly going on a run and fighting us for playoff competition.

New York 1 - Toronto 0

Joel Lindpere was the one to find the back of the net but Thierry Henry really did all of the work drawing seemingly everyone in the Toronto metropolitan area on him and then using fancy footwork to make them all look like high school defenders.  A little touch pass to Seth Stammier and chip pass from Stammier to Lindpere - boom - New York scores the only goal of the game.  The best outcome for the Fire would have been a tie because these teams are so close.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nery Castillo vs. Marco Pappa... in Tennis?!

Fire Facebook page:

"A new post-practice Fire tradition...SOCCER TENNIS: Nery vs. Marco!  Ever since Nery Castillo joined the club, he and Marco Pappa have played a post-practice soccer tennis match against each other...Check out a clip from today's match!"

Said clip 

You gotta love Nery getting along with his new teammates.  I'm pretty pumped to see that.  Can we get them an actual net though?  I mean that metal bench is a freak injury waiting to happen.  Great stuff though - kudos to the Front Office for sharing.

Patrick Nyarko - Should We Be Worried?

While Patrick Nyarko does not have the finishing touch to ever suggest he'll match his goal scoring rate at Virginia Tech (31 goals in three seasons), it has been a lot of fun to watch him grow as a playmaker with the Fire.  He has speed for sure but his best attribute is dribbling the ball past defenders and getting them to anticipate his next move j..u..s..t enough that hequicklycounters and leaves them behind.  He leads the team in assists (7) and when he is not on the field the team definitely misses his creative spark.  For these reasons, we should all be concerned about Patrick missing last Sunday's game against the New York Red Bulls.

Nyarko missed the July 17th and July 20th SuperLiga games with concussion symptoms.  He was able to play in the LA Galaxy game on August 1st and even set up Collins John's goal in the 5th minute (brilliant one touch on a pass from Baggio Husidic).  I was very excited about seeing Nyarko, Pappa, Ljungberg, John and Castillo team up against New York with McBride providing veteran savvy as a 60 minute sub or so.  Nyarko never even got to start as he was sidelined again with the same concussion symptoms.  For as much as I highlighted the absence of Collins John in the lineup yesterday, the Fire and Freddie Ljungberg suffered even more by not having the Ghanaian on the wing.  I took it as a cautionary note at the time but cue Bratislav Ristic.

Some of you have no clue what I'm talking about but Bratislav Ristic was on trial earlier this year and the Fire even added him to the team's roster for the SuperLiga.  There is nothing official about that at all - I mean we could have put down Pele, Bobby Charlton, Lionel Messi and Jozy Altidore if we wanted - but it shows the team was contemplating adding him into the mix of players available to call on.  Now Bratislav Ristic's website has him listed as a current member of the Chicago Fire, something it never did before even after SuperLiga.  Ristic was gone for a couple of weeks but has recently returned to practicing with the team.

Any contract signing of Ristic should set off alarm bells for Nyarko's health.  If you watch the highlight videos of Ristic he appears to be a speedy winger who has trouble getting the ball on net.  He even refuses to take shots in the box preferring to pass the ball to a teammate.  His game is like a carbon copy of Nyarko's without the top dribbling skill.  The only reason to get Ristic is if we need some depth on the wings and right now we have Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko as starters with Deris Umanzor and Mike Banner as backups.  If we can't even get Corben Bone into a couple of MLS games, I see no reason to sign Bratislav Ristic.  No offense Mr. Ristic but even if you play well your presence on this team should be viewed with a hint of doom for the future.  In the meantime, legit or illlegit signing, can you at least get the team name right?  We aren't even FC but S.C.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MLS Roundup


Columbus 2 - Philadelphia 1
LeToux's extra time first half goal was sandwiched by Steven Lenhart headers in the 43rd and 50th minutes of play.  Columbus is running away with the Eastern Conference so we might as well thank them for giving us distance between a scrappy Philadelphia team... we know what Pitor Nowak can do with expansion teams.

Colorado 1 - San Jose 0
Anybody want Jon Busch over Sean Johnson?  The Rapids took three points all thanks to a Omar Cummings cross that Busch ended up placing across the line behind him in the 25th minute.  I say this game helps because San Jose was stringing together some success as of late while the Rapids are widely inconsistent.  Let the Rapids get ahead with 27 points and 18 games played while San Jose stays closer to us with 23 points and 17 games played.

Dallas 3 - Philadelphia 1
Does this really help the Fire with Philadelphia low in the standings?  Yes, yes it does.  Nowak, expansion team, rather have them dead in the water.  Alejandro Moreno made it 1-0 Philly early in the 9th minute but FC Dallas' David Ferreira equalized the game on a penalty kick in the 24th.  Late goals by Jeff Cunningham in the 75th and 81st minutes secured the three points.  


Toronto FC 2 - Chivas USA 0
While standard for Fire fans to rue the fact Chad Barrett scored (32nd minute), Toronto's Nana Attakora scored even earlier in the first half.  Chivas USA went into the second half 2-0 and came out with just one goal from Giancarlo Maldonado and zero points over all.  Clearly we do not need the team just ahead of us in the Eastern Conference to win although you could argue that Chivas USA is close to being put away from playoff competition.

New England 1 - D.C. 0
D.C. United is out for the count while this game puts the Revs just three points behind us.  It is nice that we have a game in hand on NE but the August 18th home game against the Revs is quietly becoming a huge match.  They just won't go away....

Kansas City 1 - Salt Lake 1
The Wizards taking a point from a RSL squad that is battling for first in the West?  Really don't need them staying in this race and really don't like seeing them take a point while we got 0 at home against RSL.  Kei Kamara and Robbie Findley provided the goals, both coming in the first half.

Seattle 2 - Houston 0
The Dynamo have been lifeless while Seattle is on a huge upswing.  Fredy Montero came away with a goal and an assist while DP Alvaro Fernandez scored yet again.  These teams are going in opposite directions, I was much more worried about Houston at the beginning of the year than Seattle.  The Sounders' four straight victories are something for everyone in the league to look at.  Can we put a target on their backs yet?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Collins John Saga Opens Some Questions

In Carlos de los Cobos' post-game press conference it was pretty standard commentary until someone asked him about the decision to start Brian McBride over Collins John (10th minute of the audio link):

"Even though Collins John scored in the last match, I don't think he play good.  My role as coach is to demand that the players give 100%.... When Collins doesn't give 100% in practice, he don't play.  I need 11 players in a very good fitness level."

Puzzled fans started to kick around these quotes from Collins John's twitter account today:

"@ stadium cant believe we gonna practice outside 2day !! In this RAIN
"Day 3 i hope practice is a bit more relax 2day!
Practice last 2 days is WAY 2 HARD!

Game #16 Summary

If this game was a Shakespeare play title, it would obviously be Much Ado About Nothing.  For all of the hype of 5 DPs and big names, only Freddie Ljungberg played a full 90 minutes and the Fire tied the Red Bulls 0-0 to split the points.

The real star of the game turned out to be Sean Johnson.  If you still think that Andrew Dykstra should start another game this year, you must believe that he is going to be traded to another team.  Johnson not only made spectacular saves but he also had 100% positional awareness to stay off the shots that were going to slide past the goalpost.  Juan Pablo Angel headers were denied by brilliant stops in the 19th and 91st minutes and Johnson tipping a rocket from Tim Ream in the 90th minute might be the MLS Save of the Week.  The old saying "it's better to be lucky than good" played out for the Fire when Macoumba Khandji couldn't get any kind of touch on a cross pass from Dane Richards right at the beginning of the 46th minute.  I was shocked nothing happened there.  The stars were so aligned for Johnson that his slipping right before Angel's 91st shot was probably fortunate because if he gets a full hand on the ball, you have to think it goes right to the foot of Red Bull forward Salou Ibrahim for a stoppage time tap in.  Instead Johnson's deflection even got backspin and the ball harmlessly dribbled out of bounds.

On the offensive end, Carlos de los Cobos rolled out a 4-4-1-1 lineup.  The Fire announced Brian McBride as playing in the top forward spot but in practice it was more of a 4-4-2-0 with McBride staying back on the left or right side.  Brian, we love what you have done for your country and this team but you simply are not a starting forward in the MLS anymore.  Freddie Ljungberg made great runs and dribbles with the ball in the first 15 minutes only to be taking on the entire defense by himself.  He seemed to stop attacking once he realized that he wasn't playing with the Brian McBride that he remembered from Fulham.  The only real threat that McBride and Ljungberg combined for came midway through the first half when McBride caught his marker sleeping and had the entire field in front of him.  If almost anyone else on the team had the space McBride received, they would have just taken the ball to the goal.  Brian had to spot up about 30 feet from the goal because he was already being caught up with.  He did provide a world-class curved pass but Freddie couldn't handle a bad hop and a very promising opportunity turned into a goal kick for New York.

Marco Pappa provided a very so-so game, Mike Banner gave his usually hustle with little result and Baggio Husidic gave us his patented high soccer IQ with the pace of 2010 Brian McBride.  Logan Pause on the other hand gave his best performance of the season.  Whenever a Red Bull was attacking, Pause was hustling back to get in the way.  Without a crucial sliding block in the box in the last minutes of the game, Red Bulls take all three points.  I have been underwhelmed by Logan this year but I think all he needed was an outlet right in front of him in Freddie Ljungberg.  Too many times I would curse at Logan for passing back to the defense or turning the ball over on the sides to Pappa or Nyarko.  I think he just needed a strong midfield presence like Freddie to feed the ball to everytime.  I look forward to them connecting more and more.

In case we had any doubts about Gonzalo Segares getting his LB job back, Krzysztof Krol answered them for us.  What Department of Homeland Security officer do we need to be extra nice to so that we can ensure Segares' paperwork goes through and he starts our next game?  Krol was exposed many times and was the reason Richards had that great opportunity that Khandji screwed up.  Wilman Conde seems back to being the Conde we have known and loved.  C.J. Brown might need a rest or two.  The fact that C.J. has lost a step meant that he couldn't play up on Juan Pablo Angel and we almost paid dearly for that in the 84th minute when Angel whipped in a shot just over the crossbar.  Dasan Robinson provided adequate defense; nothing special but nothing egregious either.

For subs, Nery Castillo's entry for McBride in the 56th minute was greeted with fireworks.  I thought that was a bit much.  Has any sub ever had fireworks?  I guess it's okay because he failed to provide any fireworks of his own.  Nery looked very fast but he was called offside multiple times.  He did lead a charge that ended up with four Fire players in the box at one time.  Can anyone recall a time when we had four Fire players in the box at the same time on a play that didn't involve the ball going down the wings first?  The 59th minute substitution of Steve Kinney for Dasan Robinson seemed to have little impact of the game.  The 90th minute substitution of Deris Umanzor for Marco Pappa seemed to be nothing but a clock stall.

Overall the Fire are lucky to take away one point from this match.  If Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez are in tip top shape, the Fire easily lose this game 2-0 or more.  The Red Bulls offense stalled when Henry was taken out around the half, stalled again when Marquez was taken out in the 61st minute, and only picked up when we started playing another 4-6-0 formation.  If good things come to those who wait, I guess that works for us while we sit for ten days until the New England Revolution come to town on August 18th.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Game #16 Thread

The best MLS game ever?  Let's empty the can and drink their milkshake.

Game #16 Preview

The last time the New York Red Bulls met the Chicago Fire it was the opening match, March 27.  The Fire were coming off a MLS Cup semi-final appearance and the Red Bulls were the worst team in the league in 2009.  New York came away with a 1-0 victory in the MLS debut of the gorgeous Red Bull Arena.  Both teams looked like they had kinks to unravel; if they were websites they would read 'under construction'. 

Flash forward four months and the teams are still under construction, but the size of the projects have been considerably upgraded.  NYRB have added Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez while our Fire have added Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg.  Fueled by the DPs, this game will feature many MLS & Fire firsts:
  1. First MLS game with 5 DPs
  2. First time a MLS team rolls out 4 players with EPL experience
  3. First MLS game for Nery Castillo and Rafael Marquez
  4. First Freddie Ljungberg Fire home game
  5. First time teammates from a European Champions League Final team square off
  6. First time teammates from a UEFA Final team square off
  7. First time teammates from a EPL Champions team square off
  8. First time teammates from a FA Cup Champions team square off
  9. First time... start coming up with your own in regards to Ljungberg and Henry...
  10. Most international caps in a game before?  This one is tougher to gauge but I'd put good money on it
It is easy to get blinded by the stars of the game but both of these teams are in questionable spots in the standings.  Beating us 1-0 was the game that launched NYRB to a 5-1-0 dream start but since then they only have 3 wins, 5 loses, and 3 ties to show for their efforts.  We all know the Fire have a worse 5-5-5 record but a win tonight would put the Fire behind the second place Red Bulls by just 4 points with 2 games in hand.  As important as this game is for the history of the league, it is a vital game for the Fire's playoff hopes.  It's going to be a lot of fun to see a mini All-Star game but I hope for three points over DP starts.    

And We're Back...

When AT&T claims to cover 97% of all Americans, Carroll County, Ohio is not included in the mix. I lost two posts yesterday because of "No Service" on my phone. I'll have a game preview and a Segares post up before the game still.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Breaking: Fire trade Tim Ward

Tim Ward is now a San Jose Smurf.  It just seems weird to call him or any one person an Earthquake right?

So Freddie Ljungberg and Tim Ward are both worth conditional draft picks?  Frank Klopas you magnificent bastard!

UPDATE 1: The Fire Facebook Page says to check out at 1:30 PM CST to see which fan favorite is going to be coming back.  Beasley? Segares?

UPDATE 2: It is indeed Gonzalo Segares!  Great move - I liked Kinney's potential but if we have the money to bring back Sega, again Frank Klopas is a magnificent bastard.  Starting XI of John, Castillo, Nyarko, Ljungberg, Pappa, Pause, Krol, Conde, Brown, Segares, and Johnson with the likes of McBride, Husidic, Kinney, and Watson-Siriboe, and Umanzor as subs is a team that can contend for the MLS Cup.  Just imagine if Thorrington ever came back....

Transfer Market Secrets... as of Right Now

I'll have more to say about Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski's Soccernomics later on but I wanted to take a moment to address their list of transfer market secrets:

  1. A new manager wastes money on transfers; don't let him.
  2. Use the wisdom of crowds.
  3. Stars of recent World Cups or European championships are overvalued; ignore them.
  4. Certain nationalities are overvalued.
  5. Older players are overvauled.
  6. Center forwards are overrvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued.
  7. Gentlemen prefer blonds; identify and abandon "sight-based prejudices".
  8. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
  9. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
  10. Replace your best players even before you sell them.
  11. Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems.
  12. Help your players relocate.
These are simple ideas if you think about them.  Kuper and Szymanski provide anecdotes and data to back up their list too.  Every shrewd soccer manager in the book is compared to Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics who is credited with cracking the secrets of baseball's free agency and trade market.  Indeed Beane put together an incredible team record of 825-632 between 1998-2006 (.566 winning percentage) while spending much less than the competition.   

The entire time that I was reading their comparisons of Billy Beane, I was waiting for the hammer to drop but it never came.  They pumped success but failed to mention that Beane's A's went 226-259 between 2007-2009.  Even if the book was all wrapped up in 2009, they still could have at least addressed Beane's 151-172 record between 2007-2008.  What happened was once his secrets were published in Moneyball in 2003 and other teams saw how successful you could be with his tips, smart teams immediately copied his basic principles and Beane was no longer able to take advantage of the market inefficiencies he exploited in the early 2000's.  It took all of four years for baseball to quite likely overvalue young players while undervaluing older players. 

35+ year old guys like Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero could only get one year of guaranteed money while the Indians have to be kicking themselves for signing current DL darlings Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore to long-term contracts when both players were entering their primes.  The overall philosophy of sign young guys to low contracts and avoid signing older players to big money works out in many cases (young guys/low money: Evan Longoria, old guy/lots of money: Jeff Suppan) but there is no guarantee.  And sign guys with personal problems and help them deal with them?  Paging any team that has tried to work with Milton Bradley.

Overall Soccernomics does have a good list of what to avoid and what not to avoid but I would have labeled the list "Current Trends to Avoid" instead of "Secrets of the Transfer Market".  The real list?
  1. Exploit market inefficiencies and leave your competition in the dust.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Real Football

Video Clip

Great to see a handegg used like this.  Props to the player - that has to be difficult.

MLS Roundup


Toronto FC advance in CONCACAF Champions League on aggregate 3-2 over Honduras club CD Montagua.  It was a seesaw match that had ex-Fire Chad Barrett playing hero with ten minutes left in the game. 

Seattle Sounders advance in CONCACAF Champions League on aggregate 2-1 over El Salvador club Metapan.  New designated player Alvaro Fernandez provided the aggregate advancer in the 74th minute.  I have a feeling this guy is going to be a big f'ing deal in Sounders history. 


New England Revolution knocked out Puebla 5-3 on PKs and go into the final of SuperLiga. 

LA Galaxy are totally and utterly embarrassed in a 2-1 win over Puerto Rico in the CONCACAF Champions League.  You could see the shame fall on their faces as they realized they weren't going to overcome the 4-1 loss in the first leg.  Well, not really, but shame SHOULD have been on their faces.  They fall to Pureto Rico 5-3 on the aggregate. 

The Revs will face the winner of tonight's Houston Dynamo vs. Morelia in the SuperLiga final.

Toronto FC falls into Group A with Real Salt Lake, Cruz Azul, and Arabe Unido.  The CBus Crew are in Group B with Municipal, Santos Laguna and Joe Public/Brujas and rounding out Group C will be Seattle Sounders, Monterrey, Marathon and Saprissa.

I would love to root for the MLS teams to fail but let's be realistic.  MLS success in international tournaments helps the Chicago Fire.  It's not fun watching other teams raise trophies but it should inspire our front office to try harder to win these things.  I want to see the Fire win the CONCACAF Champions League and I want to see them win SuperLiga at some point too.  Being in SuperLiga means that we weren't good enough for the Champions League, sure, but if there are games to be played, we should be playing them to win.  Some Fire faithful could never say these things but Go Sounders, Go Crew, Go Toronto FC, Go Revs, and Go Dynamo.  Okay, now I do feel rather unclean inside.  Time to detox.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stuff the Ballot: Sean Johnson

Sean Johnson's stellar save of Alan Gordon's guided missile of a header preserved the Fire's three points in LA.  He is officially up for MLS Save of the Week.  Vote early, vote often.

In case you forgot how awesome it was....

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

If you didn't know much about Freddie Ljungberg before he joined the Fire, well just enjoy this photo.  I think Frank and Carlos are ashamed of his outfit.  I know I am.

Fire's Place in Chicago Sports

I was at the Cubs game last night and a fan seated behind me said "You are looking at the worst team in Chicago right here".  I was just about to turn around and say, "You clearly haven't seen the Chicago Fire this season", but in that split second I thought about the past two weeks... and I said nothing.  Part of me wanted an excuse to bring up the Fire but I have to hand it to the players and the Front Office, things are looking good.  That and the Cubs just really suck this year.

From 1-6, where would you rank the Chicago teams right now?  I think the Blackhawks are the toughest team to gauge. 

1. Bulls
2. White Sox
3. Blackhawks
4. Fire
5. Bears
6. Cubs

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stuff the Ballot

This is Chicago and we vote early and we vote often.

Let's put Nery Castillo over the top and give Steven Goff some clicks in the meantime.  He is one of the few beat writers out there that get to write as often as he does.

Rafael Marquez Signs with Red Bulls

Are the Red Bulls always going to have the worst kept secrets in signing designated players?  First Thierry Henry was coming to Red Bulls for months at a time (I swear Ives had three or four threads spread out that had "Thierry Henry to Red Bulls" headlines) and now Rafael Marquez is signing with New York after weeks of rumor confirmations.  Perhaps it is part of a marketing strategy but it really takes the new out of news when we hear something on a constant basis.  I guess if it is NYC and there is a press release - it is all new again. 

What is brand new about the signing of Rafael Marquez is the MLS now has a designated player that is a defender as well as a team with three designated players.  Let others debate the rise and fall of the MLS because some teams have no DPs while one has 3, I am delighted that big money will be spent on defensive players in the league.  MLS teams regularly get embarrassed in the CONCACAF Champions League because teams often put more resources and long term planning in offense.  Defenses in the MLS are left without strong captains to hold the back line together or one solid player is constantly surrounded by new parts (I am working on an article of all the different defenders C.J. Brown has lined up with over the years... let's just say it is quite long).  Rookies collapse, vets try to do too much, goals are scored, teams like Joe Public win, rumors of Raul to MLS explode, everyone gets excited and that fact that we lose important games to teams in tiny leagues is swept under the rug.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Week 19 Standings


02 Aug 2010 GP W D L PTS
Los Angeles Galaxy 19 12 4 3 40
Columbus Crew 18 10 4 4 34
Real Salt Lake 18 10 4 4 34
Dallas 17 6 9 2 27
New York RB 17 8 3 6 27
Seattle Sounders 19 7 4 8 25
Colorado Rapids 17 6 6 5 24
San Jose Earthquakes 16 6 5 5 23
Toronto 17 6 5 6 23
Chicago Fire 15 5 5 5 20
Houston Dynamo 18 5 5 8 20
Kansas City Wizards 17 5 4 8 19
Chivas USA 17 5 3 9 18
New England Revolution 16 4 3 9 15
Philadelphia Union 15 4 3 8 15
DC United 18 3 3 12 12

Thank you to Big Soccer for providing the easiest place to find the MLS full table.  Since the top four teams in each conference do not automatically make the playoffs, it is nice to see the full Chicago Fire playoff picture.  The three points drastically changed our fortune and I think we will only need 25 more points to make the playoffs.  I think the new version of the Chicago Fire is easily 5 points better over a 15 game spread but time will tell.  A win against New York would put us 4 points behind them with two games in hand.

Game #15 Summary

You almost forget how fun these Fire games can be from time to time!  My expectations for the LA Galaxy game were quite low but I was on cloud nine just five minutes into the match.  Carlos de los Cobos visited his pre-season formation of 4-1-4-1 and it played out to perfection.  In the 4th minute, Collins John and Baggio Husidic completed beautiful passes to set up Marco Pappa  who calmly slid the ball home into the net.  Just one minute later, Patrick Nyarko started a breakaway with a one touch pass to Collins John.  The Galaxy defense was simply outpaced and it became sprinting attacker vs. goaltender.  John lost the ball for a split second and was suddenly boxed in by two defenders with no options to pass - and then he struck the ball in perhaps the only foot of space Galaxy goalie Donovan Ricketts left open.  I have not been a fan of Collins John this season but sign me up for the bandwagon.  His speed seems to be at full form, he was aggressive in fighting for space and his non touch on a pass from Patrick Nyarko allowed Marco Pappa to send in a shot where Mike Banner scored on the rebound in the 18th minute.  Some questionable PK calls in the 37th and 81st minutes allowed Landon Donovan to make the score 3-2 but the Fire held on to win the game.

Sean Johnson started the game and has to have won the starting job.  His reactions to the first PK were terrible but he almost got a hand on the second one.  This is probably MLS Save of the Week.  He did a very good job in directing traffic and getting the ball to the right players.  I know LA is on a slide but to hold them to no goals in the run of play at the Home Depot Center wins me over.

While still enjoyable given the lead and the debut of Freddie Ljungberg, the rest of the game had a bitter taste.  We once again hunkered down with a lead (4-6-0 formation while up 2-0 against Philly anyone?).  We did not push back on the Galaxy especially after Demo Kovalenko's terribly obvious and egregious red card studs up yellow card on Krzysztof Krol.  Someone of the team should have upped the ante and shown this team won't be pushed around.  We allowed a studs up tackle in SuperLiga without much retaliation either.  If you play soft and let teams push you around, you will only encourage that behavior.  MLS referees are closer to Rugby Union than English Premiership.  So next game, more fighting and more offense, not too much to ask, right?

Overall you can't complain.  The Fire dialed up a great performance in Los Angeles and left town with 3 points.  5-5-5 is an unreal area code on TV shows and it is just as unreal to think that 5-5-5 is the Fire's record after everything this team has been through.  Let this be the beginning of a new Fire team and the road to a MLS Cup.  It is the only hardware chance we have.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Game #15 Thread - @ LA Galaxy

Starting XI:

Johnson; Robinson, Brown (c), Conde, Krol; Pause; Nyarko, Husidic, Banner, Pappa; John

Quick Thoughts 

  • Sean Johnson gets the start and the goaltender controversy continues
  • CDLC uses his favorite 4-1-4-1 formation.  That can't be the formation we go with for the rest of the season though, can it?
  • Husidic and Banner over Ljungberg?  Who gets subbed out for Freddie first?  I don't care if Freddie has practiced all but once.

MLS Round-up

Games That Helped the Fire:

Philadelphia 1 - New England 1
  • Philly Union and NE Revs tie each other to stay below the Fire despite having played more games.
Colorado 1 - Dallas 1
  • Colorado and Dallas tread water.  If the Fire won 2 and drew 1 of their 3 games in hand, we would be tied with Colorado.
Houston 2 - New York 2
  • Is it an upset when New York drops points anymore?  After starting 5-0-0 they are now 3-3-6.  I am glad Houston kept the Red Bulls within reach on the table.  It is unfair to think that the Fire are going to turn it around with their new players while things will stay the same for Red Bulls despite their additions but I don't see them running away from us.  Let's hope that the Fire know when to raise the red when the Bulls come to town next week.  
Kansas City 1 - Toronto 0
  • Only four points separate these two now but I view Toronto as a much bigger threat than Kansas City.  4-1 beatdowns earlier in the season will do that but having Toronto only six points away with three games in hand makes me feel good. 
Seattle 1 - San Jose 0

  • At first glance it might seem like the Sounders are starting to get away but we have five games in hand on them and only trail by 8 points.  I think the teams are equal on talent level and San Jose has three games to gain two points in order to match Seattle.  Controlling our destiny is also a factor here with two games against the Sounders and only one vs. the Earthquakes left on the schedule.
Games That Didn't Help the Fire

Salt Lake 3 - D.C. 0
  • Borderline outcome as Salt Lake will probably make the playoffs regardless.  It could be good that DC falls farther and farther behind but I'm not worried about them catching the Fire.
Chivas USA 3 - Columbus 1
  • You never want to see Columbus win anything but Chivas USA looked good and we don't need them messing around with playoff contention.  Columbus is a lock for 1st place barring catastrophe and Chivas USA doesn't need any confidence building.

Note to the Marketing Department

I just got back from exchanging tickets for the Red Bulls game next Sunday for tickets for the September 4th game against Galaxy.  This move was prompted by the team's wonderful decision to block the August 8th Red Bulls game from the season ticket holder exchange program when Thierry Henry jumped on board.  I am out of town next weekend so when I saw another fan complaining about the new policy (Red Bulls = one of the few games his family could make it to), I reached out for a swap. 

These are just some of the problems fans had with the change in plans:
  • An E-mail announcing this policy and hyping Henry was sent out the morning after the Fire lost 5-1 at home to Monarcas Morelia.  Many fans were angry to see the team promoting another team's star while it seemed as if the Fire weren't going to get any help themselves.
  • Season ticket holders were further enraged because an option was being taken away.
  • Many questioned blocking the August 8th game with Henry but not the September 4th game with Landon Donovan.  I think too that Donovan is bigger draw for more people than Henry after the World Cup.
In conversations I've had with some of the Fire FO, I know they really want to get the EPL snobs (my words not theirs) into the stadium.  I am guessing limiting the season ticket holder exchange program for a game that will feature a former EPL star folds into that strategy.  It is not all smooth sailing because I've seen promos for the Red Bulls game for $10 tickets if you enter the code of 'Nery'.  If next Sunday doesn't sell out, the FO is really going to have egg on its face.