Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. San Jose Earthquakes
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick and Center Line Soccer’s Nerdy Gales tell tales of Fire men fighting Goonies on Independence Day eve…
Last time the Fire met the ‘Quakes was way back when on July 28, 2012. Substitute Sherjill MacDonald made his debut in Fire red on wig night at Buck Shaw Stadium, Alan Gordon was red-carded for a reckless challenge on former Fire man (and current ‘Quake) Dan Gargan, an angry Frank Yallop was tossed, and the head Goonie himself, Steven Lenhart, equalized as the whopping nine minutes of extra time referee Chris Penso gifted San Jose expired. By the way, Penso’s back this Wednesday night.
The draw certainly felt like a loss for the visiting Men in Red, but their encouraging performance against the league’s (then) best team was indicative of the good form that sent the Fire on an eventual two month-long rampage toward the top spot in the East.
Fast forward to now.
2013’s been a disappointment thus far for San Jose, including its loss of last year’s MLS Coach of the Year, Frank Yallop. But as they’re known to do, the ‘Quakes thrashed and bruised their way to an unbelievable 3-2 comeback win over LA Galaxy in the “California Clasico” last Saturday night. Over 50,000 folks at Stanford stadium saw ten Goonies score two consecutive goals in extra time and watched as los Galacticos wandered off the pitch in disbelief.
Here’s what the Godfather, Bruce Arena had to say after LA’s loss:
“To have a team of players and coaches that are that poor and stupid in the last five minutes of a game, that’s my responsibility. It can’t be on anybody else but me. I’m absolutely embarrassed at that performance.”
Well then, there you have it. From the mouth of a champion.
Once again though, Chicago has the good fortune of catching an MLS opponent at less than full strength. Come Wednesday, the ‘Quakes will be on the road with short rest and without three, possibly four regular starters.
Center back Victor Bernardez is out after receiving two yellows versus LA Galaxy, and 2012 MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski (USA) and winger Marvin Chavez (Honduras) received Concacaf Gold Cup call-ups. In addition, newly acquired center back Clarence Goodson (USA) and sometimes-starting center back Nana Attakora (Canada) are with their respective national teams. Rounding out the absences, wig-man forward Steven Lenhart may be unavailable after bashing his head into a Galaxy defender last Saturday night.
Speaking of good form, with its defeat of Orlando City SC last Wednesday night at Toyota Park, Chicago’s home record in U.S. Open Cup play improved to 21-0-1 all-time. With its 5-1 victory over the Lions, the Fire will meet one of the league’s worst teams, Eastern Conference rival D.C. United, on August 7th at home in a USOC semifinal. The winner will face either Portland Timbers or Real Salt Lake in the Cup final on an October date and at a location to be determined.
Continuing with the good form theme, after going 2-7-1 in its first ten in 2012, Chicago is riding an eight-match unbeaten streak (6-0-2) across all competitions that began with a 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake on May 25th. What’s behind the turnaround you ask? Well, the arrival of Bakary Soumare and (especially) Mike Magee is the obvious answer. However, in addition to the latter’s seven goals in seven games, how else might numbers help us understand the streak?
Last time out versus Orlando City, 62% of the Fire’s shots were on target (8/13). After seeing this number, I started to think about the shots stats this season and how they’ve improved lately. This, I thought, might be a good way to explain the run of good results. My suspicions proved correct.
During the eleven games before Mike Magee’s arrival, Chicago averaged 12.5 shots/game, 34% of which were on target. However, since Magic Mike’s donned Fire red, he and his teammates are putting up 18 shots per game, with 41% of them on target. So not only are the Men in Red shooting 44% more, they’re doing it more accurately. Hence, more scoring.
All that said though, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops quite yet.
Beginning Wednesday, Chicago has six games to play in a 25-day span, including a home friendly against Mexico’s Club America. Sure, come kickoff against San Jose the Men in Red will be on a full week’s rest, but they played six games in 25 days before their latest siesta.
So questions must be asked: How long can the Fire’s regulars fight fatigue without any demonstrable squad rotation in place? And what about the three empty roster slots and forever-injured Steven Kinney?
Currently, Chicago has 26 able-bodied men on its roster (25 if you take Logan Pause’s injury into account). Eleven of the 26 have logged under 500 MLS minutes so far. Eight are over 1100. But perhaps most alarming is the fact that Chicago’s top three minutes men constitute three of its four starting defenders — and most of their backups aren’t actually defenders.
Fatigue due to a lack of effective squad rotation is partly to blame for the Fire’s poor form down the stretch last year. So unless the club can find four fresh bodies and Frank Klopas can figure out a rotation and begin to trust some of his reservists, I’m afraid we may see a repeat of 2012 come October – assuming the team manages to pull itself up into the playoff hunt in the first place.
Sean Johnson is on Gold Cup duty now. The Milkman barely lost the vote for Man of the Match vs. Orlando City, as he kept the Fire in contention throughout the second half. Sean was arguably his team’s biggest difference-maker with six saves, three of which exemplified his standing as one of America’s elite goalkeepers. If the USMNT can reach the final in Chicago on July 28th, Johnson will be away from the Fire for four weeks. With a jam-packed July on the docket for the Men in Red, Sean’s absence provides Paolo Tornaghi the opportunity to start at least three and as many as five MLS matches this month.
The Fire will undoubtedly miss Johnson, and the relatively untested Tornaghi’s presence in goal is of some concern. The Italian international had a rough go of it in his one and only appearance this season, a 1-4 defeat at the hands of Chivas USA in which he made two critical errors. In sum, Tornaghi has played in a total of five MLS contests over one-and-a-half seasons. By most accounts though, he is a quality replacement and has a stronger back line in front of him now than he did back in late March.
Say your Hail Mary’s for the paizano.
And what would an addition of PYPF be without some Sherjill MacDonald news, right?! As mentioned a few weeks back, the Dutchman appears to have his eyes fixed on a return to his beloved Belgium. Here’s a recent report from the Netherlands’ voetbalkrant.com. Please excuse the awkward translation from Dutch:
“Sherjill MacDonald would like to return to Belgian football. Already after one year The Dutchman is currently owned by the U.S. Chicago Fire, but there probably will not be long anymore. The 28-year-old Dutchman moved last summer from Beerschot to Major League Soccer. The attacker went to the bucket for Chicago Fire, where he now so already seen it. That MacDonald wants to leave the club would be due to the tactics of Chicago coach uses. After New Year was the only Dutchman in rush play and that it was a lot less than the tactic that was used before. It reports the latest news. The newspaper knows, finally, that the fast striker furthermore also weighs heavily on the budget of Chicago. Therefore the club would even be willing to let go. MacDonald free transfer Would all be interested.”
Sherjill MacDonald: The “fast striker” who “went to the bucket” and couldn’t adapt to Frank Klopas’s tactics. What a tangled web he’s woven.
I won’t even elaborate on the “weighs heavily” line. It’d be like shooting fatty tuna in a barrel.
And speaking of MacDonald, OTF contributor Chris O’Connor was one of a few hundred who took in the Fire’s reserve match vs. Charlotte Eagles at Toyota Park last Saturday night. Here are his brief thoughts…
“The Charlotte Eagles were able to come into Chicago over the weekend and exercise at least a portion of this year’s U.S. Open Cup demons against the Fire. It was evident from the start that the Eagles had something to prove, as they held a 2-0 lead after a mere 15 minutes. Maicon Santos was able to bring the Fire within one with a blast in the 2nd half, but that’s all the offense the Fire could muster. If not for a few nice saves from Paolo Tornaghi, the margin of defeat would have been greater than one.
A few notes on some individual performances:
Sherjill MacDonald: I expected Mackie to come alive a bit against a 3rd division club. In fact, I assumed one of the reasons he started (other than to keep him in form) was to get his confidence up by banging in a few goals. His was a lackluster performance though, and we seem no closer to receiving any production from our DP.
Victor Pineda: Victor played the first half and was really slick on a few transitions from defense to offense, but he didn’t find much success in the attacking third.
Yazid Atouba: Mr. Atouba impressed. He started a few nice offensive opportunities and had some beautiful crosses. The young winger still needs some work, but I’m excited to see how he develops.
Hunter Jumper: Looked solid on defense. I don’t think it would be the end of the world to see him in some first-team games this year.”
Many thanks to Chris for his report!
Rounding out the news of the week, let’s have a look at the Eastern Conference table:
Chicago Fire is within striking distance of a playoff spot. The Men in Red could vault themselves into fifth place with wins in their next two this week if Philadelphia can manage a road win at the Dynamo on Saturday. Note that come Monday, the Fire will still have a game in hand on Dom Kinnear and company, results notwithstanding.
Starting XI, Tactics, & Injuries
With all the ‘Quakes absences and a banged-up Steven Lenhart, Frank Klopas’s strategy seems elemetary: Stop Shea Salinas*. Primarily, he should task Patrick Nyarko with marking San Jose’s speedy, incisive winger, and assign Jalil Anibaba to back Patty up in the harassment department. If the Fire can neutralize Salinas, they should be able to get the win.
*NOTE: Salinas was handed a one game suspension by the MLS disciplinary committee on Wednesday for elbowing Robbie Keane in the 5th minute of San Jose’s match last Saturday’s vs. LA Galaxy. Salinas was ordered to serve the suspension Wednesday night vs. the Fire.
Offensively, with Bernardez, Goodson, and Attakora all unavailable, the middle of San Jose’s back line appears penetrable, so the Fire should look to slide balls through the middle and up into the heart of the ‘Quakes defense. Set pieces will be key for the Fire too, as San Jose’s missing some serious beef in the back.
Expect Chicago to come out in its usual double-pivot 4-4-2:
I imagine Klopas will go with Alex — hoping he’ll harass San Jose’s weakened defensive middle — and save Paladini for Sunday because the latter performed quite well last time out versus Kansas City. Regarding Alex, his ability to involve himself in the attack will be predicated upon Larentowicz not bossing forward so much, as he’s apt to do.
Logan Pause remains out with the sacroiliac injury he sustained at Columbus. Patrick Nyarko has a hand injury, but Klopas says it will only “keep him from bowling, not soccer.”
Nerdy Gales at the San Jose Center Line
After what can euphemistically be called ‘a slow start’, the San Jose Earthquakes’ fortunes improved over the past few days. Interim coach Mark Watson was finally able to pick from a full squad for the 2013 California Clasico, and the now traditional 4th of July fireworks fixture at Stanford’s football (throw ball) stadium drew 50,028 fans, all witnesses to the most improbable injury time brace for victory over arch nemesis the LA Galaxy.
The Earthquakes’ challenge is to harness that positive energy going into this mid-week road trip. While one half of the Bash Brothers, Alan Gordon, garnered MLS Player of the Week, the other half remains doubtful; Steven Lenhart remodeled his left temple on the back of Juninho’s head. Mark Watson is still waiting to hear whether Lenhart is good to go for either of this week’s games against the Fire and New England Revolution.
Definitely absent will be Victor Bernardez (red card suspension) and national team players Wondolowski, Attakora, Chavez and newly-signed USMNT defender Clarence Goodson, all of whom are on duty for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. So, expect some unfamiliar names for the Earthquakes: fresh-faced and pillow-footed rookie Adam Jahn appears the obvious choice up front with Gordon, and perhaps former Fire man Dan Gargan in defense.
Mike Magee’s all but out of San Jose’s hair now; he earned begrudging respect as a ‘Quakes killer. Back in 2011, The Accidental Goalkeeper donned Josh Saunders’ (6’ 4”) shirt when the backup goalie was red-carded after he replaced injured starter Donovan Ricketts.
Magee, generously listed at 5’ 10”, rolled back the long sleeves and donned the Hamburger Helper gloves as ‘Quakes fans rubbed their hands in eager anticipation of victory. Forty-seven minutes and one clean sheet later however, Magee earned MLS Save of the Week.
‘Quakes fans grumbled again when Magee’s goal in the MLS Cup playoffs sealed San Jose’s early exit in 2012.
Missing up to four of last week’s starting XI for the next two games will test the depth and confidence of the Earthquakes roster, and they’ll need plenty of Goonie Magic to douse Magee and the Fire. Just make sure you stay until the final whistle…
Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Wednesday, July 3rd at 7:30pm cst
Live TV broadcast on Chicago’s MY50
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago
Tickets still available here!
Come out for the soccer, stay for the fireworks!