Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. New England Revolution

Prime your Fire pump. It has a nice ring to it, does it not? This weekend, the Fire host Mr. Intensity Jay Heaps and his New England Revolution at Toyota Park at 7:30pm.

Historically, Chicago/New England is one of MLS’s fiercest rivalries, as the two clubs have battled it out in some epic playoff matches over the years. However, for Heaps and company, there’s not much to play for but pride in this one. And for the Fire, while a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs isn’t yet assured, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Chicago dropped points this week. At any rate, one thing’s for certain: Crazy Jay will have his boys revved up one they hit the pitch on Saturday night. I know, I know. Bad pun. Humor me, will ya? I just couldn’t resist. Anyway, on with the show…

Union Recap

The Fire faithful celebrate a Chitown beatdown at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Sunday. CHI-CA-GO! (photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Chicago looked tough on the road last Sunday. A 3-1 win over an uninspired Philadelphia Union squad, combined with a DC United loss at Sporting KC, vaulted the Fire into fourth place in the Eastern Conference and solidified what will likely be a playoff spot for La Maquina Roja. And despite the fact that the Univision announcers couldn’t stop talking about (the ghost of) Cuauhtemoc Blanco, there are indeed some new playas in town.

With two stellar performances, centerback Arne Friedrich and trequartista Chris Rolfe made the Castrol Top 20, marking the second week in a row that two Firemen made the list. The two veterans were also selected for the starting XI in MLS’s Team of the week! Arne The Anchor absolutely put the clamp down on Philly’s attack and added his first career MLS goal for good measure. Not to be outdone, Rolfie boy scored a brace against the Union, and as On The Fire writer Stephen Mangat reported in his “Dispatch from the Stands“, Chris is a killer. There’s a good reason for the chatter about #18 perhaps deserving a call up to the U.S. Men’s National Team from Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Jurgie: call him. Schnell.


Rolfe: I’m so f*cking cool.

———————————————————————-

On Sunday, Logan Pause became just the second player in Fire history to make 250 appearances for the Men in Red. Unfortunately, he then proceeded to crack two ribs and puncture a lung after an awkward collision and fall in the box while defending a Union corner kick. The injured Fire captain will miss 4-6 weeks. Fire team writer Jeff Crandall reported that “with the injury, Pause was medically unable to fly. Almost immediately following the match he rode back in a rental van that featured Head Athletic Trainer Bo Leonard, Head Coach Frank Klopas, Assistant Mike Matkovich and the scorer of two goals on the night, Chris Rolfe for the 11-hour drive back to Chicago.” Now that’s some authentic team commitment and dedication. Big time. BIG TIME. This is a clear sign that the squad is really tight. It could easily have been just the trainer driving the van. But no, the head coach, assistant coach, and a star player all accompanied Logan. Respect.

On The Fire wishes Logan a speedy recovery. And while the club has done extremely well to bolster its depth over the past few weeks, this is a big blow for Chicago. We’ll talk more about the debate raging in Twitterville and Podcastlandia about who will replace Pause at the other holding midfielder spot and whether or not Frank Klopas will employ a tactical shift in #12’s absence. Stay tuned.

Looking Back on The Week

Three Firemen got the call up to represent their respective nations in international friendlies this week. Sean Johnson had to hightail it mas rápido to Mexico City from Philly, as the U.S. took down El Tri 1-0 in the fabled Estadio Azteca. That had to be one hell of a good time for SeanJ to witness what we here at On The Fire are calling the First Conquista. Will the Fire keeper be in match form after the victory party and all of that air travel?

Marco Pappa had a short hop over to the nation’s capital as Guatemala took on Paraguay at RFK. Big Pappa notched a PK in the 3-3 draw. I couldn’t find out how many minutes he logged, but expect Marco to come off the bench on Saturday night.

Forward Orr Barouch however is not available for the Fire this Saturday. The big man from Israel will be making his way home from the suburbs of Moscow, as he and his fellow U-21s battled their Russian counterparts at the Khimki Arena, home of the Red-Blacks of FC Khimki. Famed Russian side Dynamo Moscow also currently play at Khimki while they await the completion of their new stadium. удача!

Dreamy. (Image courtesy of hottimeinoldtown.com)

Perhaps the biggest (and most unsurprising) news of the week was the announcement of midfielder Marco Pappa’s immenent departure to Dutch Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen. Big Pappa signed a pre-contract for a deal that looks to keep the Guatemalan in Holland through 2016. Congrats to Marco, as he will now fulfill his dream to play in Europe and wear a jersey covered in little red hearts. Or are they kidney beans?

Readers of this fine blog know my feelings about Marco’s work rate and mental awareness on the pitch. Famed coach Marco Van Basten will certainly demand more than what we’ve seen here in Chitown, so Pappa (and Fire fans) will be best served by making every effort to take his game to the next while he’s still here. With the Fire likely going to the playoffs and all remaining matches being of the Eastern Conference variety, Pappa has an opportunity to prove that he’s indeed a world-class; someone who plays hard and smart for ninety minutes. The Dutch will expect nothing less. In fact, I watched Herrenveen dismantle my beloved FC Rapid Bucuresti 4-0 the other day in a Europa League qualifier. And let me tell you, with due respect and love, it ain’t MLS over there folks.

And Fire fans, don’t weep. Because as the incomparable Simon Borg noted Monday on the MLS Extra Time podcast, Marco’s status is not going to make or break the Chicago Fire’s future. Contrary to what many fans may believe, the man’s just not a superstar.

Week 23 Power Rankings – Aggregate: 7.4 (up from 8 last week)

As far as the media is concerned, Chicago is still flying under the radar. Either that, or they’re the Rodney Dangerfields of MLS. With the exception of NBC and ESPN, the Men in Red just aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

ESPN FC: #5 –  “The Fire showed off its newfound depth in beating Philly 3-1. New arrivals Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald linked up well with two-goal hero Chris Rolfe, and Dominic Oduro never made it off the bench.” Optimistic.

NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk: #6 – “Two goals by Chris Rolfe  and another by smooth center back Arne Freidrich were the money shots in a massive 3-1 road win over Philadelphia. Some of the air went out of the Fire soccer ball soon after, however, with the finalization of Marco Pappa’s move to Heerenveen in Holland. (He’ll stay through the end of the year and then move in January.) And a little more air escaped the Toyota Park ball with news that Logan Pause will miss 4-6 weeks. There’s enough personnel cover for Frank Klopas, but he’ll probably need to adjust the formation or some of the roles.” Sensible, and a bit suggestive.

MLSsoccer.com: #8 – “Sherjill MacDonald showed the good and the bad in his first start, doing solid, thankless hold-up work (and grabbing an assist), then blowing a bunch of breakaways. Fire fans will be happy with the win, but if they’re going to compete some of those chances need to become goals.” Haters.

Soccer by Ives: #8 –  “The new strike duo of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald showed good chemistry Sunday as Rolfe bagged a brace in a win at Philadelphia. With the likes of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro now coming off the bench, this Fire team is deep and talented.” Fair-minded, yet conservative.

SB Nation: #10 – “Quietly hanging around. It’s still a bit of a longshot, but don’t count them out as a contender for the Eastern Conference crown.” Crack smokers.

Eastern Conference Standings Update

The top four remain separated by only five points. Chicago sit in fourth, with one game in hand on the top three. Considering the top four’s opponents this weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if the standings were identical come Monday morning. Looking ahead a bit for the Men in Red, they must get a result next Wednesday at D.C. United if they wish to hold on to that fourth spot.

Which bottom dwellers have a shot at the five-hole? Forget about Montreal. They’ve played four more matches than D.C. The team to perhaps worry about is Columbus. With only 21 matches played, they could vault themselves into the fifth and final playoff slot if they, like the Godfather of Soul, get on the good foot. Owww!

Burning Question #1: How will Logan Pause’s absence affect Chicago’s starting lineup and tactical formation?

And so the debate rages: who should replace Logan Pause? Some folks are calling for the home-grown youngster Victor Pineda. Others would like to see perennial pine-riders Daniel Paladini or Michael Videira get a shot. One genius even suggested that Pause’s injury was bad timing for Rafael Robayo, implying that the burro borracho from Colombia might have been a solution. I don’t know what to say to the person who suggested that except call me. I can recommend a good lobotomist.

Perhaps I’ve been staring at screens too much this week, but I’d like to see Alex or Nyarko in there, which would perhaps be part of a tactical adjustment to a 4-4-2 diamond , or perhaps a 4-4-1-1, with Rolfie as il trequartista, similar to what we saw in Philly. Or, get ready, a 4-1-3-1-1.  The possibilities are endless! Many thanks to Daniel Casey (@winslowbobbins) for the Football Lineup twitpics!

If you looked at Daniel’s lineups, they beg the question: does Dominic Oduro fit in, if at all? He’s not going to start, so at risk of beating a dead horse, he’s solidified his place as a super sub at this point. I mean, for Christ’s sake, he played in a reserve game this week on the practice field at Toyota Park. Find a nice cushion Dom. Toyota Park’s bench isn’t as comfortable as Red Bull Arena’s.

On a personal note, I was immediately shot down on Twitter when I suggested that perhaps Alex replace Pause at holding mid. Now, while I acknowledge that my naysayers hold much more tactical knowledge than I do at this point in my venture into soccer journalism, lo and behold, who shows up at holding mid during the reserve match this week vs. Colorado on Wednesday? Alex. Perhaps my instincts aren’t too shabby after all? I guess we’ll see come matchday.  But, the young Brazilian apparently took a knock during the match, so we might not see him at all, let alone at holding mid.

All this said, the experts out there in the interwebs seem to think there will be no tactical change at all. So, if they’re right, expect to see the Klopas 4-5-1/4-4-1-1, with somebody filling the void in the second holding midfield spot.

If you really want to geek out on the #1 Burning Question, here’s a great article from Hot Time In Old Town’s James Coston, breaking down the options for Frank Klopas.

Burning Question #2: How will New England’s Lineup Changes Affect the Men in Red?

“Recurring problems”, “mental mistakes”, and overall suckage has plagued the Revs for quite a while now – which can’t be good for Jay Heaps’s blood pressure. As such, New England’s spaz head coach promises lineup changes, which were also recommended by his personal physician. What will these revolutionary changes be? (Okay, I promise to stop now.) Well, we don’t know. We’ll watch the match and report back stat.

Burning Question #3: Will Jerry Bengston be the spark that the Revs so sorely need in attack?

Well, one change for the Revs is that Jerry’s back from olympic and international friendly duty with Honduras. The DP striker is a sight for Jay Heaps’s sore eyes, as New England has found the back of the net only twice in its last six matches. Aye. Will Bengston be fresh after logging all of those frequent flyer miles, or will his teammates pull him down to dwell in their land of mediocrity?

Burning Question #4: Will Chicago continue with their sluggish starts and concede the first goal, only to come back and snatch three points from the visiting Revs?

In a word, yes.

Predictions

Michael Vidiera will get the start for Logan Pause and make Frank Klopas’s (and my) penis soft. Subsequently, coach will rotate Flaco Fernandez off the wing and back in the midfield to support The General, Pavel Pardo, and bring on an attack-minded midfielder such as Pappa or Alex.

As promised, Jay Heaps will make his lineup, and perhaps tactical changes. They will work at first, but then the Fire will adjust, shut the Revs down, and send them back to the land of suck where they belong. Heaps will then proceed to go apeshit on the sidelines. So fans, if you’re going to the match on Saturday night, be sure to pay attention to the New England bench when the Fire are whipping the Revs’ ass. Perhaps Jay Heaps will give us more for our money?

I’m going to go with my man “Irish” Steve Piggott over at Hot Time in Old Town and predict a 2-1 Fire victory. No doubt, nut job Jay Heaps will have his boys ready to play. They better be, or else Heaps might beat the kit man. After a hard luck start, the Fire will again go down 1-0 by the hand of Honduran phenom Jerry Bengston. Klopas will make adjustments and then Nyarko and Rolfe will score to put the Men in Red over the top.

Following another victory at home, the Fire will then stay where they’re at in the weekly power rankings, as well as on the only list that truly matters – the Eastern Conference standings.

**Fire vs. Revs, 7:30 @ Toyota Park and live on NBC Nonstop Chicago 5.2. Don’t miss it!**

 

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