Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. New York Red Bulls

Will last year's Klopas be this year's Klopas on Sunday? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Will last year’s Klopas be this year’s Klopas on Sunday? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick looks back on Chicago’s time off and looks ahead to some cattle tusslin’ at Toyota Park on Sunday…

Toyota Park-o-phobes New York Red Bulls come to town on Sunday to take on the Men in Red in front of a nationally-televised audience on ESPN2. New York has not won a match in Chicago in their last ten attempts, but it appears to have found its form after a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union last weekend.

So the question is: Will history repeat itself and help the Fire get a result at home against an extremely talented, dangerous RBNY side?

Let’s take a look back at the goings on during Chicago’s time off from league play, then look ahead to Sunday…

The Past Two Weeks

Unsurprisingly, Fire President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon flew in from LA after the Chivas USA loss to do damage control. As expected, he told everyone not to panic, expressed confidence in Frank Klopas, and doubled-down on the Fire’s current roster. Problem is, Chicago’s #1 soccer man can’t simply walk down the hall and into the locker room to do these things regularly. He has to fly in.

Leon: Find this man a nice place to live in Chicago. Stat. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Leon: Find this man a nice place to live in Chicago. Stat. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Instead of criticising owner Andrew Hauptman for being cheap and/or not caring, it’s more fair (and correct) to question his management of the club and how its organizational chart is structured on the soccer side of things. Question: Do general managers (technical directors in soccer, or in Leon’s case, PSO) usually manage their squad from over 2,000 miles away? Answer: No.

I’m not sure what other responsibilities Javier Leon has as Managing Director of Andell Sports Group, but his office needs to be in Toyota Park along with the rest of the staff. Guillermo Petrei (Vice President of Soccer Operations) as de facto GM simply hasn’t done the trick. Sure, his intimate knowledge of MLS rules, regulations, and contracts makes him an invaluable compliance officer-type, but Petrei’s soccer and scouting chops are questionable, and he strikes me as a bit of a paper-pusher, a recluse. On the soccer side of things, this is the man in charge in Bridgeview.

Leon, however, has the GM moxie. He should be the face man, the leader, which would allow Frank Klopas to concentrate on what he’s paid to do – coach. My advice to Andrew Hauptman? Send Javier to the Windy City, keep Petrei at his side, and find someone to help both of them on the scouting side of things. Frank Klopas is wearing too many hats right now, and it shows.

If (as Hauptman and Leon repeatedly say) the club is truly committed to Klopas and his Chicago-ness, they’ll change the organizational structure to allow him to develop into a better, dare I say a top, head coach. This means: 1) relieve Klopas of all non-coaching duties, 2) provide opportunities for him to pursue formal coaching education at the highest level, and 3) send him overseas to learn how to be better at his job, not just scout players.

Moving on…

Perhaps the biggest (and most shocking) news during the break was Chicago’s shutout loss to NASL side Minnesota United FC, which not only hurt the Fire’s pride, but also its starting right-winger. That’s right folks, add Patrick Nyarko’s name to the med sheet. He hurt his hamstring after almost an entire half of play. It’s a shame the gaffer couldn’t bring himself to rest a guy who recently revealed he’s concerned about the constant pounding he takes game in, game out.

This shouldn't happen in practice.

This shouldn’t happen in practice. (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Klopas: “We wanted to get some guys some minutes and I wanted more than anything for certain guys to get even 45 minutes because of the off week. We had a setback which kind of sucks with Pat.”

Yeah. That does indeed suck Frank.

The friendly with MN Utd FC was meaningless, and in hindsight seems like a favor to our neighbors to the north if anything. Perhaps Frank Klopas needs a bit of schooling in risk assessment to go along with the education I recommended above.

Also of note from the friendly: defender Leo Lelis was back as a trialist and earned some minutes. The Fluminense (Brazil) youth product saw time with the Fire during preseason and was shown a red card as time expired. Given the rash of injuries and shaky condition of a few on the back line, perhaps young Leo will don Fire red in the near future.

Sebastian Mila transfer rumors continue to swirl. Polish source Przeglad Sportowy reports that Chicago “assistant coaches” are interested in the Slask Wroclaw midfielder, whose contract expires in June – which would allow him to go to the Fire on a free transfer. I guess that’s cool. But does Chicago really need another central midfielder? Plus, he’s kind of a weird looking dude. Bilbo Baggins in a pink basketball kit anyone?

Fire fan Anthony Seymour published a piece on “Improving the Fire’s Place in the Chicago Sports Market” the other day at Hot Time in Old Town. You should read it. Here’s my response:

They do plenty already. Management on the other hand...

They do plenty already. Management on the other hand… (photo: flickr.com)

  • The article begins with a valid critique that the club needs to do a better job with “marketing, public relations, community relations, and press relations.” Subsequently, it proceeds to completely side-step this argument, retreats into a “to do” list for supporters groups and fans, and concludes by asking the latter folks if they’re “doing their part.” What about the club?
  • The Chicago sports market is not “saturated.” This tired trope is repeated to the point of absurdity. There is only one first division soccer team in Chicago. Uno. The Fire are the market. There are about nine million folks in the Chicagoland area. Chicago’s other sports teams are not to blame if the club can’t fill a 20,000 seat stadium in the United States’s third-largest market. In fact, other sports teams shouldn’t be part of the conversation at all.
  • Fans of other sports gather together in “communities” too.
  • Agreed that American supporters need to spread the soccer gospel, so to speak, over a beer or possibly a beer and a match ticket.
  • Agreed that Section 8 and Sector Latino need to do better job at interacting with the “general sports public,” as it’s put.
  • Contrary to popular sentiment, Bridgeview is not a “trek” – especially if you’ve got wheels (like most Chicagoland residents).
  • The fan base cited as “easiest to tap into” is a group of folks MLS has struggled to attract since its inception; precisely because of the “innate physicality” of its play (read: not-better-than-average technical quality and coaching). These fans will not be won over with a handshake, a smile, a Groupon, nor all three. Give them good football and they’ll spend their money on it.
  • The Fire will never “corner the Chicago sports market,” nor should it attempt to. Its goal, however, should be to corner the Chicago soccer market – one that happens to be huge and ripe for the picking.

    Petke: serious or snake?

    Petke: Serious or Snake?

Finally, RBNY rookie head coach Mike Petke gave Chicago laudatory praise this week. Speaking to Big Apple Soccer, Petke called the Fire “a sleeping giant,” a team that’s “very dangerous to play.” How political of him.

Apparently, Petke hasn’t checked the injury report, nor has he watched any 2013 film. But hey, if ignorant praise is all it can get at this point, the Fire will take it!

“The View from New York” by Seeing Red’s Mark Fishkin

Fresh off the Red Bulls’ first win of the season, New York is playing with confidence coming into Chicago, where the franchise hasn’t won a match since 2005.

RBNY was lifted by the return of captain Thierry Henry last Saturday vs Philly, and his entrance to the match completely changed the offensive focus for New York. Along with a healthy Fabian Espindola (2 goals on the season) and an improving Peguy Luyindula, the Red Bulls should be a handful for a Fire back line that has bled goals in two of its four matches this season.

The New York Midfield has yet to truly click, though if Tim Cahill can go, then a Jonathan Steele-Dax McCarty-Cahill-Eric Alexander foursome is likely. The two outside mids don’t have the speed that Lloyd Sam offers, but Alexander (1 goal) is a threat to shoot from anywhere.

The Red Bulls have allowed only 2 goals in their last 3 matches, and their defense will be bolstered by the return of Brandon Barklage from suspension. Expect Mike Petke to go with a back four of Heath Pearce-Jamison Olave-Markus Holgersson-Barklage.

‘Keeper Luis Robles is playing well and has recovered from getting dropped from five feet in the air by the Union’s Conor Casey last week. Robles is feeling Kevin Hartman rounding into form on New York’s bench, thus he’s stepped up to deliver some spectacular saves.

As has been the story for the Red Bulls in recently years, the club has the talent to dominate all comers. But the players must leverage their talent to get results.

Mark Fishkin is an American soccer fanatic working in digital media and host of the Red Bulls-focused Seeing Red Podcast. Follow him @MarkFishkin

Sparky’s Sizzling Questions

Holla at ya dog. (photo: Scott Fenwick)

“Follow me @CF97Sparky RUFF. (photo: Scott Fenwick)

What does the Chicago med sheet look like as of Friday?

Despite the two-week break, Chicago’s roster still aches with key injuries, and, as mentioned above, it picked up another one during the break. In addition to Arne Friedrich, don’t expect to see the following players hit the pitch on Sunday: Alex, Dilly Duka, Patrick Nyarko.

Ze German is no longer feeling pain, but a lack of fitness will  keep him out Sunday. It would be a mistake to rush him back into the XI, especially given the quality of Chicago’s next three opponents (Houston, Columbus, Montreal). Nyarko and Duka have hamstring issues, and Alex is still nursing an ankle after being stretchered off against Chivas USA.

Okay, now that the injury situation is somewhat clear, what will the starting XI look like?

With the above-mentioned injuries, plus a few others who’ve been out (Pause, Kinney, Videira), who knows?

I recommend the following: Johnson; Kinney, Anibaba, Berry, Segares; Pause, Larentowicz; Thompson, Rolfe, Lindpere; MacDonald. 

This 4-2-3-1 should stop the bleeding (again) and give Chicago its best chance of getting a result at home in front of what will surely be an angst-laden crowd. If Big Red Larentowicz is not providing enough offensive oomph in the box-to-box MF role, Daniel Paladini can come on and provide a spark. If Kinney can’t go or gets hurt again, Klopas should bring in Videira, or shift Pause to RB, Big Red to into Pause’s holding MF role, and again, put Paladini into the other DM slot.

Note to Klopas: no matter what he says, Joel Lindpere is not a CM. For the love of God, play him on the left.

But if the gaffer can’t manage to get Lindpere out of his ear (“Coach, I play in the middle.”), then perhaps we’ll see the return of a flat 4-4-2 that looks like this: Pause, Anibaba, Berry, Segares; Thompson, Larentowicz, Lindpere, Rolfe; MacDonald, Santos.

I don’t like this option at all. Aside from the Lindpere issue, it puts Rolfe out wide. Chris should be placed at least somewhat centrally, and be able to float underneath the point man. He can’t do this out on the wing.

As we saw in the first two games, Rolfe could be paired with another forward up top in this formation, but given the injuries to Duka and Nyarko, this means starting either Yazid Atouba or Corben Bone on the wing. Against Red Bull at home when you need a result? I don’t think so. Furthermore, the 4-4-2 hasn’t done Chicago any favors thus far in 2013, so why use it if there’s a better option (4-2-3-1), especially given the circumstances.

Do I really get two games for the price of one on Sunday?

Yes. Yes you do. If 90 minutes aren’t enough, how about 180? Stick around for the reserve match at 6:30!

Despite the injuries, is this game winnable for the Fire?

Yes it is. But there mustn’t be any momentary lapses of concentration (or reason). Red Bull has creative and attacking talent that will take advantage of any waning focus. Be very afraid if you see Henry, Luyindula, and Espindola on the field together. If this happens, it’ll be time for the Fire to batten down the hatches a la Kansas a few weeks ago. But if the weather’s as nice as forecasted, there’s no way this one ends 0-0.

For Chicago, scoring chances will neither be easy, nor frequent. The Fire will not get nearly as many shots on goal as they did in the Chivas game. New York’s defense is better than the one that gave up five goals to the Fire last year. At risk of repeating a tired soccer cliché, the Men in Red must finish their chances to get a result. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Chicago must be determined to win. The players must assert their will and want it more. They need to get pissed off. The crowd is important here too. If fans bring that same attitude into Toyota Park, one that says, “We’re sick of this shite and we’re not gonna take it anymore,” then perhaps we’ll all be feasting on Bull Balls and French Dips around 6pm on Sunday evening.

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls: Sunday, April 7th at 4:00pm cst at Toyota Park or on ESPN2. La radio en espanol – 107.9 FM La Ley

Tickets still available here!

P.S. – OTF’s Shane Nicholson will live tweet the match from the Toyota Park press box on Sunday afternoon. Follow him @ofvoid for all the incisive rants. I’ll be sitting next to him, so perhaps he’ll get into even more trouble this time…

#FireNation

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