Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Philadelphia Union
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick looks back on the week that was and gets you match prepped for Saturday’s brunch match with the Philadelphia Union…
Last time the Union came to Toyota Park, the club from Philly embarrassed the Fire on its fifteenth anniversary. With greats such as Blanco, Armas, and Nowak in attendance, Chicago went down 3-1 to a not-so-good Union side in a match that foretold what was to come during their backward march into the 2012 MLS playoffs. But that was then and this is…well…now. Don’t bother pinching yourself, it’s not a bad dream.
The Past Week
First, let’s get to the not-so-interesting stuff. Chicago Fire comes off a bye week after its 2-0 loss in Montreal. The suspension of stalwart midfielder Jeff Larentowicz (who earned a questionable red card from a questionable referee) will force manager Frank Klopas to deploy his ninth different starting XI in as many games this season. As we all know too well, injuries and suspensions have conspired to foil the gaffer’s ability to find a consistent, dependable lineup in 2013.
Forward and Striking Overlord Mike Sanders, aka Maicon Santos, may be questionable for Saturday with a knee injury. Klopas told the media he’ll likely be on the bench though. So unless Frank’s got a trick up his sleeve (HINT: put Alex up top with Rolfe in a 4-4-2 diamond), Chicago’s most expensive disappointment, Sherjill “the Recliner” MacDonald, will once again start up top. MacDonald’s last go-around against Philly (mentioned above) was arguably the overpaid Dutchman’s worst performance of 2012. Little did we know it would get worse.
Die Mannschaft veteran center back Arne Friedrich is still out with hamstring/hip issues and so is reserve RB/CB Steven Kinney (quad). Those who pay attention know the Fire has trouble scoring goals. However, what doesn’t stir as much conversation is that Friedrich’s absence is arguably the reason why Chicago has one of league’s most porous defenses. In its first eight games, Chicago conceded the most goals in MLS.
No Friedrich and Kinney, combined with the still confounding release of RB Dan Gargan last December, and topped off by a Michael Videira concussion, in sum, is why “El Diablo,” Brother Wells Thompson, finds himself as the Fire’s first choice right back. And now, to add insult to more injuries, reserve left back Hunter Jumper is questionable with a groin strain. Again, don’t bother pinching yourself. There’s no nightmare to wake up from.
And speaking of defenders, how deliciously ironic is it that former Fire man, current Chicago resident, and John Hackworth dog house-dweller Barkary Soumare will likely come out of exile to make his 2013 debut for the “U” versus a team that could sorely use his services, but can’t seem to get a deal done (yet)? Baky would be a welcome addition to a Fire squad that lacks a true third center back and is seriously hurting for defensive depth.
Problem is, Chicago is capped out and it would take a whole lotta MLS funny money to bring Baky aboard without unloading someone else, someone expensive. So either Philly doesn’t want that “someone else,” or perhaps they’re asking too much for the Fire’s former Malian warrior. At any rate, if Arne Friedrich gets put out to pasture (sadly, this looks like a distinct possibility), Chicago will find adequate cap room. Then, the plea may be “Come back Bakary Soumare, you’re our only hope.”
And speaking of transactions, the Fire did not make a move before MLS’s primary transfer window closed on Monday. With no activity now, we must presume that a major move will come this summer when the second (and most significant) transfer window opens up on July 9th. While the grumpy and perhaps fed-up faction of Fire Nation begrudged ownership and management for not bringing in a new player from overseas this week, perhaps they should have held their tongues a bit and taken a look at the big picture.
To sum up, the capped-out Fire need to resolve the Robbie Rogers situation before they make any moves. Why? Because until they know Robbie’s fate, they won’t know how much MLS funny money they have to spend (allocation $). If the current roster remains unchanged, the only way Chicago can fill one of its four empty slots is by using allocation $. And per MLS rules, we don’t (and will never) know how much funny money the Fire has now or will have in the future. But don’t take my word for it. Click here and do the math. And consider also that Chicago must take into account its 2014 contractual obligations as well.
Now, all that said, if July rolls around and the front office hasn’t resolved the Rogers dilemma and brought in a solid, known DP striker or playmaker, it’ll probably be time to give up on 2013 and whip out the pitchforks. Until then though, I advise the Fire faithful to not pull the alarm. Lots of soccer to play and deals to make before July folks.
Now for the buzz. If you’ve got a pulse, you know Chicago Fire is making a push to bring Robbie Rogers to the Windy City. After Rogers left English League One side Stevenage in February, came out of the closet, and said he wanted to pursue a career in fashion merchandising, most thought he was through with soccer – at least for a while. But lo and behold, young Robbie miraculously surfaced at LA Galaxy training about a week ago and a half ago and decided that soccer was fun again.
On Sunday, Rogers emphatically stated he didn’t want to play for the Fire – the team that happens to own his MLS rights. On Tuesday, Chicago owner Andrew Hauptman and GM Javier Leon met with Rogers in LA. After the meeting, Rogers changed his tune a bit and effusively praised the Fire bosses on Twitter. Leon, in turn, told the media that Rogers would be a “great player” for the Fire. I agree, and the reasons why go beyond the pitch.
Interestingly, it’s still unclear whether LA tampered with Rogers and Chicago’s right of first refusal. A MLS rules violation would certainly add a tasty twist to a story that becomes more dramatic with each passing day. If I were a betting man, I’d wager the Galaxy didn’t follow protocol. And if I’m right, this will only strengthen the Fire’s hand if they can’t land Rogers and are forced to negotiate with LA. Then again, who’s to say Chicago must trade Rogers’s rights to the Galaxy? It appears there are other suitors. And after all, Robbie has shown a penchant for changing his mind lately. And the saga continues…
John Rossi of The Union Dues with the gut-check from Philly
Zac MacMath will be between the sticks on Saturday. He’s been very shaky this season, so Chicago will want to shoot early and often. MacMath is particularly weak at defending crosses, so the Fire should look to capitalize on that.
Philadelphia saw two key defenders come off in a crazy game last week. Center back Jeff Parke came out with an injury just before the half, and right back Sheanon Williams was sent off late in the game. It is likely that current left back Raymon Gaddis will slide over to his more comfortable right side, and Gabriel Farfan will probably fill in on the left. Amobi Okugo will start in the middle, but his partner is not yet known. Coach John Hackworth suggested that former Fire man Bakary Soumare will play, but some reports indicate Parke will be able to start. The duo of Parke and Okugo has been very solid this year, so any replacement must meet high expectations.
The Union’s midfield is notoriously disjointed, which is a gentle way of saying it’s horrible. Last week, Philly trotted out Mike Farfan on the left, Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel in the middle, and Danny Cruz on the right. Carroll and Daniel’s partnership has not flourished through the first part of this season, and their passing has suffered. Cruz is extremely athletic, but not very talented technically. He will tear up the right side, but fail to make the right pass or shot nine times out of ten. Farfan, a right-footed player, plays on the left so he can cut in, create plays for others, or take a shot.
Look out for Kleberson (Philly’s Brazilian DP), as fans have been clamoring to see more of him. Following Daniel’s recent poor performances, a start for Kleberson might be on offer.
Jack McInerney and Conor Casey will get the nod up top. Casey’s hold-up play and surprisingly incisive passes, partnered with McInerney’s timing and finishing ability, make a great pairing. If they receive even average service from the midfield, the duo may put up a few goals.
In sum, the Union’s play hinges on the performance of Okugo’s partner and the passing between the midfield and the forwards. I have little faith in the midfield, so I’ll predict a 2-1 Fire victory.
Sparky’s Sizzling Questions
What’s this ninth different Fire starting lineup in as many games going to look like?
Ha. Well, again, unless Frank Klopas feels brave, tweaks his XI, and changes his tactics, expect Chicago to come out looking like this:
What should Chicago fear most on Saturday, i.e., what could foil a shot at victory?
Certainly, it’s Conor Casey and Jack McInerney. If the Fire don’t boss the midfield and cut off Philly’s supply to its forwards, the “U”‘s big man and crafty youngster will likely cause the Fire problems and queue the collective groans, sighs, and perhaps boos in and around Toyota Park.
Should Chicago Fire win this game?
Yes it should, and here’s why: Philly’s midfield sucks, their goalie’s a spaz, they’ll look to defend, and they very likely will be missing two of their usual back four. Chicago may not keep a clean sheet if Frank Klopas decides to press the Union, but pressing is the right call. If the Fire can boss the midfield and bring the intensity they showed during the second half vs. the Crew a few weeks back, they should pound the Doop and get revenge for last October’s 15th anniversary drubbing.
Looking at all the matchups, this game should see the Fire kick off the weekend’s MLS action with at least two goals and a win. Anything less than three points at home right now will further demoralize a wounded, skeptical fan base. Fire Nation needs something tangible to feel good about, stat.
Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union
Saturday, May 11th at 12:30pm cst!
Live television broadcast on NBC Sports Network
La radio en espanol: 107.9 FM La Ley en Chicago.
Click here for tickets!