Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at New England Revolution #2

Chicago needs this Man in Red to heal up soon (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Chicago needs this Man in Red to heal up soon (photo: chicago-fire.com)

OTF’s Scott Fenwick and Total MLS’s Seth Macomber get you ready for another pivotal game between two teams that don’t like each other very much…

In order to get a sense of context for the Fire’s crucial road game in the house that Tom Brady built, let’s have a look at some numbers:

  • After going 2-7-2 in their first 11 games this season, Chicago has managed to forge a mirror image in its last 11 at 7-2-2
  • Beginning Saturday, Chicago plays 7 of its final 12 games on the road.
  • The Fire is 2-5-3 on the road in 2013, with a -8 goal differential
  • New England is 4-3-4 at home, with a +7 goal differential
  • New England head coach “Screamin'” Jay Heaps has won 3 out of his 4 meetings with Frank Klopas
  • The Fire currently holds MLS’s longest winless streak on turf at 0-8-2, dating back to 2010

I’m not a betting man, but I’m afraid the odds favor New England in this one. That said, with Cacha Rios now on board, Chicago has an opportunity on Saturday night to prove it’s a real contender for a playoff spot in the East. While a draw certainly wouldn’t be too damaging, the Men in Red need to start learning how to win on the road, especially against teams below them on the table. Time is of the essence.

Big news continued to flow out of Bridgeview this week. Out went Le Big Mac and in came La Cacha. That’s right folks, the nightmare that was Sherjill MacDonald has finally left the building known as Toyota Park, while the one-time dream known as Arevalo Rios has become a reality for the Fire.

A team source indicated that MacDonald’s on his way to Belgium this weekend to seek employment in its first division, the Jupiler League. Apparently, his agent hasn’t been able to get a deal done to this point. Unsurprisingly, MacDonald’s going to have to show up in person before anyone will offer him a contract.

Rios, however, is finally signed, sealed, delivered, and cleared to play this weekend in New England. However, according to a team source, that almost didn’t happen due to a bureaucratic snafu and a national holiday in Italy this week. Apparently, with only minutes to spare on Friday before the Italian Football Federation closed its offices for the week, Palermo was able to secure Rios’s International Transfer Certificate in time to satisfy US Soccer’s and MLS’s eligibility requirements.

The saga of Rios’s arrival in Chicago is an interesting one. For many weeks, the Fire front office thought landing the Uruguayan World Cup veteran would be impossible. In fact, back in May, the club was looking at a forward from Palermo, and Rios wasn’t even on its radar. Around that time though, Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich, Rios’s countryman and acquaintance, contacted him. Rios told Percovich that he no longer wished to stay in Italy and was interested in playing in the U.S.

Last year, Palermo paid a 2 million Euro ($2.7 million) transfer fee to Tijuana Xolos to secure Rios’s services. That, combined with knowing Rios’s standing as a player hadn’t diminished, left Chicago wary about what the asking price for Rios might be — especially considering it had to deal with Rios’s representatives in both Uruguay and Italy. But Arevalo kept calling.

The now famous “Cacha” #20 Chicago Fire kit pic that went out on Twitter last week and sparked #RiosWatch originates with Percovich. It was the Fire assistant coach’s idea to send the photo to Rios to further pique his interest in joining the Fire and MLS. After he received the photo, Rios started doing research about Chicago and eventually agreed to a compensation deal with the Fire on his own. Because Palermo was relegated to Serie B in May, the Fire had hoped they could secure Rios for a minimal transfer fee, or perhaps on a free transfer. However, the fact that three other teams in Serie A wanted him and were prepared to tender a transfer fee to Palermo complicated matters. 

In the end, Chicago came to terms with the Italian club and paid a substantial fee to secure Rios on loan, with an option to buy. An oral agreement was reached the night of the USOC semifinal versus DC United, Rios flew to Chicago the next day, and the newest Fire man signed his new contract with minutes to spare before MLS’s summer transfer window expired. All in all, it was a whirlwind process and a difficult, complicated transaction to execute. In the end though, Chicago got its man and Fire Nation is pumped to see him make his debut very soon…

How They Stand in the East

table

The Eastern Conference is tight. It’s truly astounding that Chicago is eight points off the top spot in the East with two games in hand on the first, second, and third place teams. Looking down the table, Saturday’s is a perfect opportunity for the Fire to put some distance between it and the Revs. A win would vault the Men in Red four points above New England, with a game in hand.

Houston hosts Seattle, so do your best to hold your nose this weekend and root for the Sounders. L’Impact will look to stop their skid and get revenge against DC United at Stade Saputo, while New York faces Philly. One or both teams will drop points in the latter match, so that’s good for the Fire.

Best case scenario? Chicago wins and Houston either draws or loses, which would vault the Fire into the fifth and final playoff spot in the East.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

For a positional look at New England and winning tips for the Fire, click below:

READ: Know Your Enemy – New England Revolution #2

I’ll bet Patrick Nyarko sits out again this week. Concussions are not to be trifled with, and history tells us the Fire are very cautious when its players sustain head injuries (most recent example: Mike Videira).

With newly-minted DP Cacha Rios, I expect Frank Klopas to stick with the formation that’s gotten him to within striking distance of the playoffs and go with the following amped-up 4-4-2:

 fire 442 at revs

Projected bench: Tornaghi; Jumper, Francis; Pause, Alex; Rolfe, Amarikwa

The View from the Fort with Seth Macomber

Like the Chicago Fire, the New England Revolution has undergone some changes since the two teams last met. The Revs are now playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, the typically stingy defense is starting to look vulnerable, and Jerry Bengtson, the hero in the first encounter, isn’t regularly making the game day roster. Though despite the many changes, one thing remains the same: the Revs hate the Fire.

Besides being a rivalry match, the Revolution will be pushing for victory after suffering back-to-back losses to Toronto FC and Sporting KC. In order to get back on track and into the playoff race, the Revs will need a solid performance from their defense on Saturday night.

The Revolution defense remains one of the best in the league with 23 goals allowed and a goals against average of 1.00. Even with the impressive numbers though, the back line does have weaknesses. Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth has outstanding positioning but struggles to make acrobatic saves, particularly when shots are coming from long distances. The left back position is also an area of concern since Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston both have shortcomings. Tierney is a better offensive threat but can be slow defensively. Alston is more physical but has shown rust after his three-month absence.

Defend the Fort (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Defend the Fort (photo: mlssoccer.com)

If the defense can holdup, the Revs have plenty of players who can find the back of the net. Diego Fagundez, the team’s leading scorer with seven goals, has a tendency of showing up in the right places. If Juan Agudelo has fully healed from his knee injury, he will give the offense a big boost; the Revs have amassed 12 goals in the five games that the 20 year-old has appeared in. The biggest wild-card for the Revolution is newly acquired Charlie Davies, who is eager to make an impact after going goalless in 23 appearances with Randers FC.

The Revs have shown glimpses of solid play but will need to put together a full ninety-minute performance if they are to beat the Fire this weekend.

OTF friend Seth Macomber is Total MLS’s New England Revolution beat writer and co-host of the MLS Olimpico podcast. Follow him @SethMan31

Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Saturday, August 10th at 6:30pm cst
Local TV broadcast on Chicago’s My50
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

#cf97 Nation

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