Why USMNT World Cup success could be good for Chicago Fire
OTF’s Austin Fido continues his look at the effects of the World Cup on MLS with a peek at the Fire’s 2014 summer schedule …
Last week, I wrote this piece about possible player absences in MLS brought about by World Cup preparations. This week, as stipulated by the OTF overlords, it’s time I offered something to Chicago. So this one is for you, Fire fans – thanks for putting up with me.
If you work in Chicago Fire ticket sales, however, my sincere apologies. This post makes light of what may appear to be a pending commercial disaster: LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Toronto FC could each turn up at Toyota Park this season without their most marketable players. It’ll be a tough sell. My condolences.
Back to Fire fans, who don’t earn a living from filling Toyota Park. More specifically, those interested in seeing their team rapidly accumulate points in MLS. FIFA’s mandated pre-World Cup rest period coincides with a four-game stretch for the Fire, which includes visits from LA and Seattle. When MLS returns from its mid-June break, Chicago will first play Toronto at home, then travel to Kansas City. All told, eighteen points will be on offer during the period of the season coinciding with World Cup players’ absences.
If USMNT achieves an improbable run beyond the group stage, Fire fans will briefly savor the privilege of watching the cream of American soccer talent cover itself in glory in Brazil while their club takes on a succession of MLS squads skimmed of their best players.
It’s an unlikely sequence of events, but here’s how it could play out…
5/24 – @ Columbus Crew
The best-case scenario for this match sees the Crew missing both Jairo Arrieta, Waylon Francis (both Costa Rica) and Michael Parkhurst (USMNT) to their respective national teams. Arrieta is not a name that necessarily strikes fear into the hearts of MLS defenders, but he’ll get called up if he’s playing well in the league. Likewise, Francis is only going to the Brazil if his contribution is significant.
Parkhurst’s immediate transition from bench warmer in Augsburg to starting left back for USMNT against South Korea made clear thatJurgen Klinsmann is partial to his talents. A good start for Columbus could well be all the utility back needs to make the cut for the final 23.
In other words, the Crew is only affected by World Cup call-ups if the candidates within their squad have helped generate some early-season momentum. Momentum which World Cup call-ups may interrupt, to the benefit of Chicago, the first team Columbus will have to confront with whatever recalibration of its first team is required.
6/1 – vs. LA Galaxy
If you don’t believe momentum can be stalled by a change in the lineup, consider the Galaxy’s start to the 2013 season: undefeated in their opening four matches of the year; lost three out of the next six.
Their stuttering form coincided with Landon Donovan’s return to the starting line-up after his walkabout in Cambodia. All told, Donovan missed five of LA’s first ten games, of which the Galaxy won three and drew two.
The guy holding it all together in Donovan’s absence was, of course, Mike Magee. He scored six times in 10 starts for LA before taking that form to Chicago and turning in a MVP season. When the Galaxy come to Toyota Park on June 1st, they will be missing Donovan, but Magee should be wearing Fire red.
There will be another Galaxy player almost certainly on USMNT duty come June 1st: Omar Gonzalez. Remember the 2012 MLS season? LA contrived to lose nine of its first 17 matches, threatened to sink out of playoff contention altogether, then rallied to win 10 of its concluding 17 games, grabbed the 4th seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and won MLS Cup.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence that Gonzalez missed the opening half of that season through injury. One suspects, however, the Galaxy’s decision to throw him a DP contract in 2013 was influenced by the traumatic memory of the team’s 2012 struggles without the big center back.
There’s every reason to believe LA will be good in 2014, but they will surely be less good playing on the road, a long way from home, absent two extremely influential players.
Klinsi says your welcome, Chicago.
6/4 – @ Colorado Rapids
You can’t have it all, Fire fans. Playing in Colorado’s thin air on short rest is never easy, and the only probable absentee from the Rapids presumptive first team is Marvin Chavez.
The Honduran midfielder will make the Rapids better in 2014, but his absence is unlikely to diminish the team’s traditional strength on home turf. Still, if you have to play in Colorado, it’s probably best to do so when your fullbacks won’t be terrorized by one of the league’s wilier playmakers.
6/7 – vs. Seattle Sounders
The Fire’s brutal stretch of three games in six days concludes with the Sounders’ visit to Bridgeview. The World Cup will be kicking off in less than a week, and Seattle will be missing Clint Dempsey and (probably) Brad Evans.
Yes, Kenny Cooper, Obafemi Martins, and Lamar Neagle are more than a handful for MLS defenses, but it could be worse, as we hope Dempsey demonstrates on June 16th against Ghana.
Evans, however, could prove to be the more telling World Cup absentee for the Sounders. His importance to the Seattle midfield looks set to grow, now Marc Burch, Adam Moffat, Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani have moved on.
At this point, MLS will down tools for a couple of weeks, allowing football fans to immerse themselves in the World Cup group stage. It’s during this hiatus that USMNT can really do Chicago Fire a solid.
7/2 – vs. Toronto FC
Soccer returns to Toyota Park on July 2nd in the shape of a visit from the league’s latest wannabe superclub. As an aside, I ask: Can a league that has institutionalized parity really accommodate superclubs? A question for another day perhaps. Moving on…
If USMNT has progressed from its group, it will play its second round match on June 30th (if it has won Group G) or July 1st (if it is the runner-up). Either way, no American internationals will be playing MLS games on July 2nd, which means no Michael Bradley in the Toronto lineup for this match.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Julio Cesar’s move to MLS would be his availability for his club after the group stage of the World Cup. Count him out for this match.
For the terminally optimistic, Jermain Defoe may have persuaded Roy Hodgson to shrug off English football’s disregard for MLS, made his country’s World Cup squad, and banged in a goal or two to lead England’s Lions out of Group D.
This paragraph was supposed to mention Bright Dike. But the big man is not lucky. It would appear an injury to his Achilles has quashed his hope of making a late run at Nigeria’s Brazil-bound 23. Indeed, he may not play any football at all this season.
But we are not here to dwell on Dike’s misfortune. This is about Chicago Fire, for whom this match could function as an after-party for an unexpected USMNT round of 16 appearance. Klinsi and the boys in red-white-and-blue in the knockout rounds in Brazil plus a diminished Toronto at Toyota Park: One can but dream.
7/6 – @ Sporting Kansas City
Now I’m stretching the boundaries of credulity perhaps, but it is possible for Chicago to squeeze one last benefit out of what would now be a delirious USMNT World Cup run.
Should Die Klinsmannschaft make it to the quarterfinals in Brazil, our stars in stripes will be kept from returning to MLS for another round of matches. Thus the Fire will land in Sporting Park to face a Kansas City side missing (again, probably) both Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. To recap, that’s USMNT in the quarterfinals of a World Cup and Chicago Fire facing four of the best teams in MLS without their best players. It couldn’t possibly happen, could it?
OTF’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor, Austin Fido, writes stuff like this when there’s no international or CCL football to talk about. Set him straight @canetop.