FRISCO TX - OCTOBER 02: Defender Krzysztof Krol #23 of the Chicago Fire dribbles the ball against midfielder Atiba Harris #16 of FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on October 2 2010 in Frisco Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
We exchange three questions with Daniel Robertson of Big D Soccer in order to get some insider perspective on FC Dallas as the Chicago Fire head to Pizza Hut Park this Saturday. My answer to Daniel's first question is below and the other five questions in the exchange are after the break.
Big D Soccer asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. What have Chicago's pre-season results been like? Has the new team gelled well in their games?
The number one frustration in the Chicago Fire's pre-season games were players racking up red cards. Some of that was players who weren't use to playing with each other making ill-advised moves to cover at the last second, some of it was an over-eagerness to impress the coach with wide open position battles going on, and some of it was the grittiness that lives in any Chicago sports team. It was hard to see the team gel offensively working with ten men 2/3rds of the time but I have come away very impressed with the defense.
Carlos de los Cobos is dedicated to running a 3-5-2 this year and Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic, and Jalil Anibaba got almost exclusive starting time as the back 3 this pre-season. It should be noted that the defensive trio were not the ones getting the red cards and formation as a unit has gone well. Goaltender Sean Johnson seems very comfortable controlling the defense in front of him as Johnson is the Fire veteran of the group. The midfield projects to start Gonzalo Segares, Marco Pappa, Baggio Husidic, Logan Pause, and Patrick Nyarko. With all of the massive changes to the Fire in the past 3 months, it is remarkable that they might roll out a midfield made up of players who were with the team at the start of the 2009 season. Up top the Uruguayan duo of Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari should start. Chaves and Puerari were actually teammates together with the Montevideo Wanderers just recently. While the cards have made it hard to see how much the team is ready to gel top to bottom you can see how side to side there is some familiarity. I'm not worried about the all-new defensive set so we'll see if the sets that have gelled will start working together as a team.
2. What new player will have the biggest impact in 2011?
I think most media and fans would answer Jalil Anibaba but I believe it will be Diego Chaves. Anibaba will play a big role, no doubt. I think without Jalil's speed, Carlos de los Cobos wouldn't put faith in the 3-5-2. Anibaba is the lazy answer though because he is the most scouted player and the most familiar new Fire face that has some upside due to the fact he is American and played collegiate soccer.
Diego Chaves will have the biggest impact because he is drawing the most buzz among the fans who have been going to practices. In the pre-season time he did receive, he looked to have a very polished presence. Chaves will benefit from the play making abilities of Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa and the fact that Gaston Puerari is more of a withdrawn forward. His style of play suits Pappa and Nyarko much better than Brian McBride's did and I would not be surprised to see Chaves become the first Fire player to reach double digits in goals scored since Damani Ralph scored 11 in 2004.... having a 34 game season won't hurt those chances either.
3. We know that Chicago should have a solid defense, but who can score a goal for the Fire on FCD's defense on Saturday night?
Clearly I'm bullish on Chaves but just stating his name is a bit too simple of an answer isn't it? I will say that it's very remarkable that in 2010, Kevin Hartman shattered Pat Onstad's all-time MLS season goals-against-average of 0.82 with the mark of 0.62. It is a major credit to Hartman, the FC Dallas back line, and the system coach Schellas Hyndman has put into place. I wonder if such a crushing of the old record doesn't suggest a team that all peaked at the same time. Was FC Dallas too good last year? Did they have too many things go their way? I'm not suggesting it was all luck, just a perfect mixture of talent, skill, good fortune, and an unique set of circumstances all coming together to create the ultimate defense that cannot be replicated. That doesn't mean I would put the Fire down as favorites this weekend by any means or even categorically rule out a shutout of the Fire but I'd say Chicago has several different players capable of scoring some goals on FCD Saturday night. For as many changes happened to the team in the off-season, Chicago still features Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko is still a top notch playmaker, Baggio Husidic still finds a way to be in the right place at the right time, and Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari are battle tested professionals without much of a scouting record to study up on. I would be shocked if Sean Johnson or Logan Pause managed to score a goal this Saturday. Big questions should be asked in Dallas on Sunday if that happens.
Hot Time In Old Town asks Big D Soccer
1. After getting to the MLS Cup Final in 2010, what are the expectations from the fan base for 2011? Are fans seeing Double for example?
Well I ran a poll earlier in the week and more than half the respondents said the season is only a success if a trophy is won. I think at this point Dallas fans just want a trophy. MLS Cup was a huge, huge step for the team, but it’s time to fill up the trophy cabinet. Dallas is one of the deepest teams in the league so there’s really no excuses for not challenging in all competitions.
2. FC Dallas lost four key players to their attack in the off-season. What players do you think will take over the roles Atiba Harris, Dax McCarty, Heath Pearce, and Jeff Cunnigham played?
All the national media thinks that Dax McCarty will be the toughest to replace, but personally I see Atiba Harris as the biggest loss for FCD. They have Eric Alexander and Andrew Jacobson to fill in for Dax McCarty and I think they’ll do well. Jeff Cunningham is easily replaceable and I’ll get into Heath Pearce in the next question. However, Atiba Harris will be replaced full time by Honduran Marvin Chavez who brings a completely different element than Harris. Chavez is one of the fastest players in the league and played a huge role in FCD’s playoff run of last season. However, he doesn’t bring the physical attributes and that fear of a two footed challenge coming into your shin at any time that Atiba Harris was known for.
3. Speaking of Pearce and McCarty, can you go into a little detail on how FC Dallas went from protecting Heath Pearce over Dax McCarty in the November expansion draft to then trading Heath Pearce straight up for some allocation money in February? What was the front office's explanation and do you agree with this rationale?
Well Heath Pearce butted heads with Schellas Hyndman towards the end of last season due to an injury that Pearce aggravated right before the playoffs by over working in practice. However, I don’t think Schellas wanted to trade him but the fact of the matter is that FC Dallas now has 6 players that would likely start for any team in defense(Zach Loyd, George John, Jackson, Brek Shea, Ugo Ihemelu, Jair Benitez).
You always want balance on your team and Dallas had just two forwards with any real talent in Milton Rodriguez and Ruben Luna so they traded Pearce to get the money to sign the Colombian wonderkid Fabian Castillo. Castillo will not be available for the Chicago game, luckily for the Fire, but look for him to be a force in MLS down the wings.