We exchange three questions with Chris 'Uz' White of Burgundy Wave in order to get some insider perspective on the Colorado Rapids as they face-off against the Chicago Fire in Peoria on Wednesday night. Chris' answer to my first question is below and the other five questions in the exchange are after the break.
Hot Time In Old Town asks Burgundy Wave
1. The Colorado Rapids have failed to qualify for the past three U.S. Open Cups. Is there pressure from the fan base for the team to perform better and does Colorado traditionally put out a weaker squad for USOC games?
Not particularly, Rapids fans have not really been concerned about the Open Cup historically except for the one time they reached the final in 1999 only to be the first ever MLS team - and still the only MLS team - to ever lose in the Open Cup final to a non-MLS side, the Rochester Raging Rhinos. After winning the team's first ever MLS Cup last season it's probably even lower on the Rapids and their fans' list of things to do this year. The Rapids rarely put out their top squad for qualifying games, Wells Thompson of all people had to have a couple of goals to get the Rapids a win against Kansas City in open cup qualifying last year. If they ever made the tournament proper we would most likely see their usual starting XI but until then it's probably just going to be the same test of how good the reserves team is.
2. Conor Casey (injury) and Omar Cummings (international duty) did not start this past weekend. Who started in their place and did you see any glimmers of hope for the future if Casey and/or Cummings left anytime soon?
Casey was replaced by new signing, former Hull target forward Caleb Folan. He looked pretty good considering he's not quite match fit yet for a full game, getting control of the ball fairly well and disrupting space to give his strike partner room to run in. Folan even had a couple of shots toward goal, but nothing that looked like it was really dangerous. He didn't play all that much with Hull so MLS should give him plenty of room to grow. Cummings was replaced by Quincy Amarikwa, a 23 year old former San Jose striker who looked fairly good considering his usual play. He created a very skillful goal with a short chip over Zach Thornton. The Cummings area of 'speedy striker who can finish well' is one of the deepest areas on the team with Mac Kandji, Andre Akpan and Quincy Amarikwa all looking to take the spot. If Folan can continue growing as an MLS player I think that an eventual pairing of Folan-Amarikwa/Akpan/Kandji can be maybe not the top tier striking duo in the league but at the very least a very, very good one.
3. What do you consider to be the strongest Starting XI for Colorado right now and how many changes to that strongest Starting XI do you anticipate Wednesday's lineup having?
It's pretty much the same starting line-up we saw in the MLS Cup Final last season, since all those players are still on the team. Pickens / Wallace, Moor, Wynne, Kimura / Smith, Mastroeni, Larentowicz, Mullan / Casey, Cummings is the starting line-up you will see in league games if they're all healthy and available. I know that we won't be seeing the Casey/Cummings striker tandem up top, more likely that Amarikwa/Akpan is the duo up top. I doubt you'll see Mullan because of his age so Sanna Nyassi - noted Open Cup goalscorer back with the Sounders - may be in his place. Left back Danny Earls is probably going to start at LB just to give him some playing time since he was just now signed again by Colorado.
Burgundy Wave asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Chicago has traditionally been wizards in the open cup, winning four of them since the club founded in 1998. Do you think that the Fire have a decent shot with their depth and talent this year at getting a fifth?
I think the Chicago Fire have just the right amount of talent where they can consistently win tournament match-ups but not quite enough talent and depth to finish in the top 6 in the MLS standings. Due to that and the fact that the Chicago fanbase demands a strong performance in the US Open Cup, I could see the Fire starting a second string in MLS regular season play while putting a first unit on the field for US Open Cup matches.
Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, Gaston Puerari, and Diego Chaves are clicking very well offensively but there are serious questions on the left side of the field defensively. The Fire are playing a weird hybrid of a 4-4-2 without the ball and a 3-5-2 when the obtain possession. Marco Pappa is playing wide left without the ball but he'll move into central midfield once someone in red has it. Gonzalo Segares is playing wide left with the back line without the ball but moving up to the left midfield wing on offense. The dividends are coming through for Pappa but the results have been pretty disastrous for Segares. As his endurance gets tested over the course of the season, it will be interesting to see who starts in his place for the occasional game off. Right now there's no perfect option because Pappa playing centrally is working so well and Carlos de los Cobos also prefers to play two defensive midfielders at all time in any formation. I think this work in progress will keep the team from entering the elite but allow them to play strong against MLS reserve squads and non-MLS US Open Cup teams. Bringing home that USOC trophy would do a lot for the front office and the coaching staff to win favor with the fan base. It could be the perfect conditions for the Fire to end their 5 year trophy drought.
2. What would you say is the most dangerous aspect of the Fire to other teams?
No question the most dangerous aspect of the Fire is currently the all-Uruguayan forward duo, Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves. Puerari has drawn opposition red cards in the first two games, both in the first half. Diego Chaves already has two goals, one from the run of play, the other from a penalty kick that Sporting KC goalie Jimmy Nielsen had no chance on. Puerari and Chaves played together at Montevideo Wanderers so while they are familiar with each other, MLS teams are not. Scouting is very limited and both Kansas City and Dallas saw Puerari manipulate himself into a position where he slipped past the entire defense. Chaves and Puerari might get figured out soon but for now they are running wild and causing havoc. As scouting reports build up, I might have a different answer for you on April 30th when Chicago travels to Colorado for regular season play.
3. Since we'll most likely be seeing squads that aren't quite the first teams, what younger or less experienced guys might we see starting for Chicago that we can look out for?
I'm not sure Chicago will play that many non-Starting XI players since the team's next MLS regular season game is not until April 9th in Seattle. The reserve team played a game against the University of Louisville on Sunday so some of the starters might even be fresher than the backups in this case. Add the USOC history for the Fire to the mix and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lineup identical to what Chicago put out on the field vs. FC Dallas and Sporting KC.
I would say Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Cory Gibbs, Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Diego Chaves are all locks given the way the team is playing. It's possible Baggio Husidic might get the start over Mike Videira in the midfield and Orr Barouch might start over Gaston Puerari. Puerari missed Wednesday's practice with a hip injury and it bothered him on Thursday too. He obviously was okay to go on Saturday but was subbed out around the 74th minute in favor of Barouch. Barouch is a 19 year old 6'2 forward whose current claim to fame is that he scored 4 goals in a pre-season game. He's not super fast but his pace is decent enough and he almost scored a goal this past Saturday. I would think that Gonzalo Segares will start at the LM/LB position I mentioned earlier but it's possible de los Cobos will roll the dice with Davis Paul. Paul was selected with the 51st pick in this year's MLS SuperDraft. He is a converted forward that saw action at LM in pre-season but probably doesn't have the defensive skills to play effectively at LB in a 4-4-2. He might get a look if Chicago rolls out a pure 3-5-2. Serbian jackknife Bratislav Ristic has played at LB, RB, and RM in different games last season and looked good doing so. He missed Saturday's game with a hip injury so he'll either be out tomorrow or the freshest available player on the roster.