These five guys? About 1/3 of the strong core that returned to Chicago this year and is 8-2-4 in their last 14 MLS Regular Season games
Chicago Fire technical director and head coach Frank Klopas used the 2011 season to find a winning combination of personnel. He had to fire former head coach Carlos de los Cobos and take the coaching reigns himself. There had to be some trades, dozens of new players had to be signed, multiple players had to be released, and in some cases players had to be signed and released in a matter of months. Once the dust settled in August though, the Fire finished the season 7-2-3. It wasn't enough to make the playoffs but you got the feeling 2011 was all about laying the ground work for a big 2012 anyway. The second best finish in club history just meant good things were coming for those who could wait for the calendar to turn.
If a high number of carryover minutes are indeed a great indication for a team's success, 2012 should be a very fun year for the Fire faithful. A look at the carryover minutes for the Fire and topical opponents is after the break.
2012 Chicago Fire
It's only been two games. Yes, I know. However, the numbers above are good enough for a 88% carryover minutes figure. That number would be even higher if Sean Johnson was playing in the place of goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi (97% to be exact). Hunter Jumper only replaced Gonzalo Segares in Montreal as an injury precaution. Total carryover minutes could be just 34 minutes divided up between Federico Puppo and Rafael Robayo. And I think that's disappointing to be quite honest.
A high of number of carryover minutes is very good. But Rafael Robayo was not brought in to provide cameos. He was brought in to threaten Logan Pause and Marco Pappa for starting minutes. Robayo did play in Pause's field position with the Reserves team on Tuesday in the 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake. Hopefully he'll get more minutes as the season goes on.
One 2011 contributor that is 'hurting' for minutes is Orr Barouch. That might be a carryover of Klopas' late season rotation though. Barouch appeared in 24 of Chicago's first 27 games in 2011. Since then? Just 4 appearances in the past 9 matches. He has yet to feature in either of the Fire's first two matches this season.
The continuity of the squad is very good. For people who are describing the Fire as a mystery team - it's the same team that finished 7-2-3. This group is now 8-2-4. This weekend I expect the same starting lineup of Tornaghi; Gargan, Anibaba, Gibbs, Segares; Pause, Pardo, Pappa; Grazzini; Nyarko, Oduro. Puppo and Robayo figure to be subs. Barouch might make his first appearance of the season. It's same old, same old and that is very comforting for a fan base use to roster chaos the last two years. The beat rolls on to Colorado.
2012 Philadelphia Union
Before looking at Colorado, we rewind to look at this last Saturday's opponent, the Philadelphia Union. There's no more Sebastian Le Toux or Faryd Mondragon this year. There's also no Justin Mapp, Veljko Paunovic, and Kyle Nakazawa. Some wonder if there will ever be Danny Califf again. Carlos Ruiz and Jordan Harvey departed the team in mid-2011 but Peter Nowak is still searching for their replacements. Take a good observation, this is what a MLS hot mess looks like.
Nowak has so far given complete trust to three players (Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez, and Lionard Pajoy) that were not on the team last year and don't even have MLS experience. This plan can help out in the long-term but it's always difficult integrating new players into the league. Besides, as our own Stephen Piggott pointed out in his tactical preview, Porfirio Lopez does not look good. The highlights from Saturday show he was in defender's no man's land before Pappa's cross, his misplayed ball at midfield led to a dangerous opportunity for Nyarko and Oduro, and he had no answer for defending Oduro late in the game on another dangerous Nyarko pass.
Luckily for Nowak and the Union, help is on the way. Freddy Adu and Sheanon Williams will be returning from USMNT U-23 team action now that the squad has been eliminated from Olympic qualifying. Philadelphia's carryover minutes number is currently a paltry 65% (almost all MLS trophy winners have had mid-70s or higher and the 14 worst squads in MLS since 2007 have had 65% or lower). Adu and Williams familiarity with their temmamates, Nowak's strategy, and MLS in general should help out. If Adu and Williams had put in full 270 minutes of play each, Philadelphia carryover minutes number would be a much more respectable 78%. There might be time to save the Union even if Nowak appears to be in full meltdown mode.
2012 Colorado Rapids
Colorado looks like a model of consistency against Nowak's Union but they are still facing some woes. Their carryover minutes total is only slightly higher at 70%. The good for them is that their main defense of Kosuke Kimura, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, and goalkeeper Matt Pickens are all back. New signing Colombian Luis Zapata completes a back line that has played every minute this year. The bad for them is this group was thrashed in last Sunday's game against New York Red Bulls. Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry each scored early goals and both players came away with a brace. Colorado lost 4-1.
Despite this, there are a couple of reasons the Fire should not expect an easy game against the Rapids. Last Sunday's game was in New York. This Sunday's game is in Denver. In addition, New York's first goal was almost all from the error of Chicago born midfielder Ross LaBauex. NYRB's Joel Lindpere pressured LaBauex into making a terrible back pass that was easily intercepted by Henry who then deftly scored a goal in the 3rd minute. Kenny Cooper's goal in the 6th minute was the result of an errant pass from new signing Colombian midfielder Jaime Castrillon. Castrillon either overestimated the reaction time of his teammate Wells Thompson or put too much on a lateral attempt. Henry picked off the pass, moved ahead, found a running Cooper, and that's all she wrote.
Instead of the average Wells Thompson and the below average Ross LaBauex, the Fire will almost surely face a Rapids midfield with Jeff Larentowicz and new signing Argentine Martin Rivero. Larentowicz returns from a red card suspension. Rivero just received his International Transfer Certificate that allows him to officially play in MLS. Brian Mullan and Castillon look likely to continue their roles in the midfield. Rookie Tony Casico and Omar Cummings should continue to play up top.
The projected lineup of Pickens, Zapata, Moor, Wynne, Kimura, Mullan, Larentowicz, Rivero, Castrillon, Casico, and Cummings would give the Rapids a carryover minutes percentage of 64%. Exchange Casico for a Rapids veteran like Quincy Amarikwa and it would go up to 73%. That's not an ideal situation especially this early in the year. Chicago should pressure the Rapids like New York did in order to take advantage of any unfamiliarity. It will be curious to see if Rivero's reportedly superior talent can make up for this problem.