We will get our first good, in depth look at rookie Austin Berry tomorrow night. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It's time for our weekly 3 Questions exchange with the SB Nation blog of the opposing team. This week, Alicia Ratterree of The Goat Parade was kind enough to partake in this exchange with me. As we all know, Friday is a big game for the Fire. To me, 3 points feels essential to get us back on track. The task will now be a bit taller without Jalil Anibaba and head coach Frank Klopas as they serve their one game suspensions. Despite this, I know the coaching staff and players will be ready to play and eager to put the bitter taste from the loss to the Sounders out of our mouths.
We again urge you to join us here tomorrow night for the gamethread (especially for those of you that don't get ESPN3 and can't watch the game). Without further delay, the first question in the exchange follows, and the rest will be after the break.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Goat Parade
1. Chivas USA has 3 wins on the road, but no points at home. What gives? Is the Home Depot Center cursed for you guys? How is the fan support situation for Chivas USA when you consider that they're sharing the same stadium as the Galaxy? (via James Coston)
I wouldn't seriously say the HDC is cursed for Chivas, but I think it is clear it is not a permanent home for the Goats, and certainly isn't feeling like one for players and fans alike so far this year. That said, they have never had the difficulty scoring and getting results at home in past seasons like they have to start this campaign. So, this team really needs to get goals at home and from there the expectation is that they can start picking up points. Heading into the season, and during their victories this season, I thought Chivas had a decent shot of making the playoffs, but if this streak stretches on, it will put those hopes for the postseason out of reach in a hurry.
In the long-term, the news from the team is that they will move out of the Home Depot Center starting next season, and will find a temporary stadium to play in before getting their own permanent stadium in the Los Angeles area. This has been the company line since last summer, but there's always the fear they aren't as far along in the process as fans would hope. Still, I think moving out of the HDC will help break down perceptions that Chivas are an illegitimate club that is merely passing through the region. And since the metropolitan region is so large, there are plenty of fans who may prefer traveling to games that are closer than Carson (which is a considerable distance from downtown Los Angeles).
I doubt Angel and Moreno will be the forward striking pair very much this season. There are a few reasons for this. First, Chivas coach Robin Fraser has been playing a single central striker so far this season. Additionally, Moreno has been playing in midfield this season, mostly moving up top for brief stretches. The pair have also alternated appearances this season, as each has dealt with concussions and other head injuries. Perhaps the biggest reason is that as a pair, they make a very slow forward line. Although they might possibly be the most experienced forwards in MLS, they just don't seem to provide the tandem threat that can really threaten opposing defenses. What's more likely over the course of the season is that Angel will start most matches up top, he may or may not get a partner among the young strikers on the team, and Moreno will play farther back in midfield. Of course, now that I've said all that, I'm sure they'll play together up top Friday.
3. Jose Correa just joined the club. What are your thoughts on the new signing and what sort of impact do you see him having? (via James Coston)
Although Correa's signing comes with considerable hype and expectations, I'd be lying if I said I watched Colombian teams besides occasional Copa Libertadores matches. Correa is young (although there are differing ages circulating - he's either 19 or 21). He was on a scoring tear just prior to signing with Chivas, with six goals in seven matches. And for perhaps the biggest endorsement, he was called up to a recent training camp by Colombian National Team coach Jose Pekerman. I think the best case scenario for Correa is that he goes on an absolute tear for Chivas over the next 18-24 months and is sold to a European club. A good outcome would be for him to become a solid and consistent MLS pro. And the worst case scenario would be that he doesn't stick and is gone by the end of 2012. Regardless, there's a decent chance Correa could see some time Friday, and Chivas fans hope he can contribute right away. If he can, he'll be a player Chivas hasn't had in years - a forward who strikes real fear in opposing defenses.
The Goat Parade Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Chicago remain a mystery to many neutral observers so far in the 2012 season, primarily because they have only played six matches, while Chivas have played eight to this point. What were the expectations heading into the season, and how is the team performing in the early part of the season?
Expectations heading into the season were very high. All of us at HTIOT expect the Fire to make the playoffs undoubtedly. We expect a deep playoff run as well. We have returned a large chunk of our team from last year (that made a late push and almost made the playoffs), and made some key additions in the offseason as well, and that's not even considering the re-signing of Chris Rolfe. Although Chris picked up an ankle injury and is close but not yet ready for his Fire re-debut, all the pieces are there for a very good team. It is with these considerations that Fire fans have built their expectations for this season.
While it is still early in the season, the Fire have not started out of the gates quite as quickly as we had all hoped. Fortunately, there is still plenty of time left. Also, a healthy Rolfe should change our look and make us a much more formidable team since opposing defenses won't just be able to key on Dominic Oduro anymore. The Fire have been somewhat of an enigma for us fans so far this year. At times, we have looked poor. At other times, we have looked very good. The rest of the team has usually been somewhere in between. I would say it's been a bit of a roller coaster ride performance-wise this season. I think 2 big reasons for this are teams adjusting to our late, furious run last year and also the lack of regular game action.
Teams are beginning to have their backlines "park the bus" in front of goal to try to negate Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko's speed. This helps cut out the long ball approach that those players, especially Oduro, get on the end of for breakaways on goal. Right now, we don't have another big scoring threat so teams can easily develop a game plan around shutting one player down. Once Rolfe is fit, that should change the complexion of the team and offer a second, legit scoring threat while allowing Nyarko to play in his most fitting role out on the wing. Opposing teams have a much harder time when they have to try to stop 2-3 players rather than just one.
As you mentioned, the other big issue is lack of games. It seems like just as progress is being made, we have a bye week (we have already had 2). We also had a weather shortened game at home vs. the Dynamo, which was stopped around the 66th minute. We have started quite a busy stretch of games, so I think a good number of our issues will be addressed with regular minutes, giving the team time to gel together.
2. There have been some injury woes and departures on the Fire. Who has stood out (new or returning) in 2012, and who do you consider to be the most important player?
That's a very good question. As for a standout so far in 2012, I will go with the obvious choice in Dominic Oduro. Many people, some Fire fans included, suspected his 12 goal breakout season last year might have been a fluke. After all, he was never known for scoring before that, and Houston shipped him off to us because of a lack of finishing. While Oduro's performance last season was eye opening, most of us Fire fans were cautiously optimistic. He certainly showed the skill as a goal scorer, the questions was if he could replicate the task, especially for a team that didn't have another double digit scoring threat. Fortunately, I am happy to report that he seems to be on track for another great year. He already has 3 goals in 6 games and the addition of Rolfe can only help him even more.
As for most important player, I am going to say our midfield wizard Sebastian Grazzini. Until he came to the team last year mid season, the Fire lacked someone in the midfield that could create chances and link the ball from the defensive half of the pitch to the offensive half. Grazzini was like a revelation to Fire fans when we signed him. We instantly became more dangerous, could build an attack, and had someone that was really good at supplying the ball to our wingers and forwards. When Sebastian is on, we are a very dangerous team. If he struggles, we are much more prone to struggle too. The only issue was lack of depth behind Grazzini. If he gets hurt, we suffer a big set back. The team tried to address that this offseason by signing Rafael Robayo, among other signings. Although Robayo certainly has the pedigree, we just haven't seen enough regular play from him yet to instill much confidence. Also, teams tend to target Grazzini during games and he gets knocked/kicked around quite a bit. Hopefully he can stay healthy, but if he can't we will need somebody to step up and fill that play making role.
3. Heading into Friday's match, Chicago seems to be dealing with key losses in defense. Who's missing, who will be stepping up, and do you have concerns about the backline against Chivas?
I do have some backline concerns just for the fact that we have looked pretty shaky at times this year. The backline had solidified to become one of our best strengths late last year. Again, the scheduling rears its ugly head because it's tough for a goalkeeper and his defenders to play as one unit with a lot of breaks in play. As we get a few more regular weeks of play under our belts I expect the backline to come into shape pretty nicely.
The one thing that could derail that however are injuries. We lost the wily veteran Cory Gibbs recently for an extended period of time. Fortunately, head coach Frank Klopas made what could be the signing of the offseason in Arne Friedrich. He instantly was able to slot in to Gibbs' spot next to Sophomore Jalil Anibaba. The only worry for the Fire was that the German International was coming off some injury issues. The Fire medical staff gave him the go ahead though, and Arne himself spoke of how good he felt. So far he has stayed healthy and I hope for that to continue. He is still trying to get used to playing with the rest of the team so there have been occasional gaffes, but this should settle down as well in the next few weeks.
The other missing player that could hurt us tomorrow would be Jalil Anibaba. Anibaba and Klopas will both be serving 1 game suspensions due to the much publicized scuffle after the Sounders match last weekend. The Fire will turn to rookie Austin Berry to fill Anibaba's CB role next to Freidrich. For a backline trying to build cohesiveness together, all of this personnel rotation could wreak havoc. Austin Berry was considered by many to be the most MLS ready player straight out of the draft (the same was said for Anibaba last year and he had a wonderful rookie year and has been great so far in his second campaign). If Berry steps up like the scouting reports say, it will be a big lift. None of us have seen much action from him other than preseason and reserve matches, so the jury is certainly out on how he will perform on the big stage. He has the ability, so all that remains to be seen is how he handles the pressure and spotlight Friday night.
We will have our regular LB and RB manning the field in Gonzalo Segares and Dan Gargan, respectively. We have a couple of newcomers in Hunter Jumper and Tony Walls that have impressed in preseason and made the team. So depth wise we are pretty good at the corners of the defense. Overall, I think the backline will step up against Chivas and do a good job. They put in a good shift against Seattle and were just unfortunate to take a deflection for a goal and an error by goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the second goal. Given Seattle's dynamic offense, I think that we will do just fine against Chivas. I think Austin Berry's performance at CB will be a big key to this though. I will definitely be watching him Friday night.
4. (Bonus) What do you expect Friday against Chivas?
I am going to predict a 1-0 Fire victory. Although we did net 3 goals recently against Toronto FC, until Chris Rolfe is healthy, we are still somewhat limited offensively. While we have a host of players who can score, for many of them it has to be in the right situation so Oduro is still our best chance on offense. I think the game will be a physical, grinding game, and I don't see a lot of chances created either way. I am looking for Oduro to tally on a breakaway because he is so good at using his tremendous speed, and all it takes is a small seam for him to get going.