The Austin Berry/Jalil Anibaba matchup vs. Saer Sene Saturday Night will be vital to the Fire's chances at 3 points. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
The Fire will have the spotlight all to themselves Saturday Night when we face off against the Revolution. It's the only MLS game on the docket, and both teams will be hungry for a win after crushing USOC losses. I expect this to be quite a match full of offense and scuffling play. These two teams have built somewhat of a rivalry up, and given the circumstances for both teams heading into this game, the stakes will be even higher. Simply put, both teams needs a win. While a draw is always possible, I don't see it happening tomorrow night. The team that wants it more is going to win, and I hope that team is the Fire. After the USOC loss there certainly should be no shortage of motivation for the Men in Red. For once, we need to come out and put the other team on their back foot right from the start. Instead of always playing from behind, we need to get an early lead.
With all that out of the way, I spent a bit of time conversing with Steve Stoehr over at The Bent Musket. We ended up exchanging a couple of extra questions too, so everyone gets some bonus content. Enjoy, and don't forget to keep an eye out for the customary match preview and gamethread. We hope to see you here at HTIOT Saturday Night to join us in cheering on the Fire to victory.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Bent Musket
1. Both the Fire and Revolution suffered crushing defeats in USOC play the other night. How are Revs fans dealing with this loss? What do you think was tougher to give up, the late goals or having the chance to still win but having Nick Nobel stop the final PK from Benny Feilhaber? (via Rudy Gomez)
Most Revolution fans are gravely disappointed, if not infuriated, but flopping out of the Open Cup in spectacular fashion is becoming something of a habit for this organization, so I suppose it's fair to say that it isn't much of a surprise to most. Giving up the late goals is most certainly the hardest thing to take, especially since that was a chronic issue for the Revs last season, where they conceded some ridiculous number of goals in the final fifteen minutes of matches, costing them probably dozens of points. Even this year, New England has struggled to close out games, and watching (or hearing, since the match was not televised) the team squander a THREE-GOAL LEAD in something like nine minutes of OVERTIME was sickening.
2. The Revs have been playing at Gillette Stadium dating back to the old Foxboro Stadium. They share the stadium with the New England Patriots. Do you see them ever getting a soccer-specific stadium? (via James Coston)
I think it's going to happen eventually, but it's tough to say with any confidence that it will happen soon. I have no doubt that the higher ups who work exclusively on the Revolution side of the organization have all the good intentions in the world and want desperately to be in their own digs, but the fact of the matter is that the Revs (or the Krafts, at least) have a decent situation in Gillette and will not be motivated to leave it unless it's for exactly the right alternative. That doesn't mean they don't want to play in an SSS, just that they can't justify moving for any old reason. The Krafts own the stadium, so they don't have to pay any leasing fees when holding Revs games there, the practice and training facilities are top-notch, and the field was actually designed with soccer in mind (turf or not, that surface is fine to play on and properly sized). So, unless some prime real estate opens up right off of the Boston T system with a municipality willing to work with the Revs on footing the bill tomorrow, I would expect to see New England in Foxboro for at least a few more years, no matter what anyone says.
3. Picked to finish dead last at the beginning of the season by a number of folks, the Revs have done surprisingly well and currently sit 7th in the East. Talk about how some of the more under-the-radar offseason signings including Lee Nyugen, Blake Brettschneider, and Saër Sène have played a role in that. (via James Coston)
Lee Nguyen has been fantastic, especially from an excitement standpoint. He has great talent on the ball and does well in tight spaces, something the Revs haven't had in quite some time, and his 2 goals and 2 assists make him probably the second-most productive player on the roster. Blake Brettschneider is coming around as a target man, but his contributions have been muted, and it's not likely he'll pan out to be much more than a depth guy going forward.
As for Saer Sene, not enough can be said for the big Frenchman and his blonde mohawk. He leads the team in seven goals, and even if he slows down his scoring pace, he's on track to be the squad's first double-digit goalscorer since Taylor Twellman all the way back in 2007. He has size, is deceptively quick, and his left foot is lethal. That said, he occasionally struggles with hold-up play and appears allergic to using his right foot for anything except standing, so he still has things to work on. Either way, his goals are a massive reason for the Revs' improvement offensively in 2012.
4. Are there any players rumored to be joining the Revs during the summer signing period? Anyone looking to leave? (via James Coston)
To my knowledge, no on both counts. I would not be surprised to see Sainey Nyassi and Zak Boggs leave in the summer. Both have been on the Disabled List since the season started, but looking at the roster as it stands now, I'm not sure I see a place for any of them in the squad. Nyassi might still have a shot if Jay Heaps feels confident he can unlock some footballing ability to go along with all that speed, but Boggs is firmly below about six or seven other players in his preferred roles as a winger or striker, including Nyassi. The Revs do have cap space (I think) and might have a bit of roster space, too, so summer moves are definitely not out of the question, but to this point, the only player I remember New England being linked with is Alessandro Del Piero, and to say I have my doubts about the veracity of that rumor would be an understatement.
5. If you had to pick a team MVP at this point in the season, who would it be? How about the biggest disappointment thus far? (via Ryan Sealock)
Saer Sene is easily the team MVP so far this season. 7 goals, 2 assists. You don't need anything else. A close runner-up would be A.J. Soares, who is really maturing into a top-class MLS defender and a team leader, but the defense is still leaky so I have to give it to Sene.
The greatest disappointment is probably Benny Feilhaber. Benny arrived with much fanfare last season, and despite adjusting to a new league, still managed 4 goals and 7 assists. This year, Benny has yet to register on the score sheet (except for his team-leading 3 yellow cards) and it's already almost June. That might be excusable - he did struggle with injury early this season - but his increasingly infuriating displays of petulance and hot-headedness are not. Benny's rapidly painting himself as a villain in Foxboro with his behavior, so much so that several Revs fans have come up with drinking games associated with Feilhaber's tantrums. Benny's always been a fiery competitor who sometimes loses his cool, but he needs to either mature and cool it or start backing it up with production, or he will quickly wear out his welcome in New England.
Bonus: Score prediction for Saturday's game including who you think will score the goals
Revolution 3-2 Chicago. I have noticed Chicago's defensive woes but the Revs have them, too. The big difference in Saturday's match up is that New England is very, very good at home. I'd bet on Saer Sene to score two with a third coming from Jose Moreno, who really needs a coming out party in a big way. Unless Moreno's hurt, in which case I'd put money on Benny Feilhaber doing something big in this match. He's under pressure to produce, as I previously mentioned, and I think he knows it.
The Bent Musket Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. There's been a big focus on the speed and skill of Dominic Oduro in the Fire lineup, and it looks like the Chicago organization is trying to make him almost the face of the franchise. Just how integral is he to the squad, and is there anyone else rostered right now who even comes close to being as essential as he is?
Dom is very essential to the squad in the fact that he is our only main, legit scoring threat right now. That is one of the biggest things the teams is needing to address this summer. Whether it be via trade or a new signing, we desperately need another player to step up and help Oduro with the scoring duties. While we have a handful of players on the roster who can score at any given time, no one has stepped up to be the counted upon scorer like Dominic has been. This obviously allows opposing teams to key on Oduro and try to shut him down. Help may be on the way in the form of Chris Rolfe. Just a couple of days after he rejoined the Fire he picked up an ankle injury and has not gotten into a game yet. He seems to be over that now and has been running and training for a couple of weeks. Rolfe is a legitimate scoring threat, so once he is able to get on the pitch and contribute, the whole dynamic of the Fire offense will likely be changed. Chris was questionable for the Columbus game but he was held back just to be safe. I expect him to make some sort of appearance this weekend. Although it won't be a start or a full 90 minutes, I look for him to come on and get a chunk of time in the 2nd half.
There also continue to be rumors swirling about the Fire looking for a big name striker signing. While we have the money and permission from the owner once the right deal is found, we won't make a splashy signing just to make a splashy signing. This should be an interesting next month or two for the Fire.
2. Sean Johnson's stock has taken a bit of a nosedive in the last few months to a year, especially after the debacle in Olympic qualifying, but recent performances in Chicago have been encouraging. Would you say he still has the ability to reach the potential seen in him just a year ago, or do you think the ceiling on Johnson is lower than previously anticipated?
I think he still has about the same ceiling as we expected before his dip in form. He is still very young, and as he ages and matures the mental toughness should develop along with the rest of his game hopefully. He does still need to work on a few things, mainly bossing the goal and especially ball distribution. He tends to not go out and claim balls in the air that he should. He also has a tendency to punch balls out of danger rather than catching them, which can lead to dangerous rebounds and goals (and it has a few times this year). As for distribution, he definitely needs to work on his kicks as far too many balls go out of bounds.
That being said, he has looked a bit better the past couple of weeks. The Olympic disaster is a huge hurdle for a young player to overcome, and it takes time. Even the best US goalkeepers were pretty raw when they were as young as Sean is. It is a position that rewards age and experience, and you can only get that by playing. If he continues to struggle it would be a good idea to get him a rest to clear his head, but if he successfully gets over the Olympic fiasco and gets refocused and back in a groove he will be the better player for it. His ceiling is still very high, now he just has to work hard and makes sure he fills out that potential.
3. Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fan should watch out for in this match.
I will pick Austin Berry. He is a rookie but was viewed as MLS ready out of the draft. He has been shoved into a starting role due to veteran injuries (Cory Gibbs and Arne Friedrich). His first couple of games were very good, but the CB pairing of Jalil Anibaba and Berry have looked very shaky the past couple of weeks. Both Austin and Jalil will be a big key to Saturday's game in my opinion. If they can settle it down and get back to the form they showed in the first couple of games playing together, things will be tougher on New England. If they struggle, that will put extra pressure on the rest of the defense and a still recovering Sean Johnson, and it could spell a long afternoon. As each game goes by, both youngsters get valuable experience playing together and should improve. I think both players will put in a good performance Saturday and put the past couple of outings behind them.
4. Who do you think the Fire fear most on the pitch for New England?
That is a tough call. I will say Saer Sene since he has already netted 7 goals this season. This ties into my previous answer in that if our back line does not stand tall, he could have a few different looks at goal. Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph can also be dangerous too but right now I am worried about your top scorer against our inexperienced middle of the backline.
5. Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
Projected XI: Sean Johnson, Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Sebastian Grazzini, Marco Pappa, Dominic Oduro
I will go with a 2-1 Fire win. I think Sene nets for you guys. I will tab Austin Berry and Oduro for us. Berry has shown a penchant for being a danger on set pieces, and we all know what Oduro brings to the table.