HARRISON, NJ - AUGUST 13: Sebastian Grazzini #10 of the Chicago Fire is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal against the New York Red Bulls during the game at Red Bull Arena on August 13, 2011 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
Man it feels good to be back and posting a 3 questions article again. It seems like it has been months since the Fire last played an MLS match. This losing streak has left a bad taste in my mouth for the last month and it's long past time to wash it away. The task will be tall given the fact that New York has won 4 of their last 5 and are scoring in droves. They have two very dangerous strikers in Henry and Cooper, and we have a young and inexperienced backline. There will certainly be intrigue for the game tomorrow.
I collaborated with Dan Ferris over at Once a Metro for this exchange. The first question is below with the rest after the break. Enjoy, and as always join us this weekend for our gamethread and recap after the game. It's time to get back in the win column!
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Once A Metro
1. Talk about the oft-criticized defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez. The Mexican international is surely talented, but has come out and criticized his teammates as well as other incidents in his time with RBNY. So the question must be asked: is he being held on to more for marketing reasons in spite of his on and off the field issues? (via James Coston)
A big offseason storyline was that Rafa Marquez had re-committed himself to the Red Bulls and that no one was more dedicated toward the success of the club in 2012. Suspensions and injuries aside, four months later Marquez's play has been sorely lacking when he is on the field outside of a moment or two of absolute brilliance (don't worry Chicago, Marquez is injured for Sunday's match so a third moment isn't in the cards).
Red Bull (the energy drink company) recently released special edition cans with both Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry. However, a recent billboard advertisement in NYC showing that "Henry's Got Wings" didn't have any information about Red Bull the soccer club! So it can seem that the ownership is about promoting poison energy drink as much as it is interested in a successful soccer team.
It's an interesting look at marketing strategies in Major League Soccer actually - that bringing in the captain of the Mexican national team hasn't inspired Mexico fans to support the Red Bulls. Some would argue that the front office is partially at fault for this but that's a separate conversation altogether!
At the end of the day, Marquez was brought over on a free transfer from Barcelona despite having two years left on his contract. It's past time for the club to cut their losses to free up valuable Designated Player and International roster spots. The only reasons Red Bull could fathomably be keeping him around is for marketing purposes and/or the lack of another team to take on his contract.
2. Heath Pearce recently joined the club in the trade that sent Juan Agudelo to Chivas USA. Talk about the loss of Agudelo as well as what Pearce can bring to the RBNY back line. (via James Coston)
There was a moment where people believed it was Rafa Marquez who had been traded (his agent was at practice that day). When it set in that instead Agudelo was being sent west, the reaction was mixed. No one could argue that Pearce isn't a valuable player but some took the opportunity to criticize the team for not doing more to develop young American talent. The loss of Agudelo left New York a little thin at forward for a stretch, but that should be remedied during the transfer window and/or the return of Luke Rodgers after an epic visa problem. And Pearce is an MLS All-Star defender who can play anywhere on the backline, which is even more valuable than the allocation money and future funds from the inevitable sale of Agudelo to a foreign club included in the trade.
3. Which Fire players do you think will be watched extra carefully by the New York defense Sunday? (via Rudy Gomez)
New York has struggled in the past with speedy attackers, so Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko are obviously going to be a major focus of the back four. Even with his recent hamstring problems, Oduro is one of, if not the fastest player on both Chicago and New York (though Dane Richards might give him a run for his money). Former Fire defender Wilman Conde has struggled with staying healthy, and newcomer Markus Holgersson has been solid recently but is not known for his speed or acceleration. The Red Bulls defense has relied heavily on the play of Dax McCarty at defensive mid and Brandon Barklage, an off-season addition after he was released from DC United who has stepped up to own the right back position as Jan Gunnar Solli has moved into more of a midfield role.
Oh, and Marco Pappa? Let's try not to give him any free kick opportunities right outside the box.
Once A Metro Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Chicago is currently on a three game losing streak including a defeat to the Michigan Bucks in Open Cup play. How seriously did the club take the tournament this year and what has led to the recent string of losses?
The Fire have a reputation of holding the Open Cup in very high regards. Having won 4 Cups, it is a competition that is held in high esteem by fans as well. And that makes this year's shocking exit even worse. We are used to either winning the tournament or at least going very deep. To lose to a 4th level team was a punch in the gut to be honest. I think all fans were shocked at how the team played. Furthermore, some of the depth we thought we had built in the offseason was woefully absent in the game. There really isn't a silver lining to take away from the loss, but one thing that was highlighted was the need to further improve the team. I know I was very confident of the additions we made this offseason, but that confidence has turned into a concern for me. The USOC loss showed the holes we need to fill depth wise, and now it is on Frank Klopas and the rest of the Front Office to fortify the team where we need it this summer. We already have a midfielder by the name of Alex signed and waiting to join the team on June 27th. He should hopefully be able to give us a boost.
2. How has Sean Johnson recovered after a disastrous early exit with the National Team during Olympic Qualifying?
Up and down really. He has looked better as of late despite the recent string of losses, but he still has a lot to work on. One thing some people forget is that he is still very young and learning, as any goalkeeper at his age is. Since the Olympics fiasco, his confidence has seemed to slowly come back but I don't think it is all the way back yet. Some plays he will make a stellar save, and then a few minutes later he will make a bad mistake. He still has things to work on, namely taking possession of the ball rather than punching it out (he has a tendancy to do this). His ball distribution, especially on goal kicks has gotten better but it is still a long ways off from good. He did have a training stint at Everton in the offseason so hopefully he learned some good techniques from Tim Howard and becomes better at employing these. All in all I think he still has the ability to be a top goalkeeper. What will determine this is if he can fully get over the Olympics failure. Although it was terribly disappointing, it could be a blessing in disguise if he can overcome a hurdle like that at such a young age. It could make him a better, stronger player for the future. Only time will tell if this happens or not.
3. If the playoffs were tomorrow (luckily they're not since DC is currently in first place), Chicago would be right on the edge of qualifying. What does the team need to address both on the field and through possible player additions during the summer transfer window to compete for the top of the Eastern Conference?
Our two biggest needs are a striker to pair with Dominic Oduro up top, and possible reinforcements on the backline or even midfield. This team is too one dimensional right now, with Oduro being our only main scoring threat. Many Fire fans are calling for a big name, splashy signing. This would likely come in the form of a DP. While Fire owner Andrew Hauptman has stated money is there for a "Robbie Keane" type of signing, the club has also made it clear that we won't sign a DP just to sign a DP. I completely agree with this line of thinking. We have already had DP flops in Nery Castillo and now seemingly with Federico Puppo as well. If we are going to drop a large amount of money on someone, they have to be a good fit with the team and the formation we employ. This summer window will be very interesting as a striker is a must if the Fire want to make a deep playoff run in my opinion. Chris Rolfe is finally fit and ready to help out, so he should provide a legit scoring threat but we may need more than that.
The backline has been dealt a blow with the extended absence of veteran Cory Gibbs. German international Arne Friedrich was signed in the offseason, and he has done well so far. The problem is that he got hurt as well, but should be back for the NYRB game. These injuries caused us to field a second year player in Jalil Anibaba and a rookie in Austin Berry as our CB tandem. While they started off well, the backline has really struggled the past few games. I am very concerned how they will handle scoring threats like Thierry Henry or a rejuvenated Kenny Cooper. Even with Friedrich in the mix, the club may need to get a reinforcement if the youngsters continue to struggle.
The Fire do seem to have a glut of midfielders, but one thing we don't have is another Sebastian Grazzini. He pulls the strings in midfield and when he is not playing, then our offense suffers A LOT (see Fire team in 2011 pre-Grazzini). The problem is that Grazzini's Fire contract is pretty much up. Unless the Fire extend him soon, he could leave mid season which would be a disaster if we don't have a replacement for him. Many fans thought Rafael Robayo could fill that role, but he has shown that he is not a Grazzini type of player. Newcomer Alex may be able to, but we won't know that for awhile. If we lose our main playmaking CAM that helps link the attack up, we could be in big trouble. Head coach Frank Klopas is on a scouting trip as we speak, so hopefully a signing or two is not far off.