Our regular 3 questions exchange is back and just as good as ever. I worked with Duncan Fletcher over at Waking the Red for this exchange. Tomorrow night is going to be very fun. The Fire will have a chance to scrub away the bad taste from the late equalizer given up in San Jose last weekend. There is no better way to do that than earn all 3 points tomorrow night in front of the Fire faithful at Toyota Park. We should also get some more looks at the new faces that have recently joined the Fire. I am interested to see how Sherjill progresses these next few weeks, and Alvaro is fully fit and ready to go as well. The Fire will definitely be throwing a team at Toronto that brings a different looks. Hopefully this helps keep Toronto off their feet and brings us home all 3 points.
Toronto has been on a bit of a run lately themselves, and this isn't going to be a "gimme" game. By no means should the Men in Red go into tomorrow night's game expecting an easy victory. Fortunately, I know Frank won't allow that to happen and I don't think the players will either. Toronto comes into the game with a L-W-W-W-L form in their last 5 games. Additionally, they just announced the signing of Irish defender Darren O'Dea to help bolster the backline. Although he won't feature against the Fire, Toronto seems to be trying to make a push up the standings. As long as the Fire come into tomorrow night's game and play hard and play our style, I am pretty confident we can get all 3 points.
As usual, the first question is below, and the rest will be after the break. As always, we will have a gamethread up for tomorrow night's game and we invite you to join us. Enjoy the questions exchange...
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Waking The Red
1. Are fans truly behind Paul Mariner or do they think of him as more of a stop gap option? Do you personally feel he is the correct man to right the ship, so to speak? (via Rudy Gomez and Mark O'Rourke)
Depends who you ask really, opinion is very divided. Some see his appointment and his adoption of a more basic, direct 4-4-2 style as a massive betrayal of what the club was supposedly building after getting Jurgen Klinsmann in to advise. A seemingly long term commitment to 4-3-3, attacking entertaining football and all that, was pretty quickly dumped when things went wrong. Most people could agree that Aron Winter wasn't working, but a lot of those felt that someone else could have been brought in to play a similar style more successfully. Much of that is due to rebuild fatigue I think, not wanting to completely change direction again.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people who were sick of the losing under Winter and think Mariner's MLS experience and simpler gameplan are much more likely to have success here and are very much behind him.
Personally, I definitely feel he's the right man to right the ship, TFC desperately need to keep it simple, get some stability and learn to walk before they try to run. Let's become a bog standard consistent MLS team, then try and advance from that base. I think Mariner will be very good for that. Can he be the one to take us to the next level beyond that? Are we going in the right direction now for that? That's what I still have doubts about.
2. The CONCACAF Champions League is back. Toronto FC is participating again. Do Toronto fans actually care about the CCL competition? (via James Coston)
Again, yes and no. Looking at Wednesday's attendance, just over 5,000, you'd have to say interest isn't that high. Aside from our quarter final game against L.A at the skydome, attendances have always been lower than in MLS play and that 5K number is very reflective of the overall disenchantment with this season.
Having said that, those that like it, like it a lot. If you ask the hardcore that go to these games they might well say they prefer it to MLS play. The exotic new teams, the challenging games against Mexican sides, the improved atmosphere despite the smaller crowds, the added importance of each game as opposed to 1 of 34 league games and yes, the success that TFC have had give it a genuine excitement. It baffles me that so many don't seem to care.
3. Has supporters group morale improved over the past couple of months? Is there a feeling that the club's ownership group is doing enough to help the club win in the long term? (via James Coston)
Another yes and no answer, especially with the Red Patch Boys. Go on their forum and there's still plenty of argument. Everyone likes winning, so morale has definitely improved, but there's still plenty of debate on whether the team's now going in the right direction. As for team ownership, well there's very little trust or goodwill there. TFC are very much an MLSE team and the general feeling among supporters is that their focus is more about profit for their shareholders than winning. They have stepped up with DP salaries and the investment in the new training centre and academy headquarters, you can't deny that, but most supporters are hoping that new owners Rogers and Bell (big media companies up here) will make winning more of a priority to boost tv numbers.
4. After a terrible start, TFC has been able to win a few games as of late. Has this been enough to get people thinking about playoff possibilities? Or is salvaging this season considered to be impossible? (via James Coston)
It's enough to get people thinking about thinking about playoff possibilities, running projections and showing what we'd need to do (pretty much supporters shield form for the rest of the season might see us sneak close) but I think most people realise this season is done, and it's all about signs of hope for the future again, that and the CCL. Paul Mariner doesn't seem to see it that way though (fair enough really). The signing of Eric Hassli after Danny Koevermans went down with an injury is a sign that he's looking to get as many points as he can this year.
5. How has Milos Kocic been recently? When we last exchanged questions he seemed to be just breaking through in Toronto and opening eyes. Has this form continued? Do you see him continuing to have a future in Toronto or is he a temporary solution? (via Ryan Sealock)
Kocic has been one of our best players this season no doubt, though at times he's seemed to get that frustrated shell shocked look that Stefan Frei wore so often last season. I think playing behind TFC's defence this year, under both Winter and Mariner is the league's most poisoned chalice and in some ways it's hurt him. I don't feel he's as confident as he was last season when it comes to coming for crosses and commanding his box. He's about to become a father to triplets, so who knows how that will affect his game.
I think he could have a future here and he could definitely be a starter at MLS level, but reports suggest Paul Mariner prefers Frei, so I think when he''s fit again, he'll probably get the starters job back, and Kocic may well become trade bait.
Waking the Red Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Alvaro Fernandez for allocation money was obviously the big move, what other players have come in and out of Chicago this summer? How are they fitting in the team?
Alvaro for allocation money is a very good deal. Not only are we strengthening the team for the playoff push, but we are also building depth and getting a replacement for when Marco Pappa eventually leaves the Fire for Europe. Pappa will most likely leave this winter. In fact, I would be shocked if he was with the club next year. There have been lots of rumors linking him to various clubs, and even a strong rumor saying he has signed a pre-contract with Wigan Athletic of the EPL. So, the need was there to plan for the eventuality of him leaving. The Front Office has taken care of this nicely with the addition of Alvaro. He has a proven pedigree in MLS with Seattle, and he should instantly make the Fire better. Another nice bonus is that he is fully fit and in form vs. a European player that would still be building fitness. Fire fans are very excited with this acquisition.
In terms of other coming and goings, new signing flops Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo have been returned back to Millonarios and loaned to Defensor in Uruguay, respectively. Both came in with high hopes for success, and both were shocking failures. Another player that has been brought in has been DP Sherjill MacDonald. Sherjill most recently played for Germinal Beerschot, and West Bromwich Albion before that. He is in the mold of a striker that can hold the ball up, and hopefully scores some goals for us as well. We desperately need both as Dominic Oduro has been struggling trying to carry the scoring load himself. Sherjill has started off on the right foot with fans, already professing how much he is loving the club and the city.
2. The Fire are currently in the 5th playoff spot. Are fans confident they can stay there, or get higher and avoid the wild card?
Personally I am confident we can finish in the top 3. I think most Fire fans feel the same way. Things have been kind of up and down lately in terms of performance and things were largely hanging in the balance heading into the end of the window. If the club made no moves, then I think fan confidence would be lower. In the case of Sherjill, he was pretty much already signed by the club according to reports. We were just waiting for it to be made official. His first appearance against San Jose was not world changing but he did look good considering he does not have full fitness yet so that was encouraging for fans. Adding Alvaro was a huge boost for the fans who were starting to feel like no more moves might happen in the window.
The talent is there for us to go far. It's just a matter of putting it all together and getting on a consistent run. We have cut the dead wood out (Puppo and Robayo), and the remaining lineup is one that can take us far.
3. Getting a strong experienced centre back is right at the top of TFC fans wishlist right now. How has going down the 'old European guy' route with Arne Freidrich worked out so far?
Friedrich has been great for us. In terms of salary he is a relative bargain, and he brings tons of experience from Europe and World Cup play. He has appeared over 80 times for the German National Team. And he has been great so far in Chicago. He has battled a couple of injuries but when he has been healthy he has been top notch. He also brings a wealth of experience for two of our young CB's, Jalil Anibaba and especially Austin Berry. Berry has blossomed into a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate beside Arne. He has been quite the pleasant surprise for Fire fans. And that is one thing that some people forget: the mentoring and teaching Arne brings is in some ways as valuable if not more valuable than his play on the pitch. It has been a great signing for the Fire and he seems to be over his injury problems from the past 2-3 years.
4. What are the main changes (if any) lineup and tactics wise since we played back in April? Who or what should TFC be wary of?
The formation will most likely look similar as Frank tends to stay steady and sometimes stubborn in his formation picks. Sherjill will be a new, dangerous face but I expect to see him as a second half sub. He doesn't quite have the fitness for a start. He said recently he was about 70% fit. I definitely expect to see a large chunk of time from Alvaro, if not a start. Another player to watch out for is relative newcomer Alex. He joined the team on June 27th and is trying to fill the void Sebastian Grazzini left behind. While one does not simply step on the pitch and fill in for Grazzini, he is young and has shown flashes of talent. He has only been with the league/team for a little more than a month, so he is still learning the ropes. If he can even fill in admirably for Grazzini we will be ok. He is definitely another player to watch Saturday night.
Score prediction: 2-1 Fire. Toronto goal from Ryan Johnson. Fire goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.