After what seems like a long time, our Men in Red are finally back in action tomorrow night at BMO Field against a severely depleted Toronto FC side. Due to injuries and World Cup Qualifying, Toronto will be fielding a very weakened side against the Fire. Chicago figures to take advantage of this and take a big 3 points on the road heading into this weekend's home clash against the Montreal Impact.
Duncan Fletcher over at Waking The Red was again kind enough to complete a questions exchange with HTIOT. First question is below, the rest after the break. Keep an eye out to for a Fire/Toronto preview from Nick Fedora as well. Enjoy!
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Waking The Red
1. How disappointing has Eric Hassli been since being acquired? (via Rudy Gomez)
It hasn't worked out as well as many expected so far, that's for sure. I'd say there's 3 factors to that. Injuries have definitely hindered him; he was recovering from an ankle injury when he arrived and has recently missed games with back and rib problems, though he will apparently be fit to play on Wednesday.
Secondly is the style that Toronto play doesn't really suit him, despite his size and the physical battles he often gets into with opposing centre backs. He's not a big physical centre forward, yet TFC are very much playing as if he is. With plenty of high balls, leaving him battling with the likes of Aurelien Collin or Chad Marshall, no wonder he`s picking up injuries.
The third factor is that TFC fans were probably expecting too much, partly based on the fact he always played so brilliantly against TFC. He was never going to replace Danny Koeverman's goals, he's just not that type of player, but we were expecting a more threatening and spectacular player than we've seen so far. Instead we're getting a bit too much of the guy we saw on tv against other teams, easily frustrated and often bullied without ever getting any calls in his favour from the refs.
He's clearly got a lot of skill when he gets the ball at his feet and a chance to show it off. His mere presence does demand a lot of attention form the opposition, but it hasn't really come together for him yet in Toronto.
2. Have season ticket sales gone down or are people still renewing/buying and just not showing up? (via Rudy Gomez)
Official numbers never got released but the club say they met their targets for this year. There are plenty of people not showing up I think, tickets are much harder to give away if you can't go to a game, and apathy does seem to be taking over even some of those who've been there since day one. Anecdotal evidence suggests renewals could go way down. Some are ready to finally give up on the club, some are planning to not renew then just buy tickets on an individual game basis, while some are planning a full on boycott. They haven't released the details for renewals yet, but with Montreal and Vancouver both making big deals of the discounts they're offering there's growing calls for TFC to do more than just another price freeze which is the most likely option. It should be an interesting time, and a very difficult one for the ticket reps.
3. Is Eckersley better in the middle or the outside of TFC in your opinion? (via Stephen Piggott)
For me he's better on the right side, though there's real pluses and minuses to both. On the wing, he's great going forward, and brings a lot more balance to the side, yet can often be caught out of position, as he's definitely contributed to some of the terrible defence TFC have shown this year. In the middle, with more players around him, and especially with Darren o'Dea beside him to keep him in line, his positional problems are minimised, similar to Marvell Wynne in Colorado, but of course we miss out on his attacking help.
He's ok at centre back, but he's not a big enough improvement on our other options to be worth the dropoff at right back (Jeremy Hall's pretty terrible). Getting another centre back in is apparently Paul Mariner's top priority over the off season, and rightly so.
4. What happened with Joao Plata? He seemed to be a sparkplug for the team but was sent out on loan. Do you see him returning next year? (via Ryan Sealock)
In a crazy, messed up season, the Joao Plata saga probably stands out as the craziest. The most popular player on the team after last season, and with a lot of time spent on getting what seems to be a complicated co-ownership deal sorted out over the off season. It never quite got going this year for big Joao, whether it's somehow down to him, just because other teams were paying more attention to him, or that he just got caught in the meltdown that affected the whole team's form. He was definitely still in Aron Winter's plans despite his struggles early on, but it seemed quite clear that he wasn't going to fit well into Paul Mariner's 4-4-2.
Exactly how it all went down from there hasn't fully come out in public, but there's suggestions that it was Plata himself that engineered his loan back to Ecuador. Whoever started it, Plata was happy to tell the world about it long before the deal was completed, much to Paul Mariner's frustration. It ended with him holding a Quito jersey while TFC management were assuring everyone he's still part of the club. Technically he is still indeed part of the club and there's talk of him coming back next season, but I really can't see that happening.
5. What sort of timetable is expected for Torsten Frings to recover? Do you think he can come back and be the same player he was before the injury? (via Ryan Sealock)
It was announced on Monday that he'd had surgery on his bum hip in Germany and would be coming back to Toronto to rehab and that he should be ready to join the team in pre season. Whether that happens or not is very much still up in the air, with many people openly wondering if this is the end for Frings' career in Toronto. A retirement/buyout might be the best way to allow Frings to leave classily and TFC to use the DP spot on someone who'll be more valuable. He was very influential last year, and early this year, when he wasn't injured, but despite his still obvious class, he's not really suited to what Paul Mariner wants from his defenders. His skills, calm, organisation and ability to link defence to attack with accurate passing aren't as valuable as they were, and his age and resulting lack of speed get exposed more in this system that requires so much defending throughout the game as TFC seem to invite pressure on to themselves. Basically we're playing a style that suits Terry Dunfield more than Torsten Frings, make of that what you will.
Bonus: Score prediction and who socres the goals if you want.
Most of TFC's 1st choice defence is available so it won't be a blowout, but TFC won't have enough quality. A comfortable 1-0 win for Chicago, I'll go with Fernandez as the goalscorer.
Waking The Red Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Winners of 4 out of 5, and very much challenging for 2nd in the East, still no one really talks about the Fire as a team to watch. Why the lack of respect?
I think it is a mixture of things. Not getting much attention in the National Media compared to some other teams hurts. I actually had a chance to discuss this very thing with my fellow SB Nation Power Rankings voters, and this sentiment was somewhat echoed by some of them. The other major thing I think is the fact that, compared to teams like New York and LA, the Fire don't have a ton of superstar names on the roster. It sounded like many voters tend to weigh a team with big name, jersey selling stars a bit more favorably than a team with a lot of hard workers but lack of big name recognition. To me, I could care less about big names as long as the team is winning. And the Fire have been doing a nice job of that lately. How many times have we seen a team spend tons of money and buy some big name stars, yet fail to put it all together and end up being a disappointment? I would argue that is more common than a team of blue collar players coming together to form a cohesion that takes the team to the next level. How many years has New York had a star studded roster, only to fail? And look at the LA Galaxy. For all of their purchases (Beckham being the most famous), it still took them a few years to win an MLS Cup despite their pricey payroll.
In the end, the best managers don't just buy players to buy them, they bring in the right players that, added together, create a very good group. Those players then achieve more together than some of the big ego's on the same team in other places. I think Frank Klopas has been able to do this so far. Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman has also gone on record saying that the money is there for a Robbie Keane like signing, IF the fit is right. This has become a running joke among Fire fan circles as the money is there, but we don't seem to ever spend it. The owner has made it clear that we won't splash money just to splash money. Klopas has shown that, although most of our players may not be household names, they are creating a group that is becoming very dangerous and climbing up the Eastern Conference Standings. Even if various media outlets continue to ignore the Fire, consistently winning and making some noise this postseason will speak louder than a power ranking number ever will.
2. When last we spoke, you were excited about the potential of recent additions Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald. How are they looking?
Sherjill has done very well so far I think. He has had enough time on the pitch to start to really get acclimated to the league and his teammates. He has 6 appearances so far, with a goal and 2 assists to his name. So, not a bad start at all. He has come very close to scoring multiple times, and I personally still think he is on the cusp of a big game that could really get him going.
As for Flaco, he has had flashes of brilliance, and has missed a couple of goals that he really should have scored. Overall, he has done ok, and seems to still be trying to find his footing with a new team and new system that plays differently than Seattle. The experience he brings is definitely valuable, and I think down the stretch he will start to find his normal form again.
3. You've beaten us twice already this year, we're wrecked by injuries and international callups, give me a shred of hope here, what are the Fire's weaknesses? How can TFC beat them?
I just saw the injury report for the match, and it looks like TFC has nearly been relegated to a reserve team with the injuries and callups as you mentioned. Right now the Fire have been playing well. Our midfield and defense has been strong. We are still looking to find that consistent goal scorer week in and week out, but we are getting contributions from a few players so the scores are being spread around. Although I am not sure I would call it a glaring weakness, I would say goal scoring still is an issue in terms of consistency. If the defense is strong like it normally is, then we should play with anyone. However, if we get in a shootout where we might need to score 3 or 4 goals to win, it makes things much tougher. I would say TFC is going to have to find a way to get multiple goals to have a shot, and with the depleted lineup I just don't see it barring some shocking defending or GK play. Sean and our backline has been so solid for most of this year that it would take a nightmare game for them to let in a few goals I think considering your normal scorers won't be available.
4. Scoreline and scorers prediction?
Considering the lineups, I will go 3-0 to the Fire. Goals from Rolfe, Sherjill, and Flaco. I just don't see anyone that will be available for TFC that has the danger of netting a time or two against us.