Chicago Fire vs. Sporting KC - MLS #3 - Fireside Chat With The Daily Wiz

Let's hope this guy starts to find his form Saturday afternoon - Ed Zurga

The struggling Fire offense won't get any favors this week as they travel to KC to face a tough defense. The midfield is going to need to step it up big time, and we will need to spring some counters as well to get the offense going

I took a few minutes out of the day to shoot the breeze with Andy Edwards at The Daily Wiz. While the Sporks come into this game struggling a bit themselves, it's the Fire who truly need to right the proverbial ship. Although the defense really solidified last week (despite one big lapse in concentration), the midfield and forwards corps still have a lot of work to do.

With confidence a bit low, the task is seeming even taller. With that said, I ask you what better game to bounce back from adversity than this one? If we are going to kick it into gear, why not against "little brother"? As I see it, we owe them one for last year. I am expecting Frank to have the team ready to play and that needs to translate into a superior effort on Saturday. Until then, enjoy the Chat:

Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Daily Wiz

1. Sporting KC finally got a shirt sponsor in Ivy Funds, but also had the embarrassing fallout with LIVESTRONG. From a business perspective, how is the club doing heading into the 2013 season? (via James Coston)

Obviously from the national perspective, things might look a little bad looking from the outside in, but to be honest, there's been little to no harsh words for the club from people within Kansas City, and I think at least at this point in continuing to build the club's brand and name recognition within its own city, that's the more important thing.

Does everybody associated with the club wish they could have avoided that whole situation when it played itself out in January? Of course. Then again, Lance Armstrong probably wishes he could have won seven Tour de France races without doping.

2. Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler in. Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara out. Did this team get better or worse in the offseason? (via James Coston)

After two games, it's obviously impossible to say they're better or worse for the changes. What I will say is this, though: they're already a more deliberate, crisp passing and moving team. If you've watched Sporting KC play their first two games of the 2013 season, you'll have noticed they are looking to play a different style of soccer than the run-and-gun, 100-mph stuff of 2011 and 2012.

Kamara and Espinoza being gone are the two main factors in that, in my opinion, as they took loads of athleticism with them when they left for the Premier League. While the additions of Bieler and Feilhaber are certainly a step down in the athleticism category, it's a step up from each in terms of being a more methodical, incisive team, which is what was said to have lacked in the last two year's playoff failures.

In just two games, Bieler has already proven to be worth his Designated Player contract. If he continues to score goals anywhere near that rate, he'll more than make up for Kamara's 30 goals over the last three seasons. Feilhaber has had a slightly slower start, but that's to be expected of a midfielder. He will flourish if/when Kamara returns from loan with Norwich City, which will allow Graham Zusi to slide back into the midfield alongside Feilhaber, and the two of them to work much closer together on the field.

3. SKC has stumbled out of the gate a bit in 2013, as have the Fire. What has gone wrong so far, and what is your outlook on Saturday's game? (via Ryan Sealock)

I'm not sure I'd say Sporting have stumbled out of the gate to start the year. In reality, they've taken three points from two road games (a similar road points ratio they produced in 2012), and done so in a pair of home openers against two teams who look to be much improved from rough 2012 seasons.

The loss at Toronto was definitely a disappointment, though. Things got off to a horrible start with TFC scoring after just three minutes, and were only compounded by the second goal - a soft, but fair penalty - after 20 minutes. With the new way Peter Vermes is looking for his team to play, that completely took them out of their gameplan to play at a slower pace, control the game and limit the opposition's chances. Once they were 2-0 with 70 minutes to go, they seemed to revert back to the fast-paced, cross-heavy style of last year, which just as it often did then, netted them only one goal when they needed two or three.

But, in the context of 34 games, 1.5 points per game on the road probably earns any team in the league the Supporters Shield with any sort of good home record.

4. Does this team have the depth to fully compete in MLS, the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League? (via James Coston)

I would say they've got the depth at forward and in most positions of the defense to compete in three competitions. The jury is still out on the new backup right back Mechack Jerome- whether he can replace Chance Myers without too terribly much of a drop-off, but other than that, they look strong there.

Soony Saad is a young forward who would probably be getting minutes with half the teams in MLS, but he's third-choice center forward with Sporting at the moment, so he'll see plenty of minutes in Open Cup play just as he did last year.

The problem I foresee when games stack up in July and August will be in the midfield. First round draft pick Mikey Lopez will have to step up and log some serious minutes, but he'll just be returning from the U-20 World Cup in Turkey, so he'll be a bit behind the rest of the guys. Whether Kamara returns or not, I'd bet on Zusi playing in the midfield a lot during this time period, simply to provide extra numbers in there. How Oriol Rosell progresses and acclimates to regular playing time in MLS will be the biggest factor in how well the midfield holds up once the games back up so close to one another.

The Daily Wiz Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1) Novelist Nelson Algren once quipped, "Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring." How are Chicago Fire fans reacting to the slow start? Do they sense an oncoming season of heartbreak, or do they feel this team is still set for another playoff run?

There has been a bit of panic so far, which is to be expected with any team that has high aspirations for the coming season. It's not a 162 game season like baseball, so even a handful of bad games can put a team behind the 8 ball, so to speak. Now that the dust has settled, most of the fanbase has settled down as well. While it's not an ideal start obviously, we have new players still meshing with each other and learning the system. It would be one thing if we were playing up to our potential and still getting beat. Right now we know we are playing well below the level we can play. Once everything starts coming together, this team will start looking like a legit contender, as it should.

We also have the summer transfer window to work with as well. Should the offense continue to struggle to net goals, we may add a big piece this summer. That's putting the cart before the horse though. We have players in Lindpere, Larentowicz, and Duka that can play soccer. We all know that, it's just going to take a bit longer to get there than we had hoped. For now, personally I am not too worried. This team has too much talent to continue to play like they have. I look for that signature breakout performance to get them going soon. That happening in KC would be even nicer.

2) It took a perfect pass from Kelyn Rowe to Jerry Bengtson's head to score on the Fire last week. Do you think the defense is starting to adjust to the loss of Arne Friedrich, or do you think they need an outside signing as soon as possible?

The defense is still the same people minus Friedrich, which is admittedly a huge loss. It looks like he should only (knock on wood) be out another 2-3 weeks. While we certainly could use a bit more depth on the back line, I don't see us signing a huge name defender. Keep in mind that beside Arne is 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry. Against LA, instead of pairing Berry and Jalil Anibaba at CB, Steve Kinney (who hadn't seen regular season MLS action since 2010 due to a serious Achilles injury) was slotted at CB. Unfortunately, Kinney just doesn't seem back up to full speed MLS play yet, and that's certainly to be expected after being out that long. Last game, Jalil slotted into his true position at CB beside Austin. And the defense looked and played much better. Jalil and Austin are more familiar beside each other, and I would expect to see that CB tandem this weekend in KC.

The goal against the Revs was a nice play by both Rowe and Bengtson. The defense fell asleep once and paid for it. Our offense had 3-4 legit scoring chances and couldn't put any of them away. On another night we take away 3 points, but it wasn't to be last weekend. We still have a strong defense, but losing a player like Arne would hurt any team. I look for us to try to add a bit of back line depth but nothing beyond that.

3) The Fire's attack has yet to score this year. How does Chicago create goal scoring opportunities against Sporting KC's defense?

Well, once the midfield starts playing like they can we have a lot of dynamic players that can combine speed, ball handling, toughness, and good passing. I am hoping that they play much better this weekend. That being said, KC does have a very tough defense. I look for us to try to strike on the counter a little bit more. With Arne still out, I can see us playing a little bit deeper to help the defense guard against players like Bieler, etc. Unfortunately, this compresses the midfield even more, but also gives us chances to spring counters, especially down the wings. You know how fast Nyarko is, and Dilly Duka looks like he could be settling into the LW role nicely. If we can spring some counters up the flanks, combined with Joel Lindpere pushing forward in his box to box role, then we should be able to get some chances for Rolfe and Maicon Santos (who I see starting ahead of Sherjill MacDonald).

4) It's Rivalry Week, but there is growing consensus between both fanbases that KC-Chicago is not a rivalry. Still, there is enough history between both teams that a Fire-Sporting feels bigger than just another regular season game. Does this game merit rivalry status? If not, what is it?

It's not a rivalry in my eyes either. To me, it's a front office marketing scheme by the SKC suits. A real rivalry is created on the field by the players. I will say that the feelings between the two teams is starting to really gain some friction, so a rivalry could indeed happen someday. But it should be allowed to build naturally with supporters and players rather than pushed down everyone's throats. To me, it has always seemed to be a big brother (Chicago), little brother (KC) syndrome. With KC really improving the past few years, it's now up to the Fire to start pushing back when the two teams play. While I will say we have held our own for the most part the past few years, this team is trying to get back to the top. The club is used to being a top MLS side in the past and is climbing back up that mountain. It's time for us to start winning trophies again like the days of yore.

I look at this is a big game not for who we are playing per se, but because we need to get back on track. With KC looking a little shaky so far too, I am sure the feeling is the same on your side. Every game is important, so whether that 3 points comes against KC or FC Dallas or the Monstars, wins are what is most important in my book. While there are teams I view as rivals and want to beat no matter what (and hate when we lose to them), I don't view KC as one personally. That being said, this weekend should be a chippy, tense affair as usual.

Predicted lineup: Johnson, Kinney, Anibaba, Berry, Segares, Larentowicz, Nyarko, Duka, Lindpere, Santos, Rolfe

Predicted scoreline
: I will go with a 1-1 draw. While my confidence right now would say a loss, this team should have a Fire (pun intended) lit under their asses after the first 2 weeks. I will say Bieler and Rolfe goals will bring home a point for both teams and help right the Fire ship a bit.

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