I exchanged notes with Dan Ferris over at Once A Metro ahead of Sunday's clash. Enjoy the exchange, and please join us Sunday on the gamethread.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Once A Metro
1. Do you see Juninho playing only in a "Pirlo role" (great distribution and vision with low mobility) with New York? (via Adam Merges)
Even at 38 years old, so far when Juninho has played he has looked ten years younger. Tracking back and physically challenging opponents to force an error or win the ball, he covers much more ground than I expected him to. As the season progresses, of course there are concerns about wear and tear and that he might fall into a less mobile role. But the system that new head coach Mike Petke is implementing demands players moving and interchanging, creating space and keeping defenders guessing what's coming next. If Juninho can't give ninety minutes of that style then I expect to see the same active Juninho just for shorter amounts of time.
2. Hans Backe is out, Mike Petke in. How is Petke doing so far, and do fans see him as a long term solution in New York? (via Ryan Sealock)
Petke was a great hire, and the front office should have gone with him from the start instead of flirting with a couple of more high-profile European-experienced candidates. As long as New York is playing well and winning a decent amount, the fans will be happy with him leading the team. I'm not sure anyone expects him to win an MLS cup this year, and in a way I think that helps take some of the pressure off. The only way Petke doesn't stay on past this year is if the team doesn't make the playoffs.
3. How reliant will New York be on the health of Henry in order to be a successful club this season? (via Adam Merges)
Surprisingly, their best stretch of 2012 came when Henry was injured early on. They played a compact, organized style and got the job done. Henry will help the Red Bulls win a fair number of games, but I think their fate relies as much on Juninho, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola, and recent addition Peguy Luyindula as far as the attack is concerned. The Red Bulls have been knocked out of the MLS playoffs early the last three seasons in a row. Henry has played in all of those series. For New York to really make a splash, it's the surrounding cast that can lift the team higher than it has been before.
4. Give me a quick, overall report on how the Red Bulls have done so far this season. Strong points? Weak points? (via Ryan Sealock)
Their weak point is simple: they only have five points from their first five games. They fell apart in the second half against Portland blowing a two goal lead and then conceded two goals in the last ten minutes at San Jose. Maybe you can call that growing pains for a largely new starting eleven? Besides that, they've played largely impressive soccer.
Organized defense with a lot of possession that even managed to break through and score TWO goals in their last game against Philadelphia for their first win of 2013. A win away against Chicago on Sunday will go a long way to show that the Red Bulls are moving forward and can put something resembling a competitive season together.
Predicted starting lineup: So many injuries to consider, but the back line appears to be pretty set. I think their ideal starting eleven includes Heath Pearce, Marcus Holgersson, Jamison Olave, and Brandon Barklage as the back four with Dax McCarty, Juninho, and Tim Cahill tasked with controlling the midfield. That leaves Henry, Espindola, and Luyindula to round out a 4-3-3 formation. It looks unlikely that Henry and Espindola will be able to start on Sunday but might have roles off the bench. In that case, Cahill moves up top to partner with Luyindula and Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander will play in wider midfield roles.
Prediction: I think the New York defense can keep the recently stagnant Chicago attack at bay. Depending on who is available on the attacking side, I'll call it a 2-0 win for the Red Bulls.
Once A Metro Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Chicago is off to a slow start and still looking for their first win after three losses and one tie against some relatively tough opponents. Is your finger on the panic button or are these just early season hiccups?
Right now I am looking at this start a just a major hiccup. It's far too early to panic yet, especially when taking into account the fact of injuries. While all teams have to deal with them, the Fire have already had more than their fair share. This has caused a lot of lineup juggling and some players having to play out of position, which is never good for cohesiveness.
The most troubling thing for me is the woeful offense. It hasn't just been bad, it's been horrendous. It would be one thing if we were narrowly losing but were scoring goals. Right now nothing is going right on the top 3rd of the pitch. The team must address this problem in the summer window if things haven't gotten markedly better by then. Hopefully it won't be too late and the team will have gotten back on track.
2. With just one goal in their first four matches, what is the Chicago attack lacking considering that they scored the seventh most goals in MLS in 2012?
We know that Chris Rolfe is our most lethal scorer. Problem is, he tends to be streaky and while Sherjill MacDonald can score, he hasn't ever shown that he is a consistent, go to scorer either. Same with Maicon Santos. We traded away one streaky scorer (Dom Oduro) for another in Santos.
The 2 big factors affecting goal scoring for me are confidence and the midfield. Confidence obviously helps any player, but it can turn that great goal scorer into a world class one when he is confident and thinking he can beat the world. As I said previously, we don't even have a regular, legit every day goal scorer. And not having confidence in our closest thing to that (Rolfe) is not a good recipe for success. And I can't really blame him for that either as it would be hard for me to feel on top of the world after the start we have had. A couple of goals and a win would go a long way for everyone, especially the forward corps.
The other major factor is the midfield and their poor play this year. To be blunt, they haven't been getting it done and have been mostly bad. Rather than looking the cohesive unit building attacks like Fire fans thought they would, they have struggled to even keep possession so far. This equals sloppy play, bad passes, and an inability to get the ball up to the forwards to put in the goal. The midfield must play better to get the scoring going and so far that has not happened, at least as a functioning unit. The talent is there, so it's up to them to figure out how to fix it. This team won't start going up the standings until the midfield starting bossing the center of the pitch and dictating play, rather than the other way around.
3. The Fire brought in former Red Bull fan favorite and team MVP Joel Lindpere in the offseason as part of a major retooling of their midfield. How did Lindpere look in his first two starts and do you expect him to re-emerge as a regular in the starting eleven?
He has been bad so far. There is not a better way to describe it. I know Joel prefers the CAM role and had friction with Backe in NY over plying out on the wing last season, but he has looked completely lost so far this year. He missed last game due to international duty with Estonia, something Red Bull fans probably were used to as well.
It's really maddening for Fire fans right now as we all know what Joel is capable of. He has certainly dished out his share of pain against us in years past. That's why his shocking play so far is puzzling to me. Fortunately he is a seasoned veteran, and kows how to figure things out. I think once the midfield unit starts to gel as a whole it will help him out and vice versa. Until then, Frank may have to play around and shift Joel within the midfield. We are desperately needing someone who can spark some offense in the center of the pitch, and he just hasn't been able to do that. He may not like moving out wide, for example, but if it helps the team get going and is our best look right now then it needs to happen. I expect Joel to work hard and handle whatever role he is given.
Predicted lineup: Well, this one is hard. I posted on Monday that it looked like we could have a choice 11 for the first time this year. Unfortunately, since then it seems that Arne Friedrich and Logan Pause are questionable, and Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka will likely be out. This team just can't have anything go it's way right now. We will look to try to win with a less than optimal lineup yet again against a good team. This will increase pressure even more if that 3 points doesn't come. So, with a great deal of uncertainty as to who starts Sunday, here goes:
Johnson, Pause, Anibaba, Berry, Segares, Larentowicz, Lindpere, Alex, Atouba, Santos, Rolfe
Predicted scoreline: well, as I stated in the last Fireside Chat, it's not very fun predicting draws or losses every week. However, the Fire haven't really given me (or anyone else) a reason to pick better than that to be fair and honest. Until they do, and by God I hope it's soon, I am going to have to go with a 2-1 Fire loss. The Fire looked better against Chivas in the 1st half, but then the back line absolutely collapsed in the 2nd half. And given the fact that I don't think Arne will be fit to start, as well as Nyarko and Duka missing, I just have a hard time being confident. I hope I am proven greatly wrong and the Fire finally get that elusive first win, but I don't think it will be Sunday unfortunately. I will say goals from Rolfe for the Fire and Henry and Espindola from NYRB will chalk in the final score.