Fireside Chat - Chicago v. D.C. - USOC Semifinals

public domain photo via en.wikipedia.org

Fire must battle overconfidence against a much-changed side they crushed 4-1 just 10 days ago

As is customary, we lit a fire and chatted with our compatriots at Black & Red United about this evening's Open Cup semifinal. Adam M. Taylor answered for B&RU.

Tickets are still available for the match! Parking is apparently also free. And it's a knockout game, so the prospect of bonus soccer looms - they'll play an extra 30 if tied, and have a penalty shootout if that can't decide it.

B&RU asks:

For better or worse, unlike D.C. United, the Fire still might have something beyond a purely theoretical shot at making the playoffs this year. Is that hope, however faint, likely to change Frank Klopas' approach in the semifinal?

I doubt it. The Fire front office are pounding the pavement trying to get a turnout for the game - offering $12 tickets through easily-used codes and free parking (which is a big deal at TP, as parking rates are quite high). The only way I could imagine Klopas shrugging off the club's only realistic shot at a trophy this season is for the front office to indicate they are not that into the Open Cup, as the fans openly want us to emphasize winning a trophy. Since there are no signs the FO is mailing it in, I'm guessing you're going to see a choice XI tonight.

I do think you'll see some squad rotation, though. It's not likely to be the same lineup as against Philadelphia Saturday - Alex looks like he's at that point of the season where the kicks add up, and with Danny Paladini and Logan Pause both healthy and eligible again, he's the guy I'd guess gets rested. Dilly Duka looked sprightly again in a sub appearance against the Phunions, so I could see him starting on the left instead of Joel Lindpere. But those changes would be an attempt to get the best players at that moment on the field, not saving folks for Saturday. And there's the chance this could go 120 minutes, so starting anyone with a knock is crazy.

Speaking of Klopas, how safe is his job if the Fire don't reach glory in the Open Cup and don't manage to make the miracle playoff run this year?

Our front office is a monument to opacity, so treat every word of what I'm about to say with the same respect as the mumblings of the guy who lives atop the steam grate outside your building. Klopas will stay in his position until someone higher up decides to throw him under the bus. I don't expect a genuine evaluation to take place. He will have this job until someone upstairs starts to feel pressure to do something, anything, and firing Frank will be that something. I'd like to think that we've got contingency plans in place - I mean, that's what front offices do, right? - but I see no signs of that kind of layered planning happening in the organization.

These questions are the ones that drive serious Fire fans insane. Who freakin' knows? If we knew Frank was both technical director and coach, then anything less than the playoffs should see him gone - he's built the roster, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. But we don't know that. It could be Javier Leon calling the shots on the roster and Frank just trying to make the best of it. I'll say this: I don't think anyone is just not trying.

Short of kneecapping the two of them - which I would obviously never, ever advocate - what's the key to dealing with a forward pairing on as big of a hot streak as Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe?

I appreciate that you took the ‘Full Gillooly' off the table, despite its obvious efficacy. I'd do a couple of things to neutralize Magee and Rolfe. First, don't try to play a high line. Giving those two half the field in which to torture one's centerbacks is just cruel, and they thrive when there's that much space behind. Playing a high line also means any aimless ball over the top can be trouble. So, drop the backline a little.

Communication is the key against Magee and Rolfe. They thrive on creating mental challenges for defenders, usually an either/or pair, and have an idea how they'll handle either choice. Your centerbacks need to talk constantly about where the strikers are and what they're doing. If DC can communicate well enough, suddenly those mental challenges evaporate, and we're left with a series of physical challenges, where our pair of 5-foot-9, 160-pound strikers have some disadvantage.

There's no easy answer, though. Drop the backline but pressure the midfield? Rolfe and Magee will take turns moving into the pocket and firing through balls to each other. Keep men behind the ball and play on the break? It may not be a popular choice, but the prospect of Silva and DeRo working a series of jailbreak counters doesn't sound very appetizing to this Chicago supporter.

Chicago Projected XI [4-4-2]: Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba; Dilly Duka, Daniel Paladini, Jeff Larentowicz, Patrick Nyarko; Chris Rolfe, Mike Magee.

Score Prediction: 2-1 Fire AET. Chicago goals by Magee and Duka, DC by DeRosario. A trench war that nearly goes to penalties.

We ask B&RU

Does a US Open Cup final or final win save Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper's jobs? (via Adam Merges)

It's kind of an unpredictable situation, honestly. There are a few fans who have demanded Ben Olsen's head on a platter, and there are even more who would love to see General Manager Dave Kasper's. But I'm not sure the ownership are among them, particularly as it comes to Benny. What I mean is, despite the league-worst... well, everything, I'm not convinced that we're going to see different faces in either position come spring. That's particularly true for Olsen, who I'm fairly convinced will be around next year so long as United simply look a modicum better through the second half of 2013 than they did through the first. Kasper's fate is tougher to call, though, as he's got to bear primary responsibility for the top failing this year, the roster construction. That said, he's also got to get some credit for pickups like Luis Silva, Jared Jeffrey and Conor Doyle, who - at least on the first available evidence - appear to have added some needed skill and swagger to the Black-and-Red. I would hope that a knockout tournament wouldn't be enough to change the evidence from the rest of the season, but I'm not convinced that Jason Levien & Co. are leaning toward canning either of them.

TL;DR: I honestly don't know.

Will United start dynamic youngsters like Jeffery and Doyle, or do you see Olsen opting for experience in a crucial Cup match? (via Alex Lott)

I think it'll be a mix. We can be sure Luis Silva will get the start, having scored in each of the last three games. I think Dwayne De Rosario is likely to start ahead of Doyle, even after Doyle's goal and assist as a substitute on the weekend. Jared Jeffrey might be the $64,000 question coming into this game, because if John Thorrington is healthy to go, he could get the nod over his younger colleague. After his performance on Saturday, though, unless he doesn't have the juice to go another 90 minutes, I think Jeffrey will get the start, as Olsen will feel comfortable not rushing Thorrington back to the field if he doesn't have to.

Given our teams' turbulent history in the Cup, which player do you think is the odds-on favorite to blow the game up with an untimely red card? Who won't handle the pressure? (via Sean Spence)

This was so much easier to predict when Cuauhtémoc Blanco was a part of the rivalry... Honestly, though, on the DC side, it could be relative newcomer Luis Silva to blow things up. Even though he's only played three games with United, he's near the top of the team in the unofficial statistical category of "number of times kicked," but he has yet to really receive any protection from the refs. If the pattern continues, he could snap, not due to the pressure of a knockout tournament (for which Silva is eligible thanks to the accident of geography that put Toronto on the northern side of Lake Ontario) but rather to the growing frustration that all creative attackers in MLS eventually feel due to the North American tradition of lax refereeing. If not Silva, then Jeffrey may be the guy. He's played two games for United and earned a yellow card in each of them for hard or rash tackles. If he gets a bit too loose on the reins, he might fly into an ill-advised challenge and earn himself a sending off.

On your side, though, it's gotta be Joel Lindpere, right? At least, I feel like he's the player for the Fire I'd least like to meet late at night in an alley in Tallinn. {HTIOT response: While Joel does have a certain dead-eyed demeanor, my guess would be Bakary Soumare. He's not exactly a placid individual, and when DeRo is feeling confident, he talks a blue streak of noise - I could see Baky getting a red card out of nothing.}

D.C. United Projected XI: 4-4-1-1 - Joe Willis; Chris Korb, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard, James Riley; Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, Kyle Porter; Luis Silva; Dwayne De Rosario.

Score Prediction: Two things we can be sure of if recent events are any guide, and that's that both Mike Magee and Luis Silva will find the back of the net. De Ro has also been playing a lot better in Open Cup games this year, and he was inches away from scoring last weekend, so I think he's the difference as United advance to the final, 2-1.

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