Fireside Chat: Fire vs. New England, MLS #7

Jim Rogash

Talking contract disputes, Amarikwa's rise, Bunbury's struggles and more with Corey Major of the Bent Musket

Corey Major of The Bent Musket was kind enough to answer our questions about Robert Kraft's least vital investment in this edition of Fireside Chat.

Of note, the Revs' Portuguese centerback Jose Goncalves is now listed as 'out' for Saturday's game, which is surely welcome news for the Fire attacking unit. Major expects Andrew Farrell and A.J. Soares to start in the middle.

We ask, they answer

Hot Time: How is Teal Bunbury doing in his bid to fill Juan Agudelo's shoes? How much of the Revs' early-season offensive struggles are down to striker play?

BM: In answer to the first part of this question: not great. Bunbury had some highlights in preseason, but thus far in the Revs' 2014 MLS campaign he's seemed more like the same 3rd string striker he was last year at Sporting Kansas City. Unfortunately, he seems to lack confidence when he gets himself into a scoring opportunity and often forces an unnecessary pass in the box to a marked teammate or shoots wide of goal.

He certainly doesn't have the same skillset as Agudelo, but I don't think all hope is lost for him. Personally, I think that he'd benefit from more competition for that lone-striker spot in Heaps' starting XI. At the moment, Charlie Davies and Dimitry Imbongo are behind him on the depth chart, and it doesn't seem like they're giving Bunbury much of a run for his money, at least not from where I'm standing. It's true that the Revs' offensive struggles have been largely due to their inability to finish, but that doesn't fall solely on Bunbury. Our wingers shoulder just as much of the blame. Neither Diego Fagundez nor Saer Sene have really been able to get into the attack so far this season. So, until they find their footing and start linking up with Bunbury (or whomever), it seems like the Revs' attack will continue to sputter.

HT: Like the Fire, New England had its best player - Jose Goncalves - express sadness over his contract in the preseason. Is Goncalves now happy? Or are the Revs preparing for life without the classy Portuguese center back?

BM: This is a difficult question to answer as there is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding this situation. Before the Revs' home opener, General Manager Mike Burns indicated to the media that the two sides had patched things up. But a recent article from ESPN's Jeffrey Carlisle seems to suggest that the issue isn't so much "resolved" as it is just pushed aside for now, which makes Jose's future with New England very unclear. What's important for Revs fans right now is that Jose is focused on the team and on his role when he's on the pitch, and that's the best we can hope for.

HT: Andy Dorman has largely supplanted Scott Caldwell in the starting XI, despite the Homegrown player serving as a surprisingly capable metronome behind New England's fluid attackers in '13. What does Dorman bring that Caldwell doesn't? Does Dorman change the basic structure of the 'Ningland midfield?

BM: Andy Dorman's emergence in this 2014 Revolution lineup has been immense. As good as Scott Caldwell has been for the Revs since signing as a HGP last year, he is still just a 2nd year player. And, in that regard, Andy Dorman offers a lot more experience to the position than Caldwell can at the moment, and that's what the Revs were sorely missing when they opened up the season. On top of that, Dorman has a size advantage and can afford to be more aggressive than Caldwell, which makes a huge difference when teams are running at the Revolution backline. The structure doesn't change between Caldwell or Dorman, but it does seem to click more effectively when the latter is in the starting XI.

All this is not to say that Caldwell has been completely replaced. He's actually found a good role as a second half sub when the Revs need to protect a lead, keep possession, dictate tempo, or any of the above. Caldwell can be a very efficient cog in the Revolution midfield, but as the lone defensive midfielder, he is a bit of a liability.

HT: Over/under on the number of months until Andrew Farrell wins a senior cap for the USA?

BM: I don't see it happening anytime soon, but that's only because it's a World Cup year. Plus Klinsy seems more determined to integrate Deandre Yedlin, arguably Farrell's main competition, into the senior team above him. However, I do think that Farrell will get his chance within the next WC cycle. I'll say 15 months.

Predicted Revs starting XI (4-1-4-1, L to R):Shuttleworth | Alston - Soares - Farrell - Barnes | Dorman | Fagundez - Nguyen - Kobayashi - Sene | Bunbury

Score Prediction: 1-1 w/ goals from Sene and Amarikwa

They ask, we answer

BM: Quincy Amarikwa has been on a real hot streak lately. What would you say has led to his emergence in the starting XI this season and how high do you think his ceiling is?

HT: Quincy is an interesting case. He's always brought a palpable fight to the field in his first four years in the league - the guy was a pole vaulter in high school, and carries that strength and sense of leverage into battling centerbacks for position. What's changed is that he seems to have learned how to put his abilities in harness for the team - he's not just brawling for position, but also making intelligent runs and finishing with some swagger.

Initially, Amarikwa got a shot in the starting XI because Juan Luis Anangono played his way out of it. It's that last question that hangs over the entire enterprise - is this ephemeral form or durable quality? My best guess: Quincy's better than we thought, but not quite three-goals-every-five games good.

BM: Tell me about Mike Magee's contract dispute/non-issue/training bust-up/new contract. What's going on with this guy? Is the 2013 MLS MVP back as the same player in 2014?

HT: Ve know nossing!

Real talk: MLS contracts include specific non-holdout language; players (and agents) have to tiptoe around to keep from activating those clauses. Was Mike holding out? All parties say no. Did Mike take an unscheduled two-week break during preseason, then return to a contract that had magically more than doubled? All parties say yes. I leave it to the reader to tell their ass from this particular hole in the ground.

All that aside, Magee's still the same player. He's pathologically competitive. He thinks the game at a very high level. If Goncalves is out, the Revs will likely have a difficult time mentally in the back - Magee and Harrison Shipp are very good at finding space and forcing difficult decisions upon defenders.

BM: Frank Klopas out; Frank Yallop in. What have you seen from New Frank that makes you think that the Fire are in a better spot to succeed this year than they were with Old Frank. Give me one reason why the Fire are worse-off with New Frank.

HT: New Frank (Yallop) is much more a modern football manager - the difference in the level of detail in preparation is notable. Yallop's substitutions make sense, and happen before the 85th minute. His tactical changes are explicable, not confounding. I explain the difference this way: Under Yallop, I don't find myself going "Holy f--k THIS MAKES NO SENSE" on a daily basis. It's a nice change.

As to what we've lost, I think Klopas was good at motivating guys to go run through a wall once their backs are up against it, and I haven't seen a lot of that. Frank I's teams would play terrible football, then somehow will themselves back into the game. Under Frank II so far, the Fire have played pretty decent football, then somehow found a way not to get all the points.

BM: The Fire re-shuffled the backline in the offseason sending Jalil Anibaba to Seattle and Austin Berry to Philadelphia. Is this new Fire defense better than last year's, or are there lingering concerns about this new unit?

HT: Winless in six, 10 goals conceded, and zero clean sheets? Yes, I'd say there's still lingering concerns about this unit. That said, they're not the kind of concerns that the presence of Berry or Anibaba would allay.

The central pairing of Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has shown an ability to play dominating defensive football for long stretches. Soumare's size and surprising quickness are used in an aggressive stopper role, while Hurtado sweeps up behind, covering runners ghosting into space. They're usually very good until that one moment when it all comes undone.

That's where the concerns come in - that one moment. Soumare has an established history of mentally switching off at the wrong times, and Hurtado can't always be there to clean it up. This defense still hasn't put together a full 90 minutes without the critical mistake, and the longer it goes before that happens, the less likely it seems to happen at all. We here in Fire-land are weeping and fasting for a clean sheet.

That said, if you're looking for goals against the Fire, just fall over with the ball at your feet. Seven of the 10 goals Chicago's surrendered have come off set pieces.

BM: Give us one player to look out for on Saturday.

This will be the Revs' first look at Harrison Shipp, the homegrown player who led Notre Dame to the NCAA title last fall. He's an interesting player from a player-development standpoint, a sort of antipode to the traditional American college product - he's not tall, or fast; he doesn't have three lungs; and he's unlikely to dribble through a double-team when an obvious out-ball presents itself.

That's what he's not. What he is, is an American trequartista, a cerebral schemer whose immaculate first touch allows him to find pockets of space all over the attacking zone. He's been playing on the left, but generally uses that merely as a starting spot. And his service in dead-ball situations is both cunning and accurate. The kid's just good.

Predicted Fire starting XI (4-4-2): Johnson - Cochrane, Soumare, Hurtado, Palmer - Shipp, Larentowicz (c), Alex, Nyarko - Magee, Amarikwa.

Score prediction: The Fire finally get to the final whistle without brain-farting away a goal, and win, 2-0. Goals from Amarikwa and Magee, entering a week layoff where their bromance goes viral.

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