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Three Questions: Sporting KC vs. Chicago Fire

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We exchange three questions with Andy Edwards of The Daily Wiz in order to get some insider perspective on Sporting KC as they come to town on Saturday.  Andy's answer to my first question is below and the other five questions in the exchange are after the break. 

Hot Time In Old Town asks The Daily Wiz

1. This off-season has witnessed plenty of moves for the MLS team based in Kansas City.  Could you provide a quick fire response on the new stadium, Sporting KC, LIVESTRONG, and Chad Ochocinco?  Feel free to quick fire address anything I'm missing.  It sure was a busy off-season.

It has been an extremely busy whirlwind of an offseason for anyone following the club here in Kansas City; especially if you're trying to feign yourself as "real media" for the team. For all the things that happened in the offseason, you would think that it would just make it go by a lot faster, 2010 would have ended and the 2011 season would have been here before we knew it, but that just wasn't the case.

The first big happening was, obviously, the rebranding from Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City. As is probably still the case for many fans around the league, most here in town were extremely upset with the change of name. A lot of it had to do with it being the same people that were around when the league was created in 1996, and have been fans of the club under the old Wiz namesake, as well as Wizards. But, as most of these things do, it kind of went away with a bit of time, once people accepted that complaining about it wasn't going to get it changed back.

I'll be in attendance for the first time at Toyota Park on Saturday, but with all due respect, Livestrong Sporting Park is going to blow Toyota and every other MLS stadium, save for maybe Red Bull Arena, out of the water. I had a chance to tour the building back in November once the general structure of the entire stadium had been completed, and it was just absolutely mind-blowing how immacualately designed it was.

For those people that have been fans of the team since 1996, and have cheered on games in Arrowhead Stadium and CommunityAmerica Ballpark (a minor league baseball stadium), it's a huge payoff for being so loyal and supporting their team, wherever the games may be played. The team just announced on Thursday that season ticket sales have surpassed the 10,000 ticket mark. To put that in perspective, capacity at CAB last year was just under 11,000, including day-of-game sales. The impact of the stadium on the fanbase won't be able to be fully measured until June 9, when Chicago rolls into town for the stadium opener.

Chad Ochocinco is not a professional soccer player. After watching him at Wednesday's training, that was the very obvious observation to be made. Is he a world class athlete and a better athlete than 95 percent of the players on the Sporting KC roster? Yes, probably, but they are soccer players, while he is not.

Thursday went miles better for him at practice, but the previous statement still stands: he is not a professional soccer player, nor will he ever be. After the final reserve training session on Saturday, I would be flaberghasted to see him at the team's facility ever again.

2. How has Teal Bunbury's pre-season training been going in light of dislocating his elbow back in mid-February?  Will he be ready for a full 90 this Saturday?  Has this actually been a positive for the team given the fact that rookie C.J. Sapong got the First Kick start and already has a goal on his stat sheet?

Having talked with Teal numerous times about the injury, his recovery and its effects on him, it does seem somewhat a blessing in disguise, but not for that reason. Sapong starting on Saturday was great and got the rookie's career off to a great start, yes. But, after the busy offseason Bunbury had, he kind of needed a rest.

Immediately following the end of the 2010 season, he switched international allegiances from Canada to the United States, trained with the US national team for a week and made his US debut in mid-November. Without even coming back to the States from South Africa, where the friendly was played, he met up with the rest of Major League Soccer's Generation adidas players for a week-long tour in Spain, which included daily training and exhibitions against the Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid reserve squads. He played in each of those three games in one week. After that to finish the month of November, he spent the first part of December on a 10-day training stint with English Premier League club Stoke City. He played in a reserve league game against Wigan Athletic.

As if that weren't enough, he was then called into the almost-month-long US national team Januray camp, which culminated in the now world-famous "BoonBooRee" goal call. That game was played on a Saturday, and that following Monday - just a day and a half later - he was back in Kansas City for the first day of Sporting preseason training. Since the season ended up October 23, I would guesstimate that he had about 20 to 25 days off from either training or game play.

The injury also came at a fairly decent time, if it were going to have to happen. Things worked out well in Week 1 against Chivas USA, because the team got out to an early lead and he wasn't needed at all, though he was available. That gave him another week off to recover a bit more. While he's not yet 100 percent, as told by head coach Peter Vermes on Thursday at the team's weekly press conference, because he still has to wear the bulky brace that he has sported since returning to practce, he is definitely available for Saturday, and I expect him to be in the Starting XI.

Short story long, it wasn't a terrible thing to happen to him, because it forced him to take a bit of a break, which he hadn't really had yet, but seeing how it was an elbow injury, he was able to keep his conditioning and running up the entire time.

3. With the loss of Jimmy Conrad, has anyone stepped up to become the clear leader of the Sporting KC back line?  Who will most likely start in defense for Sporting KC on Saturday?

To start preseason training, the team brough in no less than half a dozen players at the centerback position. The one that stuck, Julio Cesar Santos, started last week against Chivas alongside Matt Besler, who was a part-time starter for the team in 2010. The knock on Besler is that Vermes didn't believe, all last year, that Besler was tough enough or aggressive enough. Vermes is hard on certain players, and Besler is certainly one of those guys. But, I truly think it is because he thinks Besler can be a very good center half in this league, and I agree.

Santos is a wily vet with experience including regular playing time at Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Benfica and Olympiacos, among a long list of other former clubs. It is extremely tough to get a grasp on Santos, beacuse he is one of those players that is known as a "gamer." Sometimes in practice, you wonder what in the world he's thinking, if anything, and in-game, he's pretty sharp; at least judging by his performance against Chivas.

Santos and Besler make a pretty good pairing in the back, I think, but Vermes must still not be completely satisfied with them as a starting duo, because on Tuesday the team welcomed to practice a player they had been trying for a long time to bring in, French defender Aurelien Collin. The situation with Collin is an odd one, though. He is currently still under contract with his previous team in Portugal, except they have allowed him to come to Kansas City and he has done mostly conditioning work everyday since arriving to the team's facilities on Tuesday. At least right now, he will be unable to play with the team until June when his current deal ends, according to Sporting assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin on Tuesday. Either way, once he is eligible to play, he should immediately see time on the field as a starter, because he has that kind of talent.

Once again, short story long, Conrad's shoes are yet to be completely filled, although over the past couple years they were somewhat shrinking in size, metaphorically speaking. Expect to see the Besler-Santos pairing in the center of KC's defense, with regular starter Roger Espinoza on the left and either Luke Sassano, who started last week, or Chance Myers on the right. I'm guessing Myers for his pace.

The Daily Wiz asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. Coming into the season, Chicago planned to implement a 3-5-2 system, and did so to start the season opener against FC Dallas. That didn't go over so hot in the first half, so they quickly switched back to a convential 4-4-2. Why the 3-5-2 in the first place, and will we see them give it another shot this week?

The coaching staff thinks the 3-5-2 will work well thanks to the speed of right back Jalil Anibaba and the overall talent of goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The defensive unit that also includes left back Cory Gibbs and center back Josip Mikulic played almost every single minute together in pre-season. There's no doubt it's in Johnson-Anibaba-Mikulic-Gibbs we trust.

Where it gets tricky is Marco Pappa's role in all of this. The MLS All-Star played last year almost exclusively on the left wing but Chicago needs him to embrace a leadership role in central midfield if this particular group of guys will become elite. The jury on whether or not Pappa is 100% ready for this role is still out. By playing a 3-5-2 it forces Pappa into a CM position with Gonzalo Segares playing LM. Logan Pause plays far back in a DM position and either Baggio Husidic or Mike Videira will play above Pause in another DM position. Neither Pause, Husidic, or Videira have the offensive skills to be a true catalyst. Patrick Nyarko rounds out the midfield by playing RM.

In a 4-4-2, Segares moves back to LB, Gibbs shifts to CB, and Marco Pappa shifts over to LM. This is not the end of the world because Gaston Puerari starts up top and he is more of a withdrawn forward but he doesn't have the pure passing skills to be a No. 10 type player. A 4-4-2 can keep the team competitive but I believe a 3-5-2 with this group of players could turn into something really special. Carlos de los Cobos doesn't want to necessarily take some of the punches that come with the learning curve of the 3-5-2 so the 4-4-2 is an in-game plan B. There's a lot going on here but I think you can see the team's long-term success really hinges on Marco Pappa's ability to step it up and advance to the next level.

2. Since the game against Dallas last week, all we've heard about coming out of Chicago is the recently signed Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves. Can you just give us a little information on him, his game and why he was so successful in his MLS debut?

It's interesting to hear that. Chaves' fellow Uruguyan teammate Gaston Puerari should be getting just as much attention but I suppose that just goes to show you that if you score the goals, you get the acclaim. Chaves is a pure striker who shows a knack to slip through defenses with his wiry 5'10" and 150lbs frame. He is 25 years old and has already played professional soccer in Uruguay and Mexico for seven years. Chaves was actually teammates with Gaston Puerari before when they both played for the Montevideo Wanderers.

His first MLS goal came from a rebound off Kevin Hartman. Chaves comes from out of nowhere, Hartman practically places the ball at Chaves' feet and instantly regrets it, no FC Dallas player picked Chaves up. Chaves had a chance to score a second goal when there was a somewhat of a scrum in the second half. A mass of bodies were in the box, Pappa back heels the ball to no one in mind... somehow Chaves gets a handle on it. He launched the ball too hard and it hit the top cross bar but his positioning was outstanding. He had Hartman beat, Chaves just put too much on the ball. The last time the Fire had a player who scored ten goals or more in a season was 2004. I put good money on Diego Chaves breaking that drought. It won't be pretty and he will annoy the hell of the opposition. I'm looking forward to it.

3. Much like Kansas City, Chicago is a team coming off roster turnover of some extremely long-tenured, experienced players. Defender C.J. Brown and forward Brian McBride both retired after the 2010 season. How has the team coped with those losses, and who are some guys stepping into those enormous shoes that have to be filled?

The loss of C.J. Brown definitely stings. He was the last Chicago Fire original. However, there has not been a lot of that ‘fill shoes' talk around the team in this off-season. 2010 was not a pleasant year for Chicago. Besides not making the playoffs, the team chemistry became toxic. Players did not seem to be giving their all. You heard rumors about the locker room. As much as we miss some of the long-term players like C.J. Brown, John Thorrington, Wilman Conde, Brian McBride, etc, I think fans are generally excited to a see a new chapter written. That or there was so much loss, all the loss just kind of numbed the fan base to the idea of individual players leaving.

Again in terms of filling those shoes, the dynamics have changed for 2011. It's a team with half of the roster brand new to Chicago, there's a new attitude in town and more casual fans are just trying to get a handle of who is playing at all. I suspect I'll have a better answer for you when we meet again in June. If the team is winning, we won't hear a word. If the team is losing, there will be choirs of fans singing the woes of what has happened to the Chicago Fire? I won't necessarily be out of their ranks either...