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Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids - MLS #7: Three Questions

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We exchange three questions with Chris 'Uz' White of Burgundy Wave in order to get some insider perspective on the Colorado Rapids as the Chicago Fire head to Dick's Sporting Good Park tonight.  Chris' 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 Burgundy Wave

1. The big news coming out of Colorado is Brian Mullan's fine and suspension. How does his absence change Colorado's midfield? How has Mullan and the team dealt with the controversy?

Colorado will certainly not be the same team without Mullan. Simply his veteran presence is a big boost to everyone on the field but his abilities can't be understated either. His defensive work and great passing ability on the wing are traits that only he is able to bring to the table. Having Wells Thompson or Sanna Nyassi in his place certainly won't be worst case scenarios, but remember that you're talking to a guy who gives almost complete credit to Brian for turning the Rapids from a middle of the road squad into a championship contender last year. Brian to his credit has been dealing with it as well as you can expect a guy like that to. He's been out of training and taking time off, even seeking counseling because he feels so bad about that tackle. The team, like most fans, think that the 10 game suspension was far too harsh for the circumstances, and I maintain that if it hadn't happened to a Sounder, the suspension wouldn't have been as bad.

2. Colorado won three straight and now has lost three straight. What has been the difference between the winning and the losing? Is there one missing link?

Two words, Pablo Mastroeni. After he was injured immediately before the Dallas game it became apparent that the Rapids had no real replacement for him anywhere. Joesph Nane played like a grade schooler trying to replace Pablo in the Dallas game, and they lost 3-0. And I can complain about the blatantly offside goal that Fabian Espindola scored in the dying seconds during the RSL game but it's certain that Pablo was still being missed even with a patchwork new midfield featuring Jamie Smith in the middle working quite well. The Seattle game can really just be chalked up to having 10 men for 87 minutes. Honestly, I still haven't seen a loss that really, truly worries me and makes me question the skill of this Rapids squad.

3. Which Colorado off-season acquisition have you been most pleased with? Which Colorado off-season transaction are you not liking as the season continues to move on?

Caleb Folan has filled in for Conor Casey during the several games that Casey has missed and also played up-top with Conor in Omar Cummings' absence and has played admirably for a guy who is obviously learning to transition into the style of MLS play. He has looked out of position and slow at times but we saw what he could do against DC United when he scored those two great goals. Sanna Nyassi from Seattle on the other hand has looked absolutely terrible at times, unfortunately mostly during times where clutch play was needed. The man just can't seem to handle pressure unless it's in Open Cup matches, for some weird reason.

 

Burgundy Wave asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. One of my favorite prospects in the draft in January was Jalil Anibaba, how has he played for the Fire so far? (Wonder goal in the open cup aside, I mean :/)

Jalil Anibaba's play has been very mixed. You will see an occasional flash of brilliance but overall it's been disappointing. He is making his fair share of rookie mistakes. When the Fire played Seattle a couple of weeks ago, he was paired up against Steve Zakuani. Zakuani ended up scoring the game winning goal while making a run Anibaba couldn't contain. This website is not perfect but ratetheplayers.com does give you a good idea of what the fans think. Anibaba ranks the lowest among regular starters with a rating of 4.70.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on Jalil though. Last year's starting RB Steven Kinney got injured right at the end of the 2010 season. His return was up in the air but the team targeted May. Several other positions needed to be addressed and somewhere along the line it was determined that Anibaba and Dasan Robinson could cover RB until Steve Kinney got back in the mix. Robinson's form really fell over the off-season so Anibaba is left out to dry. If Kinney was healthy, he and Anibaba would have a healthy competition going. That would be better for Anibaba's development.

2. Last year one of the things that kept the Fire a bit down last season may have been the fact that they had no real go-to guy to score goals, with a bunch of guys scoring five or so. Are there any guys coming through and looking like they'll finally be 10+ goal-scorers this season?

I don't know if you are referring to this but the Chicago Fire have MLS's longest streak of not having a 10+ regular season goal-scorer. In 2004, Damani Ralph  scored 11 goals and that was the last time.  I believe 2008 is the farthest that 10 goal streak goes back for any other team.  Diego Chaves has 4 goals and 28 games to go so I'm optimistic we will see that streak stop. Dominic Oduro has fit into the team well as a 75th minute substitute. He has had dangerous chances and scored a goal late in the game against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Oduro also missed a one-on-one chance against Houston so his reputation will probably prevent him from being a constant scoring threat.

Oduro does at least open the field for Marco Pappa. In the new lineup, Pappa has more freedom to move forward. He is taking advantage with two goals so far. Gaston Puerari only has one goal in MLS play but Colorado saw him score a goal in the U.S. Open Cup game. On the other hand, Puerari has also shown ‘Oduro-like' finishing missing two one-on-one chances this year. Chaves and Pappa are clinical finishers out front but Oduro and Puerari are outside contenders for that 10 goal mark.

3. We're finally a few games into the season now and the Fire are a somewhat disappointing 1-3-2. What's keeping this squad - which has certainly looked improved from last season - down?

The offense is pulling their weight. Right now the Fire are tied for 3rd with Portland on goals per game. There's no doubt the team has struggled from consistency in defense. Gonzalo Segares was the only return starter from last year's back line. Josip Mikulic is the best CB the Fire have right now and he didn't travel on the Seattle/Portland trip. The off-season game plan certainly didn't involve Sean Johnson coming out of the gate playing poorly. Johnson was benched the last two games in favor of veteran Jon Conway. Carlos de los Cobos played a 3-5-2 all pre-season and in the first couple of games only to move back to a 4-4-2. To say the back line is a work in progress would be an understatement.

As easy as it would be to single out the back line, the defensive midfielders should not be let off the hook. Mike Videira and Logan Pause looked great in the first game against FC Dallas but since then it has been uneven. They are supposed to be maintaining possession but the Fire have been losing the possession game. The 2010 team was plagued by giving up late goals to turn wins or draws into draws and loses. Houston scored in the 83rd minute last week and the Fire drew 1-1. When over 50% of the team has turned over and the constants of Logan Pause, Carlos de los Cobos, giving up late goals, and not maintaining possession remain, the fans are going to ask questions and they are going to expect answers.