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Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution - MLS #15: Three Questions

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I was planning the traditional three question exchange when all of the sudden Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket broke out five instead. Never one to back down from a challenge, I fired back five questions too in order to get some insider perspective on the New England Revolution as the Chicago Fire travel to Gillette Stadium Saturday night.  Steve's answer to my first question is below and the other nine questions in the exchange are after the break.

Hot Time In Old Town asks The Bent Musket

1. While veterans and New England Revolution mainstays Shalrie Joseph, Kevin Alston, and Matt Reis are among the team leaders in minutes played, they are joined at the top by youngsters A.J. Soares, Zak Boggs, and Stephen McCarthy. Are these players part of a youth movement or merely filling holes in positions where the team has shallow depth?

It's really a mix of both. While I'm sure the organization would like to believe that all of the Revs young players are part of a youth movement, the reality is that out of the three you mentioned, only A.J. Soares seems to have the pedigree and ability required to carve out a long and successful MLS career. The jury is not yet out on Stephen McCarthy, who has the physical tools but needs to greatly improve his movement off the ball and consistency, but Zak Boggs is definitely a stopgap measure. That said, I'm not 100% positive the technical staff realizes that he's not quite the caliber of an MLS starter, so he will continue to be used as an essential cog in the machine until someone undeniably better is signed or the coaching and FO regime is changed.

2. The New England Revolution started out with a 3-3-4 record but are 0-4-1 in their last 5 games. Are the last five games a mix of bad luck or a more accurate picture of the team's reality compared to the modest 13 points in 10 games the team began the season with?

The last five games are a more accurate view, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It's worth remembering that LA should have absolutely destroyed New England in week 1 but couldn't finish and two very contentious (and probably incorrect) calls gifted the Revs two goals to beat DC in week 2, so the picture could have been radically different early on. This team has struggled with implementing a new 4-3-3 system to stress possession, which worked to some extent, but restricted their output of goals. Now they seem to have discarded that formation in favor of the old 4-4-2, but are now struggling with possession and still can't create or finish good scoring chances. There's a glaring lack of confidence on the ball from back to front in this team, and that affects their ability to possess the ball in midfield and create chances in the attacking third. Then, on the rare occasion a chance is created, the forwards' confidence is so shattered that they scuff it or screw it wide. The Revs are in dire straits right now, there's no denying it.

3. What kind of impact has Benny Feilhaber had on the team both on the field and in the fanbase?

On the field, Benny brought calm and creativity on the ball that no one else could provide. Shalrie provides the same calm but lacks slightly in creativity compared to Feilhaber, and Marko Perovic is creative on a different level and explosive in his offense but he doesn't have the calmness on the ball necessary to settle possession. Benny has all of that and it showed before his injury. Off the field, he created renewed optimism for fan base that has watched its team horribly deteriorate over the past four years, from perennial MLS Cup contender to fringe playoff team to the bottom of the Eastern Conference barrel. Unfortunately, this renewed optimism and on-field ability hasn't really translated into improved results, as evidenced by their recent run of results.

4.) Give us an under-the-radar player that Fire fans should watch out for.

I would like to say that Ryan Guy will be an under-the-radar player because he'll make his first appearance, have an incredible impact and come out of nowhere to solve all of the Revs' issues with delivery from the wide areas on the right side and intelligent creativity in the final third, but that would be unsubstantiated and New England hasn't had that sort of luck with new signings in years. So instead I'll go with Chris Tierney. All of the focus goes on Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis, and rightfully so, but lost in the shuffle is the Wellesley, MA native who has taken full ownership of the left side of midfield since Perovic's injury. He doesn't have that top gear of speed that would make him an elite wide option in MLS, but he's smart, has decent positioning sense, rarely makes mistakes and possess possibly the most cultured left foot in the league. 99% of his deliveries from the run of play and from set pieces are works of art and he's dangerous every time he touches the ball on the flanks. Also, his leadership qualities on this young team cannot be overestimated.

5.) Finally, give us your projected starting XI and a scoring prediction.

With this being the third match in seven days for the Revs, some changes might be in order. But probably not. Still, I'll take a gamble and make a few little switches. If Domi is still injured, by the way, Barnes will likely start at left-back.


You could possibly see Mansally up top instead of Schilawski, or Mansally on the left with Tierney at left back should Domi be hurt and Barnes tired, but this is most likely.

As for a result prediction? 0-0. The Revs have been relatively strong defensively just as the Fire haven't been great offensively, and vice versa. I feel like I've forgotten what it's like to see this team score goals consistently.


The Bent Musket asks Hot Time In Old Town

1.) This season has certainly not gone to plan for the Fire, but Sunday provided some cause for optimism when Chicago managed a 1-0 victory over Columbus at Crew Stadium. It's been a while since you guys won a game, and it's been a while since we have, too, so I have to ask: what's it feel like?

The moment itself was glorious because the TV showed over 400 Fire fans that made the trip to Columbus. Cristian Nazarit scored his first MLS goal late in the game and we stole three points from long-time rivals the Crew on their home turf. Frank Klopas had some great words of wisdom after the match that showed one of the main reasons why he was made the interim head coach.

Once the euphoria cleared it didn't feel as good as I thought it would. Sporting KC won the next day so last place in the Eastern Conference is still  just four points below us. The victory meant Chicago leaped into 6th place but after Wednesday's Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution draw, the Fire are tied for 7th place with New England in the standings. Chicago is behind a playoff spot by four points and four points is a long way for a team use to compiling them one at a time. Hopefully it is one that starts a winning streak because the Fire have a long road ahead of them.

2.) Carlos De Los Cobos followed Teitur Thordarson pretty quickly out the door as the second MLS head coach to lose his job a few weeks ago. He was replaced by his former boss, Technical Director Frank Klopas. Do you think that it was the right move for the organization to make, or was De Los Cobos given a raw deal? Can Klopas take this team back to the playoffs, and what's so different about him that he can do that when obviously the club thought Carlos couldn't?

It's tough to say that Carlos de los Cobos was given a raw deal because he only obtained 45 points in 41 games overall at the time of his departure. Last year he had a quality veteran squad on paper and then was given high priced Designated Players in the middle of the season to put him over the top. He failed to make it to the playoffs. This year he was able to at least have a hand in the selection of over half of the squad and he lead them to one victory in 11 games. His defenders would say one of the Designated Players last year was a total bust (Nery Castillo), the ‘talented' veterans either checked out early or met the downswing of their careers, and over half the roster was selected by Frank Klopas. Carlos de los Cobos did a valiant job of transitioning from a veteran squad to a youthful squad. The team was one Carlos Ruiz magnigoal away from having six draws in a row. The corner was about to be turned.

Where does the truth lie? I think in Carlos de los Cobos' record as pointed out by Peter Wilt in Pitch Invasion when de los Cobos was hired in the first place.  CDLC is a decent coach but can't seem to find that winning touch.

As for Frank Klopas, life is so far so good with the former Chicago Fire player as the current Chicago Fire coach. The team is riding a 270 minute shutout streak going into Saturday night's game after giving up 19 goals in 11 games to start the season. The lineups and player rotations are pretty similar to CDLC's train of thought but Klopas is having the team not play the ball to the back so often. de los Cobos preferred for the defense to absorb pressure and score with counter attacks. Midfielders and defenders would sometimes even play the ball back from encouraging situations in the attacking half. Were the Fire one premier player or a couple of more games together from making that a successful strategy? It's tough to argue. It's also tough to argue against what Klopas has the team doing for now. I trust that Klopas understands the players and MLS better than de los Cobos did and I think the Fire have what it takes to at least eke out a 10th seed position in the playoffs this year.

3.) Give us an under-the-radar player that Revolution fans should watch out for.

One player that is looking poised to breakout is Orr Barouch. The 19 year-old forward has not made a single start this year but is 5th on the team in games played having appeared in 12 of the 14 games this year. There are few better examples of the term ‘supersub'. If you are looking up his numbers on, be warned that his stats deceive him. Yes, he only has one goal and zero assists. It was his goal that completed the 2-0 second half draw against TFC in Toronto. When Cristian Nazarit scored the goal against Columbus on Sunday, it was Barouch that setup the rebound with a crafty run and shot inside the box.

Barouch stands to benefit the most from Gaston Puerari's sale to Atlas. Barouch might get his first start against New England now that the forward rotation has been slimmed down. Start or substitute, the Revolution will pay dearly if they ignore this player who will certainly get on the field in some manner.

4.) Who do you think the Fire players will fear most for New England on the pitch?

If Saturday were the day before Mother's Day, I would say Matt Reis. Since Saturday is the day before Father's Day, how could it be anyone but Shalrie Joseph? He is a legendary veteran MLS player that leads the Revolution in goals, shots, and is tied for the lead in assists this season.

5.) Finally, give us your projected starting XI and a scoring prediction.

New England will probably be staring down at a 4-4-2 of Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Dominic Oduro, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Patrick Nyarko; Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazarit. The wildcards are Bratislav Ristic might start at RB over Jalil Anibaba and the aforementioned Orr Barouch might start over Cristian Nazarit or Diego Chaves. Ristic started the first two games under Klopas at RB and it's possible Anibaba only started at RB against Columbus because it was on the end of a 3 games in 8 days stretch. Then again after Ristic's controversial tackle of Omar Bravo in the penalty box, Klopas may feel like he shouldn't gamble anymore. With the forwards, it's simply a matter of whether or not Klopas has decided that Barouch has earned a start or Klopas says "If it's not broke, don't fix it' and keeps Orr on the bench.

I predicted a 2-1 Chicago victory earlier this week and I'm sticking to it, Puerari or no Puerari.  I would be surprised to see the Fire shutout their opponents for the first 360 minutes of the Klopas era even if your team is struggling.  As for the Fire scoring two goals?  The team has some swagger going and never got deflated during the long draw stretch.  I think Chicago is finally putting it together.