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Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids - MLS #26 - Three Questions

Casey & Cummings: Just don't call it their show
Casey & Cummings: Just don't call it their show

The Colorado Rapids come to Toyota Park tonight at 7:30 PM CST so we turned to Chris 'Uz' White of the Burgundy Wave for some insider perspective by exchanging the traditional three questions.  If you live in Chicagoland but can't make it to the game, it's being broadcast on My50.  The answer to the first question in the exchange is below and the rest of the questions in the exchange are after the break.

Hot Time In Old Town asks Burgundy Wave

1. The Colorado Rapids seem to have gone from being the Casey and Cummings show to a much more balanced team.  Has there been a change in team strategy this year or have other players simply stepped up their game?

Honestly calling last year's team the Casey and Cummings show would be a great disservice to the other parts of the squad. 2010 Colorado was a team that won a cup based on everyone being strong in a team unit, not just two guys up top. That team was built pretty much the same way this one is, with a strong defense - last year's Rapids defense was the best in team history - and great defensively oriented midfield that just happened to have the best striker tandem in the league on top. This season's team balance is probably due more to the team adjusting to injury than anything else; Casey wasn't out very often last season, neither was Cummings. Both of them have missed a bunch of time this season and so the team has had to adjust several times to a team style unlike last season's. Right now we're working with a speedy front with Sanna Nyassi and Cummings getting the time up top, but other than that it's really just the same old Rapids.

2. How have the CONCACAF Champions League games changed Colorado's Starting XIs this month?  Do you expect a A+ lineup to play tonight or perhaps a lower grade?

Being in a fairly weak CCL group has helped out a bit, as Gary Smith has been able to start B teams in both CCL games so far with pretty good results. The Rapids are deep enough at striker where they can start one of five guys and have a chance to score lots of goals any particular game, but in other positions we're seeing guys like Joseph Nane, Mike Holody and Danny Earls get starts. Because so many B teamers are taking the CCL chops, the league side hasn't suffered roster-wise. I expect a fully capable A team - or at least something closely resembling it - to come out against Chicago today.

3. The Supporters Terrace was announced to much fanfare before the 2010 season.  How would you say it is going overall?  Any success stories or hiccups you would like to mention? 

It's been brilliant for Rapids support. As a long time Rapids fan you saw the team go through tons of different supporters groups through the years in all manner of places throughout the stadium, almost always ending in a security spat of some sort followed by the group folding. The terraces have finally given the rowdier supporters groups a permanent place to stay and grow, and the growth has been fantastic. Two old small supporters groups combined to create the Pid Army on one side of it and they have grown to fill the place every week, and a brand new supporters group - the Bulldog Supporters - formed right as the terraces began and have already gotten to the membership where they can fill it to capacity as well. You would never have seen that sort of growth back in the older days.

The sound from the terraces now rings all over the stadium and provides a unique setting in MLS for fan support when it comes to television cameras showing the fans. If there is a problem, it's the fact that the Rapids still insist on keeping the two sides of the terrace over 20 feet apart, making communication between the sides next to impossible. That creates a weird dynamic where the Pid Army and Bulldog Supporters are both doing different songs at different times almost all the time. It also hasn't helped the petty feuding that some of the bigger jerks in both groups insist on perpetuating between the two sides. The positives have outweighed the negatives a thousand fold, though.

Burgundy Wave asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. How much do you think a win in the Open Cup - where the Fire have always been fantastic - would affect the team's confidence finishing this season and going into next year?

Winning the U.S. Open Cup would certainly boost any team's confidence.  I'm not sure it would have a large boost to this team though because on the field you are talking about winning games against weakened Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, and New York Red Bulls teams.  The Fire also defeated the Rochester Rhinos and if they won the U.S. Open Cup, obviously they would have defeated the Richmond Kickers and either the Seattle Sounders or F.C. Dallas.  I don't mean to prematurely take away any accomplishment but at the end of the day the Fire are undefeated in Reserves League play and 0-1-2 against Seattle and F.C. Dallas in Regular Season MLS play.  You love to win any trophy but the Fire are doing great when the competition is below them and doing mediocre when the talent is even.  If a U.S. Open Cup win comes at all, I think the team's confidence will be higher if there are also MLS Regular Season wins around it.  I'm confident there will be.  I think this team is finally coming together after going through a season where every position has been up in the air except for Gonzalo Segares at left back.

The biggest beneficiary of a U.S. Open Cup win would be the fans who have been waiting for a trophy since 2006.  The last two seasons have been very painful for a fanbase that only missed the playoffs once in their first 12 years of existence.  We've also seen the Fire lose a couple of semi-finals.  A U.S. Open Cup win would tie the Chicago Fire for the all-time U.S. Open Cup lead with Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles.  That would put some swagger in the fans' cheers.

2. The Fire have made quite a few transfers in and out this season, which were the best and worst ones for the team?

The best one by far is trading Calen Carr for Dominic Oduro after the first game of the season.  Dominic Oduro has gone on to be Chicago's leading goal scorer with 8.  Oduro's also filled on the right wing when Patrick Nyarko was out with some concussion issues and then when Marco Pappa missed a couple of games in June for CONCACAF Gold Cup play.  His goal scoring and versatility have been crucial to the team's relative success.  It's scary to think where they would be without it.  The veteran signings of Cory Gibbs at the beginning of the season along with the mid-season signings of Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini have been paying off as well.  The young center backs of Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, and Yamith Cuesta have all taken little movements from Gibbs and added them to their repertoire.  When Gibbs isn't on the field, the defense isn't nearly as composed.  The addition of Grazzini adds creativity to the Fire midfield while taking pressure off of Logan Pause.  Pardo adds a collective calm and has already added great leadership to the squad.

The worst move by far was signing Marko Maric.  The midfielder's only appearance has been against the Portland Timbers where he had to be subbed out after being a substitute himself in the second half.  In a game where Chicago came back from 3-0 to make it 3-2, burning that extra sub on Maric made his signing all the worse.  The Fire are under the salary budget so it kind of doesn't matter but Maric is also the highest paid player on the team.  That just adds insult to, well, injury. 

3. Chicago have been masters at getting draws this season, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, FC Dallas almost won a cup last season after making the playoffs with a bunch of draws. Are the Fire a team that has deserved to win or lose the majority of the games that have drawn?

They definitely are a team that has deserved to win more of those draws than lose them.  Chicago players have hit the post or crossbar 10 times this season and no one else is close.  They just scored their first goal off a corner kick in 133 attempts.  There have been few and far between opportunities for the other team where Fire fans collectively thought ‘Oh, we really lucked out that they didn't score there'.  If someone wanted to compile a ‘luck' index, I'm positive Chicago would be at the bottom. 

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.  I'd say the Fire might be out four wins and that would give them a 7-7-11 record.  That's still not all great.  It would put them at 32 points and they would be tied with the New York Red Bulls for 5th in the Eastern Conference.  When it comes down to it, the Fire still have a lot of growing to do.  They are still a year away from being a top competitor in MLS.  This is going to be a big off-season in the team's history but for now we are likely to just tie everyone to death.