The most recent update on MLS Carryover Minutes provided a somewhat dark outlook for playoff hopefuls like the Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps and our own Chicago Fire. All of these clubs have had decent to great seasons but all of their Carryover Minutes percentages are out of the range where most of the trophy winners in MLS have been in recent years. As the MLS Cup playoffs approach, it appears that Houston Dynamo, Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, and the San Jose Earthquakes are the heavy favorites to win it all. Let's examine how Chicago got to this point and whether or not there might be a silver lining for Fire fans to take some comfort in.
2012 Chicago Fire Minutes
|Total 2012 Minutes
Italics = player not currently with team - Bold = player was on 2011 Chicago Fire squad
Chicago Fire 2012 Carryover Minutes
|Carryover Minutes Percent
Italics = player not currently with team - *In the original post, Chicago's carryover percentage is 71%. Percentage was calculated by total minutes divided by (30*11*90). This negates the fact that the Houston game on April 15 was ended at 66 minutes. This 72% figure is 21217/((29*11*90)+(66*11*1)).
One positive pattern here is the top 5 players in minutes this year were all on the team last year. In fact, 8 of the top 10 players in minutes this year were on the 2011 Fire team. That's great however a closer examination reveals a larger issue that has developed since the middle of the season.
Arne Friedrich and Chris Rolfe will at least surpass or come close to surpassing Dan Gargan and Dominic Oduro in mintues played by season's end. Gargan has appeared just once since July 28. Oduro last started on August 4th. Friedrich and Rolfe are automatic starts every game they are healthy. Friedrich and Rolfe surpassed Sebastian Grazzini awhile ago and they should overtake Marco Pappa's spot since the Guatemalan is no longer with the team. You could break head coach Frank Klopas' current main selections in half for when they were added to Chicago.
2012 Final Look Fire
|1st FW||Dominic Oduro|
|1st DB||Dan Gargan|
|2nd FW||Guillermo Franco|
|2nd CM||Daniel Paladini|
|3rd CM/2nd DB||Michael Videira|
Bold = player was on 2011 Chicago Fire squad
From a pure talent angle, Chicago's current preferred XI is superior to a lineup that would be composed based on Carryover Minutes strength. I think we can agree that starting Fernandez over Paladini, Rolfe over Oduro, and Anibaba/Friedrich over Gargan/Anibaba all make good sense despite the benefits a high number of Carryover Minutes seem to have. In many ways this is positive for Klopas and the Fire front office. Chicago has deployed Paladini (1947 minutes), Gargan (2372 minutes), and Oduro (4330 minutes) to play a significant part in securing 96 points in 64 games since the beginning of the 2011 season. That's something to be proud of and take to battle but Klopas continued to search for even better players. The more than adequate starters have become solid bench options.
Elite Enough Talent?
One of the topics discussed in the MLS Carryover Minutes post was that teams with multiple designated players have been able to outperform the Carryover Minutes standards. Chicago has two DPs: Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald. Both players are 'light DPs' in the sense that they don't have the same salary as a David Beckham or a Thierry Henry. There's not much debate over the fact that the Fire's DP pair lack the polish and world class skills Beckham and Henry possess. They may not have to in order to give the Fire an extra boost with team cohesion.
The other players new to this year's mix are Arne Friedrich (fringe MVP candidate), Austin Berry (a heavy favorite to lock for Rookie of the Year), and Chris Rolfe (team's leading goal scorer and former teammate of Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, and Gonzalo Segares). Can the above average skill of each of the five new guys overcome the Carryover Minutes precedence? The Fire's recent run suggests it's quite possible.
Major Contributions from Midfielders and Forwards since July 28, 2012
|Stats||7 G, 1 A||1 G, 4 A||2 G, 3 A||2 G, 1 A||3 A||2 G||2 G||1 G, 2 A||1 A
The July 28, 2012 game against the San Jose Earthquakes represented the first game that either Sherjill MacDonald or Alvaro Fernandez were available for selection. Ever since that date, Klopas' primary selections for his players in the midfield or forwards have been MacDonald, Chris Rolfe, Fernandez, Patrick Nyarko, Logan Pause, and Pavel Pardo. Taking a look at these numbers, it would be hard to say the Fire's new offense is not working. Even the Fire's 2nd line of Alex and Daniel Paladini are contributing more than they were before MacDonald and Fernandez's arrival. Pardo, Alex and Paladini combined for 1 goal and 2 assists pre-7/28 and post-7/28 they have 4 goals and 3 assists.
Another factor in Chicago's favor is Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Fernandez aren't exactly new to the Fire and MLS. I think some of the benefit that comes from Carryover Minutes is in players knowing their opposition. Rolfe and Fernandez may be feeling out their new teammates but they remember some of the weaknesses of old foes. Where Rolfe might be at a slight disadvantage because some players aged/declined and others improved/grew, I'd imagine there would be somewhat of a 'riding a bicycle' effect that helps him adjust to the league much faster than foreign counterparts. His 7 goals and 1 assist in his last 10 games vs. 1 goal and 1 assist in his first 7 games suggest this is true, his ankle is fully healed, and his new teammates are greatly helping. There's also that whole playing with Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko and Gonzalo Segares before leaving for Europe angle.
If there's one mistake the Fire's front office has potentially committed here, it's selling Marco Pappa to SC Heerenveen at the end of August. Members of the Fire's top brass pointed out to me the fact that there were only 9 games left in the season when Pappa's sale sale went down. Thanks to Guatemala's World Cup Qualifiers, Pappa was going to miss two of those nine games anyway. Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. This is all true but the teams that arrive as teams appear to have the best odds of making something happen in the playoffs. Alvaro Fernandez has essentially replaced Pappa in the lineup and hopefully the Uruguayan continues to heat up. Fernandez had two goals and an assist in mid-September. Before that he missed some empty netters. I don't think it's hard to believe Fernandez is adjusting to the typical placement of his teammates' passes. He has the talent to figure it out and hopefully we'll see that come postseason. The one defense of Pappa's sale that is watertight is the fact that the money from his sale will help the team meet the salary cap in 2013. I'll explore that in a follow-up post for next season.
Major Contributions from Defenders since July 28, 2012
|Stats||1.1 GAPG||1 G||1 A||1 G||1 G, 1 A||1 A|
Fire fans have been concerned over Chicago's inability to shut out their opponents. Keeping teams mainly to 1 goal a game is nothing to sneeze at though. Friedrich's health and Anibaba's form has allowed Klopas to move Gargan from a starter role to the backup defender role. The defenders are even getting on the stat sheet. MacDonald provides another big body to cover on set pieces. The 27 year-old Dutchmen also provides a large target for crosses during the run of play. Both of the assists from Segares and Anibaba were on MacDonald goals.
Can the Fire Beat the Odds?
Chicago is on pace to finish the 2012 season with a Carryover Minutes percentage of 68%. That's right where the Colorado Rapids finished when they won the 2010 MLS Cup but that's significantly lower than where the other trophy winners in MLS have been. The Fire's 10 games of Flaco, MacDonald and a 7-2-1 record have come against some easy competition. If you isolate it to teams currently in playoff position, Chicago is just 1-2-1 in that span. Three of those 4 games were road games but that's not a stat you want to see when thinking about playoff competition. It will be crucial for the new and improved players in Chicago's lineup (Rolfe, MacDonald, Friedrich, Fernandez, and Berry) to step up big down the stretch. At least all of the new guys seem to have the talent to be top MLS players. Fire fans will be hoping the team offense continues to roll and the defense continues to keep damage to a minimum. Even if the lack of carryover minutes suggest it, I don't think it's time to say wait till next year just yet.