Scott Kessler over at Brotherly Game accommodated my request once again for a questions exchange. It's fitting that Chris Rolfe had a big game the last time these two teams met. He is on an even hotter scoring binge right now, and I think he is primed to net again tonight. With the 15th anniversary festivities in full swing (and some Chicago Fire legends in attendance tonight), there should be no other acceptable result tonight than 3 points. That's what I am expecting, and that's what I think we will get. Since there isn't a break or jump anymore with the new SB United layout, the complete exchange is below.
Don't forget to join us tonight on the gamethread to have some fun and cheer our Men in Red on to 3 points.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Brotherly Game
1. How has the John Hackworth era gone so far? How does the philosophy and strategy he brings differ from Nowak? Do you see Hackworth staying around a long time? (via Ryan Sealock)
It's ebbed and flowed, although it has fallen off quite a bit since the strong start the team had under his coaching at first. The fans had their confidence behind Hackworth for the first month and a half or so, but ever since it has dragged downward and there have been questions about whether or not Nick Sakiewicz, the Union CEO and operating partner, was right in selecting to remove the interim tag from Hackworth's job title.
Tactically, Hackworth is quite similar to Nowak. An over reliance upon specific substitutes and too much of a focus on what appears to be a double holding midfielder bucket within a hybrid 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 (also 4-2-3-1). That and forcing Michael Lahoud to play centrally rather than on the right side of the midfield has been questionable, given that Lahoud's career was built upon the outside and he's played like someone who is out of position, rather than someone who is comfortable with it.
So long as Sakiewicz stays on as a top executive, I don't see Hackworth leaving. There have been too many PR and media gaffes to overcome with the fan base for Sakiewicz to move past a second failing at management decision making.
2. Talk to me about Zac MacMath. Having a young and still developing GK of our own in Sean Johnson, how is Zac progressing? What are his strengths, and what are some things he needs to work on? What sort of upside do you see for him in the next 3-5 years? (via Ryan Sealock)
I talk every now and then with Travis M. Clark, of Top Drawer Soccer, and he has reservations about the future of MacMath. I'm still somewhat strong on his potential and talent level, but I think that your questions about him can be easily summed up into the following statement, which I made to Travis during a conversation about MacMath and potential future Home Grown goalkeeper Zack Steffen:
"MacMath has the talent but he has a peculiar inability to put it together. Ever."
He has the potential and talent to be a top starter in the league, perhaps even a starter in a solid European league, but he has to put it all together. That's something that he just has not done at any point yet. Three to five years from now that might change, but an additional year of tutelage under Faryd Mondragon would have been fantastic for MacMath. He didn't get that opportunity, however.
3. The Fire have a re-tooled offense that has been hot as of late. How do you think Philly will gameplan for the Fire? Any big tactical differences that you see changing since the last time these two teams met? (via Ryan Sealock)
The main difference, if last game is taken into account, would be the use of Gabriel Farfan in the midfield - I've championed this move for a while now - and Sheanon Williams at left back. This put Michael Farfan (affectionately known as Marfan to the fans) into a central attacking midfield role and he played brilliantly out of it, but it's more likely that a returning Freddy Adu would fulfill that role in a 4-2-3-1, if the Union go with that formation again.
The placement of Raymon Gaddis at right back has provided the Union with an incredibly fast option in the back, backing up workhorse Danny Cruz. It's hard to imagine that much is going to happen down that side of the field unless Brian Carroll suddenly falters for the first time in his veteran-hood.
As for the offensive side of the ball, I've got nothing. We could see the Union drop a brand new attacking style for all anyone can say on that subject.
4. What player or players should the Fire be most concerned about tomorrow night? (via Ryan Sealock)
My favorite player for this answer has long been Marfan. He's probably the most consistent player with a high talent level on the team. However, I'm riding high on Freddy Adu right now and if he made the trip, I can definitely see him as the pivotal player in this game for the Union. If he doesn't play, I'll revert my choice to Marfan. Playing centrally against the Crew, Marfan was highly successful in producing goal scoring opportunities for teammates who failed to make the most of them for a majority of the game.
(r-l) Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Williams
Danny Cruz, Marfan, Garfan
1-0 Fire. I just can't see the Union pulling out a victory in this one, nor can I see them scoring.
1. Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro have continually run the Philadelphia Union ragged throughout this and last season. Union head coach John Hackworth has put into place a defensive system change in the form of Sheanon Williams moving to left back, allowing Ray Gaddis to start at right back (and also finally pushing Gabriel Farfan into the midfield). Do you think that the speed and agility of Gaddis and Williams on the outside for Philadelphia could pose problems for Chicago, a direct opposite of how the games have gone between these two sides?
The speed of Gaddis and Williams will definitely challenge Nyarko and Oduro more than many teams have the ability to do. Patrick and Dom are two of the fastest guys in the league, so there should be some exciting footraces Wednesday. I wouldn't expect Dom Oduro to start however. Chris Rolfe has been on fire (bad pun), and Sherjill MacDonald has settled in and is doing a very nice job. Oduro is playing the role of a super sub right now. Basically, depending on how the game is going and what the score is, you will usually see him come on around the 60th minute, sometimes a bit later. By then, opposing defenses are getting tired, especially if it is a physical contest. Having Dom's speed coming off the bench to try to burn opposing defenses has been a nice weapon for us to be able to deploy late in the game. Although he hasn't been knocking in goals in this role, it opens things up for our other dangerous players because defenses have to focus on Dom and his speed.
Nyarko has been good all year and is an integral part of the defense. Although his main weapon is speed, his ball handling and vision have been good recently as well. Patrick even plays a good shift on defense. He really can do it all except be a prolific goal scorer. If he can control the ball at his feet I think he will still be pretty effective Wednesday. Now that Sebastian Grazzini is gone, unfortunately Nyarko is the one that gets tugged, tackled, and beat up in general. Sporting KC really put him through the grinder Friday night. Frank has tried to get him rest when he could but with a player that good, you play him if he can go, especially at the end of a playoff race. He could be pretty tired and sore yet from Friday so we will have to see how that effects him vs. your backs.
2) Former Union head coach Peter Nowak and Sporting Director Diego Gutierrez are set to receive honors from the Fire pregame. Did their time (read: failures) with the Union affect their Chicago legacies at all?
To me, not really. I think most other Fire fans feel the same way. They certainly had their own special contributions to the Fire and leaving the team and working elsewhere doesn't diminish that. To use another example, look at CJ Brown. The guy is a Fire legend. While it was a punch in the gut to lose him and have him to go RSL, Fire fans still love him and hold him in the same high regard. I think the same is true with Nowak and Gutierrez. Short of them doing something to purposely try to tarnish their old club, I think they will still get a good welcome Wednesday. Fire fans are very good about honoring and celebrating all those who have come before them. It will be really neat to have them back in Toyota Park and being commemorated by the team. I am looking forward to seeing it.
3) When last we talked, I asked about Alex's future with the Fire. Any updates on how he's looked?
He seems to finally be getting used to the league and his teammates. He had a golazo a couple of weeks ago. The past couple of games has been a harder barometer in terms of his play. He has been filling in for the injured Pavel Pardo, so he is playing in a role that isn't ideally suiting him. He plays deeper than he normally would, and due to his offensive game he tends to push up further than he should at times to try to create in place of Pardo. This can create gaps, and our very own Gregg Mixdorf mentioned this in his recap of the Fire/SKC game. Once he is back to his normal role at the top of the midfield I think we should see his good form continue. He is young and will still get better so right now I am still pretty excited by his prospects.
Predicted Lineup: This will be a bit different as both Gonzalo Segares and Head Coach Frank Klopas will miss the game due to red cards in the SKC game (Segares for a 2nd yellow and Klopas for dissent). LB is a bit of a thin position for us so it will be interesting to see what comes about. Here is what I am thinking: Johnson, Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Gargan, Pause, Alex, Fernandez, Nyarko, Rolfe, MacDonald
Predicted scoreline: I will go 2-1 Fire. It was 2010 when the Fire last got beaten by an East team at home. I think the team is going to be pretty motivated after the SKC loss. I will say goals from McInerney for the Union and Flaco and Rolfe for the Fire.