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Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact - MLS #1 - Three Questions

The Fire kicked off the 2011 season with a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas. The Fire hope to start this season off with all 3 points. We hope to see a lot of goal celebrations like this on Saturday.  (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
The Fire kicked off the 2011 season with a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas. The Fire hope to start this season off with all 3 points. We hope to see a lot of goal celebrations like this on Saturday. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
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Fire fans, welcome to the very first 2012 edition of Three Questions. I will be carrying on the tradition this year for each and every MLS game. It's a fun way to find out about the other team because many times the questions center around current events of said opposing team. Normally the Three Questions will be a bit shorter than this inaugural 2012 edition. Since Montreal is a new team to the league, I figured it would behoove us Fire fans to find out as much as we can about the opponent. I collaborated with Sofiane "Benzinho" Benzaza over at Mount Royal Soccer to bring you this edition of Three Questions. If you want to give Benzinho a follow, here you are: @sofiane_benzaza.

I am sure every Fire fan has the date and time marked down for the first cf97 match of the year. Just in case, the action kicks off at 1PM CST on Saturday, March 17th and the game is being broadcast on TSN. You should also be able to catch the action on Direct Kick or MLS Live. If all else fails, for those in the Chicagoland area, don't forget about the watch party at Chitown Futbol. Now, without further ado, here are the Three Questions exchange. The first question is below, and the rest of the exchange is after the break.

Hot Time In Old Town asks Mount Royal Soccer

1. The Impact started their first season off in MLS with an energy filled, jam-packed affair at BC Place in Vancouver. Although the Impact lost 2-0, what positives did Impact fans take away from the match?

I feel that many of the fans have seen the negatives in the game with some naïve defending on both Whitecaps' goals. On the positive side, that same backline was still able to tone down the hot Vancouver attacking trident of Hassli- Le Toux - Chiumiento . Yes the score line was 2-0 but Matteo Ferrari's solid performance was sort of expected but nothing proves it better than 90 minutes of play. Tyson Wahl is not your classical CB but brought some physicality and an excellent first pass on the ground or through long crosses.

The midfield was also a positive with some playmaking via Felipe Martins, Davy Arnaud and Patrice Bernier. Justin Mapp had his good moments but lacked pace to really make the left side his own but he was playing against Young-Pyo Lee. Mapp is categorized as a left winger but his style makes me see him like a left midfielder that enjoys changing pace and cutting to the middle. Davy Arnaud did a decent to good job against Alain Rochat and also enjoyed cutting into the middle like he might in a more central offensive midfield position. Both midfielders could have enjoyed more support from the fullbacks/outbacks, Jeb Brovsky and Josh Gardner but offensive support came more from Gardner who got less timid as the game went on. The key to the Montreal midfield will be the Patrice Bernier - Felipe Martins duo. Bernier seems more like the holding physical midfielder but showed good passing and ball distribution at a quicker pace later in the game. Felipe Martins will be the key to create a numerical superiority up front to create and/or find gaps. Even though small in size, he plays big and has a playmaking profile so the duo together is a great fit. The Montreal Impact midfield seems to have enough technical skills to control the ball and flow of the game but they have only played Vancouver. Is there enough size and physicality in the central midfield area?

A lot of hopes are put on Justin Braun to score the goals. He was very combative and never shied away from the physical fight against Jay De Merit and Martin Bonjour. He will be more efficient as the team has more ball control early in the game. He loves to go get the ball at the wings and find his teammates but his size and finishing are needed up front in the box. Sanna Nyassi was the best player for the Montreal Impact and showed a lot speed and ability to find gaps behind the Vancouver defense. Fans must have hoped for better finishing as he had a golden chance to cut the lead to 1 but his speed is key.

2. The Impact made a very good signing in the offseason by prying Donovan Ricketts away from the LA Galaxy. It's obviously important to build a good team around a quality goalkeeper like that. Other than Ricketts, who are some of the other player additions that are key to Impact success this season?

Sanna Nyassi, Matteo Ferrari, Felipe Martins, Davy Arnaud, Patrice Bernier

Sanna Nyassi is that speedy second striker that will hover around a pivot-striker and use his speed to find gaps. His availability in the Expansion Draft was a good thing for Montreal that not only builds around veteran MLS players but also the young MLS wolves that need playing time and a chance to prove naysayers wrong.

At 32, Matteo Ferrari is not old for a central defender. With Serie A and UEFA Champions League experience, the Italian center back joins the team and brings experience, skills and leadership at the back. If you were a cap-ologist, Matteo Ferrari was not signed as a Designated Player so that's good value to get a player of this caliber at only 70-80% of his potential as he is still getting his full match fitness. He did not look ridiculous playing against one of the most feared striker in MLS, Eric Hassli.

Currently, in a 4-4-2, Felipe Martins will be important for contributing to create offense. The Brazilian-Italian midfielder played the last 3 years in the 2nd highest Swiss league and showed good speed, interesting 1-on-1 skills and smart passing. His role and positioning will be key in a ‘' flat-ish ‘' midfield of 4 (not a diamond-shaped midfield for the least). His ability to go up front and be the extra man to offer that numerical superiority seems to be important in Jesse Marsch's plans.

I am confident to say that Patrice Bernier has a similar role than Felipe Martins but with a more physical aspect. He is not the tallest out there at 5'9 but is very strong with good ball protection and ball distribution. He will be the first defender for the Montreal Impact with a lot of aerial battles to come and scrappy fights in the heart of the pitch. He will be the link, as will be Felipe Martins, to get the ball out quickly and horizontally.

Davy Arnaud represents the typical MLS veteran that many teams rely on as a leader off and on the pitch. The attacking midfielder enjoys going up front to score goals but he also enjoys going up and down the pitch and across to give solutions to his teammates as well as find some. Captain of the 19th MLS Franchise, he will bring in more than just leadership in the locker room but actual positive results in the midfield as he seems to be comfortable on the side or in a more central position.

3. One of the main strengths of the Fire this year is a stacked midfield along with blazing speed up top (Oduro) and on the wing (Nyarko). Based off the Impact's first game against Vancouver, how do you think the Impact midfield and back line will do against the Fire's speed?

Honestly, I don't see many center backs that can match Oduro's speed for 90 minutes. The Ferrari - Wahl duo will need to be smart in their positioning and not over-commit. The fullbacks/outbacks of the team are not the greatest defenders so that might be a weakness that Nyarko and such can capitalize on. Jeb Brovsky is a physical, no-nonsense player that currently fills in the right back position. He has good speed to counter his opponents but is still a young MLS player so his positioning will be important to his success. Josh Gardner likes to go up and support the attack with very good crosses so he might get caught out of position for obvious reasons. The fullbacks are not alone and the side midfielders Arnaud-Mapp will need to pinch in a lot to help out their fullbacks when defending.

The best way to counter a speedy team is not to start running with the ball in the midfield and get rid of it as fast and as precise as possible. The ball will always go faster than the man and quick, precise passing is key to any soccer game in my opinion. Keep the ball and make the other team run and avoid rookie mistakes with speedy guys that will gladly run 70 meters to score on you. Set pieces will be key especially corner kicks.

Mount Royal Soccer asks Hot Time In Old Town

Question 1: From Christopher Boulay

Keeping in mind the talent that Chicago has, how difficult do you think it will be for the team to enter into what may be one of the most hostile atmospheres in North American history on Saturday?

Undoubtedly the atmosphere for Saturday's game will be incredible and will be tough for any visiting team, no matter who they are. I think the first MLS home game for any new MLS team is always amazing, but this will be even more hostile considering a crowd of 60,000 might be on hand. The Fire will certainly have a tall task coming into an atmosphere like that and trying to leave with any points. There are a couple of factors that I think will definitely work in favor of the Fire however.

First, we have a good team that has the quality to come away with a win. The Fire finished the 2011 season on a 7-2-1 run, narrowly missing the playoffs after their late surge. 2 of the integral players from that push are returning in Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo. A large majority of the rest of the team is back as well, sprinkled in with some new faces for an improved side compared to 2011.

The other factor that works in the favor of Chicago is that we are a club that gets tabbed to play in a lot of big events like this. At Hot Time In Old Town we have a running joke that if a new MLS team needs an opponent for their first home match, or if a new stadium is being opened, the Fire are the go-to team. To list just a couple of recent examples, the Fire opened Sporting KC's new in 2011, as well as Portland's (which is a tough place to play already without throwing in the fanfare of their first home game in MLS). So, as you can see, the Fire are used to these hostile types of atmosphere. I think the Olympic Stadium atmosphere will introduce a new level of adversity for the Fire, but if we play up to our talent I am confident we can take all 3 points out with us.

Question 2: From Sofiane Benzaza

You state that the Chicago Fire has a strong midfield with speed up top and on the wing. Hence the question: what are the apparent weaknesses of the Chicago Fire? Was the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich, a hint towards the need for a better defense?

To address the defense question, the back line started out a bit shaky last year. As the year went on, and especially after defensive midfield maestro Pavel Pardo signed with the Fire, the back line really buckled down and solidified into a real defensive force the latter part of the season. I think one big reason for this is that the players had to have a certain number of games to acclimate themselves with each other. The Fire had huge roster turnover going from the 2010 into the 2011 season. The players were simply not used to playing with each other and needed time to gel, so to speak.

The main knock with the defense last year was lack of depth. We had some players, like Gonzalo Segares for example, that played well but played a huge number of minutes because of lack of quality back up players. Center back Cory Gibbs had some injury issues, and rookie Jalil Anibaba was trying to learn MLS by being thrown into the Fire (pun intended) from day 1. So it wasn't necessarily a lack of back line quality but depth that was the real culprit.

Chicago has done very well to address this in the offseason. The aforementioned Arne Friedrich is a huge signing for us. Although he has had some health issues with his back in the past year or so which provides a bit of risk, he says he is now 100% ready to go and the Fire doctors have agreed. He has 82 caps for the German National Team, so he not only has extensive international experience and pedigree, but he will also be a great asset as a teacher for the younger players. Arne can play both CB and RB so gives us cover in a couple of areas.

Another key addition has to be LB Hunter Jumper. Hunter was drafted 28th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He impressed head coach Frank Klopas so much in preseason that he was given a good amount of minutes and a contract with the club. He will provide valuable cover for LB starter Gonzalo Segares.

Answering this question wouldn't be complete without mentioning our top draft pick, in the SuperDraft (#9 overall) Austin Berry. Most MLS soccer pundits tabbed Berry to be an MLS ready starter already, so to have a CB like that also in the mix will definitely help. Fire fans are very happy overall with the additions made to the defense this offseason.

Question 3: From Giovanni Sardo

Missing the 2011 MLS playoffs by 3 points, what are the club's expectations, your expectations and the fans' expectations for the 2012 season?

I think the expectations for the club, the fans, and my personal expectations are one in the same. Our stated goal is always to win every game/trophy possible. While this may not always happen, the Fire always have that winning mindset always in their sights. This shows through especially in competitions like the US Open Cup, which many MLS teams do not take seriously (New York Red Bulls anyone?). The Fire has 4 US Open Cups in their trophy case along with an MLS Cup and many other accolades as well. The history of winning trophies is there and is something the team strives for on a continuous basis and should get back to in the near future.

The past couple of years have ended in disappointment for Fire fans by missing the playoffs (something which is not common for Chicago). Expectations are extremely high this year, and I think everyone involved with the Fire expects a playoff appearance and a deep US Open Cup run. Although teams like New York and LA have the big names and splashy signings, the Fire have more quietly assembled a very solid squad that is flying under the radar. We certainly have the ability to surprise a lot of people that may be overlooking the Fire. The Eastern Conference also seems to be there for the taking this year, and Fire fans are extremely confident that the team can be near or at the top of the pack come playoff time.