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Chicago Fire vs. Sporting KC - MLS #9 - Three Questions

The One.  The Only.  Section 8.
The One. The Only. Section 8.

The Fire cap off a busy week on Saturday in a showdown vs. Sporting KC. The Fire are coming off of a somewhat disappointing draw Wednesday vs. RSL. Sporting KC is coming off of 2 consecutive losses to weaker teams after a torrid start. It is safe to say both teams will be going all out for 3 points Saturday Night at Toyota Park. I expect a very physical match between the two teams in what should turn out to be quite a contest. I visited with Alex Englen over at The Daily Wiz for this 3 questions exchange. By now you should know how this works.

I will be out of town tomorrow for the game so I won't be able to make the gamethread. Don't forget, we will have a game preview as well as the gamethread later on in the day. Since I will be following from afar tomorrow, I am going to make my prediction for the match. I am going with a 2-1 Fire win. Dominic Oduro came close to scoring Wednesday, and I think he will put one in the back of the net Saturday Night. I will tab Austin Berry with the other goal off a corner kick. Now, on to the 3 questions exchange.

Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Daily Wiz

1. It seems like Sporting KC has really emphasized a high press defense in the past couple of weeks. While this can be a successful way to do things, it can also put quite a bit of stress on the team as a whole. Do you think this has factored into the losses the past couple of weeks? Would you say this increased defensive emphasis has hindered the team's ability to score given the fact SKC has been shutout in 2 straight matches? (via Nick Fedora)

I think the main reason Sporting KC has lost the past two games has been because they've simply ran out of ideas going forward. It's true that Sporting puts an emphasis on defense but in the attacking third our go-to-man for offense, Graham Zusi, has simply looked stumped in recent weeks. We also lack a clinical finisher up top and with the team going two entire matches without a goal there have been calls for the more power-through-everyone CJ Sapong to be replaced by Teal Bunbury who is a more finesse type forward.

But I don't really think it's hindered our ability to score. We've been playing grade A defense since opening day and even then we found ways to effectively finish off our chances.

2. SKC also seems to be employing a 4-3-3 formation. Do you think this formation is starting to show it's weaknesses to other teams, hence the recent defeats? Or do you think it is still a strong, feasible formation given the personnel on the team? (via Nick Fedora)

It's taken Peter Vermes basically three years to effectively create this 4-3-3 high pressure system you see today and I doubt he'll change now. It's basically become a well oiled machine that other teams in the league have unsuccessfully tried to imitate. Although it does a very nice job of moving the ball around the field very quickly and efficiently it's very easy to spot the passing lanes and thus shut SKC down. Basically a regular offensive play goes one or two ways, either way the ball ends up on the wing. First way: A ball is played out of the back (i.e. goal kick, punt or center back clearance) to the center forward who plays it back to the midfielder who then looks to play the ball out wide to a full back or winger. The wide-man then waits till the box is packed with bodies, occasionally pulling off give-and-goes with the 3 man midfield, until bam, he crosses in a ball usually aimed for the striker. The second way is where a winger completely switches sides with a long ball from left to right or right to left, he then repeats the same steps listed above for the cross into the box.

Against Montreal we had eighteen open play crosses, which should serve as a testament to the game plan I have just described. Not only does it sound extremely school-boyish but it is has also become far too easy for other teams to predict what Sporting KC will do once they get possession. Hence leading to the defeats.

3. This one has to be asked. All of us at HTIOT, as well as most (if not all Fire fans) are having an issue with this "rivalry" that SKC personnel keep mentioning. It seems as if the SKC Front Office is trying to make this seem like a rivalry that has lasted for years upon years when in reality, it started with a Firehouse Sub promo only a year ago. How do you feel about this and how do you think a majority of the SKC fanbase feels about this? Fire fans view it as a comical farce to be honest. That's not to say a rivalry can't become a reality between the two teams down the road, but we feel it should be built on the pitch by the players and not in a Marketing Front Office. (via Ryan Sealock/HTIOT writers)

From my personal point of view I completely agree with that last point you made, I've reiterated it in the other three questions segments I've done where other blogs have asked me about the rivalry. Derbies are meant to be made out on the football pitch, not by the guys in the front office. (Side note: If SKC's FO can really make a rivalry out of "nothing" shouldn't we be just a little bit worried?)

Sporting KC fans actually do relish the chance to have a rivalry. While we're not completely un-tuned to the fact that most Chicago Fire fans could care less about it, it's important to have a local derby to build the culture and the fan experience at a club. In the early years of the league it was suggested that maybe FC Dallas would become our rivals due to the close proximity of them to KC. However, in more recent times a rivalry has sparked between KC-Houston, KC-DC United and KC-Seattle.

From what I've gathered most Sporting KC fans don't have an opinion or enjoy the thought of it while Chicago Fire fans really hate the idea.

The Daily Wiz Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. Chicago Fire have only recently regained the services of former midfielder Chris Rolfe. I remember when I started to religiously follow the MLS and other teams in particular, Chris Rolfe was always up there with my favorite players before he left for Denmark in 2010. How did he get back into the league and what's his impact been so far?

Rolfe of course is a fan favorite in Chicago. After leaving the Fire, he went to play for Aalborg, a team in the Danish Superliga. At times with the Fire, he had struggled with injuries and being able to stay fit. Unfortunately he also faced that somewhat when he went to Aalborg. Chris finally did get healthy and then got some playing time, but he never seemed to fall into a groove like he did at times with the Fire. While I think Rolfe is good enough to play internationally, it would seem that Denmark wasn't the best fit. Certainly you can't fault Chris for trying to take his game to a higher level, but I think in the end he will feel back home in Chicago and feel very happy. I expect him to settle in with the team and help add a dimension to the club that we are currently lacking.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to see that yet. Fire Land was abuzz when the signing was announced, with some fans even traveling to the airport to greet Chris when his flight landed. Chicago Fire's famous supporters group, Section 8, had some members go to the airport to greet Chris as well. It's safe to say that most players don't enjoy that kind of support when they sign with a club. This is one of the many things that show the love, respect, and high regards to which Fire fans attribute to Chris. The table was set for a big debut but just days before his expected debut, he picked up an ankle injury in training. While initially it was thought that it was a day to day type of injury, the club took a cautious, "better safe than sorry" approach. Chris was in a walking boot for a bit to be safe, but that is off and he has resumed running. His return is certainly nearing but he will need to get his endurance and match fitness up again. I don't expect to see him Saturday vs. SKC. I think the more likely debut would be on 5/20 vs. Portland, assuming his recovery continues to go smoothly. The wait has been hard for Fire fans, but he is nearing his return. I would expect him to see a few sub appearances before he is ready for a full 90.

2. With Chicago having just played a game on Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake do you think will we see a more reserve lineup on Saturday against Sporting KC? Or will we still see a full strength side?

Definitely I think you will see our full strength side, such as it is right now taking injuries into account. Some Fire fans thought we may rest some players last night vs. RSL in expectation for Saturday, but we fielded a full strength team vs. RSL too. A couple of things to keep in mind here is that this is a big Eastern Conference game for both teams. Each time these two teams meet, there is a potential 6 point swing hanging in the balance. And given the fact that the East is hotly contested right now and tightly packed points-wise, I expect the Fire to go all out for 3 points, and SKC fans should expect that from us too.

The other point to keep in mind is that the Fire have played less games than most other teams, SKC included. We have had 2 bye weeks already and a weather shortened game. This definitely factors into us playing a full strength XI. While there is never a bad time to get players rest during a season (even early in the year), we should be more fresh than most other teams. A midweek game won't affect us as much with the rest we have had given that it's early in the season yet. The Fire have been rounding into form lately now that we have finally been getting regular games. The game is at Toyota Park which helps out the Fire as well. I definitely can see us defending the fort and getting all 3 points. I think we will give SKC all they can handle and then some.

3. Mixed results see Chicago at 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Not too shabby for a team that's only played 8 games. In your opinion who are the top 4 teams in the East?

The East is a bit harder to prognosticate in my eyes due to the jumble of teams all packed together. For me, I will go with the current top 4 teams- SKC, NYRB, DC United, and the Fire. SKC has not scored as many goals as DCU or NYRB, but your defense has been pretty stellar thus far, allowing only 5 goals. New York has been scoring a ton of goals, but their defense hasn't exactly been inspiring and Ryan Meara is still a question mark in my eyes. He has done well so far, but GK of the year awards aren't given out after 10 games. They did hit it big with the Kenny Cooper signing it would seem. So far at least. With DCU, they have fallen in the same boat. They score a lot, but give up quite a few too. For both DCU and NYRB, that is a key to beating them. If they face a strong defense that can keep their goals down, their defense doesn't seem to be able to do the same.

I would honestly put the Fire up there with NYRB and ahead of DCU (considering we have 2 and 3 games in hand on both teams, respectively). As I mentioned, the lack of regular play has hindered us getting in a groove. The main concern we have right now is scoring. No one has really stepped up to the plate besides Dominic Oduro. That should be remedied some when Chris Rolfe is healthy again. It will give the opposing team a lot more danger to worry about. Our defense is really settling down and playing well (as evidenced mostly recently Wednesday with our shutout draw of RSL). The only other question mark is goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who has struggled since the Olympic qualifying disappointment. Fortunately, we have another tremendous goalkeeper in Paolo Tornaghi that can step in and do wonders for us if Sean can't hold onto the starting job. We already have signed attacking midfielder Alex Monteiro De Lima, or "Alex" for short, who will join us this summer. Additionally, Fire owner Andrew Hauptman has publicly said we would spend "Robbie Keane" type of DP money if the right player and fit for the club becomes available. If our goal scoring woes continue, the Fire could be serious players in the summer for a top striker. Taking all of this into account, Fire fans don't see any reason why we can't make a serious run in the playoffs and possibly further.

Going through the rest of the teams, Montreal is a new team and while their point total is a bit surprising to me so far, I just don't think the can keep it up. The Revolution have shown flashes of good play, but seems like they have been up and down so far. The Dynamo, Crew, Union, and Toronto FC are not getting enough scoring, so I don't see any of those teams making a strong, sustained run up the standings unless they can find someone to score goals and shore up defenses in some cases as well.