For those of you that are a fan of our weekly 3 questions exchange, you are in for a treat this week. We have not one, but two 3 Questions Exchanges due to our busy game week. For the first exchange, I talked with Denzel Eslinger over at RSL Soapbox ahead of the Fire/RSL matchup tomorrow night. This will of course be an extra special event as Fire legend and favorite CJ Brown will be inducted into the Ring of Fire. Although CJ is now an Assistant Coach for Real Salt Lake, he will always be loved and be welcomed in Chicago. He did so much for the team and that will never be forgotten.
As per usual, the first question will appear before the break, and the rest after the break. The 3 questions with Sporting KC should go up sometime on Friday or early Saturday at the latest. We will also have our customary game previews, gamethreads, and recaps for both games. We will have more articles hitting HTIOT this week than anyone knows what to do with. Enjoy the 3 Q's and the rest of the upcoming material this week.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks RSL Soapbox
1. Tell me about how CJ Brown is doing as a coach for Real Salt Lake. He is obviously a legend in Chicago and is getting inducted into the Ring of Fire Wednesday night. He was a Fire legend for over a decade. How has he fit in so far on the RSL coaching staff? What sort of impact/fingerprint has he implanted on the team in his time in Salt Lake?
CJ is a great fit and he has been a very active leader in both RSL practices as well as working with the team during reserve matches. He brings a ton of experience with him and with guys on both our staff and team that played against him, everyone respects what he was able to do during his career. I have loved to see him and his family adjust to life in Salt Lake so quickly, and I consider RSL to be very lucky to have him on our staff. I think it is great that the Fire are reaching out to honor him. I think the fact that RSL felt confident enough to let some experienced defenders go in the off season and restock with younger guys speaks to how much they trust CJ to take young guys and to get them ready for action in a hurry. I think we will be seeing results of his work with RSL for a long time to come.
2. Luis Gil is a very young but dynamic player for RSL. In the games I have seen him play, he has certainly been impressive, especially when you consider the fact that he is only 18. Can you give me some info. about him and the type of player he is? How does the organization view him for their future plans? I would expect it to be very highly if he has a spot in the starting XI at the age of 18.
He is a creative playmaker, and at age 18 has shown that he can step onto the pitch with some of the best teams in the league and do just that. Last year when Javier Morales was out injured, and again at the start of this season as injuries forced RSL to make a number of changes in their midfield. He is still learning and adapting to the physical nature of MLS, but he grew a bit this off season and I believe that the opportunities he has had already this year have helped his confidence greatly. I think the team sees him as our future Javier Morales replacement. Javi still has a few years left, but knowing that we have a dynamic young player who could step in when needed, and keep the pressure on Javi are a great thing for RSL to have. I think heading into this season there were a lot of questions about our depth in the midfield, we had more turnover than in recent memory, but with so many of the new guys stepping up quickly for the team it means that each week guys are fighting for minutes.
Luis has shown that he can play up top at the point of our midfield diamond or on the side of the formation and I think that flexibility along with his speed will help him find a lot of minutes in 2012 both in the starting XI and coming off the bench when needed to fill in. He is already close to 600 minutes of playing time and has 1 goal and 1 assist. I expect to see both of those numbers go up quickly as the busy summer months arrive with US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.
3. How do you see things shaking out Wednesday night? What formation will RSL employ, and what sort of game plan do you think the team will use to try to negate some of the Fire's speed up top and on the wing?
I think RSL will probably rotate a number of players, and we know that Nick Rimando isn't making the trip so he can get some treatment on a shoulder injury he picked up during one of those amazing saves he made against New England on Saturday. I would expect that you will probably see at least 4 more changes to the starting XI from Saturday. This is the 3rd time already this year that RSL will be forced to play Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, and this time both of the tail end matches are on the road. We know Will Johnson will be out on red card suspension, and I expect that you will see Jonny Steele or Sebastian Velasquez get the start in his spot. I think it is possible that you could see Luis Gil up top with Javier Morales getting a break to rest up for the huge Western Conference match with Seattle this weekend. I expect a couple other changes as well to get some guys a rest, by the end of the week RSL will have played 13 MLS matches already this year.
I don't think you will see a a change from our normal 4-4-2 formation. I do think you can expect the RSL defense to be very aware of what the Fire are capable of, but with the speed of guys like Jamison Olave and Tony Beltran, I think we should be OK as far as how the speed matches up.
RSL Soapbox Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. After a year with a lot of roster changes and turnover, so far the 2012 campaign seems a lot calmer for the Fire on the pitch, you have 9 guys who have started at least 6 of your 7 matches this year do you think that has helped get off to a fairly solid start of the season? Any idea why the Fire have played just 7 matches so far this year?
It has definitely helped to have a majority of players return to the roster in 2012. This is of course a stark contrast to the start of the 2011 season, where it seemed like the whole team consisted of new faces. Obviously this year the players are used to playing with each other, so there is much more cohesion than there was to start last season. In fact, most of the key positions on the field consist of familiar/returning faces. We have some new signings and draft picks sprinkled in, but for the most part the main core of the 2011 squad has returned.
As for the scheduling snafu so far, I am not sure of the exact reason for the Fire having multiple bye weeks so far. Given the fact we have already had 2, not to mention a weather shortened game vs. the Dynamo, the club looks to finally be hitting a groove and recovering from the early sporadic play. It seems to be a pretty common consensus over here at HTIOT and with Fire fans in general that a few more weeks of regular play will really help oil the wheels, so to speak. I would really like to see MLS balance schedules better. I know it is harder given the unbalanced scheduling now, but it hurts teams not to get regular games, especially early in the season. The Dynamo actually had back to back bye weeks themselves, so MLS needs to get on the ball and balance the schedules better. One downside to the regular games we have now is that due to the bye weeks, we have a packed schedule the next 5-6 weeks. So it's really a comparison of the team being hurt by not playing enough or being hurt by playing too much.
2. I have been a huge fan of Marco Pappa and how he plays, and I have often said that when he is good the Fire are a great team and when he is just OK they are a good team, how important of a role does Pappa play for the Fire?
Marco Pappa is quite the point of debate for most Fire fans. While he has tremendous skill and ability, it does come with a downside too. He has a penchant for sometimes taking on too much himself. He's no stranger at trying to dribble through 3-4 defenders and turning the ball over. Additionally, he tends to wander all over the pitch and out of position rather than staying out on the wing. Sometimes this takes him into the midfield and tends to clog things up for playmaker Sebastian Grazzini.
Certainly, when he is on his game, the Fire are a VERY dangerous team. When he struggles, it can cause the rest of the team to struggle for the reasons listed above. Personally, I have always been a big fan of Pappa. I think sometimes he takes a bit more grief than he is due. That being said, I do think that Pappa doesn't fit in the best with the current composition of the team. Once Chris Rolfe is healthy, Pappa will likely be headed to the bench with Rolfe playing up top with Dominic Oduro while Patrick Nyarko moves back to his best role as a winger. We have gotten a glimpse of Marco coming off the bench recently and it went very well. He brought energy and the team seemed to kick it into a higher gear when he came on as a sub. It will be very interesting in the coming few weeks to see how Pappa's role evolves once Rolfe enters the lineup.
3. RSL has had 8 different players score goals already this year, how will the Fire defense deal with a team with so many options on offense?
The Fire defense was dealt a large blow recently with the extended injury to veteran CB Cory Gibbs. Additionally, Jalil Anibaba missed last match due to a suspension from the post game Seattle skirmish. Rookie Austin Berry stepped in and boy did he live up to the expectations. He had several key defensive plays, and even scored a goal in his Fire debut. It was a huge lift for the team. With German international Arne Friedrich pairing with Anibaba at CB and regulars Dan Gargan and Gonzalo Segares, they will be tasked with shutting down some of RSL's offensive options. The Fire also boast some good defensive midfielders in Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause, so we certainly have a good supply of defensive personnel to help shut down those scorers.
Bonus Question: If you could take one player from RSL and add them to the Fire roster, who would it be and why?
Can my answer be CJ Brown? All Fire fans would welcome him back, even though it wouldn't be in a playing role. Otherwise, I am comfortable with the team we have. But, for the fun of it, I did ask some of the other HTIOT writers. The most common answers were Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave. Espindola is quite the player and is an offensive threat that can help any team net some goals. Olave is a beast of a defender and seems to be shaped in the mold that Fire fans admire about our players. Tenacity, toughness, and never backing down from anybody. But seriously, just send us CJ back and I think we would be happy!