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Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution - MLS #24 - Three Questions

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It's Friday and that means it's time for another 3 questions exchange. Bonus questions will again make their appearance this week as the Fire look to continue their dominance of the Eastern Conference at Toyota Park. The Men In Red will look to further climb up the Eastern Conference standings Saturday Night. And they have a chance to do it against a rival in the New England Revolution. 3 Fire points against the Revs is always nice, and the Fire come into the game riding a hot streak. Honestly, there isn't any reason we shouldn't come away victorious tomorrow night. I am feeling very confident about our chances.

I again worked with Steve Stoehr over at The Bent Musket for this questions exchange. The first question is below, the rest is after the break. Enjoy!

Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Bent Musket

1. Who has proven to be a more valuable player so far, Sene or Bengtson? (via Rudy Gomez)

Saer Sene without a doubt. It's not even a contest. Jerry Bengtson has made three appearances with the team, only one a start, and scored one goal. Saer Sene is the team's leading scorer with nine goals and even pitched in two assists. Without making a value judgment on who is the better player or who might be the bigger contributor in the future, the answer has to be Sene.

2. Going back to Saer Sene, after a torrid start he has cooled down, having only netted 2 times in the last 10 games. What is the reason for the drop in goal scoring? (via Ryan Sealock)

It could be a multitude of things, honestly. For one, the last two months or so has seen Jay Heaps move away from the 4-4-2 he settled into earlier in the season and start to experiment with something more like a 4-3-3. This has pushed Sene out to the right wing, and although his mandate is still to get in the box and score - and he's said he knows how to play the position - he's just not getting into the same dangerous spots he used to when he was up top. Saer appears to work best as an out-and-out striker with a partner, and the Revs just haven't been playing that way lately.

It could also be the service. It seems like the only guy on the team serving crosses right now is Chris Tierney, and no one is capitalizing. Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber can put in a good through-ball, but service from both has been erratic. Kevin Alston is next to useless on this front. Sene's off-the-ball running and positioning is also a culprit here, as he hasn't been doing quite so good a job lately with that.

Finally, it's highly probable that the league has just figured him out by now. Look, Saer isn't the hardest player in the league to predict: he's left-footed. Like, REALLY left-footed. He's going to try to get the ball on his left 99% of the time, and honestly, his touch with his right is poor in almost all situations. A player that one-dimensional is predictable, and a predictable player is easier to defend.

3. What kind of year has young AJ Soares had? Has he played up to expectations? What are some of his strengths and weaknesses? (via Ryan Sealock)

AJ's had a good year, with some ups and downs. His rookie season was definitely a breakout year for him, and I'd argue that he's improved this year in a lot of ways, but he still has some work to do. He was expected to be a starter and a leader in the back line in 2012, and he is certainly both, and although I think some fans may have expected more dominant performances from him, he's done very well.

His strengths are really his leadership qualities, communication, and positioning. AJ is one of those silky-smooth defenders who doesn't often get caught in last-resort tackle situations because he makes the right move before it ever gets to that. That isn't to say that his tackling is bad, or that he can't do it when he has to, but his strengths really lie in his ability to read the game. His distribution is pretty good, too.

Weaknesses probably include aerial ability, although he's no slouch in that department. Other than that, this year it's seemed like he has occasionally switched off in important situations, which has been costly for this team. A pretty robust skill set, though, overall.

4. So it looks like we're both part of the "bring in a Colombian in the off-season and get rid of him before the season ends" club. Even though Jose Moreno Mora was only brought in on a loan, did you expect more and were there ever hopes that he would eventually become part of the team for the long term? (via Mark O'Rourke)

At his initial signing, everyone expected more from Moreno. He was hyped up and given the 9 shirt. A cursory look at his playing history tempered my own expectations, but I still though he'd be a contributor. He not only made it clear he never wanted to come here in the first place with that whole saga at the beginning of the season, but he also made just a handful of appearances and scored only one goal. Most of his time was spent on the treatment table, and his in-game contributions were lackluster at best. I expected at least a season of decency, and what the Revs got was a few months of frustration.

5. The Revs currently sit 13 points out of a playoff spot. With the season winding down, do you see any sort of a miracle playoff push? If not, what sorts of things are you looking for the team to do to maximize what's left of the current MLS season and prepare for next year? (via Ryan Sealock)

A playoff push? Absolutely not. I can't see it happening. Honestly, reading further into most of the quotes coming out of the Revs camp nowadays would indicate that next season is already on some people's minds. For the remainder of 2012, however, I'd just like to see a couple of W's. Some improved play, maybe settling on a concrete formation. Treat it as almost a bonus preseason for 2013, where Jay Heaps can get what he hopes to be his core for next year on the same page with each other. If the Revs pick up a few more wins here and there and don't embarrass themselves, I think most of us would be satisfied.

Bonus: Score prediction and who scores the goals

Bonus: Going to Toyota Park is never a good look for the Revs. I'll go 1-2 in favor of Chicago, with Saer Sene becoming the first Revs player since Taylor Twellman in 2007 to reach double-digit goals in a season.

The Bent Musket Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. It's been a while since the last time we talked and the last time these two teams faced each other. Honestly, it looks like our two respective clubs are trending in different directions, and both are essentially different teams now. I know there's a lot to look at, but what would you say is the single biggest difference between today's Fire and the Fire of two months ago?

One big reason for the improvement has been our defense. Arne Friedrich has played on the top of his game and his international pedigree has shone through. Austin Berry has stepped up into a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. Dan Gargan, Gonzalo Segares, and Jalil Anibaba have all played good as well. And Sean Johnson has been locked into great form for the past month and a half at least. When you combine all of this, we have a defense that is rolling and keeping balls out of the net.

Although it has happened more recently, the other big factor has been the addition of Alvaro "Flaco" Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald. Most MLS fans know what Flaco can do, and he brings tools we definitely can use in our attack. His arrival is also nice depth for when Marco Pappa leaves at the end of this season. His addition to the midfield should really help kick start the offense. Sherjill MacDonald will help too, and I will address him in question 2.

2. Chris Rolfe was a massive, massive re-acquisition. Arne Friedrich earlier in the season was a big get. Now there's Alvaro Fernandez, another enormous grab. But I'm curious about one guy in particular: Sherjill MacDonald. Didn't know a whole lot about the guy as he came in, or why he deserves a DP contract. What does he bring to the table, and are you excited about the addition? He had a nice assist last week.

Sherjill has only had a few appearances with the team, but he is already showing signs of being a very good signing. He brings something that we haven't had in a while with our target forwards: size, and the ability to hold the ball up and play with his back to the goal. He has looked very good when you take into account the fact that he is not even fully fit yet. His assist last weekend was nice, and he has come dangerously close to scoring a few times already. He is primed for a huge, breakout game and fans are hoping it will happen soon. Pairing Sherjill up top with Chris Rolfe or Dominic Oduro should really pay dividends in the near future. Things are definitely looking up right now in Fire country.

3. So Marco Pappa just signed a pre-contract agreement to leave for Heerenveen. Do you think this move works for the team? More importantly, will it now be a distraction for the rest of the season?

I think this move is good for both parties. The Fire have done a lot for Marco, and realized his dream is to play in Europe. They did not stand in the way. Marco has continued to play hard in return the last 2 seasons, even with rumors of him leaving swirling around. Honestly, he has earned his shot, and the club and fans are happy for him. I think that helps his leaving go more smoothly than if there was animosity in the move. Fortunately there is not. Some fans are questioning how hard he will work now that the contract is signed. I think he will continue to work hard. Obviously making a good impression on his new team the rest of this season is important, despite already having a contract. Plus Marco to me seems like the kind of guy that will work hard until his last game with the Fire is over. I don't see him packing it in.

As I mentioned earlier, the arrival of Flaco will help fill the gap created by his departure. We also have a Homegrown Player that the Fire signed by the name of Victor Pineda. Head Coach Frank Klopas has said he will see late season minutes. He can play a few different positions, and can help fill Marco's role next year. He is young and still learning, but has been doing very well with the US U20 National Team.

4. Like we said, both teams have changed a lot since the last match. Who do you think the Fire fear most on the pitch for New England nowadays?

Despite his dropoff in goals, I would still say Sene or new arrival Bengtson. Although our defense has been in fine form, it's always a good idea to take extra special attention for players that can score. If our defense continues to do their job I am confident the offense will do theirs.

5. Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.

Johnson, Anibaba (though I think Gargan should be starting at RB but may not), Berry, Friedrich, Segares, Pardo, Paladini, Fernandez, Pappa, Rolfe, MacDonald

I will go 2-0 Fire. The Revs have seemed to really struggle scoring lately, and our defense has been hot. I will say Sherjill and Rolfe will net for us.