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Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution - MLS #2 - Fireside Chat With The Bent Musket

Although the weather will be a bit chilly Saturday night for the home opener in Chicago, warm yourself up before then beside the Fire with our latest chat

John Gress

I exchanged questions with Steve Stoehr over at The Bent Musket. We traded 5 questions per side, and here is the end product. Enjoy!

Hot Time In Old Town Asks The Bent Musket

1. With the changes in the midfield during the off season, how do you see the players coming together this season and do you think that the changes are a drastic improvement from last season? (via Adam merges)

I think this is the deepest midfield in MLS, and I'd defend that assertion against anyone and anything thrown at me. The Revs have significant defensive talent (Cisse, Simms), significant attacking talent (Toja, Nguyen), great two-way guys (Dorman, Guy), and exciting youth (Rowe, Caldwell, Smith). The one area it may be lacking is in width...Rowe plays wide but isn't really a wide player, and the same goes for Lee Nguyen. Juan Toja can play the wing, but he's not a traditional winger, either. The natural wingers on this squad are Smith, Latigue, and Nyassi (gotta lump Guy in there, too, even though he rarely gets wing time), but it's looking like at least one of those guys will end up in Rochester by month's end, and none of them are immediate starting material.

I really feel like everyone in this midfield can play together, too. During preseason, Jay Heaps mixed things up, going with midfield sets that featured two defensive midfielders in the center, or a deep mid and an attacking mid, two wingers, one winger, no wingers, etc. Each set had varying levels of success, but there was never too much question of synergy between each player. I have full confidence in whatever starting lineup gets sent out, and yes, I believe this is a pretty drastic improvement over last year.

2. How important will Saer Sene be to New England if they are to make the playoffs? Is there anyone on the team that could fill his void if he goes out with a long term injury? (via Adam Merges)

Well, Saer is already out right now as he recovers from his ACL tear, but he should be back sometime in April or early May. Sene was the first Revs player to hit double digits since Taylor Twellman in 2007, so his importance cannot be overstated. We'll need those goals. That said, Jerry Bengtson is set to become the focus of the Revolution attack, and I fully expect him to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load whether Sene is there or not. The tricky part comes when Bengtson is away for international duty with Honduras. I think it's those periods of time when Saer Sene's goals will become utterly essential to the success of the Revs, and I'm not sure who can step up and score like that if Sene isn't there.

3. Who do you think was the best offseason addition for the Revs? Who do you think was the biggest loss for the Revs this offseason? (via James Coston)

Biggest addition is kinda tough. The Revs kept a solid core of players from last season, and the pickups they did make were all on a pretty even level of excellence. I'd be inclined to say Jose Goncalves. He brings veteran presence to a very, very young back line. Furthermore, he's enormous and scary. The skill players on the Revs didn't have anyone to protect them last season, especially after the departure of Shalrie Joseph. Goncalves, along with new midfielder Kalifa Cisse, will provide that kind of cover.

Biggest departure is an interesting question. On paper, anyone and everyone would say Benny Feilhaber. His name, his salary, his undeniable talent make him tough to replace. But, you know what? His impact was minimal last year. Replacing him will not be difficult given how little he gave us in his tenure. It will probably be harder to replace someone like Fernando Cardenas. Even though he wasn't a consistent difference-maker, he scored key goals and was always a livewire off the bench late in games. His speed and skill gave Jay Heaps a wildcard in his back pocket, and I'm not totally sure that exists on this roster anymore.

4. How would you rate Jay Heaps as a head coach since he took over in November 2011? (via James Coston)

He's had his ups and downs. I like Jay's commitment, his enthusiasm, and his hunger. He's also matured rapidly in his first head coaching gig, and demonstrated late last year that he can adjust to changing conditions in order to get a win. On the other hand, it took him a long time to adjust to the physical play other teams applied to this team, and that long period directly resulted in a ten-match winless streak. He made first-year mistakes, and his commitment to playing a certain style fell off the deep end about halfway through the season, and the Revs got real boring again. But, then again, he didn't necessarily have the most talented squad to work with, and it was a squad that was still being built come the start of last season. Accounting for his inexperience, I'd rate Heaps as above-average.

5. Talk to me about Kelyn Rowe. Will he be an integral part of the midfield this season? What sort of production are Revs fans wanting to see from the youngster? (via Ryan Sealock)

I'm not sure Rowe will be quite as key as he was last season, but I still think he'll be a key member of the midfield in 2013. Last year he received a heaping helping of playing time, and a lot of that had to do with injuries and lack of attacking depth. This year, that depth issue is off the table. He's competing with Nguyen, Toja, Dorman, Guy, Smith, Nyassi, and Latigue for a starting midfield spot in an attacking area. That's a lot of talent.

That said, Revs fans will be expecting improvement. Rowe's dealt with the longer professional season now, he's had another full offseason and preseason to learn his craft and get better. We want to see him improve on his creativity, passing accuracy, and decision-making most of all. I think statistically he had a pretty good rookie season (3 goals, 5 assists), and if he can at least repeat those numbers while playing more consistently when on the field, he'll have reached fan expectations this season.

Score prediction: 2-1 Revs. I probably oughta predict a 1-1 draw, since Bengtson is still having some chemistry issues and Toyota Park is absolutely not the Revs' favorite place to play, but my homerism is shining through. If I can't do that for our first match of the season, when can I? Goals scored by Bengtson and Dorman, with Maicon Santos the Rev-killer scoring for Chicago.

The Bent Musket Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. It looks as though the Chicago Fire underwent a bit of a midfield overhaul there, bringing in Lindpere, Duka, and our old friend Jeff Larentowicz. How does that change the look of Chicago's starting core and what do you expect these guys to be able to do over the course of the season?

It changes our look a lot. It makes us more dynamic in midfield, and allows Frank Klopas to focus more on an offensive themed look, rather than defensive. Duka has high upside that he hasn't hit yet (though we all in Chicago hope he breaks into the form many think he can). Larentowicz and Lindpere bring a much needed grit to the midfield. Larentowicz helps fill int he hole that Pavel Pardo's retirement left, as well as providing a good upgrade over Logan Pause.

Lindpere is a box to box guy that will attack and can pitch in on defense as well. We need a true CAM and Lindpere loves playing in the middle. He should be able to score some goals as well as providing a threat that the other team has to be very careful with. When he is on his game, he will open up the wings as well as free up Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe. At least, that is the idea.

At this point, the Fire have a midfield talent-wise that puts them up there with some of the best groups in the center of the pitch. It's clearly the strongest and most deep part of the team, and our success this year will largely be determined by the performance of the midfield.

2. The Fire got ripped up pretty bad by LA last weekend. Was that just an early-season hiccup, or is controlling the midfield going to be a consistent issue for Chicago this season?

Definitely an early season hiccup. We were missing Arne Friedrich, and Logan Pause (who would have slotted in at RB) was hurt as well. Steve Kinney hasn't played much since a horrible Achilles injury that has seen him out since 2010. His speed and mobility just aren't there yet. So we had a lot working against us last Sunday.

That's not to take anything away from the Galaxy. They earned everything they got and unfortunately it was at our expense. However, I am not hitting the panic button by any means. This team looked very good in the pre-season, and you have to keep in mind that we have a lot of new players still learning the system and each others tendencies. While it was a bad blip on the radar, I am confident that the midfield will be just fine and be able to control the center of the pitch. A game like last Sunday is best erased from memory quickly. A good performance in our home opener Saturday will be just what the doctor ordered.

3. I've heard rumblings about issues at Toyota Park and in Bridgeview in terms of attendance and the stadium's financial effects on the municipality. With the Revs looking for a new home, this is a very interesting topic for us. Could you illuminate some of the issues - if any - with Toyota Park since it has opened, and dispense a little advice to the Revs fans and organization as the search for our permanent home continues?

For advice, I would say choose the location VERY carefully. While many factors go into choosing a new home, it's a huge capital investment that you can't afford to do wrong. I would also recommend a soccer specific stadium as is becoming the norm now. It's better to have your own home than be overshadowed by Tom Brady and his model wife. Plus you can earn extra revenue with concerts, events, and other civic activities to bring in extra cash to funnel into the team and stadium. Getting support and interest from your owner Robert Kraft (as hard as that is) would help with his deep pockets. I would say it's also helpful to design the place to match the team and be unique. You don't want a cookie cutter stadium, you want it to be unique so people associate the team with the stadium and vice-versa. This creates a unique branding that can be capitalized on upon many different levels, driving sales and increasing the fanbase.

As for Bridgeview, it's not a bad stadium at all. The really big issue is the location. It's not downtown like the other pro venues. One big downside is lack of public transportation. it would be great to be able to hop on the Red Line and step off at Toyota Park. Unfortunately a drive is required, and for the casual fan that can be daunting, especially with busy weekend traffic or on a school night midweek. And, in the end, the die-hards will come hell or high water. To really grow the team, we need to find a good way to get the casual fans out to TP consistently and get them to bring others and fall in love. So it's very much still a work in progress.

While I don't pretend to know all the intimate details, the Fire are also hand-cuffed a bit because they have to work with the village of Bridgeview on changes they want to make. They can't do whatever they want, it's a partnership and as with any partnership, some issues can be tough to overcome. Other things like a partially gravel/partially paved parking lot doesn't affect the product on the pitch at all. But it's a nice amenity to have for the fans. The location of the stadium isn't ideal like PPL park in Philly or Rio Tinto in terms of a beautiful skyline, but again that's a wish many have rather than a necessity.

In the end, I love Toyota Park like most Fire fans do. Despite some disadvantages, it's a place to call our own and that may be the very best thing there is. It's our house (or Sean Johnson's house) and we love it like we love the team that plays there.

4. Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for this weekend.

I will go with Yazid Atouba. He was our only draft pick this year, and had a great pre-season. Think of him as a Patrick Nyarko mini-me. While he is very young and raw, whenever he touches the ball you sense something great could happen. He is very quick and works hard too. Look for him to come off the bench at some point saturday to provide the offense with a boost. And if he comes in on the wing opposite Nyarko, the flanks will likely be on Fire (pun intended).

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

Sean Johnson, Steve Kinney, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Jeff Larentowicz, Dilly Duka, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere, Sherjill MacDonald, Chris Rolfe

Score Prediction: I will say 3-1 Fire. We have a lot of motivation for this one and the offense is ready to break out. I will say Chicago goals from Rolfe, Lindpere, and MacDonald. Revs goal from Bengtson. With Sene still out, that will hopefully makes things a little easier on our banged up back line.