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Chicago Fire vs. Real Salt Lake - MLS #11 - Fireside Chat With RSL Soapbox

After a one week hiatus, the Fireside Chat has returned!

George Frey

Despite current results, Fire Nation got a bit of good news last night as it was officially announced that the Men in Red pulled off a deal to bring Bakary Soumare back home. It's a much needed boost to a thin CB position. While fans are happy about this move, it still doesn't help the dearth of scoring we have had all year. The team is going to have to magically find some goals Saturday or try to grind out a draw at a tough Rio Tinto venue.

I exchanged questions with Matt Montgomery over at RSL Soapbox ahead of tomorrow's fixture. These two teams don't play each other often, but when they do there is usually never a shortage of action. Enjoy, and we'll see you back here for this afternoon's preview, followed by the gamethread and recap tomorrow.

Hot Time In Old Town Asks RSL Soapbox

1. People often use the excuse that Chicago can't attract top talent because we're not New York or LA. How have you guys managed to build a solid squad year-after-year despite Salt Lake City not generally considered to be a hot spot for international talent? (via James Coston)

I'd like to say it's because we have beautiful mountains, but that's only part of the story. (Seriously, though, they're beautiful, and it's one of the things we've showed potential signings before they make a decision to sign.) In all relative seriousness (or as much as I am capable), it's because we have dedicated ourselves to looking for players that fit into our greater squad vision. It's worth noting that few of them - save maybe Alvaro Saborio - have been established figures on a broader scale. For RSL, it's not about attracting top talent but about seeking it out - especially in players who have perhaps been neglected, underused, or simply don't get the recognition their abilities afford.

2. Now that he has some time under his belt in Salt Lake, how has the addition of CJ Brown to the coaching staff affected the overall play of RSL's defense and mentality? (via Adam Merges)

This is difficult to answer definitively, really. Real Salt Lake's tactical outlay does put defense first and foremost in the mindset, but we're ostensibly an attacking side. It becomes easy for the midfield this year to fall ever so slightly asleep defensively, leaving defenders exposed. It's something that we've seen a bit too regularly for my tastes and undoubtedly his. Slowly but surely we've seen signs of it being corrected, although the Montreal Impact travesty will sting for some time. Maybe that's what we needed.

3. How do the RSL faithful feel about this off-season's roster churn? Do they still pine for Olave and Espindola, or are they on board with the makeover? (via Sean Spence)

We'll always pine for Olave and Espindola, but more, we pine for Will Johnson, who felt like a real, genuine loss, and maybe the first one many fans have really felt outside of retirement. That's not to say that fans aren't on board: Espindola has been replaced by essentially four strikers all fighting for a start, and the winner of that contest is still as yet unknown. Olave has been replaced by Chris Schuler, who is learning on the job, and it's hard to think he won't be very, very good by the end of the season, even if things are a little rocky now. Johnson can't be replaced, so we shifted our tactical approach to feature more attack from the midfield. It's helped.

4. What does Jason Kreis do differently than other recent player-turned-managers like Petke, Heaps, Olsen and even Klopas to keep RSL successful? (via John Jenzah)

Kreis came in at a time of transition for the club and was able to really establish himself; the squad is ostensibly his, and that really helps his cause. Perhaps I'm biased, but Kreis is keen on establishing a directive and not responsive identity for the side. It's the key to success, and it's not easy - it depends on having a squad capable of it. And perhaps that's another benefit: He has a real eye for talent, especially where it's under-appreciated or underused.

5. How important is the health of Saborio to RSL's attack and are you surprised by the impact of Plata on the team? (via Adam Merges)

Saborio's health is vital but not so vital as to leave us stranded when he's out. That's surprising. In the early goings, he was the only one scoring, and we saw that at times last season. Plata isn't the only one helping to shore up the attack when Saborio is out: Devon Sandoval - a rookie, mind you - has surprised by being the hold-up player we need, Robbie Findley has chipped in with a couple important goals, Joao Plata has been creative if poor in the finish, and Olmes Garcia does unspeakable things with the ball out there. It's all very encouraging.

Predicted lineup

Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Schuler, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales; Saborio, Plata

RSL Soapbox Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. As we now see Chicago Fire only once a year - it's like a family reunion or some such - most of us don't really know what you've been up to for the last year. What've things been like?

Well, not so good this year. As you probably remember, we came into the last month of 2012 in good form. Rather than locking up a top spot in the East, we slid into the playoffs and got knocked out against Houston. Heading into the season, most of us here at HTIOT were pretty confident of a top 3 finish in the East. As it stands now, we will be lucky to climb out of the doldrums we are in. It's a long season of course, but right now nothing can go right in Fire land.

Heading into the game this weekend, Real Salt Lake will be facing a team that has featured a decently solid defense the past month. We are still prone to costly mental lapses on the back line however. The Fire have a midfield that just can't put it together yet, and a striking duo that, well, doesn't score goals. As you can see, it's not been fun so far in the Windy City this season.

2. On that note, it doesn't seem you're doing at all well this season. How can that be corrected? Is this season going to just "one of those seasons," or can the Fire pull out of their slump?

It's pretty evident this isn't a slump that we were hoping the first few weeks. The team has regressed badly from last year. Although the sum of the off-season moves would have seemed to be positive, the production from those moves has been non-existent. And a rash of injuries has not made it any better.

While the Fire did re-acquire Bakary Soumare yesterday to help fortify a hurting back line, more help is needed. Depth issues still persist on defense, and left wing is still a question mark. Dilly Duka has yet to really nail down the spot, and Joel Lindpere hasn't fared any better. As mentioned above, the Fire just don't score. The team has 6 total goals this year. So, yeah...

3. Getting Soumare back, huh? Think he plays Saturday? Should RSL fans be worried if he returns?

Although it's not certain he will play Saturday, I think odds are good he at least makes an appearance, if not a start. And it would be a definite boost to the team. Fire fans are happy hearing about the move and his return to the Windy City. His return should certainly make it tougher for the RSL attack. While the Fire have been employing a CB duo of Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba, the Men in Red will be much better off with a Soumare/Berry pairing.

The Fire have been struggling at right back, with Jalil Anibaba the only thing closest to a true RB on the roster. This move will allow him to slot back into the position that he is trying to grow in to. RSL fans should definitely keep an eye on Soumare if he plays Saturday.

4. Not to forget other potentially impending trades, too: Mike Magee? (Please take him away, we don't want to see him thrice a season any longer.) Robbie Rogers? Michael Stephens? What will it takes for your side to finally come together?

Although Fire fans would rave if Mike Magee came to Chicago, it's hard to see LA giving him up for Robbie Rogers' rights. While the Fire must maximize their value for those rights, the team will likely settle for some combination of allocation money and draft picks. Stephens would be a nice acquisition however, but his name hasn't been bandied about as much.

Fans are calling for some offensive signings this summer. Recent rumors have mentioned Francesco Totti, but that's just speculation at this point. While the team seems likely to make some moves, the problem becomes how far behind the pack we are when the summer window finally comes. This team is a mess right now. While the additions of Soumare and another couple of players should help, a complete rebuild could also be in order too. Fans are hoping this is not the case, but it is looking more and more likely by the game if this keeps up.

Predicted lineup

Johnson, Videira, Anibaba, Berry, Segares, Pause, Larentowicz, Duka, Lindpere, Rolfe, Nyarko