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Fireside Chat: SKC v Fire, MLS #32

Ben Gartland of The Blue Testament joins us for the question-and-answer ritual before tonight's game

Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

We ask, they answer

HTiOT: What's the deal with the Sporting defense recently? Is it form problems, or are they getting a less reliable screen from the midfield this year, or was Kronberg horrible, or what?

TBT: It's a mixture of things. First of all is Chance Myers being out for the year, which means that Igor Juliao has had to full in as the full time right back. Myers is much better defensively so it leaves a hole on that side. Second, the normally strong and consistent center backs in Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have been inconsistent and Besler looks exhausted, as does Seth Sinovic on the left side. They have not been as consistent as they have been in the past and it hurts them a lot. Going back to the keeper spot, none of the three goalkeepers (!) who have started this year for Sporting have been awful. There's been mistakes but overall they've been average to decent. What I think hurts Sporting a lot is Uri Rosell transferring to Sporting Lisbon, which takes out a very aggressive presence in the defensive midfield and takes away a screen for the back line. Lawrence Olum and Jorge Claros haven't been up to par in that position so far, so the defense suffers.

HTiOT: Claudio Bieler would likely be an automatic starter for the Fire. What would it take to pry him off your roster in the offseason?

TBT: Most likely the guarantee that Dom Dwyer will not ship off to England in the offseason and, if he does, having a new striker in place that can put up similar numbers to Dwyer. In terms of straight-up player terms, I'm really not sure how to rate Bieler since we rarely get to see him, yet we're paying him a ton of money, relative to MLS and Sporting KC. It would probably take a first round draft pick and maybe some allocation money but then again I'm not a financial expert.

HTiOT: How are the blue legions anticipating postseason this year? Does the prospect of playing as the lower seed through a couple of rounds sound inspirational or frustrating?

TBT: It's going to be a new experience, that's for sure. They've been the 1, 1 and 2 seeds in the past three years respectively so having playoff series' open at Sporting Park instead of closing is going to be different. Considering how well Sporting played on the road and some of the lackluster performances they've put out at home this year, it'll be interesting to see if opposing teams stick to trying to draw on the road and win at home. Personally I'm hoping that Sporting is able to put on some magic and overtake New England for the second seed because that second home leg can be very important but if they can't, the third seed is fine as long as we avoid the play-in game.

Predicted lineup: Gruenebaum; Juliao, Ellis, Besler, Peterson; Olum, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Sapong, Dwyer, Zusi.

Predicted scoreline: 1-1.

They ask, we answer

TBT: With Magee out, who has taken the responsibility of leading the Fire attack?

HTiOT: It's been a bit of attack-by-committee since Magee went down, although the committee might be a bit ashamed of its productiveness at this point. Quincy Amarikwa has graduated from 'prospect' to 'solid role player' this season; he's always scrapping in a style which will feel familiar to KC fans used to Dom Dwyer. The improving health of Patrick Nyarko means the Fire can once again attack at pace down the right. We are still waiting for the offense to choose a style, though - some days it's possession, others its long ball, seemingly without pattern.

TBT: Harry Shipp seems to have dropped off a bit after his strong start to the season, what happened and what kind of impact do you see him having against Sporting KC?

HTiOT: Harrison simply hit the rookie wall hard earlier this year. It's worth remembering Shipp was a super-sub for his first three years at Notre Dame, playing the Ole Gunnar Solskear role, essentially. He's logged over 2,000 minutes this season playing mostly in a defensively-demanding wing role. It's been a grind for the kid, so he rested for a while and seems to have some spring back in his step.

If Harry gets the start, he could be hugely influential. Shipp plays best just underneath the striker line, and Sporting (absent never-replaced Uri Rosell) lack the kind of no-nonsense stopper they've usually had policing the hole under Vermes. If he starts on the wing, the defensive responsibilities of the position will detract from his canny string-pulling.

TBT: With the Fire officially out of playoff contention, what are some things the club and the fans are looking for in the final matches of the season?

HTiOT: Most of the supporters feel, like I do, that we'd like to see the younger players given some game time. For me, I'd like to see that the Fire are beginning to work on a coherent shape and approach for 2015; formless, kick-around soccer gets old, and quickly. Find Harry's feet, for the love of Zoroaster.

Projected lineup (4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Greg Cochrane, Bakary Soumare, Jeff Larentowicz, Lovel Palmer; Alex, Chris Ritter, Matt Watson, Grant Ward; Harrison Shipp; Quincy Amarikwa.

Predicted score: Sporting 2-1 Fire. KC's need for points tops Chicago's experimenting.