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Fireside Chat: Fire v Union, MLS #18

Eugene Rupinsky of the Brotherly Game joins us for the ritual of questions and answers

Some people ask, "Why this photo?" We here at Hot Time ask, "Why NOT this photo?"
Some people ask, "Why this photo?" We here at Hot Time ask, "Why NOT this photo?"
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

We ask, they answer

HT: So what's up with Carlos Valdes? Is he refusing to come back from loan, or what?

BG: The situation with Carlos is very complicated and very fluid. He was supposed to be on loan to San Lorenzo in Argentina through the end of the year, however he didn't return to practice from the World Cup. When he was called out on twitter by the team's Vice President, he responded by saying that he hadn't been paid in six months. At that point everything changed. Carlos was told not to go back to camp by San Lorenzo's manager and it truly became one of those "silly season" moments where he was coming back to MLS but then Colombian side Millonarios was saying he was coming there... So as of right now there's no real resolution, although you would imagine something would happen soon.

UPDATE: FutbolMLS is reporting that Valdes

will return to the Union 'next week.'

HT: Is it me, or is Conor Casey in the form of his life right now?

BG: Conor has been playing some really great soccer lately. I'm not sure how it compares to his 2009 or 2010 seasons in Colorado when he just dominated, but he's been fantastic. I think it's helped that he's healthy now and that the quality of the midfield is much better, creating many more chances for him. Also, pairing him up with Sebastien Le Toux up top has allowed him to just go out and play and not worry about trying to carry the team.

HT: How will the Maurice Edu/Amobi Okugo MF/CD square-dance going to end up? Is Edu at centerback just the answer?

BG: Personally I don't think so, but who knows. I think that clarifying the status of Carlos Valdes will go a long way in determining who plays center back going forward. If Carlos comes back, I think you put him and Ethan White at center back, push Okugo and Edu up to central defensive midfielder, and run a 4-2-2-2. If Carlos doesn't come back, Edu can stay at center back, Okugo stays at CDM, and you go with a 4-1-3-2. Having two quality guys who can play CB or CDM is a great problem to have though.

HT: How to you expect the midweek game with New York to affect the lineup?

BG: I don't think it'll pose much of an issue. Okugo and Michael Lahoud both sat out on red card suspension, and Danny Cruz - who usually starts out on the wing - was subbed on in the seventy-fourth minute. So I think while there may be some tired legs it won't be much of an issue.

HT: Jim Curtain - we love Jim Curtain! That's going well, yeah?

BG: Jim Curtin has been amazing. He's done well to stabilize the ship after a disastrous first half of the season. He's really brought a sense of belief to the club that didn't exist before. I think a lot of it has to do with him being in MLS for so long. He knows what it takes to win as well as what it takes to turn around a team that's been kicked around a bit. Jim is also very personable - he would always say hello when I would say hi to him at PPL when he was an assistant, and is very in touch with the fans here. He grew up here, so he gets the fan dynamic here in Philadelphia and understands what it would mean to the fans in this area to bring home some silverware.

Now is he the permanent solution at manager? I don't know. John Hackworth came in and put together a decent string of results and that didn't turn out so well over time. So I think we're all a little leery of promoting a caretaker manager to full time, but so far I like what I see.

Predicted starting XI: MacMath; Gaddis, White, Edu, Williams; Wenger, Okugo, Nogueira, Cruz; Casey, Le Toux

Predicted score: 2-1 Union. Even though the Union played on Wednesday, I think beating Red Bulls will serve as a huge motivational boost to a team that was already flying high.

They ask, we answer

BG: Chicago on paper is a solid team, with players like Sean Johnson, Bakary Soumare, and Mike Magee. however they sit 4 points out of a playoff sport at the moment. Why?

HT: It's been a difficult year for the Fire, primarily because the team is in rebuild mode but doesn't want to admit it. Also, with the exception of Johnson, the guys you mentioned have not had stellar seasons to date - Soumare seems to have worked his way out of his funk, but he was a goal-gifting mistake or two a game for much of the season. Magee got his new, better deal, but has looked a little out of phase and has cultivated a puzzling side-career as a ref-bothering bag of whine. Add in Frank Yallop's determination in preseason to set this team up as a high-pressing, ball-control 4-1-4-1 squad - think New England's style - which came unglued upon first contact with the enemy, and you've got a potent mix for mediocrity.

That said, the play hasn't been awful - just the results. The Fire are the draw kings through the first half of the season because they play well enough to compete, but usually not well enough to win. The hope here is that, as the kids mature, the second half will have more positive results.

BG: What kind of impact do you think new signing Răzvan Cociș will have? What kind of impact will he need to have to help the Fire succeed?

HT: Here's something you don't hear on soccer blogs very often: To the first question, I have no idea. I'm deeply respectful of the possibility that maybe, just maybe this dude just came from the depths of the Ukrainian league to kick ass and chew gum (and he's all outta gum). That said, a 31-year-old who's played on seven teams the last five years, one of which has since been dissolved - let's just say that's a resume many, maybe most MLS teams put on the "Thanks, but no thanks" pile.

He doesn't need to be a world-beater to improve the team, though. Yallop said he plans to play him alongside Jeff Larentowicz in central midfield. In that role, if he can help the Fire keep the ball, that will do a lot to resuscitate Frank's plans for the 4-1-4-1. He's said to have good close control - yes, that's as much scouting as we have on him - and Chicago desperately needs another silky first touch on the field if the Men in Red want to try possession football.

BG: Fire fans have a reputation for having one chant - "FIRE". Do you guys have other chants? (Not trying to be an ass with this one.)

HT: Just think how ass-like you could be if you tried! (Jokes! Just jokes.)

We do have other chants, but none of them feature the subtle mind-control element that our beloved FII-YERR chant brings. And the 'lo lo lo lo' part is crucial, too - that tiny bit of melody breaks up the alpha-wave distortion patterns engineered into the FII-YERR section into a sort of sentence, modified by local variables.

Usually, the messages are "We love our team, and want them to win," "We don't like your team, and want them to lose," and "Ketchup on hotdogs is an abomination," FYI.

Predicted starting XI: Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Lovel Palmer; Harrison Shipp, Jeff Larentowicz (c), Alex, Grant Ward; Mike Magee, Quincy Amarikwa.

Score prediction: 2-1 Chicago. Fire goals by Shipp and Magee; Union goal by Conor Casey