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Roundtable: Contented & Dreaming of USL Affiliates

Dax is good, Basti’s good, the kids are good, and we’re above the red line - let’s enjoy this just a moment

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire
Dax gives Justin Meram a world of ‘Nope’ during one of the Crew’s better attacking chances in the first half of Saturday’s 1-0 Fire win.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

James Bridget Gordon: So there's a lot to talk about re: the Fire's 1-0 home win over Cow-lumbus, but perhaps the most pressing is this: Why are they such a Yellow [expletive deleted] Team?

Alex Picchietti: Haven't you heard the tale about the captain of the ship and the color of his uniform?

<Everyone scrambles to find comfortable seats. Flagons of mead and the finest meats and cheeses are assembled for the listeners. The longhouse fills with the smoke of our cook-fires.>

Alex: Long story short, the Crew see the Fire coming, and they exclaim, "fetch me my yellow shorts."

<Longhouse, comfy seats, flagons of mead, meats & cheeses - all vanish abruptly>

Sean Spence: Long story very short.

James Bridget: I like it, let's run with that.

Alright, so, 1-0. Should we have done better? I don't want to look a 3-points horse in the mouth, and the Yellow Team have been doing pretty well this season so far, but should we have hit them a little harder?

Alex: Personally, after giving away 2 points last week, I'm happy taking the 3 and moving onto the next match.

John Carollo III: I think 1-0 is the right result, but it should've been DJ's goal as the winner. Niko's goal was a beautiful through ball from Dax, but Steffen should've stuffed it. DJ pulled that one out of nowhere and held up just enough to let Naess catch up to it. Looked like he just didn't want to sky it and that's why it was so soft.

Otherwise, we still need to keep possession in check. We gave them long stretches just sitting in our end during the second.

BTW: What does everyone think of DJ? I liked him in the combine and was only mad at the move because we went for talent instead of need, but that talent is something else. RoY material (if he gets the time).

James Bridget: I have to see more of him. I worry that he already has something of a hype train around these parts.

John: Hype train is good. It's nice that people are excited for once around here.

James Bridget: Excitement is good. Hype train, notsomuch.

Sean: But HypeTrain has brought us such wonders as Austin Berry, Eternal Rookie and The Unquiet Bones of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado! … Ok, I see your point.

Ruben Tisch: If the Fire lose on Saturday, they're on pace to lose only a 3rd of their games this year.

Sean: Perfectly phrased to emphasize the extent of our decline, Rubes. Lose only(!) a third(!) - yay!

James Bridget: Yeah, I realize it's still early (way, way early) but it's worth noting that we're above the red line. The East is really tight so far and there's only three points separating 1st from 9th, so we're mostly just staying in the middle of the pack right now. But last season, and the one before (I think), the Fire dropped to the bottom of the table pretty early in the season and just sort of... stayed there.

So in terms of points on the board and position in the standings we're doing a lot better compared to recent seasons.

Ruben: Screw it - all the other teams I root for are awful. HYPE TRAIN ACTIVATE!

James Bridget: You're just saying that because Arsenal got beat 3-0 to Crystal Palace. (lol)

Ruben: Accurate. Also the Bulls are no fun and the White Sox are actively bad. It's just the Fire and Scudaria Ferrari for me. Alex: I'm going to the Bulls game tonight. Secretly hoping for a loss.

James Bridget: Yeah, the Bulls are sad-making this season. Draft position?

Alex: One can only hope for that lottery ball...

Also, Pulis for Arsenal.

James Bridget: If the 0-3 to Palace is the thing that does Wenger in I think it's only right for Big Sam to take over.

Alex: Big Sam at Arsenal, what a time to be alive.

John: Back to the Fire, our points per points possible (or "Quad" as I call it) is 53.33%, tied for 7th with Atlanta. Teams with good quads after 10 usually keep them up all season. Right now it's on pace for a playoff position.

Of course, we're not to 10 games yet.

Alex: On the other hand, the team is still learning to gel and I wouldn't be surprised if this pace kept up...

John: Our home quad is 77.78% (T-5th) and our Road quad is 16.67% (T-10)

Ruben: You could call it Pquad. Call it an homage.

John: LET'S DO IT!

James Bridget: Let's... not.

John: You didn't like Moby Dick? Or MGS: V?

James Bridget: Sure, let's go with that.

Anyway, most of the regular season doesn't matter anyway so let's maybe not make up new stats just to get hyped. Y'all do a good enough job of that anyway without the faux-analytics.

Jack: What did we think of Drew Conner's performance? Personally, I thought he was brilliant.

Also, Calistri scored again for the Roughnecks. Is there a Conner, Calistri pairing in the Fire's future?

John: He did fine. Pretty nice when he was in the box. He should start at RB. Speaking of which, Harrington looked fine as well. Not great, but the new formation seems to be helping him.

Conner is Calistri's Ser Jorah.

James Bridget: Alright, nipping this in the bud while it's still early in the season: I'm calling a moratorium on all Game Of Thrones references in the Roundtable.

Jack: I second that motion

John: :rage: :cry:

Sean: I’m thinking I may be nipping ‘the idea of nipping things in the bud’ in the bud.

Jack: Anyways, I think that Conner was really impressive. Him and Daniel Johnson make me feel better about the depth of the squad, which we all thought were lacking.

John: Speaking of depth, we have no defenders.

James Bridget: We really don't.

Jack: Also, Harrington played really well I thought. Made good tackles, had a few well-placed crosses and most importantly, he didn't screw anything up.

John: We've got Doody, but if we stick to that lineup day in day out, we only have him on the bench.

Jack: NO defenders at all. NR and VP forgot about that part of the pitch this off season.

James Bridget: We need more. Ideally, we'd get _better_ and at least a couple guys we have now can be depth relief rather than starters.

John: We haven't had a solid backline since Sega-Berry-Friedrich-Anibaba.

Jack: I'm trying to think of any overseas guys that may be set to come back to MLS during the summer. None of the American internationals are jumping out at me, though.

James Bridget: I hate to admit it, not least because of that turtleneck debacle over the weekend, but someone was speculating about Besler-To-CF97 and... it's not the worst idea.

John: Make a smart trade for a drafted rookie? Plenty of decent players not getting time.

James Bridget: As long as it's not Geoff Cameron.

John: But then you have players coming through the pipeline as HGPs. Guys like Grant Lillard who's a senior and will definitely take a claim next season. Maybe Pineda and Lindley as well. Get someone now, you might not have any room next season for them.

James Bridget: We never seem to have room for HGPs anyway, even when the squad is really thin.

Jack: Geoff Cameron can go to hell.

Sean: All good things in time, Jack.

James Bridget: The club's braintrust just doesn't have a lot of faith in the kids. Been that way for a few years now.

Jack: I would love a Besler move. Would really strengthen the spine of the team.

John: I'd love to see a spine of Campbell-Conner-Calistri at least once while they're all here. They're good friends and solid players. The chemistry would enhance the play. Whether it be friendly, USOC, or regular season, I would love it.

A brief side-jaunt into a USL fantasy

James Bridget: If only we had an actual Fire II reserve team. (Second Degree Burn?)

John: Fire II spine: Campbell in CB, Conner at CM, and Calistri up top.

Jack: How do we feel generally about USL - MLS affiliation?

John: Love it. Milwaukee Flames. Close to city, but still a separate location to grow the sport.

Jack: Milwaukee? They have an NPSL side.

John: Or it can be contrast as the Milwaukee Wave.

Jack: The owner of the Torrent would not go for that.

John: That's where I want our Fire II team to be.

Jack: I'm not sure how I feel about this affiliation business. We did an interview on Point 2 The Spot with one of the co-founders of Non League America and he made several good points about how it limits the growth of the game in the U.S.

James Bridget: I'd also be down with Madison, although Milwaukee might be better in terms of transport. CHI-MKW has plenty of options for travel. CHI-MAD has Megabus and that's it.

Ruben: Rockford works. Also, so does Chicago.

John: My thinking is also based on trying to spread the game. I don't think Milwaukee (or Madison) is going to be getting an MLS team any time soon, but a USL team can inject a bit more of the game into Wisconsin.

James Bridget: But also, it'd be good for Fire fans to be able to go watch the kids play if they're so inclined.

John: That's why Milwaukee is such a good idea. It's a day trip.

James Bridget: No one's going to go to Tulsa. Milwaukee is a straight shot up 90/94 and 90 minutes each way in normal traffic.

Ruben: I'm in, as long as we can stop at the Cheese Castle.

James Bridget: YES

John: I'm in.

James Bridget: Hot Time On Tour? Hot Time On Tour.

Sean, bring Sarah and the kids.

Sean: We’re on the way. I’m printing t-shirts. Let’s rendezvous at the Cheese Castle!

James Bridget: It'll be great.

John: If we get a Milwaukee Flame team, that's definitely a necessary outing.

Ruben: There'll be cheese curds.

James Bridget: Heck yeah.

Sean: So, uhh, back to the world we currently live in.

Jack: I think Dax and Bastian are really gelling. Not sure about how that combination is working with Juninho though.

John: Juninho's got an uphill battle right now back into his spot. So does Polster.

Jack: I mean, Juninho is going to start every game, right?

John: When he's not suspended.

Jack: Well, yes. He's going to have to play more as a winger in the 3-5-2. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure where he fits into this squad anymore. Saturday's performance was complete.

John: Exactly.

Jack: I forgot Polster existed. He's training again, according to Dan Kelly. Shared that with me before we started our interview last week.

John: HOW DARE YOU! We haven't traded him (yet)!

My research has turned up a first-round right back that we can sign from the USL: Meet Brian Nana-Sinkam:

He was selected by Sounders, waived, then picked up by Sounders II (oh, that again).

James Bridget: Alright, let's talk next week's game against the Revs.

We're currently a point above them in the standings and it looks like a pretty even game, but... I don't know. I've got a bad feeling about it and I can't say exactly why.

John: I don't think very highly of the Revs this year. This Fire team needs to go off on another team to truly cement their identity. New England on home turf is the perfect bantha fodder.

Mike Tooley: They are on a nice little run similar to Columbus before they came to Bridgeview. I am cautiously optimistic but there is still part of me that is conditioned to feel that something bad will happen. Like us, the Revs can sometimes struggle to keep the ball. I feel like that backline of theirs can be leaky so I am hoping we can grab a couple of goals. They have surprised me thus far though, I was not high on New England’s chances before the season.

James Bridget: Alright, last question:

If you could guarantee the Fire would win the MLS Cup this season, BUT it would mean everyone giving up ice cream nachos forever... would you do it?

John: In-stadium and home-made?

James Bridget: I mean, Monterrey is pretty firm on outside food, so ...

John: No. I'd like us to win next year or so in fact. I think this year is too soon for the city/market anyway. We need to build a bit more.

James Bridget: Counterpoint: winning things is good regardless of season.

John: That's what the USOC is for.

Also, ice cream nachos are a wonderful substitute for winning (and babies).

James Bridget: I mean, it's your opinion and all, but just so we're clear, absolutely nobody (players, coaches, FO execs) ever regrets winning a championship because it's Too Soon.

John: If no one in the city cares, it's definitely too soon. Cubs winning a year earlier than Theo's projections is not "too soon", it's great. Fire winning a cup before being able to fill the stadium for a legendary player is "too soon.”It might bring in fans, but if people don't care about Basti, they won't care about an MLS Cup. I think if we build within the market we can bring the Fire back.

And again, I love ice cream nachos.

James Bridget: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Okiedokie.

Alex: You have to deal with the fact that some people will just never follow the Fire. While the fan base can obviously grow with another year of success, I don't think they'll ever see the overnight following that the Hawks did. I almost don't watch them BECAUSE of how many fans just "showed up". So if the Fire can win now, it's not too soon. Potential fans would be drawn in by a playoff run, and more would come around if they won a trophy.

James Bridget: That's a good point. A lot of Fire fans try to compare us to the Blackhawks. (And yeah, we've all read those Big Soccer threads comparing Andrew Hauptman to Dollar Bill Wirtz.) But I think it may be worthwhile to think of the Fire as being closer to the Sky.They've been pretty strong the past few years, won a conference title in 2014, have consistently been in the championship conversation. But they're always going to have this ceiling, because there will always be a certain segment of the sports consumer market that hears "women's basketball" and switches off. (Yay sexism!) Similarly, there's always going to be part of the market here that hears the Fire are defending league champions and say, "yeah but it's soccer so who cares."To say nothing of the Liga MX supporters who think MLS is a joke. Or the soccer bros who only follow the Premier League and/or Barcelona/Real Madrid.