James Bridget Gordon: Alright gang, we're back from a long weekend and six days removed from the last Fire game. (Five for us, because this conversation is happening in the past.) The Fire beat Dallas last Thursday, giving them seven wins in the 2017 season... the same number they did for the entire 2016 league campaign.
Oh and they're firmly in the Supporters' Shield race. And they reclaimed the Brimstone Cup.
Mike Tooley: In regards to the game against Dallas I thought it wound up being a pretty evenly played game. Although Dallas did not line up with some of their first choice players a win is a win. We took our chances better than they did and hit them early. It also feels so long ago. I am ready for the next one.
Ruben Tisch: First of all, the Fire are not winning the Supporters Shield unless Toronto falls down a well, and Lassie is out having a grooming day for being such a good doggie, yes she is. (Who's a good girl? Is it Lassie? Yes!)
But it's still nice to be in the mix at the end of May. This team is good, and for the first time in a long time, really fun to watch.
James Bridget: Yeah, for the record I don't think the Fire are going to win the Shield this year. Toronto are just a bit too strong. BUT. The fact that we're in the conversation is incredible. If the Fire win their game in hand, they're two points behind. Beat Toronto in August and we're on top.
Again, don't think it'll happen, but it's such an incredible turnaround from previous seasons when the team's ambitions were basically, "if we can put a hot streak together and get a little luck on our side maybe we won't finish in last place."
Ruben: Orlando on Sunday will he interesting to see. I think the nonbelievers out there nationally and locally will be put into place, unless they lay an absolute egg.
several hours pass
James Bridget: Man, y'all are quiet today
Ruben: I blame John.
James Bridget: That sounds about right.
Ruben: I'm also making an attempt to finish Persona 5 right now.
James Bridget: smh
Ruben: It's so long, and so good. (That's what she said, etc. )
James Bridget: I'm judging you very harshly right now.
James Bridget: You know what else is long and good? The Fire's winning streak! Four games!
John Carollo III: Don't blame me, I had finals today!
James Bridget: A likely story, John.
(Also congrats on surviving high school.)
Alex Picchietti: Question:
Are the Fire really a good team?
John: That's just what I was about to say and my answer is yes
James Bridget: HOT TAKE: Yes. Yes they are.
John: This isn't even a hot take any more. A hot take would be that they are "the best team", but it is a very lukewarm take to say that we are good.
Ruben: Sure. I think this squad is good. It's amazing what happens when you get a real superstar on the field.
Mike: Orlando has been pretty poor for awhile now. They have not won in May. It is going to be a fun game on Sunday. They are headed in the opposite direction of this Fire team. Yes, we are good.
James Bridget: Would you go so far as to say... #WeAreGood?
smash cut to Ruben, eyes twitching
Ruben: I'm still in #TryNotToSuck mode.
Alex: Like, we're good, yeah...but are we GOOD? I just have this sneaking suspicion.
John: I don't think we need to break out those t-shirts yet. Wait until the playoffs, it's only just midseason.
James Bridget: Yeah, the tricky thing about all this is that, as a practical matter, most of the MLS regular season just doesn't matter. I'm beating a dead horse here but the Sounders were bottom of the Western Conference in July last year and they ended up winning the whole thing. A lot can happen between now and October. Obviously it's better to win these early-season games than not (a lesson that the 2013 season brought into sharp relief), but still.
Alex: I just see a team that has found a way to get results...a fairly disastrous road trip...and a "meh" conference. I'm trying to reel in expectations
John: Toronto is still the true champions, Seattle never had a shot on goal. #HotTake
James Bridget: See that's where I disagree, Alex. The Eastern Conference has been surprisingly hot this season.
John: The Eastern Conference has been amazing this season. I saw a graphic earlier today showing that for the first time in a decade, the East is destroying the West. Because all graphics are true, right?
(Just kidding, I have my own math.)
Mike: Isn't a team that is finding ways to get the right results the definition of a good team? Last I checked the goal was picking up points and we are doing so. Second most PPG in MLS as of today. I think the regular season does matter depending each teams expectations. If I remember correctly our preseason roundtable about our definition of what success would look like this year was basically that we just wanted the team to be more competetive and possibly grab a playoff spot. Right now we are on pace to do that.
John: Also, some Power Ranking numbers:
Reddit Monkeys: 7th
MLS Multiplex: 2nd
The Score: 5th
Soccer America: 2nd
James Bridget: For reference, the RSL Soapbox averages over the past few weeks tell a slightly different story.
Week 10: 13th. Week 11: 10th. Week 12 Best: 3rd. Week 12 Worst: 10th.
John: I think everyone finally took notice after beating the team that's been on the top of most of them: FC Dallas.
James Bridget: My broader point stands. People are sleeping on us. And that's fine.
Alex: Okay, so power rankings, what are they based on? For the most part, league table standings.
John: Personal biases. Except for the reddit monkeys apparently.
James Bridget: It's reddit so I assume their Power Rankings have another dimension to them.
Alex: I give reddit power rankings the same amount of credibility I give the @POTUS twitter account. But what I'm saying is, we've slowly but surely risen up the table.
John: Just saying, I only just found out about this and find the idea of monkeys making a power ranking hilarious.
James Bridget: Right.
Ruben: Power Rankings are dumb.
James Bridget: Power Rankings are dumb. But so is money, and people kill each other over that shit.
Ruben: C.R.E.A.M. Dolla Dolla Bills, y’all.
Alex: But I feel like we have a team that could easily be an out in the playoffs. Although they're obviously better and much more enjoyable to watch than in any recent year.
John: My preseason thought was that we'll sneak into the playoffs and then blow up, but it seems that we're blowing up a bit earlier than expected.
Sports are about hot and cold streaks. While it is a mathematical fallacy, the end of the season comes down to whoever has the "hot hand". What matters is not what success we have now, but sustaining it when it's important. It's important at the end of the season and especially the playoffs, but having a fast start doesn't actually help you when you've lost a couple in a row in late September.
I love that we're looking good right now, but as JB said, Seattle was a last place team until mid-season last year. We can be a top 3 team until midseason this year. We need to sustain results and hitting 5 in a row would be a great test of it, especially at somewhere as difficult as Orlando.
Sean Spence: I'm just now sitting down and reading through this madness.
Ruben: Something something madness something something Sparta.
John: Something Something Reddit Monkeys.
Sean: It's not just the league table that says we're good— take a look at the advanced metrics put together by American Soccer Analysis that have us as a top-third team in xG; we're also behind only Toronto in terms of outperforming xG, which generally has to do with luck— finishing and penalties.
The website is a goldmine if you're not a grad-level statistician capable of really digging into hard-core analytics work, and instead (for example) just a person who wants some unbiased shit to quote.
James Bridget: Sexy.
John: I didn't do too well in stats this semester.
Ruben: I'd like some more Defensive metrics, tho.
John: Oh yeah, defense is really hard to quantify.
Sean: I lurk on a bunch of analytics discussions, and defensive metrics are in a real hothouse state right now. Some crazy attempts to quantify decisions about positioning, etc.
In re: 'most of the season is meaningless' IMO, it's sooooo much better to come down the stretch with some points to give rather than desperately imagining 'now all we need to do is win seven out of eight to guarantee fifth.'
James Bridget: Agreed. We were arguably one of the best teams in MLS in the second half of the 2013 season. But we were so goddamn awful in the first half that we couldn't get over the red line.
Sean: Good god that was frustrating - you could just see the team running out of gas with about five games left. Surged up to second and then pfffffffffft
John: I remember sitting at the radio station during one of my first shows just watching NYRB running up the score on us.
James Bridget: Yup. And if we did just a teensy bit better earlier in the season then that stumbling at the end would've been less of a worry. Maybe that NYRB game wouldn't have been a do-or-die thing for us.
Instead, we had games like that 4-1 loss at home to fucking Chivas.
Sean: Losing that home-and-home to the Phunions— fuck my life that shit was awful.
James Bridget: Oh god
Sean: I think it was 1-0 each way - complete bottom-feeder kickball.
So, yeah, let's keep winning instead.
John: Now we have a "Magee" since the beginning of the season.
James Bridget: I'm totally okay with winning a bunch now, having kind of a crap October, and then qualifying for the playoffs anyway.
Sean: OMG I HAVE A RELEVANT QUESTION.
James Bridget: Sorry, only irrelevant questions here. Them's the rules.
Sean: How are the Fire going to cope without Dax the next two games? I mean, the obvious answer is 'plug in Juninho,' but I still think it's some adjustment. McCarty's ability to ghost-out two or three options makes everybody look maybe a bit better on the break than they really are. On the other hand, maybe Basti just shape-shifts into that dude and lets Juninho play his natural 8.5 game. What do y'all think?
John: Exactly that. Basti doesn't need to be our biggest offensive provider and Juninho probably feels a bit inhibited by that sort of player being around. Basti is a gosh dang professional and I think that he knows how to morph into different roles at that position. He may have a preferred one, but he knows how to play others.
Option #2 is let Drew Conner start in his natural position. A lot of people in St. Louis were talking about his ability to pass and we've seen some Dax like moves when he slots into CM (his natural position) and if Polster is our RB going forward, I don't want another hot CM sitting any more than he has to.
Option #3 is Polster for about the same reasons as Conner
Option #4 is DJ, because I like DJ.
James Bridget: I think Juninho is probably our best option.
Can I just say, this is a very good problem to have. "Oh dear, we won't have Dax McCarty for two games, whatever will we do? Oh well, guess we better start Juninho instead."
Ruben: JBG is right, our midfield sitch is an embarrassment of riches. Relatively speaking.
James Bridget: And like, some people will say "well that's great and all but having all your squad quality in central midfield will only carry you so far." And normally I would agree, EXCEPT we also have Niko and Accam and they are just ripping other teams apart.
John: And that's not all our squad quality! That's just where we're deepest. Though we aren't really wanting for attackers either.
Ruben: Depending on your opinion of Matt Doyle, he believes the best strength you can have in MLS are CM and CD. I think he's right to an extent. It's a midfielder’s league, and a good CM base goes a long way.
John: I like having a solid CM core, because that's the heart of the team. And CBs are really important to keeping balls out. They're more important to that end than FBs and GKs.
James Bridget: And coincidentally, if we're going to upgrade the squad over the summer, CB seems like the obvious place to look at.
John: We have no depth back there.
James Bridget: ... that's what he said?
3-5-2 seems to be popular right now.
GK; New player, Kappelhof, Meira; Vincent, Basti, Dax, Juninho, Polster; Accam, Solignac.
James Bridget: No Niko?
Jack Kelly: Yooohoooo! Niko is the man and should always be in the team. Don't want to hear that ever again.
Ruben: Typo. I Meant Niko. (Leaving it as is for people to rage at in the comments.)
John: Take out Soli and put Niko back in there!
Jack: Also, the 3-5-2 is not something for the squad we have. We don't have high-quality-enough players in the most important positions for that formation.
Aka we lack dynamic center halves and we don't possess anything close to a real wing back.
John: Exactly. I always like to see different teams do different things. Following a formation trend is stupid if you don't got the personnel.
James Bridget: Who needs angry commenters when you have us! #NikoGate
James Bridget: Wailing! Gnashing of teeth!
Ruben: (He mad)
Jack: We're no better than the moms in Dance Moms!
James Bridget: Hey now. Let's not say things we can't take back.
Jack: EL OH EL
John: Slow down, Jack. Please be reasonable!
Jack: Also, have we talked about his yet?
James Bridget: You mean our own Teutonic Titan being named the 68th!! most famous athlete in ze vorld?
Jack: I LOVE the bit about him and Merkel. I had no idea about that.
John: Surprised Ana isn't higher than him. She was pretty dominant. Surprised she didn't even make the list.
James Bridget: Sexism is a hell of a drug?
Jack: Also, Cleveland looked good for Tulsa. Definitely not MLS good. But he put in a good performance. It's probably best he didn't get a shot with the Fire this season, though. That would have been a disaster.
James Bridget: Alright, last question:
What would YOU drink out of the Brimstone Cup?
John: I had some Tostitos out of the Brimstone Cup once.
James Bridget: Tostitos are not a liquid.
John: Well that's what was in it.
James Bridget: Was there anything on the Tostitos?
John: I think they were lime flavored. This was the 2012 season.
James Bridget: No salsa? No nacho cheese?
John: I'm fairly bland when it comes to food.
James Bridget: I guess that's fair.
I would drink LaCroix, because I am an insufferable hipster fuck.
Ruben: I'd drink Green River.
Sean: I'd like to pretend I'd drink something clever— a Schlabst!— but it'd probably wind up being the Champagne of Beers, Miller High Life.