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Signal Intel: Blue Books, Big Things, and Blowing It

Fire hoping for a season sweep of nemesis New England tonight at Toyota Park

MLS: Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
This year’s Fire-Revs rivalry, in a single picture.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime collaborator Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket was kind enough to dig out his one-time pads and encrypt this missive from deep in heart of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. My responses to his questions can be found on TBM ... or below the fold here, if you’re one of those ‘I’ve already clicked here, dammit!’ types.

Hot Time: We're gonna start with an essay question, because like a lotta folks I went to college in Ningland and so I'm gonna inflict some blue-book-style pain. Your first question: Why isn't this team better? Please examine any and all structural, personnel or temperament issues preventing the Revs from moving past mediocrity in the recent past, taken to be the last five years.

The Bent Musket: *puts feet up, opens a Sam Adams...*

Let me, there is too much, let me sum up.

I'm not going to go back five years because, well, only three years ago the Revs were in an MLS Cup Final. Heck, even last year they were in the US Open Cup Final, so there's enough reason to believe that the Revs are not bad at soccer and are a pretty talented team.

I will focus instead on two issues. The first, the New England Revolution are streaky as hell. When they're scoring goals in bunches, they are one of the best and most dangerous teams in the league and can compete with anyone. When they're not scoring goals, they make the game of soccer look difficult and painful to play and watch. Sometimes this is the Revs own doing and sometimes it's just rotten luck. In 2016, the Revs hit so many posts and crossbars that they led MLS going away in that category.

Also, there are these guys called goalkeepers, in particular two of them, Andre Blake and Bill Hamid that are really, really good at stopping shots and ruin a ton of good New England performances with multiple ridiculous saves. Somewhere there are analytics that say the Revs offense should be significantly better than where it is right now and there are a lot of easy reasons to see why. Diego Fagundez didn't score for the first few months of the year and he's the Revs most accurate shooter this year and arguably having his best season as a professional player. Kelyn Rowe STILL hasn't scored yet this year for reasons only the soccer gods can explain.

This year the Revs are kind of middle of the road again...the offensive numbers aren't bad but they're inflated by a few big scorelines against bad teams. The defense hasn't been great but has improved since last year with Antonio Delamea anchoring the backline now and he's hopefully going to be a significant player for the Revs for years to come.

And that brings me to my second point...the Revs spent most of this offseason getting centerbacks because last year they didn't have any other than Jose Goncalves. The year before they were trying to replace Jermaine Jones at holding mid and succeed with Xavier Kouassi and Gershon Koffie. However, these signings are all made in a reactionary way, meaning a significant hole in the starting lineup appears and, rather than being proactive in the previous window, the New England front office waits seemingly until the last minute to add players.

I don't want to bring up angry thoughts about the 23-man roster the Revs started with at the beginning of the year. This has been bolstered by the return of Koffie on loan and new centerback Claude Dielna but it's not enough. While other teams have several players out on loan in the USL or on a separate full USL II team, New England and Rochester ended their affiliation this year and the Revs have sent out only a few players on short term loans. Having a thin roster in my opinion hampers these younger players ability to get game minutes aside from the USOC and every year we wonder about long term roster plans for beyond the starting lineup.

Why aren't the Revs better? I don't know. But they should be. This isn't a bad team, with bad tactics or a bad coach. But is this a great team, with great tactics and a great coach? No, but in the East this should be a playoff team and likely a playoff team that hosts at least one game.

HT: What is Kei Kamara's spirit animal?

TBM: Kei Kamara doesn't need a spirit animal. He's Kei Freaking Kamara. He is his own spirit animal that has an endless supply of great socks.

HT: Just as the Fort starts filling in before the next home game (because this shit ain't happening before today's game, nossir), you are transfixed in a beam of pink light. You are enveloped in a sense of oneness with the universe, and with everything and everyone around you - you understand Kei Kamara, you know into the secret heart of his pain; you understand everything, and, understanding, forgive everything. You get a sense of a large presence, a vastly powerful something, but do not feel threatened even as the great power turns its gaze upon you; you exist as crystal for a moment, transparent and beautiful - before it says, "Hey, dummy. I've got a one-time deal. You name a terrible import the Revs brought in the last two seasons, and I'll replace him like-for-like with the guy you *hoped* you were getting. But you only get one shot! Who is it?"

TBM: Okay...I am not going to go back to an imported player, because this implies the Revs actually sign new players and there's not enough new signings to choose from for this question. Xavier Kouassi has been oft injured but solid and Benjamin Angoua is often undone by a single error or two and perhaps hasn't fully settled in to MLS. Gershon Koffie was a god send last year and miraculously came back on loan and I hope he's around long term if the Revs can hold on to him. Kei is Kei and I love him even if he's not putting up Columbus type numbers. All of these players are far from "busts" but at the same time they aren't the game changing DP player either that everyone else in MLS seems to find all the time.

Instead, I will flashback to the 2015 MLS Playoffs and a Jermaine Jones cross that hit DC United defender Sean Franklin's hand. There was no whistle, Jones ran a long way over to Mark Geiger and we know how that story ends.

So let's go back and change history. Let's say Geiger does point to the spot and the Revs convert and force extra time. Maybe the win and go onto the East semifinals, maybe they don't. But there's still a better chance that Jones doesn't get traded in that offseason and there's no six game suspension either. Do the Revs start off with a 2W-3L-7D record last year? Do they beat Philly outright to make the 6th spot in the East instead of losing on goal differential? I have no idea, but that was a pivotal moment for the Revs two offseasons ago and they haven't recovered. They were late bringing in Jones' replacement (Xavier Kouassi signed a pre-contract and would've joined the roster in the summer but got hurt, hence the Koffie trade) and were even later in finding a centerback to pair with Jose Goncalves. Now the Revs might've replaced JoGo with Delamea, but we're still looking for the 2nd CB and AJ Soares last played for the Revs in MLS Cup 2014.

I said earlier I don't know what the long term goal/plan is for the Revs because this implies they have one at all. I don't think they were prepared for a roster after the Jermaine Jones trade, but 2014 Jermaine Jones turned an solid but not great team into a top MLS team. And that attacking core from the 2014 MLS Cup Final are all still in New England for the most part.

So why aren’t the Revs better? Oh, you asked me that already...

TBM: was the All-Star Game? Cause Chicago hosted it and all, was there a buzz in the city for the game? Having a good Chicago Fire team must've helped tremendously.

HT: It was a thing! It was a big Thing! There was soccer in Soldier Field again, which was awesome! It was meaningless, which is less so!

There was definitely a buzz around the game, what with one of the three biggest clubs in football history in town. And it's doubtless true that having a good team to market should help in the always-difficult lift of getting some of those lookie-loos from the All-Star Game to make the drive down to Bridgeview. But if these games have a real impact in the soccer marketplace, it would be measured in the weeks and months to come. That said, we may get some walk-up bump tonight from the ASG - buzz is buzz.

TBM: I know there was the Gold Cup and all, but the Fire haven't won in over a month but they also haven't played at home since July. Is this three game winless streak concerning or just a brutal stretch in the calendar?

HT: Ehh, it's just a tough stretch, in my opinion. Three games on the road in three tough places - Portland, the rhombus in NYC, and Kansas City yielded only one point. What's more concerning for me is that Chicago, without a steady diet of Dax and Basti in deep midfield, have started leaking goals like crazy. I expect the Fire to come out especially focussed on keeping a clean sheet today. There are areas of concern, of course. Brandon Vincent's injury has exposed the relative lack of depth along the Chicago back line, although Patrick Doody has deputized surprisingly well.

TBM: How pissed off is David Accam right now and is he playing this weekend? Will he every play for Chicago again because I'd be fine with that on a personal level...guy absolutely burns us every game...

HT: I should stipulate that I have no direct knowledge of David's mental state, as Hot Time are not welcome in the press spaces around the Fire, and we are forbidden to contact players directly. So, while all of this is my very best guess as to what's going on, parts of it are purest speculation.

That said, David has to be furious with his (mis-)treatment at the hands of Velko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez. Accam has made it clear from the first day that his goal is to use MLS as a stepping-stone to a move to a UEFA side. That's not controversial - it's commonplace. The front office dithered over an extension and Paunovic started trimming his minutes, a manipulation that David has shredded by making the Fire a better team every time he gets a chance on the field. Now David can just play out the string and sign wherever he wants in January, or he can get panic-sold now by the Wonder Twins since even they must realize what a hash they've made of this situation. If Accam isn't in the starting XI, we will know conclusively that the Paunovic/Rodriguez 'two-headed monster' is determinedly jamming at least one of those heads in its own ass out of misplaced pride.

TBM: Have any predictions for us?

HT: I'm going to choose the light here. I'm going to believe that Velko Paunovic is emotionally mature enough not to take David's ambition personally, and that he starts his best XI. If that happens, I expect the Fire to replicate the 3-0 pasting from earlier this season.

lineup (4-2-3-1): Lampson; Doody, Meira, Kappelhof, Polster; McCarty, Schweinsteiger; Accam, de Leeuw, Solignac; Nikolic.