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Roundtable: Feels Bad, Man

The Hot Time crew unpacks two suboptimal results from the Portland Doubleheader

MLS: Portland Timbers at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ruben Tisch: So, The Fire got their first point of the season in what was another Jackal and Hyde performance between the first and second halves. Why does it take the Fire a half to do anything good? And in general what were your thoughts on the performance?

The first half thing is concerning to me because a it’s a carryover from last year, and Paunovic hasn’t been able to fix the issue.

James Bridget Gordon: Yeah, the Fire are way too slow on the jump. We’re playing very reactive soccer, which isn’t great philosophically and it’s clearly not getting us the points we need.

Adnan Bašić: I would’ve been happier with the point if the Fire hadnt lost the first two games of the year. I honestly can’t remember the last Fire game where they started very well either.

They scored first against Philly but that goal was a result of poor defending more than anything else.

Ruben: It’s like they come into the games without a gameplan, Does he not have an assistant who watches tape? Or reports on the other teams?

It honestly seems like they come to game day every week having not done their homework and unprepared for class.

James Bridget: Having a solid gameplan ahead of time won’t win you games, because no plan survives contact with the opposition, but it can definitely help you not lose games.

Adnan: Pauno doesn’t seem like someone who gives the most rousing pregame team talk either.

James Bridget: Which is fine, honestly. Not every head coach needs to be a great orator. But you have to have some way to get the most out of your players. Pauno isn’t doing that right now. And yeah, I realize this isn’t an ideal situation for him and maybe he’s doing the best he can with what he’s got. But it’s just not enough.

Adnan: I thought the Katai substitution was interesting. He was on a yellow, and was looking increasingly frustrated, so I understand taking him off to prevent a possible red. Campos did well, so it worked in a way, but it was a risky move

Ruel Gutierrez Apostol: The first half was a mess. Why was Basti playing in the back?

James Bridget: My read-- and this is largely speculative on my part-- was that Basti just did what he thought the team needed him to do. He saw we were shaky in the back and decided to drop into the sweeper role.

What’s interesting is that he was clearly told to play as the #10, and he did this anyway. It’s not controversial to say that huge DP stars in MLS operate on a different set of rules, and Bastian Schweinsteiger can be insubordinate in a way that Elliot Collier never could. But I do think it points to some discord in the squad.

Ruben: He did that against Kansas City too. The biggest problem I have with this is that it forces Tony Tchani forward, and well....

James Bridget: Yeah. Like I get it, Basti knows what he’s doing and he knows what adjustments need to be made on the fly. And I suspect Pauno knows the deal well enough to not force the issue. But it still creates a situation where the players don’t know who to take their instructions from.

Meanwhile, Pauno is left obliquely complaining about a lack of quality players in his press conferences and basically telling fans that “tough times are ahead” because he can only get so much out of this squad. He might be right, but that’s a hell of a position to take.

I get the sense that Pauno is in a difficult position and it’s becoming harder to cope with or be diplomatic about. And I’m definitely sympathetic. But also, this is the job.

What do we think of Pauno’s “get ready for a difficult season ahead” comments?

Ruben: I think it was completely political. He can read the room as much as the next guy, and as obvious it is to us that NRod had a failed offseason, He’s in the meetings. He knows just how bad and humiliating the Quintero situation was for NRod. And he’s setting himself up to not go with NRod if this doesn’t work out.

James Bridget: I mean surely there’s no version of this story where N-Rod gets fired and Pauno stays on, though. Right? Like, shit always rolls downhill. Obviously there are arguments to be made for making CYA moves even if you know your position will ultimately become untenable.

Ruben: There is one. Last place in the league, and win the Open Cup. Because the Open Cup is all coaching and player management, especally when it gets MLS on MLS action.

James Bridget: That might have to be an Agree To Disagree thing. I see how you got to that conclusion but I don’t really buy it.

Ruben: That’s fair, but stranger things have happened FO-wise in MLS.

James Bridget: Oh, sure.

I’ve really tried to be fair and understanding of N-Rod this past offseason. I wanted to trust the process. But man, we really screwed ourselves with the Quintero thing. This team is just not set up for success right now.

And I’m not sure what could’ve been done differently? It really seems like Quintero’s camp was telling the Fire one thing and telling other clubs something else, and they made it seem like they were genuinely interested in Chicago when it was really just leverage to get a better deal somewhere else. I can definitely sympathize with N-Rod trying to make a deal based on what was ultimately false info and bad faith negotiating from Quintero’s people, but also maybe he should’ve done some due diligence?

I don’t know. Feels bad, man.

Adnan: I love N-Rod on a personal basis, so I tend to give him the benefit of doubt regardless, but he really needed to have a back up plan in action (even if that meant overpaying for Nyguyen).

Ruben: I mean if we land Ben Arfa, alls well that ends well or something. But really, this feels like the Bulls in that Chicago as a destination is just an attractive enough destination to spook other teams into being more generous.

Adnan: Ben Arfa is a dream scenario. But we also need a proven MLS centerback to partner with Kap. Dean isn’t good enough, I don’t think Campbell is good enough to start, and Lillard is still an unknown quantity. And the fault of not getting a better centerback is purely on N-Rod.

Ruben: I think Campbell is good enough. Well, he was before his injury.

James Bridget: I would much rather be in a situation where Campbell was depth and spot-starting.

I was getting ready to board the Liam Ridgewell Hype Train but then I mentioned it in the MLS Hatewatch a week or so back and someone from Stumptown Footy was all “lol you can have him.” So, uh, maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Ruben: Sébastien Bassong doesn’t have a club and Kappelhof just got his greencard. Pull him off the trash heap.

Adnan: Campbell is ideal backup. Sjöberg made his first appearance of the season against Philly, and I think he’d be a great partner for Kap.

Ruben: Tjorbjorn?

Saul Garcia: Late here, but the Fire showed some positive signs this week. One being Sanchez is not terrible, just an ok keeper. On Ridgewell it seems Timbers fans can’t wait to get rid of him.

Adnan: On the plus side I’m really starting to like the home kit. I bought one and it is well worth the money.

James Bridget: I actually want to push back on that Sanchez assessment. I understand that he had some good moments. I understand that his defenders aren’t making his job easier. But the fact of the matter is, he’s shipped eight goals in three games. That’s just not good enough.

Adnan: I think fans are too lenient with Sanchez because of how bad Lampson was last year.

James Bridget: Yeah and there’s still this vocal minority that wants to shit on Sean Johnson so badly that they’ll deem literally anybody an improvement. Which is stupid, but that crowd isn’t particularly interested in facts, so.

Adnan: Ugh imagine not wanting Johnson back in goal. He had yet another star performance for NYCFC against SJ. Not only we got rid of him but we made a direct rival much better.

James Bridget: Yup.

Ruben: Sean was a personality clash with him and the brand new manager. Him leaving had nothing to do with his on field performance.

James Bridget: Oh sure. I’m just talking about that Certain Segment Of Fire Fans who didn’t like him for entirely stupid self-serving reasons and are still needling him even after he’s having great games with another team. A lot of them are the same people who say that what Alan Gordon did was in the past and we should let bygones be bygones. It’s interesting to see who gets a pass from these people and why.

Ruben: And I agree with you about Sanchez. Defensive communication is a lot about the goalkeeper too, because he’s the only player who sees the attack coming. He has to be better in all facets.

b: So do you guys think we’ll see McLain soon if Sanchez makes mistakes? I personally don’t think so cause I think NRod and Pauno have a lot of faith in him.

James Bridget: I hope not. McLain isn’t ready for primetime. If we’re seriously having to consider starting him, we’re in a really bad place.

Ruben: Yep.

RJ: Diego Campos on the other hand is promising.

James Bridget: Alright before we change shifts-- how are we feeling about next weekend’s game vs That Yellow Team?

Ruben: Not terrible, but not great. Can Tchani not start? Please?

James Bridget: I’m fine with that but who replaces him?

Ruben: Conner, or Campos with moving Katai into the middle.

Adnan: Lillard in for Dean, Conner in for Tchani, Campos in for Collier. I know for a fact Zardes will score, but so will someone for the Fire. 1-1 or 2-2.

James Bridget: Two points from a possible twelve. Oof.

Ruben: Speaking from behind the wall meme: Collier is fine.

Adnan: Collier is fine, but he doesn’t really create anything, and we need creators.

I wonder how he’d do starting up top if anything ever happened to Niko.

James Bridget: Given our injury problems we may well find out soon.

Ok, shift change!

And wow, we have a lot to talk about.

First let’s just focus on the game itself. I feel like the Red Stars really should’ve gotten something out of this game. But maybe not, maybe Portland was always going to find a win. I don’t know. Thoughts?

Adriana Hooper: 2 pretty big mental errors kind of gifted the Thorns 2 goals so I would say, Chicago seemed to hold themselves a lot better this week but those were pretty big mistakes. Otherwise Portland wasn’t generating nearly as much.

Still think shape and formation needs some big work and still lacking a bite up top. But injury holes are huge and I think that was the difference in my mind. Those players are here and we have a much different game. But thems the brakes this week unfortunately.

Claire Watkins: I hate it when Alyssa Naeher has games like this one. She’s so good but sometimes it just gets so weird. (edited)

James Bridget: I want to say it’s a bit like Simon Mignolet but that’s not fair to her, she’s way more solid in goal than him.

Claire: She’s a better keeper than mignolet but I like the comparison when it comes to “...what just happened” moments. But also the team relied on her a A LOT on Saturday. She was their get out of jail free card except it turned more into a get out of jail conceding one goal card.

James Bridget: Yeah.

Claire: In general I thought the Red Stars really took it to the Thorns, which was great considering how conservative last week felt, and it hurt not to get at least a point.

James Bridget: Agreed. I also feel reluctant to criticize them too much, because they are very obviously not at full strength. If anything the fact that the Red Stars managed to stay in the game and only lose by one goal to the defending champions while only playing at like 60-70% strength is pretty impressive.

Claire: Sarah Gorden brought it.

Sandra Herrera: It was very cold. But very not boring. Hooray for small successes! And cheers to Chicago Red Stars soccer back at Toyota Park.

Sarah Gorden brought it and made sure you knew it. Thought the team in general got stronger as the game went on, which is a huge plus considering they played from behind so early.

I think the fact that Naeher can have a weird game and yet still be considered the MVP of Chicago's defense, says.. a lot.

Adriana: Agreed on both of the above about Naeher. Sometimes for me it seems she’s like BOOM, then you’re like uh what? But she had to bail them out a lot last year too.

And on the game overall in that aspect, not at full strength, which is tough for the season as it is anyways but a lot of players are gone. I thought they looked a bit more aggressive like I said this game too. And really should be frustrated not to have a point like was said above.

Claire: After a week of conservative play across the board it felt like such a breath of fresh air. So yeah Chicago went down but they went down fighting.

James Bridget: Is there anything they could’ve done differently? (Of the things that were in their control, obviously.)

Adriana: There were some various obvious errors that they definitely could’ve been cleaned up. Naeher whiffing on that easy Sinc gift. Johnson missing her mark before that. Little things that are kind of normal for this time of year but service is obviously still an issue too.

Claire: I think Sam Johnson and Katie Naughton have yet to put a full performance together that has fully put me at ease.

I’m not sure the midfield and forwards are worth commenting on since they’re so depleted but I think Arin Gilliland did a hell of a lot of work on Saturday and her work rate is one to aspire to. And I believe Danny Colaprico that she got shoved into the ball on that penalty. That kind of oddity isn’t her thing.

Adriana: Depleted but I feel like they’ve at least got to be able to put a little more together than they are but again. Only 2 games in and still key injuries so I hesitate as well on pretty much any team.

Poor Danny, shorty gets the short end of those sticks every time lol.

James Bridget: So I’m reticent to talk about this but I feel like we have to a little bit. In the postgame press conference, Rory Dames threw one of his players under the bus. He doesn’t name the player, but it’s not too hard to figure out. [Readers, go check out this week’s episode of South Side Trap to hear Dames’ comments. It’s out now on Podbean and iTunes and we’ll have a post up later today.]

I’m not feeling great about this.

Adriana: Definitely not feeling great about it either. Think that’s something you talk with your player in the locker room about and definitely not out front publicly to the media by any means. Doesn’t create good team morale.

Claire: I think for me it just opened a can of worms that I don’t necessarily see an answer to. Equal parts ‘I would love to move on and talk about soccer’ and ‘I think this was a move that’s worth discussing.’

Feels bad.

James Bridget: That seems the be the running theme this week.

Claire: It’s adds insult to injury that after a tough loss Chicago fans just have to sit for two weeks with those post-game comments on the brain, but I’m also trying to choose to be positive. They’ll figure it out, or they won’t, and we’ll adjust accordingly.

When it comes to that particular post-game instance, I’m not sure what we take away from it other than ‘ok, well, we know this is a problem now’. It doesn’t particularly help with analysis, or planning for the future, it just opens up the possibility for off-field issues.

It all just depends on who Dames was trying to actually communicate with, whether players, fans, or media, with those quotes. And with a lot of these instances I think it makes the most sense to wait and see what happens next.

Adriana: Agreed. Definitely something to keep an eye on into this break.

Sandra: For me, that’s what’s most discouraging. That despite the loss, the Red Stars as a whole made some strides in their week 2 match up. There were some noticeable mistakes, but weren’t going to let that keep them from competing.

Good performances from Gorden and Naughton, and seeing Gilliland be an attacking option up top was huge, I think.

Claire: I believe, I believe that, I believe that we will get some starters back in April

If I’m honest I think the season really starts on April 14th.

Sandra: Wait, you mean these two games AREN’T preseason?

Adriana: I’m just going to nap until May and then we’ll probably have full teams lol

James Bridget: I kinda want to nap until after the World Cup to be quite honest.

Adriana: I’m down, I love to sleep lol

Claire: Let me tell you this week of sports has made me very Tired. Congrats everyone we deserve this break.

Sandra: I need you all to get lots of chill and lots of sleep for me since I’ll be headed to Texas to cover the friendly between USA and Mexico. But I will definitely be sleeping after all that is done.

James Bridget: Heck yeah I’m going to sleep an extra three hours this weekend.

... wait, no, I have a chess tournament in less than two weeks. Dang it.

Claire: The sports, they wait for no soul.

James Bridget: Ask not for whom the sports toll.

It tolls... for thee.