Friday, April 06, 2007

Bobbie's Chicago Fire Preview

April is here and MLS season begins tomorrow. I'm actually excited as hell, mostly due to cabin fever but also because we get to play a normal home schedule this year so I won't have to deal with missing fully a third of the home matches due to fixture congestion. The core of the team remains unchanged for the most part, though there are several notable departures and arrivals via the draft and the Beckham rule. This season also marks the final chapter of Chris Armas' standout career as he's announced his retirement. Dave Sarachan is entering his fourth season as head coach. Last season a significant portion of the fan base were calling for his head after a lackluster start but after winning the team's fourth US Open Cup championship and narrowly missing a trip to MLS Cup after an extra time collapse in the second leg against New England, the 'Chan is guaranteed the support of the front office.


Tony Sanneh
Nate Jaqua
Andy Herron

Sanneh was brought in with a huge contract 2 seasons ago from the Crew to patrol the right flank but quickly broke down and didn't play much until the second portion of last season. When he took the field he was a revelation as a center back, with great lateral quickness allowing him to claim the middle position of the Fire's 3 man back line. He won over a good number of disgruntled fans through steady competent play and his calming influence on the back line was a major reason the team had as much success as they did. His contract was not renewed, he had surgery and joined the queue of washed up players talking about cashing huge checks with the LA Galaxy. Most likely his days as a regular contributor in MLS are over.

Jaqua and Herron, last season's first choice front line pairing when healthy, have both moved on. Herron was dealt to the Crew for a draft pick. Last season was the first that he truly made an impression here and he did score some spectacular goals, though I'll always remember him for choking a 1v1 with Dida in the Milan friendly, which would have put the Fire on top, 2-1.

Jaqua was allowed to leave by the Fire as his contract expired and he expressed a desire to play in Europe. Apparently LA is in Europe since he signed there and is expected to provide the target for Goldenball's Golden Balls from the flank. David will be in for a surprise when he finds that his new target forward doesn't head the ball well and would rather have it played to his feet. This paradox pretty well sums up Jaqua's game; the body of a target forward, the mentality of a right winger. Of course he doesn't have the ball skills, speed of defensive ability to play out there, but hey who's counting anyway? Jaqua when hot can be a devastating player but having probably seen 75% of his professional matches, I've only seen him hit this form for a 3 week period which, of course, ended in injury. Here's hoping that he's healthy this season and plays just well enough to keep Cobi Jones on the bench and help his team lose in the first round of the playoffs.


Pascal Bedrossian
Bakary Soumare
Osei Telesford
Cuauthemoc Blanco

Pascal Bedrossian is supposedly a talented left midfielder from France. He was signed last season as a partial allocation but only played about 15 minutes last year. Apparently he was having a hell of a preseason before getting hurt about 2 weeks ago. We don't really have a need at LM, but what the hell do I know about putting a team together? Also, it's worth noting that his friendship with Zinidine Zidane's brother is what led to all of the "Zidane to Fire" rumors that were floating around in January.

Soumare and Telesford are both rookies, products of this year's MLS Superdraft. Apparently Soumare is being converted to a defensive midfielder and has been compared (by whom?) to a young Patrick Vieria. If this is even remotely accurate and he makes the transition well we may have a longer term replacement for Chris Armas at the club.

Cuauthemoc Blanco- what more is there to say about this guy? By all accounts a skilled technician and a intense competitor, he's also easily the most disliked Mexican national player in the United States. Reactions to his signing were mixed to say the least- 5000 people showed up to welcome him at Toyota Park last Monday, the same day that I called the front office and threatened to cancel my season tickets. My lasting impression of him was seeing him melt down as the US beat Mexico in WC'02, at one point hacking Pablo Mastroeni to the ground then standing over him screaming. Still, he's widely loved in the Mexican population and his presence on the team may end up providing a significant attendance boost. Most Fire fans are willing to give him a fair shot, mostly because of the great example given by Hristo Stoichkov, another hot tempered play maker who came here and amazed the fans with his passion, his professionalism and his love for the organization. If Blanco conducts himself similarly (and plays well) I think most fans will warm to him quickly. If he loafs, hacks, spits, moans, etc, then let's just say we'll see what happens. I still have a huge reservations about this, but I can also point at this list of players who I absolutely hated until they joined my teams:

Eric "Jim Rome can suck my dick" Wynalda
AJ Pierzynski
Albert Belle
Jose Canseco


Most likely Sarachan will stick with the classic Fire system: 3-5-2 with 2 defensive midfielders. This is actually a bit misleading as he plays Logan Pause, a defensive midfielder, as a wingback, and the other wingback Ivan Guerrero can also play as a LB. On the defensive side we should see outstanding second year player Dasan Robinson and cagey veteran CJ Brown return to the starting lineup. The third spot will be up for grabs between Jim Curtin (great ball winner & size, terrible lateral movement) and Gonzalo Segares (outstanding rookie year, very spotty second season) with Telesford getting a look. In midfield we'll see Captain Chris Armas and Diego Gutierrez winning the balls in the middle. As previously mentioned we'll probably start with Pause and Gurrero out wide, and Sarachan will most likely give Justin Mapp the free role in which he shone last season. The front line is a bit thin with the departures of Jaqua and Herron, but US U21 striker Chad Barrett may finally be ready to claim the starting role. Chad plays a target forwards game; he's got decent height and a powerful frame and knows how to hold the ball up. His partner Chris Rolfe excels in the play maker role but is probably too small to play as a target forward, as we learned in the US/Mexico match last month. I suspect that the starting lineup will look something like this:

Robinson Brown Segares
Pause Armas Mapp Gutierrez Guerrero
Rolfe Barrett

By the season's end I'd like to see something like this:

Robinson Brown Segares
Bedrossian Armas Plotkin Mapp Guerrero
Blanco Barrett

This points out another reason why I'm not wild about the Blanco signing- with him on the pitch there's no place for Rolfe to play.


I'm going to make 2, the wildly optimistic one and the more realistic one.
1. The Fire play .500 ball until July comes and they have their midfield situation sorted out. Blanco arrives, the team erupts, the season sells out and we do the double, taking home the US Open Cup and MLS Cup.
2. Armas gets hurt, Blanco only plays half of his half season, attendance hovers around 15K, the team finished 5th in the East and misses the playoffs, Sarachan fired, Steve Guppy commits suicide, Peter Wilt rides in on his white horse and the team takes it all in '08.

I'm thinking #2 is more likely, though without the happy ending.

1 comment:

The Editor said...

Jaqua has apparently been attending the Sol Campbell School of Geography.