As fun as last Saturday was for Sporting Kansas City getting their 2011 MLS season off to a flying start with a positive result and 3-2 win at Chivas USA, in professional sports you simply can't linger too long on a good feeling. And, thanks to technical director/head coach Peter Vermes, the team enjoyed last Saturday's victory for approximately 12 hours before it was full steam ahead in preparation for this coming weekend's trip to The Windy City to take on Chicago Fire.
I traded three questions with Hot Time In Old Town, SB Nation's Chicago Fire blog, editor Tweed Thornton about each blogger's respective team in an effort to better understand each's next opponent. The guys over there do a great job covering the MLS club, Chicago soccer in general, Chicago history and the city's MISL team, Chicago Riot, if you're into that sort of thing. You can check out my answers to their questions right here. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the weekend's game and/or a little bit of good-natured smack talk.
1. Coming into the season, Chicago planned to implement a 3-5-2 system, and did so to start the season opener against FC Dallas. That didn't go over so hot in the first half, so they quickly switched back to a convential 4-4-2. Why the 3-5-2 in the first place, and will we see them give it another shot this week?
The coaching staff thinks the 3-5-2 will work well thanks to the speed of right back Jalil Anibaba and the overall talent of goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The defensive unit that also includes left back Cory Gibbs and center back Josip Mikulic played almost every single minute together in pre-season. There's no doubt it's in Johnson-Anibaba-Mikulic-Gibbs we trust.
Where it gets tricky is Marco Pappa's role in all of this. The MLS All-Star played last year almost exclusively on the left wing but Chicago needs him to embrace a leadership role in central midfield if this particular group of guys will become elite. The jury on whether or not Pappa is 100% ready for this role is still out. By playing a 3-5-2 it forces Pappa into a CM position with Gonzalo Segares playing LM. Logan Pause plays far back in a DM position and either Baggio Husidic or Mike Videira will play above Pause in another DM position. Neither Pause, Husidic, or Videira have the offensive skills to be a true catalyst. Patrick Nyarko rounds out the midfield by playing RM.
In a 4-4-2, Segares moves back to LB, Gibbs shifts to CB, and Marco Pappa shifts over to LM. This is not the end of the world because Gaston Puerari starts up top and he is more of a withdrawn forward but he doesn't have the pure passing skills to be a No. 10 type player. A 4-4-2 can keep the team competitive but I believe a 3-5-2 with this group of players could turn into something really special. Carlos de los Cobos doesn't want to necessarily take some of the punches that come with the learning curve of the 3-5-2 so the 4-4-2 is an in-game plan B. There's a lot going on here but I think you can see the team's long-term success really hinges on Marco Pappa's ability to step it up and advance to the next level.
Questions about Chicago's new star player and how they are dealing with the losses of some club legends, after the jump...
2. Since the game against Dallas last week, all we've heard about coming out of Chicago is the recently signed Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves. Can you just give us a little information on him, his game and why he was so successful in his MLS debut?
It's interesting to hear that. Chaves' fellow Uruguyan teammate Gaston Puerari should be getting just as much attention but I suppose that just goes to show you that if you score the goals, you get the acclaim. Chaves is a pure striker who shows a knack to slip through defenses with his wiry 5'10" and 150lbs frame. He is 25 years old and has already played professional soccer in Uruguay and Mexico for seven years. Chaves was actually teammates with Gaston Puerari before when they both played for the Montevideo Wanderers.
His first MLS goal came from a rebound off Kevin Hartman. Chaves comes from out of nowhere, Hartman practically places the ball at Chaves' feet and instantly regrets it, no FC Dallas player picked Chaves up. Chaves had a chance to score a second goal when there was a somewhat of a scrum in the second half. A mass of bodies were in the box, Pappa back heels the ball to no one in mind... somehow Chaves gets a handle on it. He launched the ball too hard and it hit the top cross bar but his positioning was outstanding. He had Hartman beat, Chaves just put too much on the ball. The last time the Fire had a player who scored ten goals or more in a season was 2004. I put good money on Diego Chaves breaking that drought. It won't be pretty and he will annoy the hell of the opposition. I'm looking forward to it.
3. Much like Kansas City, Chicago are a team coming off roster turnover of some extremely long-tenured, experienced players. Defender C.J. Brown and forward Brian McBride both retired after the 2010 season. How has the team coped with those losses, and who are some guys stepping into those enormous shoes that have to be filled?
The loss of C.J. Brown definitely stings. He was the last Chicago Fire original. However, there has not been a lot of that ‘fill shoes' talk around the team in this off-season. 2010 was not a pleasant year for Chicago. Besides not making the playoffs, the team chemistry became toxic. Players did not seem to be giving their all. You heard rumors about the locker room. As much as we miss some of the long-term players like C.J. Brown, John Thorrington, Wilman Conde, Brian McBride, etc, I think fans are generally excited to a see a new chapter written. That or there was so much loss, all the loss just kind of numbed the fan base to the idea of individual players leaving.
Again in terms of filling those shoes, the dynamics have changed for 2011. It's a team with half of the roster brand new to Chicago, there's a new attitude in town and more casual fans are just trying to get a handle of who is playing at all. I suspect I'll have a better answer for you when we meet again in June. If the team is winning, we won't hear a word. If the team is losing, there will be choirs of fans singing the woes of what has happened to the Chicago Fire? I won't necessarily be out of their ranks either.