It's time once again to walk across the field and talk to the supporters of our next opponents. This weekend, we've got the Chicago Fire. Here to help us get ready for the big road match is Sean Spence, the editor-in-chief of Hot Time in Old Town, our sister SB Nation blog that covers the Fire.
If anyone can tell us about the Chicago Fire, it's HTIOT. You can check out my answers to their questions here.
Who are three Chicago players that Orlando City fans should know about?
Sean Spence: Harrison Shipp: Last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up has taken his game up a notch in 2015. Look for Shipp to play as an enganche between midfield and attack. His immaculate first touch and growing vision are a very different tool set than the average American attacker.
Joevin Jones: The Trinidadian has been the find of the off-season, sparkling all along the Fire's left flank. Jones' surges from the left are well-timed and persuasive. He combines well, covers well, and has something extra when the ball gets around the area.
Matt Polster: As important as the more-heralded parts of the roster, it's rookie Polster's play which has made the Men in Red's midfield coherent after years in the desert, following Pavel Pardo's retirement. Polster's incredible strength on the ball is easy to see, but watch more closely and you'll see a guy who battles with guile as well as power. He's also a solid passer, fantastic at switching the ball.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation
SS: That's an interesting question, and one we've debated at some length. We can say this: The Fire play with four in the back, with Jones on the left the more attacking of the fullbacks. Matt Polster is paired with someone in the center of midfield -- the composition of that pairing varying as tactics and circumstances dictate. (It could be whims, prophecies from ancient tomes, divinations from blood rites -- we're not sure, honestly).) Shipp and Shaun Maloney are placed at various points in the formation, points which indicate their defensive responsibilities rather than actual places they'll attack from. David Accam plays high on the left, pulling at the defense like taffy. And Shipp, Maloney and Kennedy Igboananike flow into the gaps thus created to make things happen.
This team doesn't have a preferred style of play, it seems. They've shown an ability to keep the ball, but haven't become obsessed with the idea; when the opposition offers the counter (or seems likely to), they'll try that, too. They press opportunistically but lack the fervor and conditioning to make that a hallmark of their style. The Fire, through 11 games, are intelligent, pragmatic, but not tremendously accomplished.
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?
SS: The Fire have created chances in bulk game after game for the last several games, out-creating and out-passing their opponents for the last six games on the trot. They'll go 20 minutes, spinning mesmerizing webs around foes, Polster recycling the ball, Shipp and Maloney playing clever touches, the runs immaculate ... and then a chance will come, and someone will scoop it out for a throw. Defense snuffs out a probing attack, midfield cycles it back, ball switches back and forth as the runs dart in, then the final ball is lovely, and the last touch sends it into the 18th row.
So, yeah -- the weaknesses, so far, are finishing. And finishing. With a side of finishing.
What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?
SS: We expect the club to strive to be the best in the league, best in the USA, best in the world; to be transparent in its dealings with fans, players and the public; to honor the concepts of Tradition, Honor and Passion in its dealings with the league office, current and former employees, supporters, detractors and those not already mentioned. We expect the Chicago Fire to represent the greatest city on earth in every way one can conceive.
We also want Sepp Blatter to step down as head of FIFA, so riiiiiiiight. What a frickin' dream.
Realistically, we'd like the team to make the playoffs this year, and we'd like to hear a plan for the future beyond corporate-speak platitudes.
What is your projected starting XI and match prediction?
SS: I am predicting a rest for Joevin Jones, Matt Polster and Harry Shipp after huge minutes in last two games.
Lineup (4-2-3-1): Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Adailton, Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Gehrig; Razvan Cocis, Chris Ritter; David Accam, Guly do Prado, Michael Stephens; Kennedy Igboananike.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire.
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Big thanks to Sean for helping us get to know more about our new foes.