Orlando City is now 1-1 under Jason Kreis after Sunday’s festival of free Seattle runners, which probably still has Joe Bendik waking up in a cold sweat every night. The Lions need three points badly in just about every match, so of course they now go on the road where they’ve won a single game this season, in the very first away clash of the year (at New York City FC).
The Lions and Fire drew 1-1 in the first meeting of the season, way back in March. Orlando City drew first blood very early but allowed a tying goal not long after. And that was it for the scoring despite Chicago going down a man around the half hour mark with two posts keeping the lads in purple from claiming all three point. Can the Lions get that elusive road win and take the season series?
How has this Chicago Fire roster evolved since the two teams met in the second week of the season and how have the changes affected the team’s play?
Jeff Engelhardt: A good amount has changed since these two teams first met early in the season. First off, the positive general vibes and excitement of having a new coach and a fresh start have worn off. That’s not to say the fan base has turned on Veljko Paunovic, but the lack of excitement from the fans, and perhaps even the players at times, is noticeable.
From a roster standpoint, one new face you will see that could definitely make a difference is midfielder/striker Michael de Leeuw. He has shown some flashes of promise but has not yet established the connection with David Accam that could be potentially explosive.
Khaly Thiam is more of a defensive midfielder and has had a very up and down stint with the Fire since joining in the late spring/early summer. He is a likely starter, but not guaranteed. You’ll avoid transfer deadline signing David Arshakyan, who is a big target man but not yet with the team, and you may or may not see former Rapids striker Luis Solignac.
As far as affecting the team’s play, de Leeuw adds a bit more going forward but the confidence is still down and the team is still struggling. Luckily, they are generally far better at home than on the road.
After a managerial change, it appears the new direction is to change the players. What is really at the root of why Chicago can’t get over the hump and turn around its form?
JE: I think a lot of the struggles come from having a lack of experience and a lack of a true, playmaking No. 10. Paunovic is still figuring out how to get the most out of this team and has a lot to learn and adjust to being a first-year coach.
Young guys like Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent, Rodrigo Ramos, etc., are promising but understandably make rookie mistakes and are inconsistent. As this young coach and these young players grow, I think they will be better, but without a true playmaker in the middle of the field it might not matter much.
I sort of compare it to the Boston Celtics. There are definitely good pieces in place and young guys with potential, but until that star comes along there won’t be much success. David Accam is truly a great player but because his game is based on speed, he is not really suited to elevate everyone around him. He is the one who needs those around him to provide service and support him and he just isn’t getting it enough.
How much will the midweek U.S. Open Cup match at New England affect the starting lineup and why does Chicago seem to have so much success in the tournament regardless of how the team plays in the regular season?
JE: Well this is a pretty sore subject at the moment. It is great getting to four semifinals in a row, but losing in that round each and every time kind of makes it feel like the Fire are not all that successful in the tournament. But to the general point that they have relative success in the tournament, I think it is because of the history this team has and the expectation to take it very seriously from the opening round.
The Chicago Fire’s reputation was built in large part on winning the cup four times from 1998-2006. The tournament really helped put the club on the map. So it will always be more important to Chicago than most MLS teams, which explains the frequent deep runs in the tournament.
I could see Tuesday’s match playing a part in the starting lineup. Matt Polster did not play a full game so he should start and goalkeeper Matt Lampson had a rough outing so Sean Johnson should be in net. Other than that, I don’t think you’ll get off the hook on the Accam front just because he played Tuesday (unless his red card carries over to MLS play. Then he won’t play, but I don’t think that’s the case).
Are there any suspensions or injuries that will affect the lineup and can you please give us your projected starting XI and predicted final score?
JE: As long as Accam’s red card in the U.S. Open Cup does not carry over, the Fire should have a full roster to choose from. So I am going with that assumption and predicting this starting lineup:
Sean Johnson; Rodrigo Ramos, Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent; Matt Polster, Khaly Thiam; Razvan Cocis, Michael de Leeuw, John Goossens; David Accam
I think the Fire will come out with a chip on their shoulder, but I still don’t think it’ll be enough to fully get out of this funk. Look for a repeat of the first game and a 1-1 draw with de Leeuw getting a goal and of course Cyle Larin.
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Big thanks to Jeff from Hot Time in Old Town for undergoing that grueling barrage of questions and for giving us a bit of a scouting report on the Fire.