(Photo by Francois Laplante/Getty Images)
Guess what Impact fans... that’s right... the season isn’t over!! With a two week break in the schedule, it just felt that way. Looks like there are still games to be played, a playoff spot to be won and an MLS Cup to battle for. On Saturday, the Impact travel to Chicago for yet another crucial game as they take on the Fire. I asked our friends at Hot Time in Old Town (SB Nation – Chicago) to answer some questions so that we can know a little more about Saturday’s enemy.
The standard game preview will be available as of Friday morning with all the stats, predictions, playoff implications and all the other details that you’ll need to know ahead of Saturday’s big game.
Starting with this past Wednesday's game against TFC, the Fire have 6 games in a little less than a month. Does the Fire have the depth to withstand an injury or two or a suspension? What is/should be the manager's game plan to keep everyone as fresh as possible? Do you think that this will hurt the Fire's playoff chances?
Our depth will certainly be tested, but I think we will be ok. Other than the long term injury to Cory Gibbs, our overall health is in good shape right now. Any long stretch of games like we have coming up can change that though. Fortunately, we have reinforcements coming in. Logan Pause is recovering from his broken ribs in a superhuman manner. Steve Kinney, who had been out since 2010 with an Achilles injury, is nearly match fit again and he’ll be providing additional depth at RB. We just made a trade for midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado yesterday. Also, there are rumors circulating that the Fire have one more move up their sleeve before the roster freeze on September 15th. As long as no major injuries happen, we’ll be just fine.
As for the rotation, Frank has been trying to get rest to a few players. Dominic Oduro has transitioned to a sub role recently with the arrival of Sherjill MacDonald. Oduro has badly needed the rest as he has been out there pretty much all game every game earlier in the year. His fresh legs off the bench are a great boost late in games. He becomes deadly with his speed since he can take better advantage of defenders with tired legs. A couple of other players who have gotten some rest lately are Patrick Nyarko and Dan Gargan. Nyarko is one of our most important players but he has gotten beat up and knocked around the pitch all season. Frank has had him start a few games on the bench recently to get him some rest and that is key for this final stretch run. Patrick is one player that Frank must rotate and keep rested properly. His health is of paramount importance for a strong Fire playoff run. Gargan has seen the bench a lot this past month and a half in favor of sophomore Jalil Anibaba. While I prefer Gargan over Anibaba at RB, the rest could be great for a good (but aging) defender. Dan having fresh legs as the season winds down can only be a good thing in my mind.
As for playoff chances, I don't think this stretch will hurt us. We definitely will be tested, but these last few big matchups heading into the playoffs should prime the team for the big games ahead. I suppose I would rather have a team that comes into the playoffs having played regularly rather than a team that may have had a longer layoff before the playoffs.
2. No playoff position in the East is safe. The top 7 teams still have a shot at making the postseason. Which 5 teams do you see making the playoffs? Please explain why you think Montreal will or won't make it.
For the 5 teams that will make it, I will say it's going to be Sporting KC, New York, Houston, the Fire, and Columbus. Pretty much the top 5 teams right now. DC seems like they might be taking a nosedive at the wrong time (especially with the injury to De Rosario). As for the Impact, in terms of recent play, normally I would say that yes, they would make the playoffs. However, the main thing holding Montreal back from picking them as a playoff team is how many games you guys have left. Of all the teams Montreal is chasing, we have a massive 3 games in hand. All other teams have 2 games in hand except Houston, which only has one. This is the big stumbling block for me. Even if the Impact do continue to win, results would have to be very friendly for you to get in the playoffs. The Impact would have to go on a strong run (and find a way to get some wins on the road) to have an outside chance in my opinion. Personally I do enjoy seeing the Impact do well in this inaugural season. Even if the team falls short of the playoffs, I definitely think you have a strong core to build on heading into next season.
A) Marco Pappa was supposed to stay with the club until the end of the season but he ended up leaving early. What were the reasons behind him leaving early? Is he missed?
Although he had his detractors, most Fire fans miss him. Although he could be maddening at times, he could also pull out some magnificent plays that no one else on our roster is capable of making. We brought in Alvaro Fernandez to help fill the gap left by Marco. In terms of the transfer, it was amicable on both sides. Marco made his intentions known, but did it in a professional manner. The club understood where his heart and dreams were and they accommodated him by letting him go early. There weren’t any hard feelings and if a player has to leave a club, this is the best way it can happen. Although we lose his MLS rights should he ever return to the league by selling him, we also get a good chunk of money back. Rumors suggest that Heerenveen doubled their offer and it was too much for the Fire to say no to. Although I can't confirm the number (you know how secretive MLS is about this stuff), I have heard the fee was around 1.5 million, which is pretty good business for us.
In the end, Marco has a chance to settle with his new team earlier rather than later. Also, we get a chance to see what the team is like without Marco this year, therefore, if we need to address any needs his departure created, we have the chance to do so in the January window. I think this is beneficial because we can make moves earlier if necessary, rather than having to wait until next summer. Heerenveen gets a good young player on the rise, and they gave us a good transfer fee for him. As I said, it was about as smoothly as a transfer could go.
B) The Fire just acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado. What role is he expected to play within the team?
I think this will mostly be for depth down the stretch. I personally don't know a lot about him. From what I’ve gathered from fellow fans and writers, he is seen as a defensive/holding type of midfielder. While we have good depth at that spot right now, Logan Pause going down a few weeks ago really showed me how valuable it is to have a backup for a spot like that. I have also heard a few others say he could be used on the left wing as a backup for Patrick Nyarko in case he gets hurt or needs a rest. From what I have gathered, Thompson is a tough, tenacious player and that is the sort of play Fire fans like to see from any player pulling on that red Quaker jersey. I think it's a solid depth signing considering the terms to try to prime us for a deep playoff run.
FEAR YOUR OPPONENT! Which Montreal Impact player do you think the Fire have to watch out for and why?
I can't speak for everyone on the site, but I will go with Marco Di Vaio. In 12 appearances (11 starts), he has 4 goals and 2 assists. Although our backline has been very good and Sean Johnson has been great, Di Vaio is a dangerous player that we will have to keep an eye on. Sean was with the USMNT for the World Cup Qualifiers. He missed this week’s game vs. Toronto and he may miss the Impact game, depending on how he feels. While young Paolo Tornaghi will likely get the call, he hasn't seen regular action so he may be a bit rusty. I will address Paolo more in the question below, but it's safe to say that Di Vaio is a playmaker that we will be wary of.
For our Serie A lovers... One of your keepers is for Inter Milan youth product Paolo Tornaghi. What kind of contribution has he made to the Fire this season? Does he have a future with the Fire? Another team in the MLS?
Paolo started the year in goal for the Fire (including against the Impact to kick the season off). He did very well and looked promising. His movement is good, as well as his athleticism. He needs to develop better communication with the backline but that's to be expected of any GK that has only had 3 appearances with a new team. He is a product of the famed Inter Milan youth system so this is a good get for the Fire. I definitely think he has a future with the Fire. We have used an International Spot on him so I think that speaks to the Fire's future plans. Plus, if Sean Johnson continues to play the way he has, he could go to Europe sooner rather than later. We all hope he stays with the Fire a long time but it's more likely he will depart to take the next step if his play continues. This opens the door for Tornaghi.
Predicted formation, starting XI and final score
I will say we go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Only possibility is Tornaghi getting the start in goal.
Johnson, Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Segares, Pardo, Pause, Nyarko, Rolfe, Fernandez, MacDonald
I will go with a 2-1 Fire win. The game is in our house, and we are VERY tough at home, especially against teams from the East. The Impact struggle on the road, and although I think the Fire will get a tough test, in the end we will come out with all 3 points. I will go with a Di Vaio goal for Montreal. I will tab Rolfe and Pardo with the goals.