We start the preview of the Montreal Impact vs the Chicago Fire on Saturday, a game for the history and record books. We have exchanged three questions with Ryan Sealock of Hot Time In Old Town to give fans of both teams to get an insight on the game via a Q&A session.
As Sun Tzu says:
So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.
Keeping in mind the talent that Chicago has, how difficult do you think it will be for the team to enter into what may be one of the most hostile atmospheres in North American history on Saturday?
Undoubtedly the atmosphere for Saturday's game will be incredible and will be tough for any visiting team, no matter who they are. I think the first MLS home game for any new MLS team is always amazing, but this will be even more hostile considering a crowd of 60,000 might be on hand. The Fire will certainly have a tall task coming into an atmosphere like that and trying to leave with any points. There are a couple of factors that I think will definitely work in favor of the Fire however.
First, we have a good team that has the quality to come away with a win. The Fire finished the 2011 season on a 7-2-1 run, narrowly missing the playoffs after their late surge. 2 of the integral players from that push are returning in Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo. A large majority of the rest of the team is back as well, sprinkled in with some new faces for an improved side compared to 2011.
The other factor that works in the favor of Chicago is that we are a club that gets tabbed to play in a lot of big events like this. At Hot Time In Old Town we have a running joke that if a new MLS team needs an opponent for their first home match, or if a new stadium is being opened, the Fire are the go-to team. To list just a couple of recent examples, the Fire opened Sporting KC's new in 2011, as well as Portland's (which is a tough place to play already without throwing in the fanfare of their first home game in MLS). So, as you can see, the Fire are used to these hostile types of atmosphere. I think the Olympic Stadium atmosphere will introduce a new level of adversity for the Fire, but if we play up to our talent I am confident we can take all 3 points out with us.
Question 2: From Sofiane Benzaza
You state that the Chicago Fire has a strong midfield with speed up top and on the wing. Hence the question: what are the apparent weaknesses of the Chicago Fire? Was the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich, a hint towards the need for a better defense?
To address the defense question, the back line started out a bit shaky last year. As the year went on, and especially after defensive midfield maestro Pavel Pardo signed with the Fire, the back line really buckled down and solidified into a real defensive force the latter part of the season. I think one big reason for this is that the players had to have a certain number of games to acclimate themselves with each other. The Fire had huge roster turnover going from the 2010 into the 2011 season. The players were simply not used to playing with each other and needed time to gel, so to speak.
The main knock with the defense last year was lack of depth. We had some players, like Gonzalo Segares for example, that played well but played a huge number of minutes because of lack of quality back up players. Center back Cory Gibbs had some injury issues, and rookie Jalil Anibaba was trying to learn MLS by being thrown into the Fire (pun intended) from day 1. So it wasn't necessarily a lack of back line quality but depth that was the real culprit.
Chicago has done very well to address this in the offseason. The aforementioned Arne Friedrich is a huge signing for us. Although he has had some health issues with his back in the past year or so which provides a bit of risk, he says he is now 100% ready to go and the Fire doctors have agreed. He has 82 caps for the German National Team, so he not only has extensive international experience and pedigree, but he will also be a great asset as a teacher for the younger players. Arne can play both CB and RB so gives us cover in a couple of areas.
Another key addition has to be LB Hunter Jumper. Hunter was drafted 28th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He impressed head coach Frank Klopas so much in preseason that he was given a good amount of minutes and a contract with the club. He will provide valuable cover for LB starter Gonzalo Segares.
Answering this question wouldn't be complete without mentioning our top draft pick, in the SuperDraft (#9 overall) Austin Berry. Most MLS soccer pundits tabbed Berry to be an MLS ready starter already, so to have a CB like that also in the mix will definitely help. Fire fans are very happy overall with the additions made to the defense this offseason.
Question 3: From Giovanni Sardo
Missing the 2011 MLS playoffs by 3 points, what are the club's expectations, your expectations and the fans' expectations for the 2012 season?
I think the expectations for the club, the fans, and my personal expectations are one in the same. Our stated goal is always to win every game/trophy possible. While this may not always happen, the Fire always have that winning mindset always in their sights. This shows through especially in competitions like the US Open Cup, which many MLS teams do not take seriously (New York Red Bulls anyone?). The Fire has 4 US Open Cups in their trophy case along with an MLS Cup and many other accolades as well. The history of winning trophies is there and is something the team strives for on a continuous basis and should get back to in the near future.
The past couple of years have ended in disappointment for Fire fans by missing the playoffs (something which is not common for Chicago). Expectations are extremely high this year, and I think everyone involved with the Fire expects a playoff appearance and a deep US Open Cup run. Although teams like New York and LA have the big names and splashy signings, the Fire have more quietly assembled a very solid squad that is flying under the radar. We certainly have the ability to surprise a lot of people that may be overlooking the Fire. The Eastern Conference also seems to be there for the taking this year, and Fire fans are extremely confident that the team can be near or at the top of the pack come playoff time.
Read in the our next post, the questions that Hot Time In Old Town asked us and what we answered....
Follow Ryan Sealock at @Ryan_Sealock and Hot Time In Old Town at @HotTimeOldTown