The 2013 MLS season is about to be underway for the New England Revolution, and their opening the campaign with a daunting trip to meet their old conference rivals, the Chicago Fire. Toyota Park hasn't been welcoming to the Revs since it was built, with the Foxboro boys going just 1-6-2 in their last nine.
In our typical fashion, we exchanged questions with some bloggers who cover the Revs' opponents. Today's expert is Ryan Sealock from Hot Time in Old Town. I've already answered their questions, so go have a look and maybe some good-natured ribbing in their comments section.
TBM: It looks as though the Chicago Fire underwent a bit of a midfield overhaul there, bringing in Lindpere, Duka, and our old friend Jeff Larentowicz. How does that change the look of Chicago's starting core and what do you expect these guys to be able to do over the course of the season?
RS: It changes our look a lot. It makes us more dynamic in midfield, and allows Frank Klopas to focus more on an offensive themed look, rather than defensive. Duka has high upside that he hasn't hit yet (though we all in Chicago hope he breaks into the form many think he can). Larentowicz and Lindpere bring a much needed grit to the midfield. Larentowicz helps fill in the hole that Pavel Pardo's retirement left, as well as providing a good upgrade over Logan Pause.
Lindpere is a box to box guy that will attack and can pitch in on defense as well. We need a true CAM and Lindpere loves playing in the middle. He should be able to score some goals as well as providing a threat that the other team has to be very careful with. When he is on his game, he will open up the wings as well as free up Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe. At least, that is the idea.
At this point, the Fire have a midfield talent-wise that puts them up there with some of the best groups in the center of the pitch. It's clearly the strongest and most deep part of the team, and our success this year will largely be determined by the performance of the midfield.
TBM: The Fire got ripped up pretty bad by LA last weekend. Was that just an early-season hiccup, or is controlling the midfield going to be a consistent issue for Chicago this season?
RS: Definitely an early season hiccup. We were missing Arne Friedrich, and Logan Pause (who would have slotted in at RB) was hurt as well. Steve Kinney hasn't played much since a horrible Achilles injury that has seen him out since 2010. His speed and mobility just aren't there yet. So we had a lot working against us last Sunday.
That's not to take anything away from the Galaxy. They earned everything they got and unfortunately it was at our expense. However, I am not hitting the panic button by any means. This teams looked very good in the pre-season, and you have to keep in mind that we have a lot of new players still learning the system and each other's tendencies. While it was a bad blip on the radar, I am confident that the midfield will be just fine and be able to control the center of the pitch. A game like last Sunday is best erased from memory quickly. A good performance in our home opener Saturday will be just what the doctor ordered.
TBM: I've heard rumblings about issues at Toyota Park and in Bridgeview in terms of attendance and the stadium's financial effects on the municipality. With the Revs looking for a new home, this is a very interesting topic for us. Could you illuminate some of the issues - if any - with Toyota Park since it has opened, and dispense a little advice to the Revs fans and organization as the search for our permanent home continues?
RS: For advice, I would say choose the location VERY carefully. While many factors go into choosing a new home, it's a huge capital investment that you can't afford to do wrong. I would also recommend a soccer specific stadium as is becoming the norm now. It's better to have your own home than be overshadowed by Tom Brady and his model wife. Plus you can earn extra revenue with concerts, events, and other civic activities to bring in extra revenue. Getting support and interest from the owner (as hard as that is) would help with his deep pockets. I would say it's also helpful to design the place to match the team and be unique. You don't want a cookie cutter stadium, you want it to be unique so people associate the team with the stadium and vice-versa. This creates a unique branding that can be capitalized on upon many different levels, driving sales and an increasing fanbase.
As for Bridgeview, it's not a bad stadium at all. The really issue is the location. It's not downtown like the other pro venues. One big downside is lack of public transportation. It would be great to be able to hop on the Red Line and step off at Toyota Park. Unfortunately a drive is required, and for the casual fan that can be daunting, especially with buys weekend traffic or on a school night midweek. And, in the end, the die-hards will come hell or high water. To really grow the team, we need to find a good way to get the casual fans out to TP consistently and get them to bring others and fall in love. So it's very much still a work in progress.
While I don't pretend to know all the intimate details, the Fire are also hand cuffed a bit because they have to work with the village of Bridgeview on changes they want to make. They can't do whatever they want, it's a partnership and as with any partnership, some issues can be tough to overcome. Other things, like a partially gravel/partially paved parking lot, don't affect the product on the pitch at all. But it's a nice amenity to have for the fans. The location of the stadium isn't ideal like PPL park in Philly or Rio Tinto in terms of a beautiful skyline, but again that's a wish many have rather than a necessity.
In the end, I love Toyota Park like most Fire fans do. Despite some disadvantages, it's a place to call our own and that may be the very best thing there is. It's our house (or Sean Johnson's house) and we love it like we love the team that plays there.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for this weekend.
RS: I will go with Yazid Atouba. He was our only draft pick this year, and had a great pre-season. Think of him as a Patrick Nyarko mini-me. While he is very young and raw, whenever he touches the ball you sense something great could happen. He is very quick and works hard too. Look for him to come off the bench at some point Saturday to provide the offense with a boost. And if he comes in on the wing opposite Nyarko, the flanks will likely be on Fire (pun intended).
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
RS: Sean Johnson, Steve Kinney, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Jeff Larentowicz, Dilly Duka, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere, Sherjill MacDonald, Chris Rolfe
I will say 3-1 Fire. We have a lot of motivation for this one and the offense is ready to break out. I will say Chicago goals from Rolfe, Lindpere, and MacDonald. Revs goal from Bengtson. With Sene still out, that will hopefully make things a little easier on our banged up back line.