The New England Revolution will square off against the Chicago Fire for the final time this weekend at Gillette Stadium. In their previous two meetings, each team won on home soil. Unlike the Revs, Chicago is gearing up for the MLS Playoffs, currently occupying the second seed with the potential to leap frog Sporting Kansas City to first place, guaranteeing them home field advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The match will be New England’s final home game of the year before closing out the season next week in Montreal. With nothing to play for and a slew of injuries, the Revs certainly do not look like favorites in this matchup, but perhaps a boisterous home crowd will be enough for the boys in blue to get the win.
Today’s Q&A is with Ryan Sealock of the SB Nation Chicago Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town. You can head there to see my responses to his questions…
TBM: The Fire knew they weren't going to be making the 2011 playoffs before last season was over. How important was their progress during the tail-end of last season towards preparing for this season and how have they benefited from it? What can the Revs learn from the 2011 Chicago Fire?
RS: It was big for Fire fans I think. After another disappointing season and a second consecutive playoff miss, the whole club was feeling pretty down. Even though we didn't make the playoffs, we went on a huge run and nearly snuck in. The late season success was good for confidence and morale. We saw young players start to make an impact, and Frank Klopas showed everyone that he was the right man for the job, and his interim tag was removed. The run also re-iterated a fact about the Fire- the team never quits. They have shown that many times in the past and the fact that the team was still fighting hard and winning despite the bleak outlook spoke volumes.
We have seen this confidence and fight carry over to this year's very successful team. The Fire have been known to concede goals first a lot this year, and while it can drive fans crazy, the team is not intimidated. Many a lesser team would get discouraged, frustrated, and fall apart. Not so with this Fire team. We may not have world renowned superstar players, but we have a group that can accomplish more than many of those players can. And this team is showing that this year and I think last year's late season run has helped play a part for the confidence and psyche of this year's team.
TBM: Rookie Austin Berry played 2340 minutes this season. How crucial has he been for the Chicago Fire defense this season and was he expected to be so involved when he was drafted? Does he have a spot in the starting XI locked up for the foreseeable future or has his playing time been mostly just a result of injuries?
RS: Austin has been a revelation in Chicago. Although he was tabbed as MLS ready when drafted, the initial plans weren't to have him starting. We had Arne Friedrich and Cory Gibbs as our CB duo. Then, Cory Gibbs suffered a severe injury that would make him miss the rest of the 2012 season. This was a huge blow for the team but little did anyone know that it would open the door for the soon to be MLS Rookie of the Year. And Austin hasn't looked back. The experience he is getting playing beside Arne is invaluable. In fact, he has been so good that he has pushed Jalil Anibaba out of position. Jalil is a true CB but he is now playing RB because you just can't break up the tandem of Arne and Austin (dubbed affectionately the A-Team by many Fire fans).
I don't see Austin leaving the starting XI again unless it would be because of (knock on wood) an injury. He has been too good, and it sounds increasingly likely that Arne might stay for another year as well. For my money there isn't a better CB duo in the league than these two. To have them back together again next year would be a huge lift before the season ever starts.
TBM: Chicago only has two games off but has the potential to get home-field advantage for the playoffs if they can win out (to my understanding?). How is that affecting Frank Klopas' roster choices for this final stretch? Do you anticipate the Fire to go all out for these last two matches, or will some starters likely be rested for the playoffs?
RS: I think we will see the Fire go all out. With the international break that just got over, the players got one more long stretch of rest. Right now, we are 3 points behind Sporting KC. If we win out and they lose one, we are then in the drivers seat. If we end up tied with SKC, we hold the tie breaker right now with more goals scored. Thus we would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if we finish below them, we would still have the advantage against teams with lower seeds. So there is still a lot to play for in the final 2 games for us. They are both winnable, and I expect to see a full strength starting XI for both games.
TBM: Speaking of the roster, and not unlike the Revolution, there has been a lot of movement this season in Chicago with players leaving and new players coming in. How has that affected the club this season, generally speaking? Is there more work still to be done or is this squad, for the most part, expected to be the Chicago Fire of the next couple years?
RS: I think the squad we see now is the squad we will have for the next couple of years. Most of the players are under contract, and the ones that aren't seem likely to come back. Of course there is always room for a big signing or addition, but we have shown we can win with the team we have and are pretty content at this moment in time. Turnover this year wasn't nearly as bad as turnover last year heading into the season. This year we added quality players in Friedrich, Sherjill MacDonald, Alex, and Flaco. We cut out useless players like Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo. So the changes we made were greatly for the better.
TBM: Finally, what is your projected lineup for this Saturday’s match and what is your score prediction?
RS: Lineup: Johnson, Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Segares, Paladini, Pause (c), Flaco, Nyarko, Rolfe, MacDonald
Score: I will go 1-0 Fire. Chris Rolfe with the goal