This week is all about returning to winning ways for the New England Revolution as they prepare to welcome the Chicago Fire to the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. New England followed up a tough 3-2 loss to DC last Saturday with an unthinkable loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders on penalty kicks at midweek. Chicago, meanwhile, suffered an upset of its own in Open Cup play, losing out to Michigan 3-2.
The Fire is a team with a lot of talent and potential that just hasn't quite found consistency yet. Their main offensive threat is Dominic Oduro, and for a team like the Revs that has struggled to contain speed this season (ahem, Fabian Castillo), his blazing speed is worrisome. Add in the equally-frightening pace of Patrick Nyarko, the playmaking talents of Sebastian Grazzini, and the unbelievable skill of Marco Pappa, and Chicago certainly has the tools to make it a long day for a shaky Revolution defense.
Today's Q&A is with Ryan Sealock from Hot Time In Old Town, the SB Nation blog covering the Fire
TBM: There's been a big focus on the speed and skill of Dominic Oduro in the Fire lineup, and it looks like the Chicago organization is trying to make him almost the face of the franchise. Just how integral is he to the squad, and is there anyone else rostered right now who even comes close to being as essential as he is?
RS: Dom is very essential to the squad in the fact that he is our only main, legit scoring threat right now. That is one of the biggest things the teams is needing to address this summer. Whether it be via trade or a new signing, we desperately need another player to step up and help Oduro with the scoring duties. While we have a handful of players on the roster who can score at any given time, no one has stepped up to be the counted upon scorer like Dominic has been. This obviously allows opposing teams to key on Oduro and try to shut him down. Help may be on the way in the form of Chris Rolfe. Just a couple of days after he rejoined the Fire he picked up an ankle injury and has not gotten into a game yet. He seems to be over that now and has been running and training for a couple of weeks. Rolfe is a legitimate scoring threat, so once he is able to get on the pitch and contribute, the whole dynamic of the Fire offense will likely be changed. Chris was questionable for the Columbus game but he was held back just to be safe. I expect him to make some sort of appearance this weekend. Although it won't be a start or a full 90 minutes, I look for him to come on and get a chunk of time in the 2nd half.
There also continue to be rumors swirling about the Fire looking for a big name striker signing. While we have the money and permission from the owner once the right deal is found, we won't make a splashy signing just to make a splashy signing. This should be an interesting next month or two for the Fire.
TBM: Sean Johnson's stock has taken a bit of a nosedive in the last few months to a year, especially after the debacle in Olympic qualifying, but recent performances in Chicago have been encouraging. Would you say he still has the ability to reach the potential seen in him just a year ago, or do you think the ceiling on Johnson is lower than previously anticipated?
RS: I think he still has about the same ceiling as we expected before his dip in form. He is still very young, and as he ages and matures the mental toughness should develop along with the rest of his game hopefully. He does still need to work on a few things, mainly bossing the goal and especially ball distribution. He tends to not go out and claim balls in the air that he should. He also has a tendancy to punch balls out of danger rather than catching them, which can lead to dangerous rebounds and goals (and it has a few times this year). As for distribution, he definitely needs to work on his kicks as far too many balls go out of bounds.
That being said, he has looked a bit better the past couple of weeks. The Olympic disaster is a huge hurdle for a young player to overcome, and it takes time. Even the best US goalkeepers were pretty raw when they were as young as Sean is. It is a position that rewards age and experience, and you can only get that by playing. If he continues to struggle it would be a good idea to get him a rest to clear his head, but if he successfully gets over the Olympic fiasco and gets refocused and back in a groove he will be the better player for it. His ceiling is still very high, now he just has to work hard and makes sure he fills out that potential.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fan should watch out for in this match.
RS: I will pick Austin Berry. He is a rookie but was viewed as MLS ready out of the draft. He has been shoved into a starting role due to veteran injuries (Cory Gibbs and Arne Friedrich). His first couple of games were very good, but the CB pairing of Jalil Anibaba and Berry have looked very shaky the past couple of weeks. Both Austin and Jalil will be a big key to Saturday's game in my opinion. If they can settle it down and get back to the form they showed in the first couple of game splaying together, things will be tough on New England. If they struggle, that will put extra pressure on the rest of the defense and a still recovering Sean Johnson, and it could spell a long afternoon. As each game goes by, both youngsters get valuable experience playing together and should improve. I think both players will put in a good performance Saturday and put the past couple of outings behind them.
TBM: Who do you think the Fire fear most on the pitch for New England?
RS: That is a tough call. I will say Saer Sene since he has already netted 7 goals this season. This ties into my previous answer in that if our back line does not stand tall, he could have a few different looks at goal. Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph can also be dangerous too but right now I am worried about your top scorer against our inexperienced middle of the backline.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
RS: Projected XI: Sean Johnson, Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Sebastian Grazzini, Marco Pappa, Dominic Oduro
I will go with a 2-1 Fire win. I think Sene nets for you guys. I will tab Austin Berry and Oduro for us. Berry has shown a penchant for being a danger on set pieces, and we all know what Oduro brings to the table.