The New England Revolution need to bounce back in a big way, and they're about to have the perfect opportunity to do so. The Chicago Fire are in town, and it so happens that the Revs' old Eastern Conference rivals are sitting in sixth place, just one point ahead of New England.
In their last encounter, the two teams battled in rather boring, stolid fashion until Jerry Bengtson scored the match's only goal in the 62nd minute, leading the Revs to a season-opening victory in Bridgeview. Chicago actually owns the overall record between the two, but New England is 11-8-3 at home since the Fire came into the league in 1998.
TBM: So the Fire started the season in the conference basement, and now you're above the Revs in sixth with the playoffs very much in reach. Many will say the catalyst for that change was Mike Magee. Do you agree, and just how influential has he been for Chicago since the trade?
MO: When the Fire were in the basement, they had trouble conceding goals as well as scoring goals. Mike Magee has helped solve the Fire's goal scoring problem. Not only is he leading the team in goals, but he is also one of our more dangerous player when it comes to chance creating. He only has 1 assist this year, but he is averaging somewhere around 2 key passes per game.
But Magee is only half of the catalsyst. The day that the Mike Magee trade was announced was the same day that Bakary Soumare played his first game for the Fire after being traded from Philadelphia. I would say that Bakary's arrival was the other half of the catalyst. Arne Friedrich's unexpected preseason injury turned early retirement really threw a wrench in the Fire's plans for 2013 and left a big hole in the starting lineup. Remember Wells Thompson? He was playing right back. It was a mess.
Bakary has not solved all of our defensive woes, but things are much better than they were. Bakary has a habit of making one or two mental lapses a game that scares the ba-jesus out of me, but when he is on his game, he is arguably one of the best center backs in the league.
TBM: The Fire just parted ways with Sherjill MacDonald. I actually thought he looked pretty good in 2012, but he was next to useless this season. Do you have any idea why it just didn't work out?
MO: 2012 was a pretty decent year for Sherjill. I would say that Sherjill instilled a lot of hope in Fire fans during the latter half of that season. His presence changed the dynamic of the team an,d Chris Rolfe really played well off of him. He was not perfect though. His finishing was kind of lack luster (he missed one hell of a shot in Toronto last year), and he never really seemed to get into game shape. All of us Fire fans were excited in anticipation of how Sherjill would look in 2013 with a full preseason under his belt.
This year, Sherjill had more than the preseason under his belt when the season kicked off. He seemed to be in worse shape than the year before. He was botching shots on goal and was playing like he had hardly trained at all. I remember being amazed at how gassed Sherjill looked against Sporting KC in the third game of the season. Yes, fitness might not be all there for some player that early in the season, but he was hardly jogging in the second half and got subbed off in the 67th minute. Unfortunately, all of those things that we were all excusing Sherjill for in 2012 were just signs of things to come.
It just puzzles me. Playing the beautiful game is your craft, but you don't bother to keep the tools of your craft sharp? Good riddance.
TBM: Last time these two teams met, we asked Ryan Sealock about the offseason midfield overhaul the Fire went through, bringing in guys like Duka, Lindpere, and Larentowicz. Now that we're more than halfway through the season, how have those guys worked out?
MO: It's working out pretty well now. It took a while for the new midfielders to gel. I think out of the three players, Larentowicz took the least amount of adjusting. Lindpere was brought in with the intention that he play as an attacking center mid and not out wide like Hans Backe had him. We know better now. Lindpere can't hack it in the center. I'm conflicted about Lindpere. He's slow and gives the ball away too easily a lot of the time, but he also leads the team in chances created.
The first couple of times I saw Dilly Duka play for the Crew, I thought, "Oh, great. Wait until this kid gets older." When the Fire traded for him, I was beyond excited. He had a rough first couple of games with the Fire because he had a shortened preseason. Now that DIlly is up to speed and has had time to build chemistry with his team, he's become a valuable part of the midfield. He has a hard work rate and he has one hell of shot from distance. Given some more time, I think he has the potential to be a better left winger for the Fire than Marco Pappa was.
TBM: Who do you think the Fire fear most on the pitch for the Revolution and why?
MO: I could list about three players for the Revs that scare me, but the one who worries me the most is Lee Nguyen. The Fire occasionally struggle against teams with midfielders who are able to hold possession and dictate the pace of the game. Nguyen, when playing in the center, has that ability. He doesn't give the ball away often and is skilled at setting up other players on the team.
Also, the Fire are not necessarily a counter attack team, but they are at their most dangerous when opponents turn the ball over in the midfield and they are able to break on it. I don't think that Nguyen will give them many those opportunities which might make goal scoring a little harder for the Fire.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
MO: I think Klopas goes with a 4-2-3-1 on the road: Johnson; Segares, Soumare, Berry, Anibaba; Arévalo Rios, Larentowicz; Duka, Magee, Rolfe; Anangonó.
I think this ends up 1-1. Revs get a lead with a goal from Fagundez and Magee nets an equalizer.
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