The New England Revolution face the Chicago Fire in Bridgeview tonight in what is going to be one of their most important matches in the playoff race, at least prior to their September 28th clash with Houston. They come into the match still in possession of fifth place, however, after the Fire fumbled two opportunities to get ahead this week and the Dynamo continued their downward spiral.
New England has already clinched the season series between the two clubs, winning 1-0 away in the season opener and then 2-0 just a few weeks ago at Gillette. It's been an up and down season for the Fire, starting horribly before surging up the table over the summer, but recently they've been unable to make a breakthrough and take fifth.
Today's Q&A is with Mark O'Rourke of Hot Time in Old Town, SB Nation's Chicago Fire blog. You can read our previous conversation with Mark here, and our session with Ryan Sealock from the season opener here. I answered Marks' questions this week as well.
TBM: You had a chance to leapfrog us and get to fifth place with a win against Toronto, but you managed only a draw. We're pretty well-versed in flirting ineptly with that thin red line in the standings ourselves here in New England. Do you often feel that every time you get close to taking hold of a playoff spot, something goes wrong to set the Fire back?
MO: The long and short of it is that team is just unable to play defense for a full 90 minutes without screwing up. That has been our downfall in the last three games and it has been a problem nearly two full seasons now.
TBM: Last time our two clubs met, the Revs managed a 2-0 victory and, frankly, I don't remember the Fire looking all that good in the process. What do you think of the Fire's chances of salvaging a consolation win in this year's season series?
MO: The last time our clubs met, I actually thought the Fire were looking pretty good through the first half. Once Agudelo scored that opening goal, everything unraveled. The Fire had to push forward and be aggressive and our defense seems to be the most vulnerable when they are being aggressive.
I want to be positive, so I'll say there is a good chance that the Fire can salvage a win. The team played really solid against Seattle and Houston, they just made a few small mistakes, and their opponents made them pay. This has been a common problem for them over the past year. However, your team has one of the best defenses in the league and, if the Fire want to win games, they need to score more than one goal. That ain't going to be easy, but this Fire team plays much, much better at home and is a much better team offensively since the Revs last came to Toyota Park in March.
TBM: During our last conversation, we spoke about Mike Magee's influence and his status as the catalyst in the Fire's turnaround, along with Bakary Soumare. It does seem, however, as though said change of fortune has slowed somewhat. What's been the biggest reason for that?
MO: It has slowed. Someone not named Mike Magee has to start carrying the goal scoring load. As I mentioned above, the Fire need more than one goal to win games, but goals from players other than Magee are not easy to come by. Chris Rolfe has been catching a lot of flak recently for missing some wide open chances. If Rolfe could find his goal scoring form from last season, the Fire would arguably have one of the most dangerous forward tandems in MLS.
Also, in our previous conversation, I had given credit to Bakary Soumare for the change in luck because it allowed us to sit Wells Thompson. While Bakary has helped strengthen our defense, he is also a liability. Remember how he shoved one of your team's assistant coaches last August and earned that one game suspension? We replaced him with Hunter Jumper for the next game. Hunter did pretty well and there are a few of us who would like to see Hunter get another opportunity. Unfortunately, Frank doesn't like to tinker with the lineup and only does when he has to.
TBM: I'm just going to ask a blanket question on this one: What the hell is going on with the Chicago front office?
MO: They're all a bunch of NOOBS!!! At least that is what I'm getting out of it. Some of them have relatively little experience or, if they do have relative experience, it is in another type of industry. There has been a lot of stupid coming from the "blog" posts on the team's website and some of the happenings with the team's annual White Party has been embarrassing. I'm a little tired of talking about it because it just makes me want to drink a gallon of NyQuil. All in all, this is a far cry from the club I fell in love with and it has been making things very difficult lately. I just hope they are learning from this.
TBM: Finally, give us your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
MO: Starting XI
Saen Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare; Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba; Dilly Duka, Arevalo Rios, Jeff Larentowicz, Patrick Nyarko; Mike Magee, Chris Rolfe
Prediction: Fire win (I'm being positive) 2-1 with 2 goals from Magee and a goal from Rowe.