After earning an unexpected 2-0 victory over Houston, and receiving goals from a pair of unlikely heroes, the Revs will visit Chicago to take on the winless Fire. We caught up with Sean Spence from Hot Time in Old Town to discuss the Easter-weekend showdown.
TBM: Quincy Amarikwa has been on a real hot streak lately. What would you say has led to his emergence in the starting XI this season and how high do you think his ceiling is?
SS: Quincy is an interesting case. He's always brought a palpable fight to the field in his first four years in the league - the guy was a pole vaulter in high school, and carries that strength and sense of leverage into battling centerbacks for position. What's changed is that he seems to have learned how to put his abilities in harness for the team - he's not just brawling for position, but also making intelligent runs and finishing with some swagger.
Initially, Amarikwa got a shot in the starting XI because Juan Luis Anangono played his way out of it. It's that last question that hangs over the entire enterprise - is this ephemeral form or durable quality? My best guess: Quincy's better than we thought, but not quite three-goals-every-five games good.
TBM: Tell me about Mike Magee's contract dispute/non-issue/training bust-up/new contract. What's going on with this guy? Is the 2013 MLS MVP back as the same player in 2014?
SS: Ve know nossing!
Real talk: MLS contracts include specific non-holdout language; players (and agents) have to tiptoe around to keep from activating those clauses. Was Mike holding out? All parties say no. Did Mike take an unscheduled two-week break during preseason, then return to a contract that had magically more than doubled? All parties say yes. I leave it to the reader to tell their ass from this particular hole in the ground.
All that aside, Magee's still the same player. He's pathologically competitive. He thinks the game at a very high level. If Goncalves is out, the Revs will likely have a difficult time mentally in the back - Magee and Harrison Shipp are very good at finding space and forcing difficult decisions upon defenders.
TBM: Frank Klopas out; Frank Yallop in. What have you seen from New Frank that makes you think that the Fire are in a better spot to succeed this year than they were with Old Frank. Give me one reason why the Fire are worse-off with New Frank.
SS: New Frank (Yallop) is much more a modern football manager - the difference in the level of detail in preparation is notable. Yallop's substitutions make sense, and happen before the 85th minute. His tactical changes are explicable, not confounding. I explain the difference this way: Under Yallop, I don't find myself going "Holy f--k THIS MAKES NO SENSE" on a daily basis. It's a nice change.
As to what we've lost, I think Klopas was good at motivating guys to go run through a wall once their backs are up against it, and I haven't seen a lot of that. Frank I's teams would play terrible football, then somehow will themselves back into the game. Under Frank II so far, the Fire have played pretty decent football, then somehow found a way not to get all the points.
TBM: The Fire re-shuffled the backline in the offseason sending Jalil Anibaba to Seattle and Austin Berry to Philadelphia. Is this new Fire defense better than last year's, or are there lingering concerns about this new unit?
SS: Winless in six, 10 goals conceded, and zero clean sheets? Yes, I'd say there's still lingering concerns about this unit. That said, they're not the kind of concerns that the presence of Berry or Anibaba would allay.
The central pairing of Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has shown an ability to play dominating defensive football for long stretches. Soumare's size and surprising quickness are used in an aggressive stopper role, while Hurtado sweeps up behind, covering runners ghosting into space. They're usually very good until that one moment when it all comes undone.
That's where the concerns come in - that one moment. Soumare has an established history of mentally switching off at the wrong times, and Hurtado can't always be there to clean it up. This defense still hasn't put together a full 90 minutes without the critical mistake, and the longer it goes before that happens, the less likely it seems to happen at all. We here in Fire-land are weeping and fasting for a clean sheet.
That said, if you're looking for goals against the Fire, just fall over with the ball at your feet. Seven of the 10 goals Chicago's surrendered have come off set pieces.
TBM: Give us one player to look out for on Saturday.
SS: This will be the Revs' first look at Harrison Shipp, the homegrown player who led Notre Dame to the NCAA title last fall. He's an interesting player from a player-development standpoint, a sort of antipode to the traditional American college product - he's not tall, or fast; he doesn't have three lungs; and he's unlikely to dribble through a double-team when an obvious out-ball presents itself.
That's what he's not. What he is, is an American trequartista, a cerebral schemer whose immaculate first touch allows him to find pockets of space all over the attacking zone. He's been playing on the left, but generally uses that merely as a starting spot. And his service in dead-ball situations is both cunning and accurate. The kid's just good.
TBM: And of course, give us a predicted XI and scoreline for the match.
SS: Predicted Fire starting XI (4-4-2): Johnson - Cochrane, Soumare, Hurtado, Palmer - Shipp, Larentowicz (c), Alex, Nyarko - Magee, Amarikwa.
Score prediction: The Fire finally get to the final whistle without brain-farting away a goal, and win, 2-0. Goals from Amarikwa and Magee, entering a week layoff where their bromance goes viral.
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