Years ago, when the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution clashed in epic bouts in the postseason, a rivalry was born. But gone are the days where the Revs eliminated the Fire four times in the postseason in six years and these two teams met regularly in October.
Over the years, both the Revs and Fire have been on the downswing. Chicago has missed the playoffs six out of the last seven years and aside from the Revs 2014 MLS Cup Final run, they haven’t made a lot of noise in the postseason either.
But all that could be about to change. Chicago should have a midfield that is really good once we figure out how Schweinsteiger, McCarty and Juninho will play together. David Accam is still a menace and has more support than ever, or so we think.
To figure all of this out, we talk with Sean Spence from Hot Time In Old Town to see how the “new-look” Fire are doing. Be sure to check out their site for my answers to Sean’s questions as well.
TBM: Everyone will be talking about the Bastian Schweinsteiger signing, but am I wrong to think Dax McCarty and Juninho will be more important to the Fire's success this year?
SP: Short answer: I don't know about *more* important, but they will likely be *just as* important.
Long answer: The Dax/Juni midfield didn't get much of a chance to show itself before the addition of Schweinsteiger, and our assessments have been shaky anyway since Juninho has been suspended for two of the first six games. With the addition of the Teutonic titan, the Fire seemingly have a thoroughly modern midfield three: Dax at the 6, Juninho at the 8, Basti pulling the strings as an 8/10 hybrid. In many ways, this is a sort of All-Star version of the Revs midfield of the last few years, with Schweinsteiger in the Nguyen role, Juninho as Rowe and Dax replacing Caldwell.
Essentially, there's no reason this shouldn't be the best midfield in MLS, but we have yet to see all the pieces really fit together. If Dax can keep playing at a high level ... and Schweinsteiger can stay healthy ... and Juninho can return to form ... if, if, if.
TBM: Sean Johnson is gone, and the Chicago backline has been completely rebuilt. Is the 3-4-3 here to stay and how has the defense looked in the first month?
SP: In re: the backline, it's really not all that rebuilt. All five guys getting time (Vincent, Harrington, Kappelhof, Meira and Campbell) were regulars last season. If the Fire's defense looks better - and it does look better than the last two years - it could be largely down to familiarity.
That said, the keeper is new, and Jorge Bava brings a very different skill set than Sean Johnson, with the Milkman's flashy saves replaced with slightly better positioning and less amazement. When Bava is good, the defense has been very solid, but he's not been good consistently.
I expect the 3-4-3 to show up when the Fire expect certain kinds of zonal pressing schemes, as the main advantage it affords is a massive complication of responsibilities for opponents who wish to press. While the Revs have flirted with pressing football this season, they've not done so convincingly. I expect the Fire to line up in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid and attempt to win the center of midfield convincingly.
TBM: David Accam is a borderline Revs killer up front, but what's his status for this weekend's game?
SP: 'King David' has had an up-and-down start to the season, seemingly because of his astonishment at having options other than 'create a miracle goal for myself' in the attack. He's still one of the quickest players in MLS, and he can create a lot of havoc just buzzing about by himself, but he doesn't always play with his head up or combine terribly well.
Accam is fit and ready to play, unless he's picked up a knock no one has heard about. He'll start on the left and run hard at the defense. It's what he does.
Fire lineup (4-3-3): Jorge Bava; Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof, Michael Harrington; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty, Juninho; David Accam, Nemanja Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw.
Prediction: Fire 3-1 Revolution. New England central defense gets torn apart early and the Men in Red coast to the top of the East. (No, I'm sober - why do you ask?)