Chicago Fire 2007 Review: Lazarus Rises, Plays Stubborn D…and…

Chicago Fire
Record (W-L-T): 10-10-10; 31 GF, 36 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Do you remember, kids, just how goddamn awful the Chicago Fire seemed in May? It wasn’t so much that they handed Toronto FC their first win in franchise history, but the utterly supine crouch from which they did it. That was only one of several lopsided losses (ouch!, ouch!, ouch!) – e.g. any game in which a team gives up three goals and loses by at least two – from the first half of the season: May featured three such losses and the Fire added one in June, as well as a 4-0 collapse to the Houston Dynamo in July.

As MLSnet.com’s review of the Fire’s 2007 points out, that big ol’ loss to Houston also happened to be Juan Carlos Osorio’s debut as a coach in Major League Soccer (MLS); he took over from former coach Dave Sarachan in early July. Given what the rest of their season looked like perhaps it’s fairer, then, to credit that loss to the Sarachan hangover – a period characterized by what looked like racking self-doubt among Chicago’s players. But those lopsided games left after that loss to Houston, never to return for the rest of the year. There’s no question that Chicago turned around their season under Osorio, but the extent to which they did so, as well as how they did so, bears noting.

Looking from the outside in, I assume 2007 was hell on Chicago fans. Sure, they started well, but when they went down – holy shit – did they go down. It played out on the field like some kind of unspoken campaign in support of relegation in the American game. Their late-ish summer rally (August, September) only looked impressive against what came before; that the teams they beat – Toronto, the Columbus Crew, and the Kansas City Wizards – impressed fewer than most always left open the question of whether Chicago was for real. No less significantly, they followed this with a string of ties – four straight, in fact – that, at the time, might have been mistaken for little more than slow steps toward respectability. Continue reading

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Eastern Conf. Final: Reputations Polished and Dented

Is that all there is? The New England Revolution beats the Chicago Fire, who beats DC United? Will it take the revival of Kansas City, or the arrival of Red Bull New York, or – god forbid – the Columbus Crew to confound this predictable procession? Lord, I hope not, because the status quo sure looks set to hold for a damned long while.

Not that I’m complaining – writing, after all, as a Revs fan – or not that I don’t think New England deserved to win. Truth be told, the Revs played as well last night as they have all year, smartly ceding possession to Chicago where it couldn’t hurt them and clamping down like a pit bull where it mattered on defense and creating space and possession in the attacking third. If there’s a complaint to level against them, it’s that they were a little slow to fire into half-openings; worse, when gifted a couple glorious openings, key, veteran players – Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph – fired embarrassingly high and appallingly wide.

Of course, the offense – or, rather, Taylor Twellman – got it together the one time required, scoring off a bicycle kick that, even in real time, somehow developed in slow-motion; with the ball arching in the cold air, Twellman squared his body with his back to the goal, while Dasan Robinson and (was it?) C. J. Brown quickly closed the space until there was nothing much wider than a foot’s width opening through which to strike. Twellman’s foot squeezed through, the ball bounced into the corner of Matt Pickens’ goal, and that, though we sensed it more than knew it at the time, was the end. From there, the entire team scrapped all over the field to make that lone goal stand up.

In fact, the Revolution looked more like scoring a second than Chicago looked like scoring a first. What Chicago didn’t miss, Matt Reis swallowed up. Worse, things too rarely reached that point. Chicago’s forwards struggled in particular: Chad Barrett by bolting aimlessly around and Paulo Wanchope by lumbering a step or two behind every play. New England shut off supply by shutting down Blanco and Rolfe, the latter of whom the Revs abused just shy of illegality. Referee Kevin Stott admirably let the teams play, but, in what had to be one of the greater surprises of the night, both teams played a fairly clean game, leaving Stott little cause to wave around cards; maybe yellow card trouble isn’t always a bad thing.

For my money, two things, one avoidable, the other not, sunk Chicago. First, the unavoidable piece: their most effective players on the night – Gonzalo Segares and Wilman Conde – played too far back and had too many defensive responsibilities to help with the attack. As for the avoidable, that came with choices of personnel and substitution: subbing Barrett, whose sheer effort may have produced something eventually, didn’t add up, nor did introducing Calen Carr with only minutes remaining. But, to return to something I commented on last night, the biggest problem came in the personnel department: starting Wanchope can be excused, but leaving him on at least 45 minutes too long cannot. And, of course, Justin Mapp finally came on the field for the Fire, but a visible disconnect between him and the rest of the team came with him. Continue reading

New England v. Chicago Preview (All Right, All Right; I’ll Do It)

I’m about to do something I almost never do: preview a game, namely, the Eastern Conference Final pitting the New England Revolution against the Chicago Fire. For the record, I blame the quality stuff other people are turning out. Even MLSnet.com’s typically tepid preview contains a vital information-nugget: Shalrie Joseph will have to sit out the final if he picks up a yellow in the semifinal. That’s pretty big, bigger than Taylor Twellman being in the same situation to be sure. I also learned that Kevin Stott will officiate…though I can’t remember whether I have an opinion on him or not.

Before getting to my thoughts, here are the other “inspirations” that got me thinking too much about tomorrow night’s game. Ives Galarcep turned in pre-game analysis for ESPN that hits plenty of useful highlights, most notably the potentially defining match-up between Joseph and Cuauhtemoc Blanco – more on this later from me. A couple people took up the rivalry thing: Blue Blooded Journo conducted a Q & A with himself in which he looks into everything from Chicago’s fans to the horror that is Blanco’s face…Chicago fans may want to skip that one. Finally, even though Luis Arroyave failed to get “bulletin board material” out of either side of the rivalry, he passed on an absolutely brilliant alleged quote from Clint Dempsey:

Just last year, a scuffle nearly broke out in the Toyota Park tunnel with Fire defender Gonzalo Segares and ex-Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey. Sources said Dempsey yelled ‘I don’t care–take me to jail’ as teammates tried to restrain him.”

I’ll be asking for a t-shirt for Christmas, along with another inspired by Britney Spears (credit to Ann Romano from the Portland Mercury): “Rehab Is Hard Y’all.”

Now, for my look ahead to Those Things That Will Loom Large in tomorrow night’s game. Continue reading

Daily Sweeper, 11.6: Calling the Final (Wha? Already?) and Protection from the Draft

– A couple pieces out today are already guessing that we’ll get a repeat of MLS Cup 2006: Houston Dynamo v. New England Revolution. Jeff Bradley started his most recent First XI saying he “fully expects” a repeat while, less surprisingly, the Houston Chronicle sees the same thing…though they do acknowledge the potential for those “meddling kids” from Chicago and Kansas City to louse up the plan. I’ve already voiced hope that both Bradley and the Chronicle will be proved wrong in the comments of another, bigger forum and I stand by that down to the reasoning. More curiously still, it’s New England – who are my team, if only allegedly – that I don’t want to see. This may be hard to understand, but all I can say is not all fans support their team in the same way. For instance, I fall somewhere between the “Ever-Disappointed Parent” category and the “Next-Underdog Bandwagon Jumper.” In practice this means, if my team can’t be great and play beautifully, they shouldn’t bother being good; that would only mean I’ll start ignoring them to watch the plucky underdogs from the next town over (or, in very un-p.c. terms, “Why can’t you be more like your retarded brother? At least he tries. You make me sick!” Curiously, I’m not like this with my real kids – and, yes, I’m a big John Waters fan).

– Speaking of my oft-abused team – again, that’s New England, though you’d hardly know it – they seem to be getting more preview ink, probably due to the fact they play the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference final on Thursday. A couple things to update there: Red Card reports that Justin Mapp “could be available” for the game, something that have me shouting “hallelujahs” about picking Chicago to win if I didn’t have doubts about Mapp’s ability to seriously contribute after such a long lay off. Also, Frank Dell’Appa gave plausible reasons for both teams to feel confident heading into the Big Game.

– To pick up on a new story-line, people are already looking ahead to the expansion draft that will build the new San Jose Earthquakes. I’m thinking Steve Goff got the ball rolling on Monday, and he’s been followed since (consciously or not) by 3rd Degree, who talked about who they expect their beloved FC Dallas to protect and expose, and The Fullback Files, who did the same for DC United. For the record, 3rd Degree helpfully highlighted the expansion draft rules in their post. In the same spirit, I thought I’d do a half-ass job for two teams: the New England Revolution, because I spitefully support them, and the Columbus Crew because I’m not sure anyone else will. I’m only going to name the 11 players on each team that I would protect – the rest would, obviously, remain exposed. And, word to the wise, the likelihood that I’m going to screw up and protect a player who can’t be protected is somewhat high. I’m going through this exercise, I suppose, to identify the players on both teams who I rate – and I placed an asterisk next to any protected player I’d use as trade-bait opportunity permitting:

New England Revolution (the link goes to the roster)
1. Taylor Twellman
2. Pat Noonan
3. Steve “Dog Chow” Ralston (my wife’s nickname)
4. Matt Reis
5. Michael Parkhurst (even if he may leave; see below)
6. Shalrie Joseph
7. Andy Dorman*
8. Avery John*
9. Adam Cristman* (they’d have to pay)
10. Wells Thompson*
11. Jeff Larentowicz

Columbus Crew (ditto)
1. Guillermo Barros Schelotto
2. Eddie Gaven*
3. Ned Grabavoy
4. Frankie Hejduk
5. Stefani Miglioranzi
6. Danny O’Rourke*
7. Robbie Rogers
8. Tim Ward
9. Alejandro Moreno
10. Marcos Gonzalez (I had to)*
11. Jacob Thomas*

This is actually an educational process, figuring which players you’d expose. As you can see, I view a good chunk of the Revs’ line-up as expendable; moreover, I can’t believe how healthy they managed to remain this year. Good fortune of that sort makes me think they might win MLS Cup after all. As for Columbus, they have so many intriguing building blocks, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my list of un-expendable players didn’t end around #7.

– Finally, as we head into the off-season, one has to think that MLS Rumors will once again start cranking out content. They got off to a decent start today with posts on England coach (is it former yet?) Steve McClaren looking into the LA Galaxy job (or vice versa; I’m in a hurry) and one about Michael Parkhurst joining the U.S. Men’s Nationa…I mean, Fulham FC in the Premier League. On this last one, though, The Offside Rules found something debunking that one (and I join his “WTF?” on Brian Hall winning referee of the year). And, honestly, I can’t see the Galaxy hiring McClaren, never mind McClaren taking the job – which, again, hardly means I won’t happen; I can’t see a lot of things that come together.