Because of the US Open Cup match tomorrow, Hot Time In Old Town - SBnation's excellent Chicago Fire blog - and I decided to get together and do a frequent feature around here, a question swap. Below you'll find the three questions that I asked him about the Chicago Fire, you can see the questions that he asked me and my answers on his corresponding post on HTIOT.
1. Chicago has traditionally been wizards in the open cup, winning four of them since the club founded in 1998. Do you think that the Fire have a decent shot with their depth and talent this year at getting a fifth?
I think the Chicago Fire have just the right amount of talent where they can consistently win tournament match-ups but not quite enough talent and depth to finish in the top 6 in the MLS standings. Due to that and the fact that the Chicago fanbase demands a strong performance in the US Open Cup, I could see the Fire starting a second string in MLS regular season play while putting a first unit on the field for US Open Cup matches.
Marco Pappa , Patrick Nyarko, Gaston Puerari, and Diego Chaves are clicking very well offensively but there are serious questions on the left side of the field defensively. The Fire are playing a weird hybrid of a 4-4-2 without the ball and a 3-5-2 when the obtain possession. Marco Pappa is playing wide left without the ball but he'll move into central midfield once someone in red has it. Gonzalo Segares is playing wide left with the back line without the ball but moving up to the left midfield wing on offense. The dividends are coming through for Pappa but the results have been pretty disastrous for Segares. As his endurance gets tested over the course of the season, it will be interesting to see who starts in his place for the occasional game off. Right now there's no perfect option because Pappa playing centrally is working so well and Carlos de los Cobos also prefers to play two defensive midfielders at all time in any formation. I think this work in progress will keep the team from entering the elite but allow them to play strong against MLS reserve squads and non-MLS US Open Cup teams. Bringing home that USOC trophy would do a lot for the front office and the coaching staff to win favor with the fan base. It could be the perfect conditions for the Fire to end their 5 year trophy drought.
2. What would you say is the most dangerous aspect of the Fire to other teams?
No question the most dangerous aspect of the Fire is currently the all-Uruguayan forward duo, Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves. Puerari has drawn opposition red cards in the first two games, both in the first half. Diego Chaves already has two goals, one from the run of play, the other from a penalty kick that Sporting KC goalie Jimmy Nielsen had no chance on. Puerari and Chaves played together at Montevideo Wanderers so while they are familiar with each other, MLS teams are not. Scouting is very limited and both Kansas City and Dallas saw Puerari manipulate himself into a position where he slipped past the entire defense. Chaves and Puerari might get figured out soon but for now they are running wild and causing havoc. As scouting reports build up, I might have a different answer for you on April 30th when Chicago travels to Colorado for regular season play.
3. Since we'll most likely be seeing squads that aren't quite the first teams, what younger or less experienced guys might we see starting for Chicago that we can look out for?
I'm not sure Chicago will play that many non-Starting XI players since the team's next MLS regular season game is not until April 9th in Seattle. The reserve team played a game against the University of Louisville on Sunday so some of the starters might even be fresher than the backups in this case. Add the USOC history for the Fire to the mix and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lineup identical to what Chicago put out on the field vs. FC Dallas and Sporting KC.
I would say Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Cory Gibbs, Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Diego Chaves are all locks given the way the team is playing. It's possible Baggio Husidic might get the start over Mike Videira in the midfield and Orr Barouch might start over Gaston Puerari. Puerari missed Wednesday's practice with a hip injury and it bothered him on Thursday too. He obviously was okay to go on Saturday but was subbed out around the 74th minute in favor of Barouch. Barouch is a 19 year old 6'2 forward whose current claim to fame is that he scored 4 goals in a pre-season game. He's not super fast but his pace is decent enough and he almost scored a goal this past Saturday. I would think that Gonzalo Segares will start at the LM/LB position I mentioned earlier but it's possible de los Cobos will roll the dice with Davis Paul. Paul was selected with the 51st pick in this year's MLS SuperDraft. He is a converted forward that saw action at LM in pre-season but probably doesn't have the defensive skills to play effectively at LB in a 4-4-2. He might get a look if Chicago rolls out a pure 3-5-2. Serbian jackknife Bratislav Ristic has played at LB, RB, and RM in different games last season and looked good doing so. He missed Saturday's game with a hip injury so he'll either be out tomorrow or the freshest available player on the roster.