The Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire tend to trade home blows with each other -- the Rapids don't have a favorable record at Toyota Park, and the Fire follow suit at DSGP. Fortunately for the Rapids, they're getting an out-of-form Fire team at The Dick tonight for their only meeting of the year, so the cards are probably falling towards Colorado in this one. Chicago are a team with some talent though, and a few former friends of Colorado's that might be looking to hurt their former squad.
I chatted with Sean from Hot Time In Old Town about Harry Shipp, their coaching change, and some other players ahead of tonight's match. His answers to my questions are below, you can head over to HTiOT later to see my Rapids answers.
BW: So, I'm quite enjoying watching the Fire this season, if only because Harrison Shipp is mighty exciting. How high do you think the kid's ceiling is? How's his game right now, and what is he still working on as a youngster?
HTIOT: I have described Harry as an American enganche; he's something quite a bit different from a standard-issue American attacking midfielder. His ability to think about the attacking game - find some space, see the runs, and deliver the right ball at the right time - is very good and growing almost visibly as he plays. He should be in the conversation for the All-Star game for years.
His 'ceiling' - like, will he become a full international - will likely depend on factors outside his control, though. Harry's small (5-8, 150) and he plays defense in the dutiful but uninspired manner of a born attacker - in other words, he can be a bit of a luxury player. He does the work, but it's clearly 'the work.'
For now, his focus has to be learning how to affect games while a focal point for the opposition. After his lights-out start to the season, he's started to see man-marking in the attacking zone - Columbus' Tony Tchani particularly made his life difficult. But the kid is a genius; he'll figure it out.
BW: We know our old friends Quincy Amarikwa and Jeff Larentowicz have both had big roles to play for the Fire this season, and I already mentioned Shipp. Past those three, who have the most important players for the Fire been through this campaign?
HTIOT: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has played every minute this season in the center of defense; he's been around some meltdowns, been involved in a few others, but has largely played better than the results have shown. He's durable, unflappable, and proud.
You'll be missing Patrick Nyarko - he has a knee problem, and used the time off that knock afforded him to have some bone spurs shaved off his ankle. The Fire will be missing him, too. Nyarko not only is a dynamic winger who plays both ways, but he's also the team's primary outlet against pressure - when he's out of the lineup, Chicago can struggle to clear the defensive zone against a high press.
BW: Both of our teams have gone through coaching changes this off-season, but our change didn't bring that much of a difference in tactics. Have there been any major differences between the two Franks in Chicago?
HTIOT: This Frank seems to think tactics are a thing, where the previous Frank was very much a 'roll the ball out there and let's see what happens' kind of a guy. Both have favored the stability and flexible nature of the good old 4-4-2, but Yallop clearly sees the possibilities offered by different sets; for instance, against LA, the Fire came out in a compact, narrow 4-2-3-1 that thoroughly stifled the Galaxy.
Generally, it seems Yallop would like to see the team playing with the ball on the deck more than they now do; countering seems to be in the blood for some parts of the roster. It's a work in progress.