As I'm sure you know, we around the SB Nation campfire like to interact when our teams play each other. Burgundy Wave joined the network around the same time as our Chicago Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town, and I don't think we've missed a three questions session since. (They quite enjoyed the fact that The Terrace used to have them as their only MLS blog on the blog roll.) This time around I got questions from all of their writers and threw 'em some answers, which you can see over on their blog.
Here are the questions that I asked them about Chicago and their answers, provided by Ryan Sealock.
BW: Chicago are a tough team for me to parse. They looked good last season but couldn't seem to close the deal on a lot of games, resulting in that record for the most draws in MLS history. Where do you see the Fire ending up this season, will they turn all of those draws into wins or perhaps win just enough more to make the playoffs with the points they earn from tying?
HTiOT: I think most Fire fans, including myself, are very confident that the Fire will make the playoffs. In fact, I personally think we can be in the top 3 in the East by season's end. The talent is there, and the conference seems to also be there for the taking. In terms of all the draws last year, I think unquestionably a large reason for that was the huge roster turnover we had from 2010. A large majority of the roster from the 2010 season had departed heading into the 2011 season. That is never a recipe for a solid start to a new season.
That many new faces simply have to have time to gel and learn to play together. This coming together began to evidence itself in mid August, and the team went on a 7-2-1 tear to end the season. This 2012 team clearly has the talent and familiarity with each other to turn those draws into wins. We look to go deep into the playoffs this season.
HTiOT: I am going to go with a player that most fans (unless you are a Fire fan that is) have not heard of. We signed a young Italian goalkeeper by the name of Paolo Tornaghi this season. He is a product of the Inter Milan youth system and at the young age of 23 has played beyond his years thus far for the Fire in 2012. It started with some impressive preseason performances. It carried over into the first 2 games of the 2012 season as Paolo was given the starting nod in place of normal 'keeper Sean Johnson, who was away on U23 Olympic qualifying. Unfortunately the qualifiers ended in heartbreak, and Sean has just rejoined the team. However, given the disappointing loss and travel that Sean has had recently, it is not known whether he will start Sunday.
Fire fans have a huge amount of confidence if Paolo is given the nod again on Sunday. He truly has played magnificently so far in 2012 and will definitely be one to watch if he is between the sticks. He seems to have good field vision, brings great poise in goal for someone his age, and has certainly made his share of highlight reel saves so far. Despite this being a new player in a new league, Paolo has really stood tall. If he keeps this tremendous form up, head coach Frank Klopas could have quite the starting goalkeeper battle on his hands. Whether Sean or Paolo start, we are pretty fortunate in Chicago to have not one but two goalkeepers with that kind of talent. Even if Sean is not in goal Sunday, the Rapids will have quite the challenge vs. Tornaghi.
BW: Ben and I discussed this in our podcast earlier in the week, Chicago doesn't seem to have many 'star' goal scoring talents. Of course the Fire have tons of guys like Oduro, Pappa and Nyarko all capable of scoring the goals for the team, who do you think is going to rise up this season and take the reins as the dangerman for the Fire?
HTiOT: That is a good point you make, and something most Fire fans were concerned about coming into the season: who would score the goals. We all know Dominic Oduro had a wonderful, breakout year in 2011. Given the fact that he had not put up a goal tally like that previously however, many are wondering whether it was just a fluke or a sign that he had turned a proverbial corner in his career. Fortunately, Dominic has shown so far in 2012 that last season was indeed not a fluke. He had a good preseason, and has 2 goals in 2 games already in regular season MLS play.
My biggest question personally this year is who will help him out. Oduro can't carry the scoring load by himself, and we will need someone else to step up for the Fire to reach the lofty heights we all think they can. As you mentioned, Pappa can certainly lend some goals, as well as Nyarko here and there (to be fair he is more of an assist guy though). Midfielder Sebastian Grazzini contributed some goals last year, as well as Pavel Pardo.
Two key figures to keep an eye on are Orr Barouch and Federico Puppo. Barouch is an up and coming striker who was on loan from Tigres, but was signed by the Fire permanently this offseason. Orr has also been called up to the Israel U21 team, so the talent is there. Last year, he served a role as a super sub, starting 2 games but subbing in 26 games. He had 2 goals in 2011, but showed signs of a developing striker. Fire fans have high hopes for Orr this year. Puppo is a newcomer we have not seen much of yet. He started a bit shaky in preseason, but has seemed to find a groove and should be a valuable striking option coming off the bench. If he can contribute a handful of goals this year he will have had a successful debut season in Chicago.
Again, head over to Hot Time in Old Town for some of the best Chicago Fire coverage on the web, and to see my answers to the questions that they gave me.