The Brotherly Game: Are the Fire really as bad as their record suggests? Union fans know all too well after their inaugural season that wins, losses and draws may not necessarily be representative of how a team is playing.
Hot Time In Old Town: The Fire's record does not accurately represent the individual talent that is on this team. Chicago's starting XI in their last game of the 2010 season and Chicago's starting XI of the 2011 season opener shared four names: Sean Johnson, Bratislav Ristic, Marco Pappa, and Logan Pause. The starting XI for the 2011 season opener and the projected starting XI for tonight's game share five names: Sean Johnson, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares, Logan Pause, and Marco Pappa. Even Logan Pause, the 2011 captain and one of the few mainstays through the last 21 Chicago Fire MLS Regular season games will likely be shifted to right back if not tonight, then in the future. Despite all of this, the future looks bright for Chicago because several position battles have been finalized and there is a young core that is playing like they are hungry to win. New veteran midfield acquisitions Pavel Pardoand Sebastian Grazzini will almost certainly make their MLS debuts tonight because the two positions in the central midfield could not be filled internally. With their arrival, the Fire have a strong starting XI with little questions as to who will start and where.
The major question remaining is whether or not these new acquisitions will provide the links between all of the other players that earned their spot on the team. Technical director and interim head coach Frank Klopas hopes that Pardo's and Grazzini's veteran experience will kick in to make the team better right away. I don't know how quick this final stage will take but I will say the Union are lucky to be playing Chicago tonight instead of a month later.
tBG: What do you expect to see from the Fire tomorrow in terms of form and energy, given that they haven't played a competitive match since the 23rd of July against Manchester United and haven't played an MLS match since hosting Portland on the 16th of July? Do you sense that the team is confident enough to jump right in from first kick, or are they going to be a bit tentative and out of sync?
HTIOT: I think this game is a bit of a trap for Philadelphia. The Fire have a little bit of swagger in their step after playing Manchester United so well (lead 1-0 until the 65th minute). The ultimate score was a 3-1 loss but for a team with a 2-6-12 record, they'll take what motivation they can get. New recruits Grazzini and Pardo add some new talent and excitement to the team. The Fire have been taking it light at times even enjoying a couple of days of flat out vacation. Meanwhile Philadelphia is playing on five days rest, coming off a home loss, and just had the team's leading scorer leave the team.
It's hard to be cocky at 2-6-12 but Chicago fans have a healthy sense of confidence going into the game in spite of the two teams' positions in the standings. The weather is suppose to cool down by kick-off time. I expect the Fire to be eager to show off their new look fully rested with a pumped-up crowd behind them.
tBG: What's with all the draws? Is it that the club doesn't have good starts and concedes first, or are they unable to manage a lead and see it through?
HTIOT: I think the draws are indicative of the talent on the team but also demonstrate how much true team play has been missing. All six of the draws that have been 1-1 involved the Fire scoring first but Chicago was down against Toronto and San Jose and tied the game 2-2 in both instances. The Fire have also scored at least one goal in response in every game they have lost except for the most recent game versus Portland. Given there's seemingly no one or two factors keeping them from winning or losing more often, I definitely point to the team needing more time to become a team on the field. Fortunately for the Union, Chicago might still be a work in progress. Unfortunately for Chicago, time is rapidly running out to make the playoffs. There's no shortage of story lines to discuss as kick-off approaches.
Our thanks to Tweed for doing this with us; you can view the questions he asked me and my responses over on Hot Time In Old Town. As a reminder, our gamethread will be up in time for first kick and we'd love to have you join us.