Mar 24, 2012; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Dominic Oduro (8) controls the ball as Philadelphia Union midfielder Keon Daniel (26) defends during the second half at Toyota Park. The Chicago Fire won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
The Brotherly Game: Last season Oduro had a monster year and had some good play against the Union. What's happened with his so far this year?
Hot Time Old Town: Last year was a bit of an anomaly I am afraid to say. Fire fans were hopeful it was not but Oduro still suffers from what he has always suffered from: a lack of finishing. He simply misses too many goals he shouldn't. That's why Houston shipped him off, and although it has improved a bit in his time in Chicago, the problem is still there and prevalent. The other major issue is that we have had no one to step up top with him and do effective work. Oduro is not in the mold of a stand alone striker, so he struggles up top by himself. Team defenses lay deep to negate his speed, and this ends up frustrating Dom. Additionally, he really hasn't gotten and significant playing breaks this year, so I definitely think fatigue is an issue. Recent signing Sherjill MacDonald has shown some promise in his first 2 appearances as a striker that can hold the ball up and play with his back to the goal. When MacDonald is fully fit we may see Oduro go to the bench and appear as a super sub to burn tired legs of the opposing defense later in games. I think a pairing of a player like Sherjill can work well with Oduro when they are both on the pitch together.
tBG: Patrick Nyarko was a constant threat down the wing last season and appears to have continued his form this year. Are the Fire prepared to rely heavily upon him against a Union defense that has dealt with problems defending wide play from opposing offenses?
HTOT: Fire fans contend that Patrick Nyarko is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated MLS players in terms of media attention. They guy has been great for us, yet never seems to get recognition. He is one of the catalysts that makes our offense go. When he is on his game and locked in, the attack is very dangerous. I would expect to see more of the same Sunday night. Nyarko loves to tear down the wings using his speed to set up teammates for attempts on goal. He is a very hard worker, can play defense, and tracks back well. He is the type of player that would make any team better, and even if the rest of the MLS community doesn't recognize Patty's magnificent play, it's certainly appreciated by Fire fans. If Patrick has a good game Sunday night, it is going to make things tough on the Union defenders that are patrolling the wings.
tBG: Sean Johnson has had an up-and-down season, similar to just a year ago. What's his current form like and has he had problems much like Zac MacMath's this season?
HTOT: Sean was up and down early in the season, but he has been locked in and in great form the past 4-5 weeks. He had a magnificent game in San Jose a couple of weeks back that should have brought home 3 points but only garnered 1 point. He was good again last week against Toronto. Right now he is playing steadily at a high level and if this continues through the end of the season I think he has to be considered one of the top GK's in the league. He is still young and learning, but he has an athleticism that is pretty much unmatched in MLS. He is trying to work on the rough edges such as ball distribution and patrolling the box better (knowing when to punch the ball vs. go get it and secure it for example). He has shown improvement with these things however, and like any young GK, should improve over time.
tBG: There have been a few... controversial transfer moves by the Fire this season. Can you describe what's happened to Chicago in the last few months in terms of player movement?
HTOT: Wow, where do I start? The two big flop signing were Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo. Neither player adapted to the league at all. Puppo seemed too small for the physical MLS style, and when he did play was unimpressive. The past few weeks up to his transfer he found it hard to even break into the gameday 18. We found a club in Uruguay called Defensor Sporting to take him on loan. I would be shocked to see him back in Fire red. Robayo on the other hand whined, complained, and made things miserable in his time here. Although the Front Office tried to soften the blow in a recent interview they did with our blog, fans are still irate at Robayo's actions (and rightfully so). He has returned to the club he came from, Millonarios. Again, I don't expect to see him back. In these 2 cases, Puppo at least tried but the signing just didn't work out. Robayo made cutting remarks about the quality of the league and his desire to go back to a better league. Yet he couldn't even cut it in MLS> He acted like he didn't appreciate to city, the club, or the badge. And that is a recipe for the fans wanting you out of the club ASAP.
Sebastian Grazzini leaving has been a confusing mess to be honest. The story put out from the front office is that Grazzini's agent(s) drew up a contract he was not happy with. The Fire had him sign an extension despite this, but then "personal issues" came up which made Grazzini fell the need to return to Argentina. I don't know if the full story will ever truly come out. It would seem there is a lot of confusion that factors into this, and I don't expect much if any further clarification to come out about this. It's an odd, unfortunate situation but I don't expect Sebastian to return, thus the team has to move on past him and continue pushing for the playoffs.
Sherjill MacDonald and Alvaro Fernandez do seem like they will be good acquisitions that can help take the team to the next level. Chris Rolfe was acquired earlier this year, but due to a previous stint with the Fire, we knew exactly what we were getting. He has performed very well so far, and should be even better if he gets deployed in his strongest position which is striker. Bottom line is that the dead weight was cut out and improvements brought in. Overall, the team is better after these moves than they were before or during those players tenures. Grazzini is the only exception. It would be nice to have him still, but the negative aspects of Puppo and Robayo are refreshing to have gone.
tBG: One of the more exciting additions, at least earlier in 2012, to me has been Alex. Does he have a future as an attacking midfielder for the Fire and is his talent level large enough for him to make a major impact in MLS?
HTOT: The jury is still out. At times he has been great, and other times just "meh". The front office brought him in to fill Grazzini's role. He is young and still learning, but he is far from Sebastian. He is still learning the league so I have high hopes for him. For now it seems like Frank might use a rotation of Alex, Chris Rolfe, and maybe even Marco Pappa in the middle until a clear cut favorite emerges or Alex puts it all together. He is definitely a player to watch when he is on the pitch.
Bonus Score Prediction: 1-0 Fire. Gonna pick Sherjill to get his first MLS goal.