Tweed Thornton, of SB Nation's Chicago Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town, and I exchanged three questions a piece, ahead of today's Philadelphia Union-Fire match at PPL Park.
Scott Kessler: Sean Johnson was a steal for the Chicago Fire when they drafted the Generation Adidas goalkeeper in the fourth round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. What has happened to him this year that has put him on the bench?
Tweed Thornton: 2011 started off as a great year for Sean Johnson. He didn't start the January 22nd USMNT friendly against Chile but Bob Bradley did put him in the second half. Johnson was the starter throughout pre-season. The Fire tied 2010 MLS Cup Finalist FC Dallas 1-1 in the first game and won the next game over Sporting KC 3-2. All was right in the world.
Then Chicago traveled to Seattle and the team lost 2-1. It wasn't so much the fact we gave up two goals to Seattle but in the manner they took place. The first goal Johnson wasn't quick to react on an O'Brien White header. The second goal Johnson gave up too much room on the near post. In looking over the tape of the Sporting KC and FC Dallas games, you could see Johnson wasn't trusting his defense and was making risky runs. He wouldn't even go to grab the ball. He just punched the ball. There were a couple of close calls and he just didn't look 100% sharp. One of the HTIOT writers wrote a piece suggesting that Johnson sit out the Portland game. He doesn't look 100%, the stage is going to be huge, and Jon Conway the veteran is better suited to take in this atmosphere. If Conway struggles, Johnson can take note that it's not just him. If Conway succeeds, Johnson can take note of how Conway is working with the entirely new defense.
Well Sean Johnson got the start and the team lost to Portland 4-2. Now that Portland has shown its home domination perhaps the Fire shouldn't feel too bad. However, coach Carlos de los Cobos announced that Jon Conway would start the next game against Los Angeles Galaxy at home. Instead of the temporary situation we were hoping for, Jon Conway has continued to start since April 17th. In his starts Conway is 0-1-4 so he has hardly been dominant but he has stopped the bleeding so to speak after the team lost three games in a row. Sean Johnson has also been unavailable the last two games thanks to a right quad strain. The good news is that he isn't listed on Friday's MLS Injury Report. It is very likely he will start on Tuesday, May 24 when Chicago takes on San Jose in the U.S. Open Cup Play-In game. Hopefully that environment will allow him to get back into the swing of things. The back line is playing well together after a rocky start. Sean Johnson is the Fire goaltender of the future while Jon Conway is a veteran stop gap.
SK: The Fire seem to have focused most of their player acquisition efforts on improving the offense. Of the attacking players, who is currently the one to watch out for?
TT: The last couple of weeks I would have said Diego Chaves without any hesitation but it's not as strong of an endorsement right now. Chaves started off scoring four goals in the first four games but he has started to look sluggish in the last games against Vancouver and Toronto. He came over from Uruguay and they don't play nearly as many games in their season as MLS. There are some serious fatigue concerns. They doesn't play well with the Fire coming up on a 9 games in 42 days stretch. That said, if Chaves has a good look in the box, he will almost certainly finish it. He has a killer instinct while not being a flashy player. He pops up and its lights out for the other team.
His fellow Uruguayan Gaston Puerari will be more noticeable tracking down balls, making runs, and having his long hair flow in the wind. His finishing is not nearly as clinical as Chaves so you can breathe a little easier if he has the ball on his feet. Long story short, Puerari is the one you'll notice but Chaves is the one to be on the lookout for.
SK: Has the current winless streak caused concern in the Fire's camp and fanbase?
TT: Yes and no. There are some people who look at the team, see the 8 points in 9 games, see Carlos de los Cobos as coach and think, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again. It's 2010 all over again'. Others came into 2011 knowing that this would be a work in progress with more than half the team having to be new players to fill out a 30 man roster. We have 8 points in 9 games despite the fact that Sean Johnson, Logan Pause, and Patrick Nyarko have missed significant amounts playing time? I'll take it. Things could be worse, we could be Sporting KC.
The defense is starting to look better and the offense refuses to quit during any game. A lot of fans were happy to see last week's performance where the team went down 2-0 in the second half and managed to comeback to tie the game 2-2 on the road. Chicago hasn't won in 7 games but they haven't lost in 4 games either. Patience will run thin in both camps if the Fire start to lose or even just tie every game but Carlos de los Cobos has built up a little bit of breathing room for himself. I'm currently in the ‘Things might improve' camp but talk to me in two weeks. Hell, depending on how today goes I might tell you it's the end of the world after two hours.