tBG) The Chicago Fire have undergone some pretty dramatic lineup changes since last season. Is the slow start the club has gotten off to in 2015 due to the club not gelling as much as necessary, or are people starting to second guess some of the personnel moves?
HTOT) That's the big question everyone's grappling with here. Is this team better than they've shown? Frank Yallop is putting on a brave face at the moment, asking for patience; it is, admittedly, still quite early. But the failure of Kennedy Igboananike to displace the very limited Quincy Amarikwa at striker seems a terrifying echo of past season DP washouts. Shaun Maloney hasn't been the difference-maker we'd hoped, and he'll be off with Scotland. David Accam managed to get in a decent half of football before being called up by Ghana. Yes, people are starting to second-guess virtually everything about this club, and it won't stop unless or until the team is competitive.
tBG) How critical is Mike Magee returning to the form he was in during the 2013 season to the fortunes of the Chicago Fire?
HTOT) It's looking more critical by the week, which is frightening. Add in Magee finishing some of the chances and this team's not terrible; but how realistic is that expectation? Magee is as competitive and clever as they come, and will surely get back on the field as quickly as he can. But what his body can do once he gets there is an open question; he went under the knife in September and still isn't participating in full practice sessions.
tBG) While not rivals in the technical sense of the word, the Union and Fire have had some pretty pitched battles. What are some of your best and worst memories of when these two clubs face one another?
HTOT) The over-riding feature of recent games against Philadelphia in my mind has been just how boring the football on display was for each side - these teams, neither of whom are among the league's elite, seem to bring out the worst in one another. A match from the rivalry that stands out in my memory in a negative way was the Fire's 3-1 home loss to the Union on CF97's 15th anniversary. That loss rather announced that the Fire, until then one of the hottest teams in MLS, were going to stumble - and stumble they did, falling into a wild-card spot and leaving the playoffs meekly. We haven't been to the postseason since.
The international absences of Maloney and Accam leave the Fire scrambling a bit, although their shape has been unsettled anyway. Joevin Jones will likely play in midfield again, as he is the only width option healthy at the moment. My best guess is that Yallop gives Igboananike another chance this week, and rewards Quincy for his hard work by moving him to a wing. Jones playing farther up, and Yallop's apparent complete lack of faith in Greg Cochrane, means Lovel Palmer gets another start as an entirely right-footed left back.
Predicted lineup (4-3-3): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Adailton, Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Gehrig; Michael Stephens, Matt Polster, Harrison Shipp; Joevin Jones, Kennedy Igboananike, Quincy Amarikwa.
Predicted score: 1-1. Chicago again shows it can keep the ball, but the Union run at Gehrig ruthlessly throughout the first half and get the opening goal. Yallop again shifts the team around, this time with better effect, and the Fire grab an equalizer. Subs destroy the equilibrium, and the game sinks to a muddy, aimless lump and chase.