Chivas USA came off a midweek friendly draw against Chivas de Guadalajara, and now they have a true and proper MLS road game, against the Chicago Fire Sunday afternoon. The Fire have gotten off to a rocky start in 2013, but I'm sure they are eager to right the ship, and have to feel like they at least have a shot against the Goats. At the same time, confidence for Chivas has to be the highest it has been in quite some time, and they have to feel like they can certainly grab some points off the team currently sitting in the league's basement.
With that in mind, we welcome Ryan Sealock of SB Nation Chicago Fire blog Hot Time in Old Town to Chivatown to answer my questions about his team. I also answer questions from Ryan and the rest of the HTIOT staff. Many thanks to Ryan for his participation!
The Goat Parade asks Hot Time in Old Town:
1. How has the season gone so far for Chicago? They haven't changed coaches, but who are some of the key additions and how are they fitting into the team?
So far, the season has been quite a disappointment. Fortunately it is still early. I don't think any of us saw the Fire sitting at 1 point after 3 games. The stat bigger than that though is 0 goals in 3 games. The midfield has been very disjointed so far, thus no service is coming to the forwards to speak of.
New additions this year are Jeff Larentowicz, Dilly Duka, and Joel Lindpere. We also brought in Maicon Santos for forward depth. Right now, none of those players are tearing it up so far. Larentowicz has been steady, and Duka appears to be rounding into a decent form. Lindpere has looked completely lost early on, and Santos has been up and down. The thing I am trying to figure out is why the team is not gelling yet. These are proven additions we have acquired, so the frustration level is kind of high right now. Especially considering the fact everyone seemed to be coming together nicely in the pre-season.
Again, I will stress the fact that it's early and these players are simply too good to perform like this. The team will pick it up, that I am sure of. The question is when. With another tough Eastern Conference this year, we certainly can't afford to fall behind too far, too early.
2. Starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson and midfielder Joel Lindpere will be out for this game because they are on international duty. How important will their absence be, and who do you expect to play in their place?
Paolo Tornaghi will be backing up Johnson in goal, and I have absolutely no worries there. Although Tornaghi hasn't featured in goal since early in the 2012 season, the skills are there. We are using an international slot up on him, and I know he can get the job done. Obviously losing a young talent like Sean always hurts, but it's nice to see him as the top young option right now for the USMNT. That being said, the Fire need points in MLS play, and chances are always better with Sean in the lineup. Keep an eye on Paolo though, he will handle the role with a mental and physical makeup you wouldn't expect from a regular back up GK.
As for Lindpere, I expect young Brazilian Alex to fill in for him. Although Alex has been thought of as a CAM since he officially joined the team last summer, he flirted with the withdrawn role in the pre-season, and had some success doing so (nothing a pretty incredible goal to boot). I expect Alex to slot in the CAM role that Lindpere prefers but has struggled with in 2013. If Alex is on, he is going to cause some headaches for the Chivas USA back line.
3. How is Chicago going to address their scoring struggles? Any big adjustments you expect the Fire to make against Chivas?
I don't foresee any huge formation changes. While head coach Frank Klopas has shown more flexibility with the lineup this year, I would expect to see anything crazy come Sunday. I do expect an emphasis on attack as this team has to get going. While we played for a point on the road in KC, I would expect us to go for the kill at home in Toyota Park. The team is too good to continue to struggle like this. When we finally net that first goal, I expect a couple more to follow.
Also keep in mind that the high Sunday is supposed to be around 34 degrees with a chance of snow. It's safe to say that's a bit colder than Chivas is used to, and could work in the Fire's favor as well.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for the match?
Starting XI: Tornaghi, Pause, Anibaba, Berry, Segares, Larentowicz, Duka, Nyarko, Alex, Santos, Rolfe
Score prediction: Well, it's hard to predict Fire goals with any accuracy so far. But, it's no fun always predicting losses or draws. Sooner or later we have to get going and get a break or two. I will say 1-0 Fire win on a chilly Sunday afternoon in the Windy City.
Hot Time in Old Town asks The Goat Parade:
1. If "everyone in MLS plays a 4-4-1-1," as Chelis said in the last couple weeks, why have Goats-n-Stripes adopted a 3-5-2 in response? One might say that the formation offers more defenders than is strictly called for, even allowing for a spare man in defense. Is it Los Yanquis (writ large) noted ruthlessness in attack which inspires this fearful posture?
Chelís got a lot of stick for deciding on a three-man backline during the preseason, but he has stuck with his guns so far, and it has led to points in two out of three games. The key is that in addition to the formation, he has stressed a high-energy press in defense for all of the players on the field. In the two games in which the press has been executed, the team has gotten a result. And so far, he's used midfielders as wingbacks, usually with one playing a more defensive role, and the other a more attacking role. While the team's shape often looks ugly and unorthodox, the ethic he's preached has been a team approach, and if they continue to work as a group, it seems like this three-man backline could actually break the gospel that MLS teams need to use four defenders..
2. What is your take on El Chelis so far? He has made some vast changes (roster overturn and Spanish only broadcasts to say the least). Do you think his drastic plan is good for the club? Or will it turn into a circus every week much like Hans Backe's time in New York?
Well, to be fair to Chelís, he's had little say in the roster turnover, as even some players he expressed support for during the preseason got traded away, and he certainly has no say in the TV situation, which is a mess that the front office needs to be blamed for. Chelís is essentially taking care of what's happening on the field, but the changes taking place at the club go far beyond strictly what's happening on the field.
In regards to the on-field matters, so far Chelís is proving to fit the bill as far as his reputation. He's a terrific man-motivator, he is liked by his players, and he is pragmatic in his approach. In his time coaching in Mexico, he's never had the reins of an elite team, and so coming into a situation like Chivas USA he's been able to use the same approach he's previously used in his career. He is open about the talent deficit on the squad, but he preps his players to play above their abilities. In early returns, it is working. Certainly, there will be losses, and there will be stretches where things don't go right, and it will be up to him and the squad to cope with those issues and make adjustments. But while he's been publicized for his entertaining comments, he certainly seems like he can coach, and more importantly, coach in MLS.
3. Chivas has started off the season a bit stronger than most people expected, with 4 points in their first 3 games. What do you think is the reason for this quick start? Do you see the team being able to keep it up and surprise everyone?
Well, it is a long season, so who knows, but prior to their first win two weeks ago, Chivas USA hadn't won a competitive match since last July. The group is fit, they have bought into Chelís' approach, and they work hard. They play a very physical match, and that is clearly by design. I'm sure Fire fans will get upset at the fouling, but when you are a team that has had little to no traction the last few years, you scrap as you can to get results. In addition, the manager has rotated his lineup, and remarkably, players are stepping up game after game. It seems that even if a player struggles, he need only wait a few weeks to get back into the lineup, and that seems to have kept up morale among the players.
As for whether they can continue the run all season, it is hard to say. At this point, I think fans are being cautiously optimistic, and we'll ride it out for now to see how it goes. It is nice, however to not get incessant abuse from fans of other teams, as the past few years and offseason was absolutely brutal for most of us to deal with.
4. Bonus: starting lineup and score prediction
Prediction: Chivas win 2-1