Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union

Chris Rolfe's time in a Fire uniform has come to an end. The team returns to Toyota Park to face a few familiar foes on saturday. (photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chris Rolfe’s time in a Fire uniform has come to an end. Meanwhile, the team returns to Toyota Park to take on some familiar faces Saturday. (photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

OTF’s Jon Denham bids Chris Rolfe farewell, and Ed Welsh from Brotherly Game provides the latest from a club down by the river…

Chicago Fire Soccer Club’s roster continues to change as the calendar now turns to April.  This time, the move included no new players coming into the fold.  The Rolfe deal was made with the Fire’s most recent opponent — D.C. United — and one the oldest players on the roster has departed.  Chris Rolfe joined the club in 2005 via the MLS SuperDraft, left for the Danish Superliga for three seasons, and returned almost exactly two years ago to the Windy City.  He was sent to D.C. for allocation cash on Wednesday in a move that creates cap space and brings down the average age of the roster.

Rolfe’s 48 goals in 178 matches are nothing to balk at.  Every fan seems to have a favorite goal from his first stint with the team.  By all accounts, he wore the badge with pride and fully gave himself to the club, but the front office appears to know what they have in Benji Joya, Harry Shipp, and Victor Pineda — more affordable replacements for Rolfe who can produce at a similar rate, at least. Frank Yallop and company found a suitor and pulled the trigger on the deal.

The last time Rolfe donned a Fire uniform was Wednesday in a reserve match against Indy Eleven.  He scored a goal and logged an assist.  Clearly, Rolfey has some gas left in the tank; he’ll just be putting the pedal to the metal in our nation’s capital now, possibly refreshed and always a professional.  We’ll be following from a distance, Chris.

The Men In Red return to Toyota Park for their first match of the season against the Philadelphia Union without Rolfe, but with Lovel Palmer, a healthier Dilly Duka, and a refreshed Patrick Nyarko.  Even without a win to show for their 2014 efforts so far, Frank Yallop remains positive about his side.  They’ve taken a point from three straight matches, and have done so in different ways, with goals coming from different places and faces.

Captain Jeff and Matt Watson have been steady contributors in the first month of the season (photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Captain Jeff and Matt Watson have been steady contributors during the first month of the season. (photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

The only thing missing from Chicago Fire season at this point is a victory.  There have been bright spots (above) as well as frustrations this first month.  A consistent 90 minutes on both ends of the pitch, along with some home cooking, can provide the right environment for those first three points this Saturday.  The gentlemen on the field are responsible for going and getting them.  Come on you Men in Red! 

Lineup & Tactics

Mike Magee wasn’t available out of the gate.  The roster continued to shift over the next three games and Frank Yallop pressed enough of the right buttons to guide the squad to three straight draws.  With a more complete roster available for the clash with the Union, Yallop has options.  Here’s one of them…

Patrick Nyarko is free to return to his usual spot, Cochrane's form buys Segares time, allows him to rest

Patrick Nyarko is free to return to his usual spot, Cochrane’s form buys Segares time, allows him to rest

Up top, Quincy Amarikwa’s late goal solidified his spot and showed Fire Nation that #QuincyTime is any time he’s on the field.  The five players behind him in the formation have each shown the ability to find the back of the net.  Chicago Fire has taken to the road three times already and not been shut out in 2014.

If Nyarko’s form and health are at their peak, and Joya continues to integrate into the team smoothly, the team’s width will be stronger.  Magee, Alex, and Larentowicz must continue to do their part to collectively control the middle of the park.  Connecting a few more passes within the trio will help build confidence around them.  The shape Yallop hopes to achieve can take form when they combine.  Turning the ball over quickly among them only hurts the defensive shape — forcing the wide players to scramble and others to commit fouls.

In the back, Greg Cochrane’s performance has allowed Gonzalo Segares to fully recover from his injury.  Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare don’t appear to be going anywhere.  At right back, Matt Watson filled in admirably.  He can give way to Lovel Palmer and come off the bench in a variety of roles for the manager.

Sean Johnson will be back from his trip to Arizona with the national team to help earn the Fire the full three points.  He’s been focused this first month, and may well return with a bit of spring in his step knowing he is considered among the best our country has to offer at the goalkeeper position.

My bench: Reynish; Segares, Ianni; Duka, Watson; Anangonó, Shipp

Prediction to argue about in the comments section…

Chicago Fire (1), Philadelphia Union (0)

One name.  One goal.  Alex is the difference on Saturday.  Others may have their hands in the buildup, but the young Brazilian is the difference as the Fire earn their first win. Johnson earns his first shutout of the year.

My 2014 Prediction Rate: 1-3

Scoop on the Doop with Ed Welsh from Brotherly Game

Let’s talk Union. The Union are currently 1-1-2, sporting five points, and a grand total of four goals. The good news is that we’ve only allowed four goals, so we’ve managed to bring in a few points here and there. The general feeling among Union supporters is one of optimism. We’re generally happy with the changes made over the offseason and excited to see what this team can do.

There are a few differences between 2013 and 2014 Union, the most notable of which are in the midfield. We’ve added Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Maurice Edu, all of whom are starting midfielders and have had a positive impact on the team.

Unlike most years (save for about three games last year where Kléberson actually played), the Union have a free kick specialist in Cristian Maidana on the team. If the Union have a set piece around the top of the box, look for Maidana to shoot.

Let’s talk about the Union defense. In goal is Zac MacMath, who posted 12 clean sheets last year, the most in all of MLS. Last year’s back line was Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke, and Fabinho. This year it has been Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Aaron Wheeler, and Fabinho.

(photo: phillysoccerpage.net)

(photo: phillysoccerpage.net)

Williams has been injured since the beginning of the season and only just returned to practice this past week. Wheeler played as a late sub at striker last year, and has since been converted to be a centerback. Don’t ask what the hell prompted this move, just know that it worked, as he looked very good against Montreal last week.

One of our normal substitutions is to bring in Antoine Hoppenot, professional sprinter, for Jack McInerney, also professional sprinter, who does soccer occasionally. Leo Fernandes could make a late-game appearance if he isn’t already starting over Brian Carroll.

Prediction: Union cruise into the 80th minute with a 1-0 lead and allow Chicago to score on a set piece to tie the game. You think this is ridiculously specific, but it’s actually a great formula we’ve had going for the last few years.

Follow Ed Welsh @EdWelshSays & Brotherly Game @BrotherlyGame

OTF’s Jon Denham grew up about seven miles north of The Harlem End. He now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, and may be its only resident with the MLS Direct Kick package. Jon’s the goalkeepers’ coach at Loras College, your go-to guy for t-shirts and promotional products at Envision Sports Designs, and writes some other stuff at Inclusive Beechwood Aging. Follow Jon @Denham_Jon

Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union
Saturday, April 5, 4:00 pm cst at Toyota Park
Television: My50 Chicago, TWC SC Wisconsin
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

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