Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Toronto FC

maggetoronto

New year, new you. That goes for both Mike Magee and Toronto FC (mlssoccer.com)

OTF’s Jon Denham revisits the roster, the standings, and the injury list while Tony Walsh of the Yorkies celebrates North America Day!

Where should we start, faithful Fire fans? Priming your Fire pump may seem difficult right now, but I’ll get you there.

Your (soccer) life has revolved around the FIFA World Cup for the last two weeks. That’s OK, and how it should be. The OTF Soccer staff has been all over this Brazilian bonanza. It has been an incredibly memorable couple weeks with extraordinary results. Arévalo Rios watched Suarez bite the Italian. Klinsmann pushed a lot of the right buttons. There have been penalty kick shootouts, media centers overrun by Chileans, and Costa freakin’ Rica is in the quarterfinals.

Since that loss to Seattle on June 7, the Men in Red have managed a storm-shortened win and an extra time win in the U.S. Open Cup. The roster has shifted. Grant Park has been crazy. Toyota Park has been largely idle.

Hey, look, it is Juan Luis Anangono! And he's scoring meaningful goals!

Hey, look, it’s Juan Luis Anangono! And he’s scoring meaningful goals!

Victor Pineda is with Indy Eleven. Alex has his Green Card. Giuseppe Gentile and Orr Barouch are gone. Grant Ward’s loan has been extended.

The Frank Yallop influence on the roster is very real, and the season spent erasing memories of Frank Klopas and Javier Leon continues. Goals have come. Shutouts have not. The calendar showed May the last time Chicago produced three points in MLS play. Back then, the squad dropped five goals on New York and got past a depleted Kansas City side.

There really is no way to tell which direction this team will go as the calendar turns to July. A jumping on Mike Magee’s back and fighting for a playoff spot redux is a possibility. A more diverse goal-scoring attack that produces results may well blossom over the summer months. At the same time, spinning their collective wheels below the playoff line could become a reality. The first test comes midweek against an improved Toronto FC side.

How They Stand in the East
Open Cup progress doesn't change what you see here...

U.S. Open Cup progress doesn’t change what you see here…

Games played: 14

Points: 14 (five behind a playoff spot)

Points Per Game: 1

That bolded line in the table above is ugly, especially when the team you face has only played 12 games and sits in fourth place. Moreover, all the time off in the world doesn’t move Chicago up the standings. For the Fire, an East-low four losses doesn’t seem as promising next to the eight draws. Sure, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but the current point-per-game pace simply won’t cut it.

Even the four points lost at the penalty spot earlier this season doesn’t put Chicago above the red line at this point. Three points at home, against a Toronto side without Michael Bradley or Julio Cesar, are a must to reignite the Fire.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

We’ve seen a mix of players against Pittsburgh and Columbus in U.S. Open Cup play over the last couple weeks. Knocks and surgeries aside, a fairly healthy Fire squad hosts Toronto tonight. Alex, Mike Magee, and Lovel Palmer are as close to 100% as they’re probably going to be form now on. Patrick Nyarko is out. Benji Joya is better served to reach full speed before taking the field again. So where does that leave Frank Yallop and staff?

Here’s one option:

More Grant Ward, and a healthier lineup overall

More Grant Ward, and a healthier lineup overall

Sean Johnson, Lovel Palmer, and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado all set up as usual. Alternatively, Yallop could insert Gonzalo Segares at left back and Bakary Soumare (and his giant contract) at center back. 

In the midfield, captain Jeff Larentowicz (if he isn’t in the delivery room with his wife and first-born) is flanked by Harry Shipp (who may have benefitted most from the World Cup layoff) and loanee Grant Ward. Alex is positioned at the top of a diamond midfield to create scoring chances and attract attention. The Brazilian pulling the trigger from distance once or twice could keep the Toronto defense guessing.

Juan Luis Anangonó may be rewarded with a start if Yallop really wants to foster competition. I’ve got Quincy Amarikwa in there now though. Anangonó’s YouTube videos may not generate as many hits as #QuincyTime, but if he scores goals, he’ll get the necessary minutes on the pitch. 

Tonight is as good a chance as any to see Yallop’s high pressure put into action. Toronto is coming off a Friday match, and if Chicago’s midfield can step in front of passes out of the back – big or small – TFC’s ability to get the ball to Defoe and company will be hampered.

My bench: Reynish; Segares, Soumare; Watson, Pause, Duka; Anangonó

Prediction to ponder in the comments section below…

Chicago Fire (3), Toronto FC (2)

There will be fireworks after the game, I’m told. I’m telling you there will be fireworks during the match, as well. How does five goals sound?

While the Fire may not have figured out how to shut anyone out besides a half-interested Colorado Rapids (reserve) team, they remain capable of stuffing home goals. Jermain Defoe and Gilberto each tally a goal for the visitors. Dwayne De Rosario could jump up and bite, too. Alas, Joe Bendik is no Julio Cesar. All eyes are on Quincy Amarikwa, Grant Ward, and a game-winner from Mike Magee. Optimism abounds as the Toyota Park parking lot clears on Wednesday night.

My 2014 Record: 5-9

VIVA la Copa del Lagos Grandes con los Yorkies!

Could this fixture be on a better day? The evening of July 2nd is nearly the meeting point of Canada Day (celebrating Canada’s victory over some kind of ice monster in the early 1970’s) and the Fourth of July (where you, our southerly cousins, celebrate your ability to swallow hot dogs. So TV news informs us.) Why you could almost say today is… North America Day!

North America’s aquatic jewel is obviously The Great Lakes (Suck it Mississippi and St. Lawrence), and what better opponents than “Da’ GL’s” (street slang) two most beautiful towns, Chicago and Toronto, to mark this day? (Suck it Cleveland and Thunder Bay) Borderly lovin’!

The ironic thing is, your opponents, our local Toronto Eff Cee’s, embody the values of North America Day like few other MLS clubs can. A Canadian club so Canadian that we garishly cram thousands upon thousands of maple leaf logos onto our kits, yet a club whose future depends on two players – one from former North American Colonial Overlords England, and one from our big ol’ pal the U, S and A.

You see, since the last time our two clubs shook their bits at each other, TFC has undergone some serious cosmetic surgery. The lowly Reds you have lovingly pounded on since 2007 are now The Bloody Big Eels… a name derived from the off-season DP announcements that were proclaimed as a “Bloody Big Deal”. On the backs of those three signings: Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and a guy you may have heard of – Michael Bradley – this is the first real “new look TFC” you have seen in the flesh.

(yorkies1812.blogspot.com)

(yorkies1812.blogspot.com)

However, let’s not get our maple leaf panties in a twist quite yet. While Jermain Defoe does exactly what it says on the tin and Michael Bradley is, well… awesome, questions remain. Gilberto was/is on the verge of being proclaimed a DP bust (before a wondergoal against New York), Dwayne De Rosario is on his last leg as a professional footballer, and the squad depth, while better, is young and very raw at times. And then there’s the tactics and the knack for allowing late goals.

It seems nuts for a Toronto supporter to not be thrilled about a club in the mix for the playoffs with matches in hand, but a common refrain at BMO Field this season has been “results despite performance”. Second-year manager Ryan Nelsen isn’t exactly a technical dynamo and anything beyond the bluntest of counter-attacking has rarely been seen. While this club is still adding new faces (Say hi to your old pal Dominic Oduro!) it is also one that seems to be walking the thin line of turning into a very strong side or collapsing under the weight of its high expectations. They often seem ripe for a pounding, yet walk away with points.

If the second half of the season doesn’t see TFC move from strength to strength, closer to the club’s solid football in the 2-2 draw at NYRB on Friday, then the next change could end up being in the form of Ryan Nelsen, but that is likely premature. Anyway, he’s one of those Kiwi’s so who cares… this is NORTH AMERICA DAY!

Tony Walsh is District Manager of Great Lakes Lovin’ at The Yorkies. Follow OTF’s Canadian cousins @theYorkies1812

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. Toronto FC
Wednesday, July 2nd at 7:30 pm cst
Television: My50 Chicago
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

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Follow OTF Soccer on Twitter @OTFSoccer

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