Time to preview Saturday's match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire. We exchanged three questions with Tweed Thornton of Hot Time in Old Town. The games kicks off at the Home Depot Center at 7:30 PM pst on Fox Soccer Channel and our question exchange kicks off below with the rest of the exchange taking place after the break.
1. Chicago has 2 wins and 12 draws. The Fire has as many losses as Philadelphia. With a goal difference of just -3, does this feel like a team which could be much higher up the table, or is the point total about right?
There's no doubt Chicago could have better results. It's been a frustrating season. You take a look at Colorado who has a goal differential of -2 and they have 6 more points than the Fire. D.C. United has a -6 goal differential, two games in hand, and one more point in the standings. The Fire are tied at 18 points with Toronto while the Canadian side has a league low -17 goal differential. That's absurd. No other team even has a negative goal differential in double digits yet there TFC is, neck and neck with the Fire in the playoff picture.
Things actually could be worse. Chicago turned over more than 50% of their roster going into the season. The team has had 2 head coaches (Carlos de los Cobos and Frank Klopas), 2 main goaltenders (Sean Johnson and Jon Conway), and sold their one of their starting forwards (Gaston Puerari) halfway through the year. The leading scorer (Marco Pappa) and leading assist maker (Patrick Nyarko) from 2010 have each missed at least 20% of the games so far. The team's captain (Logan Pause) has missed even more than that. In spite of everything, only one team has found a way to beat Chicago in the Fire's last 13 games. It's been somewhat of an improbable run that suggests the team is no pushover for now and might just turn into an elite competitor soon.
2. Marco Pappa is third in the league in shots and shots on goal. The Fire are first in the league in shots and shots on goal. So where are the goals?
Perhaps they are in the hands of opposing goaltenders? A cheap answer for sure. The deeper reality lies in the combination of three factors: terrible corner kicks, not enough penalty kicks, and striking the posts too often.
All of those shots on goal aren't doing the Fire any good if they are deflected out of bounds. Of the 94 corner kick opportunities the Fire have had this year, they have converted a whopping total of 0, nada, zero. CKs have been wasted opportunities.
This isn't a dagger in the heart of the team but Chicago only has one PK goal this year. They are tied for 3rd to last in MLS in PK opportunities. Conference rivals DC United and Columbus Crew have been feasting with a 6 for 6 and 5 for 5 penalty kick conversion rate respectively. When talking about a handful of points separating teams, those goals mean big points in the long run.
No team has had a knack for striking the ironwork like this one. The last time Opta tweeted on the matter, Diego Chaves lead the league with 3 hits to the posts. Orr Barouch should have spoiled the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park but instead smacked the top crossbar on a ‘gimme rebound' in the second half. In the May 28 game vs. San Jose, Cristian Nazarit even managed to hit the left post AND the right post in a single shot. Fortunately for the Fire it left Jon Busch utterly confused and Dominic Oduro slammed home the ball while it was on the goal line.
3. I feel like I'm a lawyer in a few good men the way these questions are progressing. The Fire have given up seven goals in the fifteen minutes after halftime. Explain that. I want answers! I want the truth!
This team does not have a killer instinct. Veteran opponents know the game is about to be raised in the second half. A younger and more inexperienced Fire team treat it like the beginning of the game where the teams are trying to figure out each other. Last year's team gave up most of their goals against in the last fifteen minutes of the game. This team will have to nip this problem in the bud or stop hitting the post. Otherwise the fate of the 2011 season will mirror an unsuccessful 2010 campaign.
1. Los Angeles finds themselves in a very positive position in the MLS standings and face coastal rival Seattle Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. Any chance some starters will be held back in anticipation of the mid-week USOC matchup?
The US Open match is being played in front of 2,000 people in Tukwila, Washington. Meanwhile, the Galaxy only have two points between them and FC Dallas. Are you serious?
2. The MLS Injury Report lists David Beckham, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, and to a lesser extent Frankie Hejduk, all as questionable. How would their collective absence affect the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday and which of the four do you think will end up starting?
Just to recap for those who don't follow the Galaxy closely, David Beckham had been complaining of back spasms for a week or so, and then x-rays showed it was a fracture on one of his vertebrae. He got the cortizone shot and said he played pain free for the 25 minutes he played on Monday. Of course many medical professionals will tell you that trading a few weeks of recovery time for arthritis later is a crazy thing, but athletes are crazy people. David Beckham would play with a lead boot if the doctors would clear him. I expect him to come off the bench in the second half.
Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza went down in Monday's match. A.J. suffered a concussion after being kicked in the face, and would hope he skips Saturday. Omar Gonzalez suffered a left hip pointer after a midfield tackle. He was fine to walk on it but couldn't run. I think he's likely to start on Sunday. He and Greg Berhalter in the center backs most likely. Frankie Hejduk only affects the reserve team.
Beckham not starting means Donovan, Birchall, Juninho, and Magee most likely. Donovan can cut up a defense with his dribbling, but no Beckham means service into the box will be non-existent. Magee will hamsting the attack a few times, it'll be fun times.
3. Last time we exchanged questions, you were rooting for Bryan Jordan to work his way into getting more playing time. Well he's appeared in 2 of the last 4 games as a late substitute. Is he finally getting his break and has any other player ascended into the gameday 18 since LA last played the Chicago Fire in April?
Bryan Jordan has been getting a look, but the 18 has been fairly consistent. And that's not just a glib observation. Miguel Lopez has been up and down, with some combination of him, Juan Pablo Angel, and Chad Barrett starting most matches. Paolo Cardozo, Jovan Kirovski, I'm looking at old starting 18s and it's all the same characters. Makes going to reserve matches all the sadder. It's like "hey look at these guys who will never see the inside of the locker room".