Ahead of Toronto FC's game on Saturday against the Chicago Fire, I swapped questions with Ryan Sealock of SBNation's Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town, where you can go to get the Chicago view of the game. After the jump, he answers my questions about what kind of formation we'll see and who are their dangermen, as well as how Dan Gargan's doing in Chicago. and i also answer his questions about TFC. So, without further ado, Chicago, how you doin'?
Waking the Red: The big news right now in Chicago is the return of Chris Rolfe. What does this mean to the team and the fans, and what sort of impact do you see him having on the pitch this season?
Hot Time In Old Town: Chicago Fire fans are absolutely ecstatic right now. Chris Rolfe is a beloved Fire player and a fan favorite. He is also a great soccer player. His return to Chicago is a big lift for a team that has started out in a bit of an up and down trend so far this season. While we have a very dangerous scorer in Dominic Oduro, we haven't had anyone else step up to the plate to help him out yet. Thus, opposing teams are developing game plans around shutting him down by laying deep on the pitch with their defenses. This negates Oduro's speed because it is harder to play long balls and through balls when you have a bunch of defenders just in front of the goal. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem for the Fire so far this season- not having another scorer helping out Oduro.
Going back to Rolfe signing, he possesses many traits that the team needs, especially right now. He is dangerous and can score. Although he can also play in midfield, head coach Frank Klopas has said he will be deployed up top with Oduro as a striker. This will give opposing teams a 2nd danger to worry about, which should help everyone involved. Rolfe is a dynamic player, can make plays, and is a danger from distance. I certainly have seen him let a rocket or two fly in his time. This will take pressure off of the rest of the team and help open up space for other players that can also score, like Grazzini, Pappa, and even Pavel Pardo.
WTR: Whether Rolfe jumps straight into the first team or not, what sort of formation and tactics will we see on Saturday? Who in particular should TFC be looking out for?
HTIOT: Formation wise, we are sometimes listed as employing a 4-1-2-1-2 formation. In our previous two games vs. Colorado and the weather shortened game vs. Houston, the MLS website had us listed in this formation for both games. In reality, we play more of a 4-3-1-2. I would expect to see something similar to this Saturday, though things will change up once Rolfe enters the game. Up top, we have Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. Nyarko is more of a true winger, and you can think of him as an assist man rather than a scorer. This is another benefit of Rolfe, as we should be able to move Patrick back to his best (and most dangerous spot) as a winger when Chris is up top with Oduro. In the midfield, if you picture it as a diamond, we will have Grazzini at the top. He is our main playmaker, and orchestrates the offense in many ways. I would look for Logan Pause out on the right side of the diamond, with Marco Pappa on the left. While Logan is not an offensive threat, he is able to act as a defensive midfielder. Pappa is of course and offensive threat on the left, but tends to wander way too much and sometimes clogs things up in midfield. Pavel Pardo patrols the back of the diamond as prime defensive midfielder. He can also put in some wicked set piece/free kicks as well.
Our back line should consist of Gonzalo Segares on the left, Arne Friedrich and Jalil Anibaba in the middle, and Dan Gargan on the right. I expect Sean Johnson to be in goal again. To answer the second part of the question, TFC fans should look out for Sebastian Grazzini. When he is in form, he pulls strings and makes the Fire a very dangerous team. He links play up to the forwards, and can score himself as well. When he is on his game, he is a true threat. If he is struggling, the Fire could resort to long ball play, which is not something Fire fans want to happen. The other player to watch out for is Rolfe. I expect a different look to the Fire once he enters play up top.
WTR: Dan Gargan went from cult hero to goat when exposed by TFC's chaotic defence last year, before being shipped out. We all know he'd love to put one over on Aron Winter again, but how has he fit in at Chicago, on and off the pitch?
HTIOT: Dan has been very good for us. He brings a toughness and grittiness that is a very welcome sight for the Men in Red. He has done a very good job on the right side of the defense. Dan has battled an injury here and there, but when he is healthy he brings an element to the right side of the backline that we don't otherwise have. He also adds some offensive punch too, as he likes to push up the field from time to time and help spring an attack. For a team that has struggled to score a bit so far this year, the more offensive help, the better. The downside of course to this is that it leaves him out of position defensively. This is where it is very helpful to have Logan Pause on the field. His good defensive abilities allow for cover when Dan pushes up the field.
As for off the field, he has fit in very well. He is well liked and held in high regards by teammates and fans alike. He is committed to the club and you can tell how much he likes playing for the Fire by leaving it all out on the pitch. Overall we are very happy with what Dan has provided to the Fire so far.
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HTIOT: How is the goalkeeping situation in Toronto currently? Stefan Frei broke his fibula in late March and was quoted as being out 8-10 weeks. Has the backup goalkeeping performed up to expectations so far? Do you foresee Toronto having to look at making a move to acquire a goalkeeper to get the team by until Frei returns? (via Rudy Gomez)
WTR: It turns out Frei's injury was more serious as he also tore some ligaments and will actually be out 4-6 months. It's not as big a blow as it could have been though as even before the injury, there was serious debate as to who exactly was number one. Now it's Milos kocic all the way, and everyone's fairly comfortable with him back there. He's better than Frei when it comes to control of his box and coming out for crosses and has been doing well when it comes to shot saving as well so far.
If Kocic goes down though, we're in trouble. We only went with 2 goalies to start the season, and when learning of the length of Frei's injury, the solution was to promote 17 year old Quillan Roberts from the academy. He's looked ok in reserve games and from the little we saw in preseason, but playing in front of TFC's defence has got to be tough for even the most experienced goalies, I really wouldn't be comfortable with throwing a rookie out there.
HTIOT: The entire Toronto FC club seems to be in flux right now. The club is still looking for their first win of the 2012 MLS Season. Additionally, a rumored rift between Aron Winter and Paul Mariner has allegedly developed. Combine that with the recent controversy between a TFC supporter group and TFC owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), and it would seem there is a lot going down in Toronto. Can you shed some light on the state of the club in Toronto right now and what the fan sentiment currently is regarding all of these issues?(via Ryan Sealock and Rudy Gomez)
WTR: The supporter Group controversy is nothing. A random tweet from what seems to be a fake account, with absolutely no evidence provided, and denied by everyone involved. The Front Office divide has a lot more legs to it though, even without anything on the record it has the stench of truth. Disagreements happen at every club and can often be a healthy thing, but there's nothing like a lot of losing to bring things to a boil.
There appears to be two camps, the more long term focused Dutch influenced, stick with the plan idealists, led presumably by Aron Winter, and those who see the need to adapt to MLS, and do it quickly before the season is lost. I have no inside info at all, but my gut says that Winter still has the confidence of upper management, exactly how long that will last if the defeats keep piling up is anyone's guess.
Fan sentiment is very much mixed as well, the genuine optimism of the preseason and CCL defeat of LA now replaced by a familiar despair. If it wasn't for the amount of times TFC have already changed coaches in their history, then there could be some serious calls to fire Winter. As it is, the desire for stability is keeping such talk quiet for now.
HTIOT: What strategy do you think Toronto will employ Saturday against the Fire to try to notch their first win? Is there any specific player that you see Toronto trying to neutralize?(via Ryan Sealock)
WTR: Dominic Oduro would be the obvious answer there, more in the sense that if they don't pay attention to him and just play their normal game, he can really punish them. TFC have often played a high line and offside trap this season which has regularly flirted with disaster and a speedy player like Oduro could have a lot of fun in the space behind that line, much like David Estrada and Fredy Montero had for Seattle earlier in the season. They'll probably have to change that to avoid Oduro getting too many chances.
Exactly how they'll do that is up for debate and really revolves around where exactly Torsten Frings plays. He should be fit to make his comeback and though he's played as a third centre back more often than not so far for TFC, I'm hoping he'll actually be in midfield to keep Sebastian Grazzini quiet.
After some defensive meltdowns, TFC have been playing with a much more defensive focus and to an extent it's worked, but now they're having trouble scoring. They still need to find the right balance and Frings should help there, using his composure to allow the team to push forward a bit more without everything falling apart at the back.