Ahead of Toronto FC's game with the Chicago Fire on Saturday, I got in touch with Ryan Sealock of SB Nation's excellent Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town, which you can go to for the Fire view of the game. After the jump, Ryan answers my questions about Fire fans hopes for the rest of the season and just who TFC should be looking out for on Saturday, but first up, it's Alvaro Fernandez and Arne Friedrich. So, Chicago, how you doin'?
Waking the Red: Alvaro Fernandez for allocation money was obviously the big move, what other players have come in and out of Chicago this summer? How are they fitting in the team?
Hot Time In Old Town: Alvaro for allocation money is a very good deal. Not only are we strengthening the team for the playoff push, but we are also building depth and getting a replacement for when Marco Pappa eventually leaves the Fire for Europe. Pappa will most likely leave this winter. In fact, I would be shocked if he was with the club next year. There have been lots of rumors linking him to various clubs, and even a strong rumor saying he has signed a pre-contract with Wigan Athletic of the EPL. So, the need was there to plan for the eventuality of him leaving. The Front Office has taken care of this nicely with the addition of Alvaro. He has a proven pedigree in MLS with Seattle, and he should instantly make the Fire better. Another nice bonus is that he is fully fit and in form vs. a European player that would still be building fitness. Fire fans are very excited with this acquisition.
In terms of other coming and goings, new signing flops Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo have been returned back to Millonarios and loaned to Defensor in Uruguay, respectively. Both came in with high hopes for success, and both were shocking failures. Another player that has been brought in has been DP Sherjill MacDonald. Sherjill most recently played for Germinal Beerschot, and West Bromwich Albion before that. He is in the mold of a striker that can hold the ball up, and hopefully scores some goals for us as well. We desperately need both as Dominic Oduro has been struggling trying to carry the scoring load himself. Sherjill has started off on the right foot with fans, already professing how much he is loving the club and the city.
WTR: Getting a strong experienced centre back is right at the top of TFC fans wishlist right now. How has going down the 'old European guy' route with Arne Friedrich worked out so far?
HTIOT: Friedrich has been great for us. In terms of salary he is a relative bargain, and hi brings tons of experience from Europe and World Cup play. He has appeared over 80 times for the German National Team. And he has been great so far in Chicago. He has battled a couple of injuries but when he has been healthy he has been top notch. He also brings a wealth of experience for two our our young CB's, Jalil Anibaba and especially Austin Berry. Berry has blossomed into a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate beside Arne. He has been quite the pleasant surprise for Fire fans. And that is one thing that some people forget: the mentoring and teaching Arne brings is in some ways as valuable if not more valuable than his play on the pitch. It has been a great signing for the Fire and he seems to be over his injury problems from the past 2-3 years.
WTR: The Fire are currently in the 5th playoff spot. Are fans confident they can stay there, or get higher and avoid the wild card?
HTIOT: Personally I am confident we can finish in the top 3. I think most Fire fans feel the same way. Things have been kind of up and down lately in terms of performance and things were largely hanging in the balance heading into the end of the window. If the club made no moves, then I htink fan confidence would be lower. In the case of Sherjill, he was pretty much already signed by the club according to reports. We were just waiting for it to be made official. His first appearance against San Jose was not world changing but he did look good considering he does not have full fitness yet so that was encouraging for fans. Adding Alvaro was a huge bosst for the fans who were starting to feel like no more moves might happen in the window.
The talent is there for us to go far. It's just a matter of putting it all together and getting on a consistent run. We have cut the dead wood out (Puppo and Robayo), and the remaining lineup is one that can take us far.
WTR: What are the main changes (if any) lineup and tactics wise since we played back in April? Who or what should TFC be wary of?
HTIOT: The formation will most likely look similar as Frank tends to stay steady in his formation picks. Sherjill will be a new, dangerous face but I expect to see him as a second half sub. He doesn't quite have the fitness for a start. He said recently he was about 70% fit. I definitely expect to see a large chunk of time from Alvaro, if not a start. Another player to watch out for is relative newcomer Alex. He joined the team on June 27th and is trying to fill the void Sebastian Grazzini left behind. While one does not simply step on the pitch and fill in for Grazzini, he is young and has shown flashes of talent. He has only been with the league/team for a little more than a month, so he is still learning the ropes. If he can even fill in admirably for Grazzini we will be ok. He is definitely another player to watch Saturday night.
HTIOT: Score prediction: 2-1 Fire. Toronto goal from Ryan Johnson. Fire goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.