Once upon a time the Chicago Fire were Kings of the Cup and the best expansion team in the history of MLS. They may still claim that second point, but it is still arguable. As for the first, neither team reigns. One team made history though when it beat the other in the US Open Cup Final, here, in Seattle, when Chicago last came to our fair shores to see their Fire snuffed out.
Sorry, that flashback got the best of me. This year's Fire are making a late run with 4 wins and 2 draws in their last 7 played to challenge for the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Sounders FC are making a late run with 6 wins in their last 7 to challenge for the Supporters' Shield.
Helping us through Three Questions is Mark from Hot Time In Old Town. Snark only shows up in my intro here, and that's my fault.
SaH: Mike Magee arrived to huge fanfare, but his scoring seems to have tailed off. Is this just natural variance in a season?
HTiOT: I think his lack of scoring as of late is normal and the goal scoring streak that Magee was riding earlier this year was the exception. As a member of the Galaxy, Magee only scored 19 goals in 105 appearances. He already has 8 goals for Chicago after 14 appearances. This current dry spell was bound to happen.
When it comes down to it, scoring goals was not what made Mike Magee a valuable part of LA's lineup the past 4 seasons. Magee is skilled at creating chances for other players. In only 14 appearances so far this season, he is already one of the top chance creators for the Fire. He also has very intense and competitive personality which is a trait that Fire players in recent years have not had with the exception of Arne Friedrich.
SaH: Is the most common build-up to goal for Chicago along the flanks? The central mids seem to sit deep fairly often.
HTiOT: That's what tends to happen when you don't have any true attacking central midfielders on your roster. The last couple of games the Fire have been starting Jeff Larentowics, who is more of a defensive midfielder, and Egidio Arevalo Rios, who is a defensive specialist. The Fire's two forwards, Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee, like to play a more withdrawn role, so they take turns dropping into the midfield to create link-up play. Magee does this more often than Rolfe.
The two more dangerous attackers on the team are the wingers, Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka. The fullbacks like to get forward as well. Gonzalo Segares doesn't get forward as often as he use to. Jalil Anibaba, who is naturally a centerback, is in his third season spending time at rightback and has been looking a lot more confident getting forward this season. His crossing is still pretty suspect at times, but he has been taking opposing defenders on in one-on-one situations and coming out on top every now and then.
If Fire are not crashing down the flanks, then they're hunkering down and waiting to counter attack.
SaH: How's the Fire defense against set-pieces?
HTiOT: Better this year than it was last year. The Fire have only given up two goals on set pieces this year, which is surprising considering how bad the Fire were at clearing their lines early on in the season. I think the last goal on a set piece came from a corner in Philadelphia, and it was kind of a fluke. Sheanon Williams just kind of fell and rolled into the ball as it was bouncing in front of goal.
Significant Absences (national team, injury, suspension):
Both Joel LIndpere and Egidio Alevalo Rios will be away on National team duty for Estonia and Uruguay respectively. Other than those two, everyone else should be ready to go.
HTiOT: What happened to Fredy Montero? To the outsider, it seemed like he was poised to become the next big young star. Yet the Sounders have him out on loan. Why hasn't he cut it in Seattle? Is there a possibility that he could return at some point? (via Ryan Sealock)
SaH: I'd argue that Montero was a star. Very few had more goals than he did in his four years in Seattle, and he combined that with assists, footwork and trophies. It isn't that he didn't cut it with Sounders FC. It's more like he's too good for MLS, as his performance with Sporting Lisbon has shown (five goals in three matches over in Portugal). While it is structured as a loan, that is primarily so that Seattle can be assured that they receive all payments on time and maintain his MLS' rights. So yes, there's a possibility that he returns at some point, but it will probably be after he stops at another team or two along his career path. His family stayed in Seattle and this became his second home.
HTiOT: The Fire have re-discovered defensive solidity with the introduction of Edigio Arevalo Rios to the midfield, but he will be playing for Uruguay this weekend, not Chicago. What aspect of their game will the Sounders be lacking due to the national-team callups of Dempsey and EJ (and the injury to Evans)? (via Sean Spence)
SaH: It's a huge loss. Dempsey is clearly world class and has a creative spark that no one else on the Sounders has. EJ resuscitated his career here and could make a leap to a better league. Brad Evans may have more soccer smarts than any other two players in the league. That all hurts the chances for victory, but clearly doesn't eliminate them.
Seattle has to become more of a pressure team that uses defense and speed to create chances without those men on the field. They will also look to capitalize on what has become a potent attack when teams are silly enough to foul close to goal.
HTiOT: Mauro Rosales has had an up-and-down year, but looks to be returning to form. How much tread is left of his tires? (via Sean Spence)
SaH: Rosales is having to become a central player in run of play while still serving great dead balls. It is an interesting transition, but somehow in the middle the number of short passing options he has means that he can get the ball off before getting hammered by defenders now that he's lost a step. Mauro also can't go as many minutes in a week as he used to go, so Sigi's had to adjust his playing time a bit.
All-in-all if it means a healthy Rosales in the MLS Cup Playoffs the club will be in a much better position to make a run that at any point in the past.
Absences and line-up.
Dempsey and Johnson are both away being amazing for America.
Evans and Zakuani are players that would be in the 18 but are injured.
Obafemi Martins is likely going to be a gameday decision again.
Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Yedlin; Estrada, Carrasco, Alonso, Rosales; Neagle, Martins - but this is a wild ass guess. Injury and fitness on top of the call ups make this one way too tough for me to get more than seven right.