Freddie Ljungberg has looked like a new man since trading Rave Green for Fire Engine Red.
In four matches with his new team, the former Sounders Designated Player has already doubled his 2010 output. He's also played a significant role in boosting a Fire attack that was already doing a pretty decent job of generating goals.
"I think we've played amazingly well lately," Ljungberg said. "We lost unfortunately against Houston 4-3 and we conceded three corners and a free kick. Apart from that we played amazingly well and played, to be honest, almost Houston off the park at some places, especially in the second half. That's something that we need to learn from and not concede goals like that. But playing-wise, we played really, really good so I think we're coming in with a lot of belief."
The results are hard to dispute. Since joining the Fire, Ljungberg has registered three assists in four matches and has helped create at least two other goals. The Fire have shown a desire to play an attacking style with an emphasis on moving the ball on the ground.
For the most part, the Fire have played in a 4-2-3-1 formation similar to the style that is all the rage in Europe these days. Ljungberg has taken up a role that is theoretically a central attacking midfielder, but often turns into more of a second striker. He's been given the freedom to do just about anything he wants.
"I think the coach wants to use me more maybe for what I contribute in that department a little bit and we play maybe more of an offensive game, which I really like," Ljungberg said. "I think that's maybe part of it. And of course I have great teammates, like I had in Seattle, they help me out."
Ljungberg has formed a nice pairing with fellow former international Brian McBride, whose four goals show that he's still got some life in his 38-year-old legs. Ljungberg has also seemed to connect with little used Calen Carr, whose scored both of his goals on assists from Ljungberg. Baggio Husidic has yet to add to his seven goals since Ljungberg's arrival, but he's thought of a high-soccer IQ player and it would seem only a matter of time before he forms an understanding with Ljungberg.
While the Chicago offense has obviously produced -- the Fire have scored eight goals in Ljungberg's four MLS matches -- the defense's struggles should not be overlooked.
Even beyond the six goals they've conceded in Ljungberg's four matches, they are allowing shots by the truckload.
The eight shots surrendered during Houston 4-3 victory is actually a significant improvement over the other three matches as the Fire have allowed goalkeeper Sean Johnson to do much of the defensive work. In the three other matches since Ljungberg's arrival, the Fire have allowed no fewer than 17 shots against and an average of 19.33. The four shots on goal they allowed to Houston was also the best total, as they've surrendered no fewer than six in the other three.
It would be hard to blame Ljungberg for those struggles, as the Fire were surrendering more than 12 shots per game before his arrival. (Although it is worth pointing out that Ljungberg's +/- of -6 is better than only 29 players with at least 1,000 minutes played.)
In that light, it's hard to determine whether the fact that the Fire could start as many as three players on Saturday outside their normal rotation.
- Steven Kinney is expected to get his second start of the season at right back. The rookie has shown a willingness to join the attack, firing three shots in just 185 minutes over four matches this season.
- Gonzalo Segares will likely start at centerback in place of Wilman Conde, who is out on yellow-card accumulation. Segares is a six-year MLS veteran, but has started just twice this season.
- CJ Brown has played every minute of all 18 Fire matches this season, as well as all 90 minutes of two of their SuperLiga matches. Although he'll likely start, coach Carlos de los Cabos has expressed some interest in resting his 35-year-old veteran. If Brown does sit, rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe would likely get the nod at the other centerback.
- Even Krysztof Krol, who has started 13 matches, is a MLS rookie and is only likely to start because of Conde's absence.
Sean Johnson, a 21-year-old rookie, was installed as starting goalkeeper on July 15 and has shown signs of brilliance, but is also posting an ugly 1.75 goals against average. He was most impressive in a scoreless draw against New York in which he was forced to make seven saves (on 22 shots) to help Chicago steal a point.
"For now, Sean deserves to continue playing," De los Cobos said after the Red Bulls match. "He (has played) two very good matches. He's making very good work in these two games. I think it's necessary to support the moment. He's a very young player. He will have mistakes, which is normal. But the most important thing is we can see a very good player for the future."
The other side of the coin was apparent against Houston. Of the Dynamo's four goals, Johnson misplayed two and was slow to react on the other two.