This week we are lucky to be joined by Sean from Hot Time in Old Town, the Chicago Fire blog. The Fire has had a tough time this season, but they have surprised Dallas many times since 1997. Sean and I traded questions this week, trying to gain some insight about the opponent team prior to the match.
Big D Socccer 1. Gilberto: thoughtful reinforcement or consolation prize?
Hot Time in Old Town: Yes? Surely the Fire wanted Didier Drogba - but just as surely, Gilberto is a better fit for the type of team this roster aspires to be. MLS made certain the Men in Red could fail their way upward when Gilberto said he wanted to return to the USA (and his loan club complained about paying his wages). The Fire's biggest problem in 2015 is that they were built to win games 3-2, but instead have lost them 2-1, giving up all the goals they expected to but scoring far, far fewer. If the Gilberto of the latter part of 2014 shows up, expect to see Chicago suddenly roar up through the very soft lower reaches of the Eastern Conference standings.
My rosy assessment aside, the pitchforks are out in Chicago for the front office after the latest "Whoops, I Crapped My Pants" moment in the transfer market. The whispers last year were that the Fire low-balled Jones, and the league cooked up the 'blind draw' to spare ownership the embarrassment of being out-bid ... by Robert Kraft, noted bargain-hunter. (These rumors, completely unsubstantiated, I share here with you.) In any case, Jones is in Boston. Now they publicly courted Drogba, only to have him say, "Nahhhh" (except, like, in French) and join the guy they canned in Montreal. Somewhere, Yakety Sax is playing, and playing, and playing, and Andrew Hauptman cannot find the source of the sound.
BDS2. What happened to Mike Magee?
HTIOT: Injuries happened, and (one suspects) a healthy dose of 'man, this is f--ked and I'm getting paid so I'm just going to lay low' is also happening. Mike's rehab from a torn labrum was a long, grueling process, and along the way small incidental injuries kept cropping up - a groin, a calf, now a knock to a knee. He keeps hovering just off game fitness. The question now is, when's he going to change games again? When's he going to ghost in behind the back marker, ride the offside line perfectly, and tap in to finish a move? Those moments have seemed close for some time.
Magee is a cut-throat competitor, but he has a ceiling for frustration beyond which he switches off, his gaze starts to lose its focus, and his grip on proceedings. His attention turns inward, or toward the failings of the officials. He gestures in surly grandiloquence when the pass comes too late, a dark star of stifled ambition: Why now, why this, why me, why us?
The question - forbidden question! uncomfortable question! - now comes, does the acquisition of Gilberto start to make "Magic Mike" Magee, 2013 MLS MVP, expendable? They each prefer the same role, that of the deep-lying forward, the guy who can come back to find the game, or combine around the area, or make great runs and finish. Over the course of his career, Magee has always been very flexible positionally - but a lot of that flexibility was down to simple willingness to do the work of defending on the wing sufficient to get himself on the field. He's never been a central midfielder, sharing touches and minding space, and is it reasonable to expect him to do the running necessary on the flank after hip surgery?
BDS3. FC Dallas and Chicago are on opposite ends of the standings table, but that hasn't stopped the Fire before. This headline from August 2014 causes me worry, "10-game unbeaten streak halted in Chicago on late Fire goal" - what is your prediction for this match and why?
HTIOT: There's reason to worry if you're an FC Dallas supporter, absolutely - this is a classic trap game: A downtrodden foe with a good bit of talent, the possibility of that little bit of overconfidence, and a trophy on the line. If Lovel Palmer is back from his doghouse-that-wasn't-a-doghouse, then you'll probably see a very energetic 4-3-3 that features a double pivot of Razvan Cocis and Matt Polster; in that case, expect Mauro Diaz to have a difficult evening against a real blood-and-thunder pair in the center. And David Accam, if he's on form, will kind of blow your hair back - you're used to pace with Fabian Castillo, but Accam offers something else, a whirling lightning-bolt presence that draws defenders toward him like a gravitational field. There's reason to worry.
That said, the Fire will probably start journeyman Eric Gehrig in central defense alongside Adailton, who simply watched the game-tying goal saunter past in Chicago's last game. There will be goals in this one, and I'm going with a wild prediction: A 3-3 draw.
Next on deck, I will post the answers to Sean's questions. Feel free, however, to boogie on over to Hot Time in Old Town and join their discussion.
Hot Time in Old Town 1) Fabian Castillo is no secret in MLS circles, but it seems like the Colombian wing forward's stature has jumped up a notch in the last year. Which leads me to three (sub-)questions: How long can Dallas hold onto Castillo? How would they adapt to his departure? And how much money, in your opinion, should it take to secure FCD's cooperation - what's the fee you're looking for?
Big D Soccer: I don't think it is any matter of luck that Fabian Castillo signed a long term contract with FC Dallas, taking him through the 2019 season. Dallas will hold onto Fabian as long as they can; he is a player you can build a team around. If and when he does leave, Dallas will have to take a step back and rebuild for a season or two. Their time investment in Castilllo is significant - he can't be replaced. They would have to build a new team, with different dynamics.
Because of silly season rumors, I have at least some kind of idea of transfer fee. A Greek team is supposedly looking at him and coming up with a fee of less than $5 million. That's not going to get a second look from FCD ownership. I believe Brek sold for around $4 million when he left for Stoke City. FCD won't respond to anything less than $10 million. At least. Signing Castillo as a Young Designated Player in 2011- they have invested more than just money in him. His potential is still very high, so they would be looking to be compensated for everything they've put into Fabian as well as everything to come.
HTIOT2) Older MLS fans look at Dallas' lofty perch - first overall, first in points-per-game, just plain ol' first - with a bit of a sneer, for one reason - "The heat's gonna do 'em." And history is littered with Dallas squads that roared boldly into August only to creep meekly from September, the desiccated husks of their dreams cast aside in favor of simple survival in the face of impassive, unrelenting furnace conditions. Why is 2015 different?
BDS: Dallas has been inconsistent. They've been very hot or cold. Last season or maybe the season before, FCD said records for both longest winless streak and most points earned in a season. We've won 5 games in a row, but before that FCD was winless in 6. I don't agree with your assessment of the heat however. The heat, if anything, is usually Dallas' merciful edge. When teams like Montreal or Vancouver come to Texas in the summer, it's almost comical to watch them melt on the field. Our boys are practicing in these conditions every day. It's not easy, but I don't think it causes Dallas to drop points either.
Injuries have been a persistent problem the past 4-5 years. Summer is typically when they really started piling up because we are this deep into the schedule. Schellas was notorious for overplaying the same 12 guys rather than reaching down the depth chart. He'd rather play Brek out of position for every match than start an 18 year old kid. The situation is different now because Oscar will test every man on the roster. He's not afraid to take risks.
As for another swoon, Dallas finally hired physical training reinforcements this past winter. It is seeming to pay off because lost minutes to injuries is way way down compared to last year. This weekend in Chicago, Dallas will have zero absences due to injury or international call up. We're at full strength.
HTIOT3) What is the highest building Oscar Pareja can o'er-leap? When Oscar Pareja turns his gaze upon youth players, how does the blessing show itself? Do flowers bloom wherever Oscar Pareja treads, and is that frustrating for the grounds crew? What is it like to have a manager whose independence and competence are undoubted?
BDS: It is fantastic to have Oscar Pareja here. However, he is not the anointed one. He was no accident either. Oscar has been with FC Dallas in some capacity almost every season since 1998. He was Academy Director for FCD. His insight into the youth players is due to the fact that he was there when they were coming up. We trust Papi because he has earned that trust long before he was offered the head coach job.
From the outside, his independence may be a little exaggerated as well. Fernando Clavijo is the technical director. And while he and Oscar may share a vision and collaborate well together, some of that control is outside Pareja's hands. And let's not forget the hardest working cheap owners in MLS, the Hunt Sports Group, who hold the checkbook.
Oscar is doing the best that he can with the roster he's been given. After almost two seasons in charge, he is imparting his opinion on changes and reinforcements to continue building in a way that supports his philosophy. However, he is not totally independent. For as good as FCD has been and is this year, where would we be if Oscar was given a couple of blank checks/contracts? The FC Dallas depth debate has been raging since February. While FCD has had success and leads the table now, let's not forget the 3 times in 2015 that FCD lost by 4 goals. Again, this team is hot and cold, black or white, zero or sixty.