Continuing our Three Questions series, I hit up TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett to find out what's been going on with "The Massive's" turnaround in form under interim head coach Brian Bliss ahead of Saturday's visit to Crew Stadium (LIVE 6:00pm CT on My50) I also exchanged answers with him for TheCrew.com, see below
Jeff Crandall: The Crew looked destined to miss the playoffs again this season but the move of Brian Bliss downstairs as interim head coach has seen the team win two of its last three matches. What has changed since he took over the dressing room?
Cody Sharrett: With the coaching change, I think some players felt they had something to prove and re-earn their spots in the lineup. Bliss has brought more accountability to the club with his tell-like-it-is, yet positive approach. Training sessions are definitely more vocal and the players seem to be responding to Bliss’ style.
The change has also helped guys who had maybe fallen out of favor with Robert Warzycha earn new opportunities on the field. Since the coaching change, both Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl have seen their minutes increase. Tchani has brought a physical presence to central midfield and was key in the wins against Houston and Montreal.
Even in the 3-0 loss at Kansas City, Tchani was one of the few bright spots for the Crew. Wahl, on the other hand, brings veteran presence to the backline alongside stalwart Chad Marshall. Aside from one slip up that led to a Marco Di Vaio goal, Wahl paired well with Marshall in his first match of the season at centerback.
JC: The Fire dealt Dominic Oduro to the Crew in a January trade that brought Dilly Duka and eventually Mike Magee to Chicago. Dom just scored his 10th goal of the season for the Crew last weekend, how has he helped the Columbus attack improve this year?
CS: Oduro’s speed has definitely added a different dimension to the Crew attack that just hasn’t been there in the past. Federico Higuaín leads MLS with 44 attempted through balls this season, and with Oduro’s pace, can you blame him? When the two have connected, it’s been a work of art as evidenced by Oduro’s goals in Toronto earlier in the season and last week in Montreal.
A pleasant surprise in Oduro’s game for Crew fans has been his ability to make defenses pay for mistakes, thus coining the term “Grand Theft Oduro.” Teams have been more hesitant playing out of the back due to Oduro’s ability to pounce on miscues.
Leading the team with 10 goals this season, Oduro has been a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold.
JC: The Crew have little margin for error in remaining matches if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. With backs against the wall, what is the mood and spirit like going into Saturday’s game vs. the Fire?
CS: The locker room has been positive, especially since the win at Montreal. The Crew knows it needs help from other results, but also realizes it most likely needs to win-out to ensure a playoff spot. With four of the five remaining matches coming against Eastern Conference opponents, the points are there for the taking.
Cody Sharrett: The Fire sit in playoff position for the first time in 2013. What’s the atmosphere like in the locker room with six matches left to go in the season?
Jeff Crandall: Having gone 2-7-1 through their first 10 matches, everyone at the Fire will say the team had a pretty bad start to the year. Still, the spirit never faltered and the arrivals of Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare in late May helped stabilize things a great deal.
Despite a few disappointing results to start September, the team still remains one of the hottest in the league since that time but the fact the fact that we’re in mid-September and last Saturday was the first time they’ve reached a playoff position tells just how deep a hole was dug at the beginning of the year.
There are a few reasons for the turnaround this season but it most assuredly wouldn’t have happened if the mood didn’t stay positive through the hard times. Now that they’re in a position to qualify for the playoffs, they’ve noticeably gained even more confidence heading into the close of the season and will go to Crew Stadium looking for a season sweep on Saturday.
CS: New DP Juan Luis Ananganó bagged his first goal for the Fire last week against New England. How has he changed the dynamic of the club’s attack?
JC: Though he is a Designated Player, Anangono was purposely not billed as someone that would come in and be a significant contributor right away. He is a strong target striker that has a lot of work ethic but as we see with many foreign players coming to MLS for the first time, an adjustment period is needed.
He showed flashes in games before but his 30th minute equalizer in Saturday’s win over New England was huge for a Fire team that had once again conceded early in a match. Though he may have been offside on the second equalizer through Mike Magee, his shielding the defender was what gave the Fire’s leading scorer an easy conversion.
Anangono’s transition to the Fire and MLS isn’t complete but his recent performances now give head coach Frank Klopas the most variety he’s had all season up top and allows the manager to be more unpredictable with his lineups at the close of the season.
CS: Since the Fire’s first season in 1998, the rivalry with the Crew has been one of the best in MLS. What is the general feeling of this rivalry among the Chicago supporters compared to other rivalries?
JC: In my view, (and I may be biased because I’m a Wolverine) the rivalry with the Crew is the best the Fire currently have. Last season 600 supporters went to Crew Stadium and the year before about 400 attended. Hands down, the visit(s) to Crew Stadium are one of the first games Fire supporters circle on their calendars when the schedule is released every year.
Games against the Crew mean a lot to Klopas as well as Crew Stadium was the site of his first win as interim head coach back on June 12, 2011 and it was him that scored the Golden Goal winner against Columbus in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final at Soldier Field.
In the locker room, Ohioans Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry especially get up for games vs. “The Massive” but throughout the team, whether players are new or haven't been around too long, its known that matches vs. the Crew are big and usually very intense.
With both teams pushing for the playoffs and former players on both sides of the divide, I expect no less on Saturday.
Last night, Marty Allen, the Grand Prize winner in our Mobile App Contest powered by Cricket got to fulfill his prize, going out to dinner with Gonzalo Segares and Daniel Paladini at Vapiano in Lincoln Park!
Check out a couple photos from dinner and be sure to download the club's new and improved mobile app, available on iOS and Droid by visiting www.chicago-fire.com/app.
In advance of Thursday's Soccer & Style runway show, it appears Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper and Paolo Tornaghi have begun channeling their inner Zoolander...
Catch the trio plus a number of other Fire players walk down the runway Thursday night at Roof on the Wit, benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.
Tickets available here.
Gonzalo Segares Yellow Cards
As I was going through my post-game audit of stats (yes I think every Sr. Content Producer does this), I found that Gonzalo Segares is coming up on another career milestone.
About this time last year, Sega had appeared in his 200th competitive match for the Men in Red and a month ago, it was his 200th MLS regular season match but this statistic wasn’t of the appearance variety but rather of the disciplinary.
Segares was shown a 61st minute caution in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New England, getting him to 50 all-time yellow cards in his Fire career (MLS Regular Season) and leaving him just one away of equaling the club’s record holder, C.J. Brown who racked up 51 yellows in 296 MLS appearances.
I of course tweeted about this and never too shy, @SuperSega13 sent this response:
@JefeCrandall what an honor. It has cost me a lot of money. Anything for the team.
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
UPDATE! Upon further review, an inconsistency existed in Elias and Opta's stats. Elias listed Segares with six yellow cards in 2013 but as I looked at the MLS Disciplinary Report this morning, I saw him with seven. After some quick deduction, I realized Elias (and hence myself) failed to count Segares' 86th minute yellow card in the July 3 match vs. San Jose.
This means Segares actually tied Brown's club record on Saturday. Perhaps this tweet from @WhereisHawkins in response to the one above from Gonzalo is even more fitting now...
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
Important to note that Gonzalo is on Caution Watch, so breaking the record this season isn't a necessity...
Austin Berry has played every game...
...since his memorable debut in the team's comeback win at Chivas USA on May 4, 2012. You remember that one -- Berry, was plugged into the lineup next to Arne Friedrich after Jalil Anibaba earned a one-game suspension in the previous match.
Berry conceded a penalty kick to Alejandro Moreno in the 23rd minute only to pull it back on his own two minutes later before Marco Pappa's late strike sealed the three points for the Fire in LA.
Well, maybe you already knew this but Austin Berry hasn't missed a competitive game since, playing 62 consecutive matches as of Saturday night. That number includes all five of the team's Open Cup games as well as last year's playoff match vs. Houston.
The only games he has missed? Friendlies against Santos Laguna in 2012 and Club America this past July.
#Fitness #Longevity #NoCardTrouble
Baky and Sean to 100 Appearances?
Maybe its a bit premature but thought this would be interesting as well. Sean Johnson hit 100 competitive appearances for the Fire in his return from Gold Cup duty in the team's 2-1 win at Philadelphia on August 3.
Should they play in the remainder of the Fire's Regular Season matches this season, he and teammate Bakary Soumare will hit another century milestone.
- PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry
For Johnson, the season finale at New York would be his 100th MLS appearance for the Fire while Soumare, who spent three and a half seasons away from the club, would hit his 100th competitive appearance in the match.
Yellow Card Watch and U.S. National Team callups be damned!
The Centerback: Fire find themselves in playoff place ahead of Crew clash
In society we all can't agree on everything, but there is one thing we can all agree on... Everything is better in slow motion.
This week we caught two goals on our "behind the net" cameras. First we have Mike Magee's perfectly timed run to give him his 16th MLS goal on the season. And if that wasn't enough, we also caught Alex's #BRAZILIANT shot from distance to put the game away.
Some of the best tweets from Saturday's 3-2 victory over New England are below... Have the chance to see your tweets in a future gallery, by hashtagging #cf97!
For the first time since we started 2013 Playoff Math, you'll notice the graphic above has changed, meaning teams switched places after the weekend's results. That certainly makes everything more interesting!
Let's do this...
1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 48 (14-9-6)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 41.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI
Rundown: With Sporting KC sitting idle and Montreal losing at home vs. Columbus, Red Bull continued to hold serve with a 2-0 home win over Toronto Saturday. With five games remaining, New York could be on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth with a win vs. FC Dallas this weekend combined with losses for Philadelphia and New England.
2) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-8-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LWDWW (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 37.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC
Rundown: Montreal took a bit of a hit, being upset 2-1 by Columbus on Saturday – their first home loss to an Eastern Conference team this season. They still hold games in hand over both New York and Sporting KC and like Red Bull, can get on the cusp of a playoff berth with a win Saturday at home vs. Vancouver but you wonder how a cross continent trip for Tuesday’s Champions League match at San Jose will effect them?
3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WWLLW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI
Rundown: Sporting KC got rest this weekend ahead of a two-game week. Having won both of their early Champions League matches on the road, they should only need a draw at home against Real Esteli on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout round, before visiting Toronto FC on Saturday in league play. Like the two teams above them, a win in that match combined with dropped points below will push Sporting KC back to the playoffs for the third straight year.
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 40 (11-9-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 36.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.
Rundown: After what was likely their worst stretch of the season, the Houston Dynamo rebounded with a huge 1-0 away win at Philadelphia Saturday night, pushing the side back inside the playoff bubble.
They’ll recharge this weekend before tackling a crucial Champions League match vs. W. Connection and home game vs. Chivas USA in the span of three days next week. Crucial matches at New England, vs. Montreal and Sporting KC follow and will go a long way to determining Houston’s playoff fate and potential positioning.
5) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 39 (11-11-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLDW (8pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-2 / 2-6-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 57
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY
Rundown: The Fire missed a definite opportunity, dropping two points at Toronto FC on Wednesday but regrouped well to earn a key win vs. playoff contenders New England Saturday night, putting the Men in Red in playoff position for the first time this year after starting the season 2-7-1 through 10 games.
Whether the team has a slight advantage or disadvantage vs. the other postseason hopefuls depends on how you look at it. They do have the second easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponents points average but only two of the remaining six matches will be played at Toyota Park. Winning those home games remains key while taking a minimum of six points away from home will be needed if the team hopes to continue its season past October 27.
6) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-10-9)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLD (2pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 34.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC
Rundown: Philadelphia is the team reeling the most this week after falling 1-0 at home to playoff rivals Houston. In terms of form, the Union have taken just two points from their last five and of their five remaining games, have two against Sporting KC (home and away) and one at Montreal.
The Union are tied with the Fire on points but are in a more difficult spot with a tougher schedule and one less game to play…
7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-11-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDWW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Pts: 36.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB
Rundown: There was a point on Saturday (actually two) that New England’s Playoff Math was looking rather good. Then Juan Luis Anangono, Mike Magee and Alex all happened. Soccer.
They get to rebound from their two consecutive losses with a home match vs. D.C. this week before a stretch of three critical matches vs. Houston, at New York and Montreal to close out September and open October. They could easily be out of the playoff race or be making a strong push into the top three by then.
8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 35 (10-14-5)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLWLL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE
Rundown: The Crew pulled off their biggest win of the season, winning away at Montreal 2-1 last Saturday. There’s little doubt that the victory boosted morale for the team but they still sit four points back of the playoff bubble and only have five games left.
The Crew have their backs against the wall with every remaining match, needing to win and hope teams above drop points. They can do both with a victory over the Fire on Saturday but any loss at this point really takes them all but mathematically out of the equation.
The goal for the Crew should be to take at least seven points from the next three matches, to make their season-ending home and home series vs. New England still matter.
So now we have a different sort of perspective. Now suddenly the Fire are sitting in a playoff spot. Now the fight has paid off and the double comeback on Saturday night has everyone high and talking about “attitude” and “mentality” and there’s a different feel. Can you tell? Off-field issues, on field disappointments, coaching decisions, refereeing - it all feels a little irrelevant right now.
Now the approach is different. Now the Fire have in some way reached their goal, they’ve come back and got into a playoff spot. Now the team has a little momentum again, a little confidence, a little faith in this season’s various experiments.
Suddenly the Arevalo Rios/Jeff Larentowicz partnership looks as good as the Alex/Larentowicz partnership, while Alex has excelled as a utility attacker (center/left/right) off the bench or filling in for Rios on international duty.
Juan Luis Anangono finally finished and is beginning to look like a player you would spend transfer dollars on, while some healthy competition between Patrick Nyarko, Dilly Duka, and Joel Lindpere for outside midfield spots will only push them more and mean more service for Anangono.
Suddenly, the Fire look like a deep, experienced, full squad that can bring players like Chris Rolfe and Logan Pause off the bench if need be.
I just mean to say that the feeling after a dramatic and total team victory like Saturday’s is so much different from the panic, terror, and anger that fans felt on and off for most of the season. Toyota Park was more energized after Alex’s goal on Saturday than at any other time all year.
It feels like some fans and commentators have been calling games “must win” for the Fire since the spring, in a way that - deserved or not - everything felt like it was on the edge of a complete and utter disaster. That’s sports, especially in Chicago, but now that a goal’s been reached, there’s a feeling that you could almost call pride, back again.
So forgive us, playoff gods, for looking to the calendar because, as Mike Magee said Larentowicz told the team down 2-1 at halftime on Saturday, “the season gets shorter and shorter now and business has to be done.”
How will the team deal with being in 5th place looking down, instead of the other way around?
The Fire still have to improve on their away form if they’re going to hold their position despite tricky trips to Columbus, RFK, and Dallas, before finishing the season at first place New York. And the Fire still have to take the seemingly easier points against Toronto and DC. But it’s just six games and they hold their own destiny.
We know the playoff spot is the Fire’s to lose, and the fans can sense that this team, with its three different phases this year, and its hot streaks and cold streaks and other hot streaks and other cold streaks - this team might just have found enough consistency to not only make the playoffs but, well, if it was too early to panic about making the playoffs, it’s probably too early for the overly optimistic thoughts too, right?
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
So what happened there? A sequence of three controversial events stacked up to cause much of the Toyota Park crowd to boo referee Ismail Elfath and crew as they went into the interval.
With the teams locked at 1-1, Patrick Nyarko broke through the New England backline and was thought to have won a penalty just as the clock hit 44:00 after contact with Revolution defender Jose Goncalves at the top of the box.
Elfath waved play on much to the chagrin of players and fans alike but okay, no big deal...
Maybe its conjecture but the play seemed to throw Elfath off his game.
He likely would have signaled the amount of stoppage time or communicated via radio headset to fourth official Silviu Petrescu right after that play but with some jeers raining down and the signal to play on, perhaps he forgot? Perhaps the communication wasn’t received on the sidelilne?
Either way the amount of stoppage time was never put up on the board by Petrescu and as a result, never announced in-stadium. It did however make its way into the broadcast though how, I’m still trying to deduce as no official number was ever given.
In the end, we probably won’t know why it didn’t happen as Elfath was asked via pool reporter post-game why the fourth official didn’t raise the board to signal stoppage time.
The somewhat avoidant response was, “The priority of the fourth official is to keep order in the technical area.”
Which seems to suggest Petrescu was too busy dealing with both team's coaching staffs to raise the board during any point of what ended up being three additional minutes of stoppage time. Without directly answering the question though, Elfath continues to leave the incident open for interpretation.
If it’s safe for me to put my editorial hat on: The Pool Reporter system is a definite step forward for the league and Professional Referees Organization but its only as good as the referees being honest enough to answer the question being asked.
Though there's nothing specific about the raising of the stoppage time signal in the Laws of the Game, the signal is something universally expected at the international and professional level.
Even if there was chaos for three minutes in the technical area (which would be an overstatement), the job of the fourth official is also to inform the players, coaches and those in attendance what that number is.
That didn't occur unfortunately.
With no stoppage time signaled, you could make a case that the half should have ended right when the clock struck 45:00. It didn’t, and in fact saw New England score their second go-ahead goal of the night when Saer Sene received a pass from Dimitry Imbongo and finished past Johnson to make it 2-1.
Should the goal have stood? Upon further review, absolutely not...
Off the goal kick in which Bobby Shuttleworth found Imbongo, the Congolese forward was aided by the use of his hand to settle the ball before spraying towards goal and laying off for Sene.
There’s the old adage that you should play to hear the whistle but looking back on the series of events, it seems the teams should have gone into halftime locked 1-1.
Where do we go from here?
There’s no sour grapes as the Fire overcame the controversy to take a 3-2 win in dramatic fashion at home over New England. The victory sees the team into a playoff position for the first time this season, something unthinkable following the side's 2-7-1 start to the season.
Just as good, the last two games between these two clubs seem to show a revival in the once heated rivalry between the sides.
On to the next one at Columbus.