Make no mistake, I love watching MLS — live and on the television — and I do my best to view as many games as possible every weekend. Even so, I don’t always get much of a picture for the rest of the teams in MLS besides the San Jose Earthquakes. As such, I am always happy to exchange news and views with the other writers here on SB Nation.
This week, with the Earthquakes hosting the Chicago Fire Tuesday night in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier, and the same two teams facing off at Toyota Park in MLS regular season action, I reached out to Tweed Thornton of the excellently title Chicago Fire blog Hot Time in Old Town. I exchanged three questions with Tweed in order to get some insider perspective on Fire as they make their visit to Buck Shaw Stadium. Check back later in the week as we review the USOC win-and-you’re-in match and preview the weekend match.
Quake, Rattle and Goal!: With the MLS regular season not going as the Fire had hoped, does head coach Carlos de Los Cobos look to the U.S. Open Cup as a chance to turn around the club's fortunes or more as distraction to his preparations for league play?
Hot Time in Old Town: I think one of Carlos de los Cobos' last chances to hold onto his job lies in the U.S. Open Cup. Chicago Fire fans have always taken the U.S. Open Cup very seriously even if the front office has not always done so. With four titles (1998, 2000, 2003, & 2006), Chicago has the most USOC trophies among MLS squads and is only one trophy away from tying the all-time USOC leaders Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles.
How much Carlos de los Cobos personally cares about winning the trophy is up for debate because last year he made some disparaging comments. He went on to imply that SuperLiga was a more important tournament and was panned for it in Chicago. Something might have got lost in translation so I'll cut him some slack. His English from last year to this year has significantly improved. de los Cobos seems committed to winning the USOC trophy this year and he started a full strength squad in last month's game against Colorado. It should be noted that we didn't have a MLS regular season game until 10 days after the match.
2010's USOC game was a disaster with the Chicago Fire losing to the Charleston Battery 3-0 in penalty kicks. Yes, that's right. The Fire missed all three of their penalty kicks. I think CDLC will be doing everything in his power to make sure we don't get close to penalty kicks again. If the Fire go out in epic fashion like last year, even the diehard fans who have embraced the U.S. Open Cup and embraced Chicago's role as ‘Kings of the Cup' will begin to leave Carlos de los Cobos' corner.
QRG: This week presents the rare scheduling double as the Earthquakes and Fire play against each other twice in the span of five days. What challenges does the Fire face in seeing so much of the Quakes in such a short time period? Conversely, what are the advantages?
HTIOT: The coaching staff of the Chicago Fire does not quite know the limits of all of their players yet. Readers at HTIOT are probably getting tired of reading this line but over half of the Fire roster is new. I wouldn't be surprised if Carlos de los Cobos is forced to use a substitute or two at halftime of tonight's game or Saturday's game just because he overestimated another player's ability to go a full 90 minutes. A good example is Uruguayan forward Gaston Puerari. Puerari has started 8 MLS Regular season games and been subbed out 6 times. That in itself is not necessarily remarkable except a couple of times it was early in the second half coming in the 46th minute, the 58th minute, and the 69th minute. In other games it looked like he should have been taken out earlier. His fellow Uruguayan Diego Chaves is looking worse for the wear just ten games into the season too. It will be interesting to watch how those two are deployed this week and what other Fire players might slip up due to fatigue. It's possible that the lesson on Puerari has been learned and he'll be used as a sub in both games. Supersub might be his best role for the team for the rest of the season.
I think an advantage the Fire have is that it is hard to scout the team because so many players have been given opportunities to play. For better or worse, there aren't too many teams that have started 20 different players and used 3 or 4 different formation this year. That number doesn't even take into account Orr Barouch, a 19 year old Israeli international that is 7th on the team in games played but hasn't started yet. I have a good feeling this week will finally be his time to hit the XI. Overall the Fire might be suffering to match opposing teams in top players 1 through 5 but I think Frank Klopas has done a very good job of putting together a deep team 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 all the way through 30 roster spots.
Chicago is a team in transition working out roster battles between relatively inexpensive players. Once those battles have been figured out, hopefully the team will have found their top priorities to fill and they'll have enough room in the proverbial wallet to do so. For now, a two-games-in-one-week matchup might be just what the doctor ordered to flex some depth. Chicago will lose both of these games if San Jose's elite players like Chris Wondolowski expose Fire players on the back on the depth chart or San Jose has some of its own bench players flex some muscle.
QRG: Often times in the U.S. Open Cup, the match-day roster is filled with rookies and reserves. Who are two of the bright young players on the Fire that might make the starting XI at Buck Shaw Stadium Tuesday night?
HTIOT: As I mentioned above, at this point Chicago has seen most of their players already so not too many surprises remain. I will highlight Orr Barouch who has started in Reserves League games but not started in MLS games yet. Barouch is a 19-year-old forward born in Haifa, Israel and raised in Woodland Hills, California. He played in Chivas USA's youth system at a young age before beginning his professional career at the age of 17 with the Tigres UANL youth system. After he graduated from El Camino Real High School, Tigres UANL put him in their reserves in September of 2009. While with the Monterey, Mexico based club, Barouch appeared in 24 matches, scoring one goal, primarily as a left winger, while helping Tigres to a first place finish in the Mexican U20 Apertura tournament. Barouch joined the Fire on trial during the club's Florida phase of preseason camp. After appearing as a sub, Barouch got his first start against New York Red Bulls' Reserves squad and promptly scored four goals. Perhaps we'll see a little bit of that ‘first-start' magic again this week.
One player Chicago fans haven't even got a look at is Cristian Nazarit. The 6'1 Colombian was officially signed on May 4 to a bit of fanfare. When most were asking for more help in defense, it was odd to see a forward signed to the last spot on the 30 man roster. The 21-year old striker has already scored in the Reserves League but has only made the bench against Philadelphia and he did not come on as a sub. Nazarit adds some height to the team and might actually provide an aerial threat for an undersized squad that is 0 for 54 on corner kick conversions. Barouch is 6'1 too but he has not looked very good in the air. Teams could operate an entire defensive strategy against the Fire of encouraging corner kicks over any kind of field progress towards the goal. Hopefully Nazarit will change that reality. Perhaps Barouch will even start throwing around his size as well.