Who do you expect to be starting at First Kick?
Second-year coach Carlos de los Cobos seems determined to use a 3-5-2 formation in 2011. Sean Johnson is a no-brainer to start in goal. The entire back line looks to be made up of newcomers as Jalil Anibaba looks to be a lock at LB and Josip Mikulic and Cory Gibbs have been receiving the bulk of the pre-season first team playing time at CB and RB respectively. It seems that Kwame Waston-Siriboe and Dasan Robinson are the respective backups for Mikulic and Gibbs in de los Cobos’ mind.
While the defensive set will be foreign to causal Fire fans, it looks like the midfield will feature five familiar faces. Gonzalo Segares will start at LM with Marco Pappa next to him as an attacking midfielder. This combination will be important because Segares can shift back on defense when required and Pappa is comfortable working on the wings and playing the role of LM. Team captain Logan Pause will play his preferred position of DM while Baggio Husidic will play slightly ahead of Pause. Patrick Nyarko will maintain his RM spot. The Uruguayan duo of Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari will play the forward positions.
The only possible wrinkles in a Starting XI of Johnson; Anibaba, Mikulic, Gibbs; Nyarko, Husidic, Pause, Pappa, Segares; Chaves, Puerari is Nyarko has been seeing some time at the forward position and Bratislav Ristic certainly earned a starting role from his playing time last year. Look for Ristic to be the first player off the bench this season when he isn’t starting. Ristic can play almost anywhere on the field and his flexibility will give de los Cobos a lot of tactical options so the Fire can adjust to any opposing game plan.
Which new player(s) will have the biggest impact?
It is looking like Jalil Anibaba will have the biggest impact from day one. His speed is one of the big reasons the Fire believe they can even attempt to operate the 3-5-2 in an effective manner. If the two new international strikers Puerari and Chaves don’t have big impacts, Chicago is in for a long season.
Which player(s) will be felt the most?
The loss of C.J. Brown will be felt the most, no doubt. Brown played with the Fire for every season the team existed. His presence will be deeply missed and it will be surreal for many fans when he is not even on the sideline, listed in the program, or around at all.
In terms of on the field play, it is debatable as to who will be missed from 2010. Wilman Conde, Brian McBride, C.J. Brown, Justin Mapp, John Thorrington, Stefan Dimitrov, Peter Lowry, and Tim Ward all played multiple years with the Fire, started the 2010 season with the team and will not be there in 2011. Freddie Ljungberg, Collins John, Nery Castillo, Krzysztof Krol, Julio Martinez, and Deris Umanzor are players that joined the team at one point in 2010 and will be there in 2011. Each one of those players brought their own significant problems to the table. Some brought more problems than others but no player is a total loss. Any positives the best of the bunch brought to the table in 2010 is equally matched by a 2011 team that has a wide open possibilities for the starting XI.
At what point is this season considered success?
Trophies dictate ultimate success. This team could finish in first or last more than any other team in the MLS. It is impossible to dictate the goalposts for ‘moral victories’ at this point for the 2011 Chicago Fire.
Whose performance do you think will be most indicative of the season as a whole?
Jalil Anibaba. I hate to pin it on a rookie but that is what Carlos de los Cobos is doing with the 3-5-2 formation. If Jalil is very successful, the team will be shutting down the opposition and staying in games. If Jalil is not successful, de los Cobos will likely scrap the 3-5-2 and we could see another year of lineup changes and a lack of a real team taking the field for the second year in a row at Toyota Park. Much of the fan base is already closer to ‘fire Carlos de los Cobos’ than they are ‘Carlos de los Cobos is a great coach’. If the team struggles, those cries will get louder adding an unpleasant tone around the team.
Will the ‘Kings of the Cup’ make a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup?
One big difference between the 2010 team and the 2011 team will be a certain level of hunger. Say what you will about players like C.J. Brown and Brian McBride but they were very content with their careers and they had every right to be. Many of the players on this year’s team will be playing professional soccer for the first time in their lives or at least have the biggest opportunity of their lives in front of them. I hope to see that energy on the field in tournaments and reserve games especially. I hope Carlos de los Cobos puts out his best squad for the U.S. Open Cup but where substitutions have to be made for rest, I think the Fire have the right personnel to make a run based on depth and youth. The Fire will not dominate like a sledge hammer but a scrappy and underrated squad could surprise.
- Report by Tweed Thornton of Hot Time in Old Town (Chicago Fire blog)