Rain Nor Sleet Nor Hail Can Stop The Weekly Mailbag!

It's Rivalry Week which means that it's a good week to have odd narratives forced down our throats by the good people at Heineken and the marketing offices at Major League Soccer. Hey, if rivalries are the most interesting matches, why not do them all in one weekend instead of spreading that intrigue out over the course of the season? Anyhow, this week we're going to be talking about the Chicago Fire, Frank Lampard, a certain Jurgey Face meme that our staff has been distracted by for the better part of the week, and of course those MLSPU salary figures. 

Let's get started!

Good news! There are already two confirmed MLS players in Euro 2016! Fellow Irishman Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids) will be traveling with Keane to France (the first time the team has bothered with anything French since the Thierry Henry handball incident). Rapids will also likely be waving Gashi a fond summer farewell as he lends his aid to Albania, though the squad has yet to be officially announced. I’m also crossing my fingers for Sebastian Giovinco, as the Italian squad is still incomplete.

But to answer your question, Euro 2020 has the potential to facilitate the arrival of a few MLS stars by then. Since there is no definitive host or hosts (as former president Platini, while in office, expressed a desire to let the entire continent host rather than one or two countries for its 60th anniversary), there is no guarantee that a team such as Albania, Ireland, or the Scandinavian  countries get automatic bids; I mention this because MLS has a knack for picking up internationals from middle-tier countries at the moment. However, given MLS’ progress and its ability in grasping quality talent in a player’s peak already, the odds in four years of acquiring better talent will rise. Sure, we may never see top class, as we do not have a Champions League of the same prestige, nor the ability to pay as much as the biggest clubs in Europe even without a salary cap; but we do have opportunities for those wishing to play. Giovinco has proven that just getting off the bench from Serie A to MLS merits a call up. By 2020, I expect at least 5-10

-Steven Clark

Uh, well, wow. I mean, his time in MLS has certainly made Rafa Marquez look like a quality signing. He’s only played in 25% of NYCFC’s games since signing, so that means NYCFC has had a better shot at winning? I’m just kidding, I think. All joking aside, there was a period of time when Lampard scored 3 goals in 4 games, making those patented late runs into the box that we’re so accustomed to seeing from him. But, that’s but a moment in a very bizarre year and some months.

-Mark K

Maybe we'll see him this weekend! MAYBE. 

Maybe we'll see him this weekend! MAYBE. 

It’s got to be NYCFC, right? You are paying guys like Poku, RJ Allen and Khiry Shelton under 100 grand, but Frank Lampard, who as Mark mentioned earlier, has played only 25 percent of his matches for NYCFC is making $6 million?

Yeah - he’s Frank Lampard, but that can’t be good for a locker room when a guy who has barely suited up past a NYCFC training top makes more than almost all of the team minus David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Especially when he’s barely training with the club and there is rumors that he could go back and coach at Chelsea.

Maybe the less paid guys of NYCFC have a group message where they just gossip about Lamps. At least Pirlo and David Villa have kicked a soccer ball in Yankee Stadium a little bit.

FC Dallas might be a little upset too. As the lowest paid team in the league who missed MLS Cup by one round and lost the Supporters Shield on tiebreakers last season they have to be thinking maybe they deserve a few raises. Poor Captain Matt Hedges is making less than most of his defensive mates and a lot less than homegrown Kellyn Acosta. Acosta did appear for the USMNT, but hey, so did Hedges for about 18 minutes.

-Clay Massey

We think Sad Jurgen, or #JurgeyFace, has the potential to take the mantle once Crying Jordan is overused to the point of not being fun anymore. But for now, #JurgeyFace can nestle itself comfortably in the confines of the soccer world where it has time to incubate.

But you have to admit, there is definitely potential: 

Here are some samples that we did. If you want to join in the fun use #jurgeyface. Full gallery is here

-Steven & Ian

It’s tough for an organization to be in a constant process of rebuilding for even a year. The Fire have been doing it for three years, or since Yallop and now into the Paunovic era. Under the former, the Fire were a dismal 13-26-24, despite being 11th on the salary rankings (and they were ranked higher with Sean Maloney prior to his early summer departure). It was also some dreary, manilla-folder-on-a-beige-wall type of boring soccer. Yallop’s departure couldn’t have come quicker.

But this is a case of a complete revamp after an attempted revamp, and new Fire boss Veljko Paunovic has been told he’ll be given time. He has a daunting task of molding something competitive in his first year with many new faces alongside his. Cocis, Accam, Igboananike, Johnson, Gehrig, Gilberto, Polster, and Stephens are the only players that received meaningful time in the past two seasons that still remain in Bridgeview. In return, the Fire signed another fifteen players, and it could be argued that none of them are world-beaters or even top-five-in-the-league-in-their-position. The Fire have done this twice in three years, which certainly can’t be healthy.

As a result the Fire’s spending ($5.6 million) is down in the bottom five in MLS (and that’s including Atlanta), but not far off many conference rivals. They’ve failed consistently on DP signings since Blanco’s bus-like frame graced Toyota Park. Furthermore, their conference rivals the Revs, Philly, Columbus, DC, and even the Red Bulls are within $100-200k of the Fire in either direction, and obviously have achieved higher levels of points and success to date. Maybe Hauptman, the current owner, is attempting a Moneyball-esque remake of the club. Clearly it’s not gone as planned, but given that we’re only three months into Paunovic’s reign that might be a premature conclusion.

The Fire are still making signings, and the newest are in the form of Thiam and de Leeuw.  The latter is another attacker and hopefully one that can remedy the club’s goalscoring woes. They’ve also not had David Accam for a vast majority of the season, which has put the proverbial breaks on their goalscoring. Kennedy Igboananike leads the team with four goals, Accam has two, and there are only two other goalscorers (each with a goal apiece) at the club. In fact, in terms of shots registered in MLS, Accam is 54th in the league - Igboananike is 64th. Gilberto hasn’t even netted a solitary goal this season. They are last in shots, shots on goal, and goals scored for good reason.

To fix the Fire the side will have to spend more, create more chances, actually score goals (preferably from one of three forwards), and continue their defensive performances. That’s a horribly vague answer, but the Fire don’t penetrate the opposition’s half well. To his credit, Paunovic has turned the Fire defense into something competent, but they won’t be able to win matches relying solely on brinkmanship defending. At least Igboananike has sprung to life a bit in the past seven matches, scoring three. It’s not enough, however, and there is every reason in the world for Chicago to hire more attackers in the summer transfer window.
The great irony in all of this is that the Fire’s attack sorely lacks a Harry Shipp, or someone creative enough to sit behind three attackers. It’s not the role that Arturo Alvarez or Michael Stephens can fill, let alone newcomer John Goosens. Should Hauptman stick with Paunovic he can avoid employing his seventh manager in nine seasons, and maybe an actual style can develop in Chi-town. Paunovic needs time. It may be more than a season, though, for things to set in.

-Cory Jensen