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3 Questions: Chicago Fire, the Return

It's been less than a month since New York City went to Bridgeview, only to return firmly cowed after a disastrous outing. With the Blues looking for payback at home tonight, Hot Time in Old Town's Sean Spence answers three questions about the Fire.

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1. We're 2 1/2 months into the MLS season. At this point, we've got some decent data on all the teams. Given the state of the Eastern Conference, are Chicago fans feeling any kind of optimism about the team?

There's some optimism that, in an Eastern Conference not noted for great depth, the Fire have enough talent to stay around the edges of the playoff race. Two losses in a row have recast the previous three-game win streak, turning an encouragingly steady bit of growth into a blip of good fortune - three unsettled opponents, all a man short, all at home. Eight games in, the Men in Red have lost every game that did not a.) take place at Toyota Park, and b.) feature the opposition losing a player to a red card.

2. MLS teams visiting Yankee Stadium have made all kinds of adjustments and preparations for playing in the confines of that field. How do you think the Fire will adapt to playing against New York City there?

It's hard to say. Fire manager Frank Yallop is one of those guys who hates to talk tactics with lesser humans who have not played top-flight football, so it's not like we can really pick his brain. One thing we can say is that if his first idea doesn't work, it will be up to the players on the field to figure out what Plan B is.

An example: The week after beating you guys, Chicago played Kansas City on the road. The Fire began the game by trying to play extremely directly - like, first-touch long-ball directly - to Accam behind the KC defense. After five minutes, it was clear that Sporting had prepared for this tactic, playing Accam physically (i.e., clinging to his shirt) and dropping the defensive line deeper to provide help. 70 minutes later, the Fire were still trying it, and still failing. Maddening.

3. Chicago's 1998 team is, perhaps, the exemplary MLS expansion story. Are there any lessons -- aside from hiring Peter Wilt -- that New York City can take from that team when it comes to building a successful team?

I'd say the biggest takeaway from that magical year is that you can drape promising athletes and long-shot hopers all over the roster if the spine of it is strong enough. For that spine, find uncompromising winners who play with a chip on their shoulder. I'd say NYCFC's problem is that their Peter Nowak is Frank Lampard (with all that implies), and there's no Lubos Kubik. One dominating centerback would change the look entirely.