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DSC_0593It’s been a while since Hook ‘N Ladders has posted a full length story about the club that we all love so much. I apologize for the delay in posts, but I hope that you’ve continued to follow along with us on Twitter and listen to us on O’Leary’s Podcast. If you haven’t, well then you’re just plain missing out! But here we are, back in the business of writing full length analyses, opinions, and other random junk – so fasten your seat belts and let’s get this thing rolling.

So, here we are. Mid-September, 50 points on the season, and only 1 point behind Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. At the beginning of the season we had a midfield that had both Sebastian Grazzini and Marco Pappa, we had the lightning fast duo of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro up top with last years spark plug, Orr Barouch serving in relief of them. We had the veteran Cory Gibbs in the backline. We had two newcomers in Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo that were supposed to help bolster this lineup and propel this club towards glory in 2012.

Gone are Grazzini, Pappa, Barouch, Robayo, and Puppo. Oduro is no longer a member of the Starting XI, and Nyarko is playing in the midfield. Cory Gibbs has been injured for the better part of the year and we’ve been playing a rookie in his position since he went down. Now, if you were somehow living under a rock all year and the first bit of MLS news you were able to read upon coming out from underneath you rock was this paragraph – you’d surely think that the Fire were near the bottom of the table. Let me say again (because it sounds so nice) – 1 point out of first in the East.

How did this happen? Well, let’s start with the easy part – Robayo and Puppo were garbage. I’m not going to rehash the whole thing but they sucked – plain and simple. Their loss was to the benefit of the Fire both on the pitch and in the locker room.DSC_0284

Unfortunately, the arrival of Puppo in Chicago was ultimately the thing that signaled the beginning of the end for Sebastian Grazzini’s tenure at Toyota Park. The money paid to Puppo instead of to Grazzini (who had a commitment from the club) was how that thing went so sideways in a hurry, and ultimately led to the “family issues” that took Grazzini out of Chicago and back to South America. HE GONE.

We all knew that Marco Pappa wouldn’t make it to the start of the 2013 season with this club, but I’m not sure how many people knew that he’d be a casualty of the mid-season transfer market – although I’m sure a lot of us suspected it. At the end of the day, I’m glad the deal was pushed through early. Marco had a tendency to disappear for games, and the knowledge that he was already set for next year and the foreseeable future could have really had a detrimental effect on his game and commitment to the rest of the 2012 season. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t have given it all, but why take the chance? The move was there to be made, great move by the Fire brass.

Cory Gibbs going down seemed like it would have a disastrous impact on the Fire backline, but rookie Defender Austin Berry has come up huge for this club. He seriously has a shot at a Rookie of the Year award, and his pairing with World Cup veteran, Arne Friederich has been incredible. It’s been so fun to watch him learn and develop this season, and he could be the next great American CB.

With the news that Fire fan favorite Chris Rolfe was going to be getting a Toyota Park return, everyone wondered corresponding moves would be made and what the future held for both Nyarko and Oduro. Nyarko slid perfectly into a role on the wing, and the arrival of Designated Player, Sherjil MacDonald has seen Oduro moved to the substitute bench. These two moves added a tremendous amount of talent and depth to the forward position, something that was more of a mashup before the arrival of Rolfe and Mackie. (And possibly even, Guillermo Franco if he’s got anything left – but we’ll get to that later)

DSC_0753Frank Klopas bolstered the midfield and proved that the Fire don’t need Grazzini or Pappa to continue to push up the table and make a run for some silverware this year. The young and talented Brazilian, Alex, struggled to make his impact felt in his first few matches, but he’s really gelling with the team now, hitting his form at the right time. Alex has 2 goals in his last 2, and he’s playing some very solid MF.

The other big MF move came via trade with MLS side Seattle Sounders. Alvaro Fernandez arrived in Chicago just under the transfer deadline and has proved to be an integral piece to the Fire build up and attack since the moment he got here.

Now, when these deals all went down there were many of us who were skeptical. MacDonald? “He couldn’t even score for West Brom Albion”. Alex? “If he’s so talented, why is he coming here?” Similar to last years shouts about Pavel Pardo – “He’s too old to be productive anymore”. Oops.

This is all a way of getting around to the newest Fire acquisition, Guillermo Franco. We had the opportunity to speak with him after the match Saturday night, and he seemed excited and ready to get into training to get his fitness up. Franco is a 35 year old striker who had an appendectomy earlier this year, but he looks to be in good shape, and seems to have the excitement and desire to get out there and be a difference maker. I mean, it’s really a no-lose for the Fire, they aren’t going to pay him much and he may just score a big goal or two for the club – but could he be more valuable than that?

I’ve been so off base with the last couple of player predictions that I’m going to hold my judgment, but I will say one thing and one thing only. Frank wouldn’t sign him on a whim, he made him come in and trial before offering him a contract – and let’s be honest, who wants to argue with Frank’s track record over the last 4 months? (Robayo and Puppo don’t count – so shut it).