Blog

stephen piggott

12 July 10:50 am

 
After a disappointing home loss against Sporting KC last weekend, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday to face a resurgent Vancouver Whitecaps side. The ‘Caps beat arch rivals Seattle last weekend and are unbeaten in five games.
 
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
 
Shaun Francis full debut – a baptism of fire?
 
Shaun Francis only joined the Fire Wednesday and seems likely to make his full debut for the team in Vancouver. The left back should replace suspended stalwart Gonzalo Segares and will need to hit the ground running in an intimidating atmosphere.
 
Luckily for Francis, Vancouver are without their usual wide right player in the 4-3-3 formation, Russell Teibert who is in Canada’s Gold Cup squad. The winger has tallied six assists this season, twice the amount of the leading Fire player (Jeff Larentowicz and Daniel Paladini with three) . Instead of facing the pace of Teibert, Francis will likely be battling Corey Hertzog, who is in his first season with Vancouver.
 
Francis, who likes to get forward, will also have to face another outside back who likes to do the same in Young-Pyo Lee. Despite being 36, Lee is an extremely fit player and though he has lost a step of pace, is still very dangerous in the attack.
 
It will also be interesting to see how well Francis and presumed starting left mid Dilly Duka combine in Vancouver. A strong performance in this away game will not only boost Francis’ confidence but will be necessary if the Fire want to leave Canada with points in the bag.
 
The Fire’s back four – cutting out the individual mistakes
 
Before the game against Kansas City last weekend, ESPN showed a stat that since the arrival of Bakary Soumare, the team’s goals against average per game has dropped. This is certainly true but stats can also be deceiving.
 
In the KC game, the Fire had a shambolic first 10 minutes defensively, giving up two very soft goals. The first came from a poor clearance from a long throw and the second from allowing KC’s best player Graham Zusi too much space to shoot/cross from outside the box.
 
Since the arrival of Bakary Soumare and the switch of Jalil Anibaba to right back, the team’s back four has remained stable and for the most part work well as a unit. Individual errors like those in the SKC game are the issue.
 
These are a hard thing for a coaching staff to work on because the majority are mental mistakes.  It’s been nine games in the league since the Men in Red kept a clean sheet and one would be very welcome on Sunday evening. If the back four and goalkeeper can keep their concentration for 90 minutes and communicate well with one another, a clean sheet can be achieved.
 
Breaking down the Whitecaps – how to defeat the 4-3-3
 
Vancouver coach Marin Rennie favors a 4-3-3 formation with three ball-winning midfielders and three attackers who are very mobile. There are a few weak spots in this formation however that the Fire should look to exploit.
The first is getting balls in behind the three-man midfield, either by playing through balls or looking over the top. In Vancouver’s last loss, a 3-2 defeat by Seattle, the Sounders were able to get behind the three-man wall catching the Whitecaps center backs out of position.
The Sounders capitalized numerous times in that match when gaps opened up between the Whitecaps center backs. In Vancouver’s recent 3-1 win against Chivas USA, the Chivas goal also came from getting behind the central midfielders, this time from a brilliant pass from the center of the park which split the Vancouver mids and resulted in a 1v1 between the Chivas striker and a Whitecaps defender.
Another area where the 4-3-3 can be exploited is on the outside, a strong area for the Fire. Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka’s ability to stretch the three man midfield of Vancouver will be very important, not only because it leaves gaps in the middle to exploit, but it also forces one of the midfielders into a 1v1 battle with one of the Fire wide men. I would bet on our wingers in that fight.
When you add the Fire’s outside defenders to that equation, it makes it difficult for Vancouver to defend. I look for the likes of Alex, Nyarko and Duka to try and exploit the 4-3-3 system whenever possible, for the Fire’s benefit. 
Prediction: 1-1 with a goal from Alex.
06 July 9:58 am

The Fire will host Sporting KC on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park attempting to extend their unbeaten run to double digits after a dramatic five-goal thriller against San Jose midweek while KC comes to Chicago after a disappointing home draw against Vancouver.

Both teams are not on friendly terms and this looks set to be a thriller. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Limiting the set pieces – Don’t allow Zusi to work his magic

Sporting KC have a double threat on set pieces with a number of players who are very good in the air and they have Graham Zusi, one of the best strikers of a dead ball in MLS.

At the back, Frenchman Aurelien Collin is not only strong but always makes a nuisance of himself in the box. Up front, they’ve benefited from the return of striker Kei Kamara who spent some time with Norwich in the Premier League.

Dan and Kevin talk Sporting KC

TICKETS: Fire vs. Sporting KC

In KC’s last match against Vancouver, Kamara came very close to scoring from headers on multiple occasions not by outmuscling his opponent like Collin does but simply by out jumping them.

Like quite a few teams in MLS, Kansas City also possesses a modified set play – the long throw. Just as Jalil Anibaba deploys the it almost whenever possible for the Fire, SKC center back Matt Besler does the same.

The Fire gave away a silly goal from a set piece last week and better defending will be needed against a team that is well known for their set piece prowess.

Keeping SKC’s attacking wide players at bay – neutralizing Saad and Kamara

Kansas City starts in a 4-3-3 formation with striker Claudio Bieler in the middle with Kei Kamara and Soony Saad supporting him wide. Many teams are so focused (and I don’t blame them) on Bieler and attacking mid Graham Zusi that sometimes Saad and Kamara are overlooked and both players are good at finding space.

Coach Peter Vermes constantly orders the players to switch sides during play which makes picking them up even harder. In Kansas City’s last win against Columbus, Kamara chipped in with two goals, the first coming from a fantastic switch of the field which found Kamara in space that he was able to control and finish.

The attacking nature of Sporting’s outside defenders also gives Kamara and Saad an excuse to get into the middle and support Bieler. There will be some 1v1 battles between Saad and the Fire outside defenders but it will certainly take a team effort to keep the wide men at bay on Sunday afternoon.

Letting the Fire wingers create – creating room for Nyarko and Duka change the game

Anyone who has watched the Fire closely this season will tell you that winger Patrick Nyarko is playing the best the best soccer of his career and if he can overcome the tight hamstring that brought him out early against San Jose and start against KC the Fire have a great chance of winning. 

Athletico Coaching Corner with Mike Matkovich

Nyarko has done it all for the team this year, be it tracking back to win the ball from his opponent, beating a man in a 1v1 situation or combining well with his teammates.

In the midweek win against San Jose, Nyarko did something many critics of the Fire often call out for more of,  getting into the box to support the strikers. Nyarko not only got in but made a great near post run and finished superbly.

The cross provided for the Nyarko goal came from Dilly Duka who is starting to show his true potential. Duka had a goal and an assist in the win against San Jose and could’ve had a few more if not for narrowly missing a few rockets from outside the box.

READ: Will Nyarko be good to go Sunday?

In the past few weeks, Dilly has been a major threat from the wide positions, beating players at will and putting in numerous dangerous crosses. Duka has also got into the box to great effect, scoring two goals in as many matches.

The dual threat of attacking from wide areas as well as providing support in the box should cause the SKC back line some major issues on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: Fire critics have claimed the club has yet to beat an elite team during the side’s nine-game unbeaten streak but I think those critics will be silenced on Sunday afternoon. 2-1 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

02 July 10:06 am

After the weekend off, the Fire head back on the field Wednesday night against the San Jose Earthquakes with the team looking to extend its eight-game unbeaten streak to nine (LIVE 7:00pm CT on My50).

San Jose played late Saturday night against LA and came from two goals and a man down to win 3-2. Both teams are still on the outside of the playoff spots looking in but are moving in the right direction. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective Wednesday night.

Gold Cup changes – Both San Jose and the Fire missing players – who will it affect more?

Both the Earthquakes and the Fire will be missing players due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments but in terms of sheer numbers, San Jose is certainly hit harder. The California club is sending four players to compete while goalkeeper Sean Johnson is the Fire’s only representative.

The Earthquakes will also be without center back Victor Bernardez who picked up a red card against LA.

READ: "July is my moment" says Paolo Tornaghi

The losses of last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and dynamic midfielder Marvin Chavez are especially tough and San Jose will certainly be relying even more on strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon Wednesday.

Paolo Tornaghi is no stranger to the Fire net but will be looking to put in a better performance than his last MLS outing, giving up four goals at home to Chivas USA back in March.

Still, Tornaghi is an excellent goalkeeper and could easily be starting for another team in MLS. With Sean Johnson missing for the better part of a month, this is a chance for the former Inter Milan ‘keeper to really step up and force coach Frank Klopas into making a tough decision on the starting job once Johnson returns.

Keeping an eye on the outsides – Morrow and Beitashour are attacking threats

When you have strikers who are good in the air like San Jose has with the likes of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon you want your wide players to be able to put a good cross in. The Earthquake’s wing backs can certainly do that.

Rolfe, Tornaghi Preview San Jose

Both Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour enjoy getting forward and their crossing ability is outstanding. Thankfully Gonzalo Segares did not get called into Costa Rica’s Gold Cup squad and his battle against Beitashour will be one to watch on Wednesday.

Beitashour’s numbers are certainly down from last season where he recorded six assists but he is still a player the Fire cannot allow space to cross the ball into the box.

In the ‘Quakes last away match against D.C. United last month, Morrow got forward a lot more than this past weekend’s match against LA. The outside backs attempted a combined 13 crosses in that match compared to only seven in the LA match.

Limiting the number of crosses should be a goal for the Men in Red on Wednesday night.

Tightening up at the back – important for Berry and Soumare to get their positioning right

With the possibility of both Lenhart and Alan Gordon starting for San Jose, both Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must be prepared for some bruising physical battles.

Another thing the central defenders must keep an eye on is their positioning. An overlooked aspect of the Fire’s 5-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal last week was the amount of good chances Orlando had, especially on 1v1 duels with Sean Johnson.

READ: Could Victor Pineda's first team debut be in sight?

The Orlando strikers were able to get as many chances as they did due to some positioning errors by the Fire’s central defenders. Better communication between the pair, the back line and goalkeeper as a whole should correct this problem.

This will also be Tornaghi’s first match playing with Soumare so it will be interesting to see how good the players’ communication with one another is.

At times Berry and Soumare make it hard for themselves with some lackluster positioning which resulted in them having to make up ground and make some last ditch tackles, something we saw against Orlando on more than one occasion.

Though Gordon and Lenhart are more about physicality than movement, I look for the Fire center backs to tighten up a bit on Wednesday and continue to improve on their less than one goal a game against average during this current eight-game unbeaten streak.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Patrick Nyarko and “Magic” Mike Magee

18 June 12:44 pm

After a rousing comeback against Portland last time out in the league, the Fire start a busy period Wednesday night against a tricky Colorado Rapids team (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) who just their six-game unbeaten streak snapped at the weekend by San Jose Earthquakes. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Exposing the Rapids center backs: targeting Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne

Colorado's usual starting pair at the center of the defense is Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor but with the Irish-born youngster in Turkey with the US U-20 team, right back Marvell Wynne has slotted into the middle.

FIRE vs. RAPIDS: Tickets Still Available

Against San Jose last week, this pairing had a lot of trouble, especially when the Quakes attacking players separated and isolated the center backs.

The movement of Rolfe and Magee, both very mobile strikers, could open up the Colorado defense. If the Fire’s attacking pair can draw Moor/Wynne out, it can lead to space being created behind them, something San Jose did well last weekend.

Keeping an eye on Deshorn Brown - the rookie has 4 assists this season

Similar to my thoughts a few weeks ago about D.C. rookie Kyle Porter, Deshorn Brown has caught my eye for Colorado this season.

Playing on the left of a front three he’s dangerous and a good supplier of the ball for striker Edson Buddle. Much of Colorado's chances in the past few matches have come from Brown’s side.

Larentowicz, Duka Preview Colorado

The Rapids will be without Atiba Harris after his red against San Jose last week which puts even more emphasis on Brown to step up in the Kittitian’s absence.

Right-sided players Jalil Anibaba and Patrick Nyarko will need to be very wary of the rookie on Wednesday night.

Fire squad rotation - my case in for it

The Men in Red have a tough stretch of 4 games in 11 days and it would be very demanding on the players to try and stick with the same starting XI for all four because of a risk of burnout.

A more likely approach would be one of steady and not drastic rotation meaning making a few changes each match and not starting a completely different team. This is of course assuming the team doesn't pick up any injuries or suspensions during this stretch.

READ: Nyarko says next eight day stretch is "crunch time"

Giving a few players a break Wednesday night with one eye on the tough away Eastern Conference match against Columbus on Saturday might be a worthwhile policy for head coach Frank Klopas.

Fire squad rotation - my case against

Something fans have criticized coach Klopas for is sticking to a regular starting XI and not making too many changes from game to game.

That being said, the team is currently unbeaten in four games and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The last 20 minutes against Portland last weekend was the team’s best spell all season and if they can continue that form the next few weeks could see us in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and moving closer to the MLS Cup playoff positions in the East.

With the back line finally stable and the Mike Magee/Chris Rolfe partnership starting to really gel, there is a strong case for coach Klopas to stick with the same XI during this run of games.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

07 June 8:40 am

After a week of very positive results on the field, the Fire team will be full of confidence as they welcome the Portland Timbers to Toyota Park on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/La Ley 107.9FM) .

Portland are not short of confidence themselves, riding into town on an 11 game unbeaten streak. Both teams are missing players due to international duty. Here are some tactical things to keep an eye on...

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #1 – keep the diamond for the Portland game

In the Fire’s most recent MLS game against D.C. United, the team tweaked the formation and started with a 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. Jeff Larentowicz played just in front of the back four while Alex got the start at the point of the diamond.

Against D.C., this tactic worked very well as Alex was given license to stay forward and almost act as a third forward at times while helping Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe put pressure on the United back four.

Frank Klopas echoed this in a recent interview, stating “He’s had two good games, he brings that ability onto the field – when he gets the ball he can make good passes and connect plays together, another guy that supports the forwards.”

Like Magee and Rolfe, Alex is just as good without the ball at his feet, constantly making runs wide and connecting with Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere on the wings. Though the Fire didn’t have as much possession as D.C., Alex was involved in a number of counter attacks which caught United off guard.

Every fan wants to see attacking soccer from their team, especially at home, and starting Alex at the top of the diamond would certainly signal that the Fire don’t intend to sit back and allow Portland to come at them, but rather the opposite.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #2 – revert to two more defensive minded players in the middle

Even without starting striker Ryan Johnson (gone for international duty), Portland boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS. To date, the team has scored 22 goals, only 12 away from what they put up the entirety of last season.

Frenchman Frédéric Piquionne will start as the lone striker in place of Johnson but it is the support behind him that the Fire must be wary of. With players like Diego Valeri (who I will talk about more later) Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson, the team from the Rose City have a wealth of attacking options.

Because Portland plays with a 5 man midfield, a lone holding midfielder might not be enough for the Fire on Saturday night. Jeff Larentowicz did a fantastic job of stifling the D.C. attack last weekend but against a team not afraid to push men forward, a two-man combination of Pause/Paladini/Larentowicz makes more sense tactically.

Two holding midfielders would also put less pressure on wingers Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka to drop back and help out defensively. Coach Klopas also called for the team to dominate more in possession against the Timbers and playing the two central midfielders close to one another would suit this strategy.

What will be interesting is which option the Fire start the game with, knowing that the team can revert to either option simply by making a substitution and either bringing Alex on the field or off.

Stopping Diego Valeri – taking a physical approach

Over the past two seasons teams have used a number of strategies to stop Fire playmakers such as Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sebastian Grazzini. One tactic that is used very often is to be physical (and in some cases overly physical) in an attempt to keep the player from making an impact. One way to try and contain Timbers creative midfielder Diego Valeri is to take this very approach.

Back in 2011, Paladini employed this tactic against RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and after 11 minutes, Beckerman snapped, head-butting Paladini and getting sent off with the Fire ending the game as 3-0 winners.

There is certainly a fine line between kicking lumps out of a player and just being physical with him. Thankfully, the Men in Red are blessed with veteran players such as Pause and Larentowicz and players like Paladini who are well versed in the “dark arts.” 

Because Valeri is so mobile, another option would be to man-mark him but that essentially eliminates one of the Fire players’ ability to contribute to the attack. The physical approach is certainly a more practical tactic than the man marking one and if the Fire can contain Valeri and prevent him from pulling the strings in midfield, it will be very detrimental to a Portland team who rely heavily on his creativity.

Prediction: The Fire will continue to turn the corner and hand the Timbers their first defeat in 11 games. 1-0 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.

03 June 8:45 am

Fire Homegrown talent Victor Pineda is away with the US U-20 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France. The tournament is a prep for the FIFA U-20 World Cup taking place in Turkey later this month and could be make or break for players hoping to make that roster.

Coming off a right ankle injury, Pineda did not make the field in the Americans’ first two matches against France and Colombia (both losses) but started and went 60 minutes in the U.S. win over the Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday. Here are my observations of Victor’s performance:

Victor started on the right of a three man attack, wearing the number 7. He spent most of the first half playing almost on the touchline on the right wing.

Around the fifth minute, Pineda controlled a cross-field ball, cut inside and hit a tame shot on target with his left foot. He combined well with FC Dallas right-back Kellyn Acosta with the pair exchanging numerous one-two passes.

Pineda also tucked inside, allowing Acosta space to move into on the wing. The U.S. team applied a lot of high pressure on the DRC back line and at one point Pineda almost blocked a kick by the DRC keeper. 

Coach Tab Ramos switched Pineda to the left wing and it was from this position that he created the U.S.'s best chance of the half. \

On 35 minutes, he got the ball wide and beat a DRC defender with pace before breaking into the box, faking right and cutting back left with a Cruyff turn, beating another defender before shooting with his left and forcing the keeper to make an excellent save. This was the last major action of the first half (40 minutes) for Pineda.

In the second half he continued on the left wing, cutting inside and demanding the ball off his teammates, displaying his strong self belief and confidence. He displayed another neat bit of skill 15 minutes into the second half when he allowed the ball to go in between his legs before turning away from a DRC player who could do nothing except foul him.

On 60 minutes, Victor was substituted, not surprising for a player who is only just coming back from an ankle injury.

In conclusion, Pineda was heavily involved during his time on the field and certainly made the case for a start in the US's last group match against South Korea on Wednesday (9:55am CT on beInSport).

Check back later this week for a recap of Victor’s next match with the U-20s. 

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

01 June 9:40 am

The Fire entertain lowly D.C. United this Sunday at Toyota Park (LIVE 4pm CT on My50/UniMas) after a week of very positive results in MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The Men in Red got a credible draw at RSL before traveling to South Carolina to take on the Charlotte Eagles, winning 2-0 and advancing to the fourth round of the Cup.

D.C. dropped a 2-0 result to Portland at RFK Stadium last weekend and squeezed by the Richmond Kickers on penalties in the Cup at midweek. Here are some tactical things to look out for during Sunday afternoon’s game.

Magee and Rolfe – a budding partnership to continue up front?

Fire newbie Mike Magee made his debut against the Eagles on Tuesday and combined well with Chris Rolfe up front with both players tallying in the win.

Rolfe and Magee looked to get each other involved in the attack and tried to play as close to one another as possible.

Coach Frank Klopas indicated after signing Magee that he feels his best position is playing up front and because both he and Rolfe are so mobile, it makes sense to continue to start the pair against a D.C. team
that has struggled on the defensive end this season.

TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE 

Soumare, Rolfe preview D.C. United

Magee showed on Tuesday how much of a threat he is in the air and his inclusion in front of Maicon Santos and Sherjill MacDonald will not hurt the Fire in terms of having an aerial threat up front.

Magee’s move up front also allows Patrick Nyarko to slot back into a wide position which allows him to be more creative and take players on.

This new partnership has the potential to blossom into a very successful one and the more time both players get to spend on the field together, the better.

Exposing the Kitchen/DeLeon partnership – taking advantage when one gets forward

In D.C.’s last game against Portland the team played Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen together in the middle of the field, similar to how the Fire play with Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause.

When D.C. attacked, either DeLeon or Kitchen would get forward to support Chris Pontius and Carlos Ruiz.

This left the team with only one holding midfielder and Portland took full advantage of this, breaking at every opportunity and opening D.C. up with either a long ball into space or attacking through the middle where they only faced one holding player.

Portland’s stretching of the field during the counter attacks opened up huge pockets of space in the middle and players like Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe were able to get forward and put real pressure on the United defense. 

Kitchen is a more disciplined player than the sophomore DeLeon and the Fire must look to try and take advantage of this when D.C. turn the ball over in an advanced position.

Keeping an eye on Kyle Porter – DC’s tricky winger

I admit that the Portland/DC game was the first time I had seen Kyle Porter play and he impressed me a lot. Porter reminded me of a young Justin Mapp, a player with great promise but who can also be very frustrating at times.

Porter is very good in 1v1 situations but sometimes tries to do too much with the ball and not make the simple pass. Porter’s crossing ability is also very impressive and he put numerous free kicks into dangerous positions.

Porter combined well with veteran James Riley on the right wing and Fire left back Gonzalo Segares will be tested on Sunday night. That being said, Porter can also be a bit naive on the defensive side of the ball and the Fire should look to exploit the space behind him if he is slow to track back.

Prediction: Statistically, D.C. is the weakest team in MLS and with the Fire playing at home, three points is a must. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.

24 May 9:54 am

The Fire head west to Utah on Saturday night after dropping two games against the Union both at home and in Philadelphia. The team is without a goal in three games and face a daunting task against \ in-form Real Salt Lake (7:30pm CT on My50). RSL swept Chivas aside last weekend, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The return of Soumare – more changes for the Fire back line?

On Thursday, the Fire acquired former player Bakary Soumare from the Union. Soumare will provide some much-needed depth at the center back position with the long-term future of Arne Friedrich in doubt.

Soumare’s return comes at a good time for the Fire who are without a number of players due to injury and suspension. With Wells Thompson suspended, Frank Klopas could choose to move Jalil Anibaba to the right side of defense and slot Soumare in alongside Austin Berry.

Athletico Coaching Corner: Real Salt Lake

The injury to Friedrich has meant a longer than expected spell in the middle for Anibaba and in his absence, the right-back position has changed hands on numerous occasions this season.

READ: Soumare ready to start vs. RSL

Though right-back isn’t Anibaba’s natural position, the defender has played there for a lot of his Fire career and is comfortable in it.

Against a team like Salt Lake who are known for their aerial prowess, another big body on the back line like Soumare’s in addition to Anibaba and Berry would be very useful.

Getting some consistency in defense is very important from here on out and a starting four of Anibaba, Soumare, Berry and Segares would appear to have the right blend of youth and experience.

The Fire’s attack – pace vs possession

In both games vs. the Union, coach Frank Klopas started Patrick Nyarko up front with Chris Rolfe in an attempt to bring some speed to the forward line.

Against Salt Lake however, a more logical tactic would be to use a bigger body who can hold the ball up and can be used as an outlet to relieve pressure.

Sherjill MacDonald is fit again after an illness and could start up front as the target forward. This would allow the Fire to move Patrick Nyarko back to the wing, possibly in place of Joel Lindpere who has logged a lot of minutes this season.

READ: Nyarko keeps ticking despite reckless tackles

Though Nyarko’s creativity and pace in the attack worked well against Philly, his desire to track back and help the defense could prove very important, especially against a team with a wealth of attacking options  who are so offensive minded at home.

The problem with starting MacDonald up front is that he can oftentimes be left devoid of support and it will be up to players like Rolfe, and Duka to get forward and support the Dutchman.

If he does get the nod, the battle between him and the RSL center backs such as Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be very interesting to watch.

RSL’s midfielders – tracking runs into the box

RSL plays with a diamond midfield system with Kyle Beckerman anchoring and Javier Morales playing at the top of the diamond. Morales is the team’s playmaker and oftentimes acts as a third striker, getting forward to support the front two.

Duka, Larentowicz preview Real Salt Lake

Though Morales is an obvious target, players like Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil who play on the flanks cut inside on a regular basis, making runs into the middle when joining in the attack.

With this many players getting forward, the Fire must be aware not only of who is marking who but must prevent RSL from getting second ball opportunities.

Similar to the Fire for most of the season, RSL likes to play with at least one mobile striker while the other tends to play higher up the field.

The mobile striker, oftentimes Joao Plata, drifts into wide positions, usually on the right hand side. His moves out wide open up more space for players like Morales, Grabavoy and Gil to move into.

Plata has four assists this season and is a good crosser of the ball. His crossing ability was displayed earlier this month against Vancouver where he put in a perfect ball Gil to head home the winner.

Staying tight with runners from midfield and not allowing second ball opportunities will improve the Fire’s chances of getting a result on the road dramatically.

Prediction: Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the hardest places in MLS to get a result in. The Fire has had no luck this season and perhaps Saturday night will be the night. 1-1 with Chris Rolfe scoring the Fire’s goal from the penalty spot.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

17 May 8:09 am

The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week

In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.

Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.

WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly

This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.

In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.

When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.

Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.

Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian

In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.

Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.

In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.

Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.

Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson

I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.

On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.

On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.

Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.

Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

10 May 9:47 am

The Fire head into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Union (12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of a much-needed bye week after the tough loss in Montreal the week prior.

Philly tied 2-2 against lowly Seattle last time out and are set to be missing a few defenders due to injury and suspension. Both teams play each other twice over the next seven days. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective.

Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 1

The Union come into this game missing starting right back Sheanon Williams and it appears former Fire player Bakary Soumare will get the start at center back for the first time all season.

WATCH: Match Preview

This major reshuffle combined with the Fire being the home team should mean Frank Klopas’ side will be set up to attack Philly whenever possible. Williams is a loss on the right, not only for his defensive play but also his long throw ability which can be used as an offensive threat.

Filling in for Williams should be usual left back Raymon Gaddis. Gaddis looked particularly uncomfortable against New England in the Union’s last away match in April, with the youngster getting caught out by balls in behind on a few occasions.

He was also exposed when put under pressure. The Revs wingers had luck getting the ball in the box from Gaddis’ side and with this in mind, I expect to see Joel Lindpere and Gonzalo Segares getting forward and attacking Gaddis whenever possible.

Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 2

Ironically, last season’s match against the Union saw Bakary Soumare play his first and only game of the 2012 season for the Union. In that match, the Fire looked to get in 1v1 situations with the rusty defender and it paid off, with MacDonald beating Soumare before crossing for a Chris Rolfe tap in goal. This weekend’s game plan should be no different with Soumare not playing in a match since the game last August.

The Men in Red will also look to force Soumare out of the middle to cover on the outside, something no centerback likes to do. Presumed starting wingers Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere will be relishing 1v1 opportunities with the big defender.

Another area to test Soumare will be in the air. New England was able to win the ball in the aerial battle on numerous crosses into the Philly box, partially because of the hesitancy of goalkeeper Zac MacMath to come and challenge them.

A new center back pairing combined with a sometimes hesitant goalkeeper can lead to defensive errors and one such error could be decisive on Saturday afternoon.
 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Stopping the Philly attack - be ready for different combinations

When one looks at the Philly attack this season, it is easy to get distracted by the exploits of 20-year-old Jack McInerney who has notched six goals already for the Union this season.

He picked up April’s Player of the Month award and is playing the best soccer of his young career. Beyond McInerney, the Union have three excellent strikers who bring different playing styles to the table.

Veteran Conor Casey has played up front with McInerney in recent matches and has combined well with the man 11 years his junior. Both strikers are very fluid, dropping deep, moving out to the wing or playing in the advanced striker role and switching at a moment's notice.

It is much easier to prepare for what you presume to be the starting strikers will be. The challenge in Saturday's game will be the adjustments the coaching staff make if and when the Union decide to bring on some attacking substitutions.

Antoine Hoppenot and Sebastian Le Toux have started from the bench in recent matches but both have a tendency to make a big impact once brought on. Le Toux is very good with the ball at his feet and he can easily play in the second striker role, allowing McInerney to permanently move higher up the pitch.

Hoppenot scored four goals off the bench last season and has come off the bench in all but one game this season. If Le Toux does come on, dropping presumed center-mid starter Daniel Paladini a bit deeper to reduce the space Le Toux has to operate in is an option.

In-game adjustments are not often talked about but can often be the difference between three points and one.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Lindpere