Blog

stephen piggott

10 August 9:07 am

Last week, the Fire played a team with a newish coach and it’s the same with week when the Men in Red travel to Philadelphia to face a Union team headed by interim coach John Hackworth. Philly have had some ups and downs but are a very difficult team to beat on their day. Here are a few tactical things to look out for in Sunday night's game:

Freddy Adu: Jekyll and Hyde

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Philly

 

Freddy Adu has a long history of inconsistency. When he is on, he can be one of the best attacking players in MLS but far too often fans haven't seen the best of him. This season has also been a mixed one for Freddy but the past two games in particular, he has failed to show up. He did score a penalty in a 2-1 win over New England but in Montreal last week he was very isolated on the right wing.

Fullback Sheanon Williams failed to get forward to support Adu on the outside and this forced him to constantly play the ball into the middle when he would get it in a wide position. He even switched wings for a time but this didn't help. Under Hackworth, Philadelphia have become an attacking force but last week the wing play of Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp prevented their outside backs from getting forward.

The Fire should look to mimic that tactic, especially because it limits the support for young Fredua.

New Forward Taking On New Defender?

Last week, Fire Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald replaced Dominic Oduro at halftime and helped the team overturn a 1-0 deficit. MacDonald is getting back to match fitness and Sunday’s game could be a good opportunity for him to get his first start.

Oduro has struggled to find the net of late and his speed could be a game changer off the bench. If Philly are in need of a goal, Oduro is the perfect person to bring in because his “freaky fast” pace enhances the Fire's counter attacking ability ten-fold.

Whoever starts up top for the Fire Sunday could be facing a new center back paring for the Union, who may give a first start to former Fire player Bakary Soumare. The Mali international has been rehabbing a knee injury since returning to MLS from Germany side Karlsruher in June but he did play 90 minutes in a reserve game last week and could replace second-year defender Amobi Okugo at the heart of the Union defense.

New partnerships have the potential to be shaky and if Soumare does indeed start, I would look for the Fire to test out the new look back line as early and often as possible.

This, of course can also be achieved through set pieces. Philly have had a major problem this year in that department, giving up the most headed goals in the league. As we saw last week, the Fire and especially rookie-of-the-year candidate Austin Berry are a threat from corners and free kicks and this could be key to unlocking the Union.

Depth: If we need it, it’s there

With any team, having strong options off the bench is a massive bonus. It can help the coach to change his tactics but it also increases competition for the first team. After last month’s acquisitions, the Fire now have a bench that is not only stronger but has plenty of MLS experience.

Take last Saturday’s game for example: the Fire lineup card had names like Dan Gargan, Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Paladini, Alex and Sherjill MacDonald on the sub’s list. Soon enough we could be adding Cory Gibbs there.

The team's depth is going to be very important in the push to move as high up in the Conference standings as possible. If things aren't going well on Sunday, coach Klopas has tried and tested players that he can call on, something that could be the difference between one point and three.

Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Philadelphia Union 0 behind goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.

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

03 August 8:22 am

The last time both teams met, Toronto were without a win all season and went on to break MLS records for all the wrong reasons. With a change in coach came a change in fortune and now TFC are looking a much better side - winning three of their last four. I will briefly examine what's changed with TFC under Paul Mariner before identifying some tactical points to look out for during tomorrow's match:

Changes Under Coach Mariner:

The major difference between Winter and Mariner is the change in formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 system with a few variations. The 4-4-2 has brought some major changes in player positions which has helped Toronto tremendously.

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on TFC

 

Starting at the back, youngster Adam Eckersley has moved to center back from his outside position under Winter. Against Houston last week, Eckersley had a brilliant game, making many last ditch tackles and stepping in to win the ball off the toes of the Houston strikers. He’s formed a good partnership at heart of the defense with rookie Logan Emory.

Eckersley's move to the middle has allowed veteran Torsten Frings to take up his more suited position in the center of midfield.

In attack, former Fire player Ryan Johnson has moved from his wide position into a more central role. Johnson plays very well with his back to goal and is a lot better suited to a physical battle with a center back rather than trying to take on a defender on the outside. Johnson's form has softened the loss of Danny Koevermans to an ACL tear and his potential partnership with new striker Eric Hassli has the potential to make TFC's attack one of the most feared in MLS.

Set Pieces: New Coach, Same Old Threat

For all the changes that Paul Mariner has brought to TFC, one stalwart is the team's reliance of set pieces to create scoring chances.

Every time a TFC player is fouled within 50 meters of the opponent’s goal, the same thing happens: Torsten Frings will pick up the ball while the big boys trudge up from the back to take up a position in the opponent’s box. Frings's deliveries can be hit or miss but more often than not, he puts it in a dangerous area.

Frings also takes all of TFC's corners which also have a habit of wrecking havoc in the six-yard box. In Toronto's 5-1 win over Aguila Wednesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League, they scored one goal from a corner kick and had another goal called offside from a Frings free kick that was put in on a rebound.

The Fire back line and Sean Johnson have been criticized in the past for not dealing well with set pieces and though they have been defensively sound for most of the season, Toronto’s skill in dead ball situations will remain a major threat Saturday night.

Lack of Pace in the Middle: Take Advantage

Similar to the Fire, TFC has two defensive-minded central midfielders in Frings and Terry Dunfield. Their job is to sit in front of the back four but also provide support in attack whenever they can.

As mentioned earlier, Frings is often dragged forward to take set-pieces and this can be where TFC are most vulnerable.

Against Houston last week, TFC were caught multiple times on the counter attack, either from giving the ball away in the midfield or after an attacking set piece. Dunfield and Frings make up for their lack of pace by reading the game expertly - (similar to what Pavel Pardo does for the Fire) but unlike Pardo and Logan Pause, Dunfield and Frings have a tendency to get too far apart from each other on the pitch - something the Fire could exploit on Saturday night. 

Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Toronto FC 0 with goals from Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko

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

27 July 9:58 am

The Fire play the Supporters Shield leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical standpoint…

Outside Backs: San Jose’s Biggest Threat?

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Quakes

 

When people think of the ‘Quakes, everyone’s mind wanders straight to 17-goal striker Chris Wondolowski. Unfortunately for the Fire, San Jose is far from a one-trick pony. Saturday night the team has another date with a league-leading side in the Golden State but they’ll head north of Carson to take on the high-flying San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium.
 
Two of the Earthquakes biggest threats come in the form of their wingbacks, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow. Beitashour, who has six assists this year, is suspended for Saturday’s match but this will not stop the ‘Quakes from pushing their full backs forward at every opportunity. They look to get in 2v1 situations which allow them space to cross into the middle for the ever-dangerous trifecta of Wondowski Steven Leinhart and Alan Gordon.  
 
Last week, Vancouver allowed Morrow and Beitashour to get behind on too many occasions with Morrow in particular causing problems down the left wing. Marco Pappa’s suspension means we will likely see Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko playing in the wide positions for the Fire. Both Rolfe andNyarko are very good at tracking back and helping out the wide defenders – something that will be essential in thwarting San Jose on Saturday.
 
Outside Backs: San Jose’s Biggest Weakness?

With six more goals scored than any other team in the league this season and two in-form strikers, San Jose just can’t stop scoring. That being said, the team’s 44 goals eclipse the fact that they have given up 27. Of the teams currently in playoff positions, only New York and the Galaxy have given up more. 

Last week’s loss to Vancouver exposed one of San Jose’s biggest weaknesses which also happens to be one of Fire’s greatest strengths: speed. Though Morrow had a good game on the attacking side, he was punished time after time by Dane Richards whose goal came directly from a Morrow error.

On the right hand side, San Jose will be without Beitashour for the first time all season which could pay dividends for the Men in Red. The pace of the Fire’s Ghanaian duo of Nyarko and Oduro could cause San Jose some major problems on the outside. Because the outside backs push up so much, there is plenty of room behind them for Oduro to run into. When he does go wide however, it requires the other attack-minded players Rolfe, Alex and Nyarko to get into the box in support.

Wondo and Gordon: Stay Tight

A major reason San Jose is sitting at the top of MLS this season are the goals from Wondolowski (17), Gordon (9) and Lenhart (6). The Quakes don’t  set up their strikes the traditional way, with one on the shoulder off the last defender looking for flick-ons from the target man. Wondolowski and Gordon/Lenhart are constantly switching positions; dropping back into midfield and drifting wide. The interchanging of positions causes major problems for defenders and is one reason why you see Wondolowski score so many simple goals (think Fire vs. San Jose last season) - even though he is the obvious danger man, his movement makes him so difficult to pick up.

The other reason is that San Jose attack in such great numbers that it allows Wondo to go undetected. It sounds simple to say “stay with your man” or “keep your eye on the man and not the ball” but that’s exactly what the Fire need to do. 

Using last week’s game as an example again, Jay DeMerit didn't let him out of his sight for almost the entire match to great effect. The Fire's defensive performances have been stellar this season we and should expect nothing less from Austin Berry and co on Saturday night.
 
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.