Blog

stephen piggott

06 June 7:15 am

After picking up a second draw in four days, the Fire head back from Denver with their heads held high after collecting a good road point. The last match before the World Cup break will offer a considerable challenge as league-leading Seattle Sounders, a team in good spirits after a 4-0 drubbing of RSL last weekend, come to Toyota Park Saturday night (LIVE on My50 at 7:30pm CT). Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective…

Limiting the involvement of Chad Barrett – stopping the supply to the former Fire striker

In the absence of Clint Dempsey, former Fire striker Chad Barrett has stepped up and performed extremely well for the Sounders. Despite his size and the fact the club have Kenny Cooper in their ranks, coach Sigi Schmid has deployed Barrett as a target striker in recent matches to great effect.

Barrett seems to have modeled his new found role after San Jose Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart, often using his head or chest to cushion the ball in the direction of his fellow attackers such as Obi Martins and Lamar Nagle. Barrett has also chipped in with two goals in his last two matches for the Sounders.

Barrett is deceptively good in the air too, and with players like Brad Evans and Marco Pappa putting in crosses, the Fire need to be aware of where Barrett is on the field at all times. Against RSL last week, Barrett often found space by peeling off and making runs to the back post undetected. He was almost found a number of occasions and but for some better crosses/through balls, he might have a lot more than one goal.

Similar to players like Marco Pappa and Justin Mapp, the Fire fan base is openly divided about Barrett’s contributions as a Fire player. One thing’s for sure, he would like nothing more than contributing to the Fire’s downfall on Saturday night.

Limiting the Sounders set piece opportunities – not allowing Pineda and Pappa to put in dangerous deliveries

Though the Fire have improved greatly at defending set pieces, the Sounders will give them a stern test on Saturday evening.

With the twin threats of Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa, Seattle posses two of the best dead ball takers in MLS. The Fire will also need to deal with players like Brad Evans, Zack Scott and Chad Marshall, defenders who are very good in the air.

On set pieces, the Sounders usually have two routines. The first is to whip the ball into the box and look for someone like Marshall or Barrett to get a head on it. The second is to float the ball into the box and look to attack the second ball after a Sounders player heads it back across the box in the direction of where the free kick came from.

The Fire gave up 13 fouls in Colorado and were very aggressive against Robbie Keane last Saturday at Toyota Park. The Men in Red have made a number of mental mistakes on set pieces this season so limiting the number of fouls in the Fire’s defensive third will be critical on Saturday night.  

Targeting Seattle’s central defensive pairing – keeping the ball on the ground and using our attacking pace

With what the Sounders central defenders have in experience and aerial ability, they certainly lack in pace – something the Fire should be looking to target on Saturday night.

Marshall, Scott and Djimi Traore are all very accomplished defenders but aren’t always comfortable in 1v1 situations, especially against an attacker with pace. With this in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank Yallop goes with a lot of pace and trickery when choosing his attacking players for this match.

An attacking midfield trio of Benji Joya, Harry Shipp and Grant Ward with Quincy Amarikwa playing ahead of them would be very difficult for the Seattle defense. All four players are very good in 1v1 situations and Ward and Amarikwa aren’t afraid to take players on.

On Saturday night, the Fire should be focusing on attacking Seattle centrally and if the players mentioned can pick up the ball in the space between Osvaldo Alonso and the Sounders central defenders, it could result in the breakthrough.

Prediction: The Fire head into the World Cup break with another point – 1-1 with a goal from Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: MLSsoccer.com's Scouting Report: Fire vs. Sounders

04 June 7:56 am

 

After a gutsy draw in the heat against LA Sunday, there’s no time for rest for the Fire as the team jet off to Colorado to play the Rapids on Wednesday evening (8pm CT on My50/TWCSC). Colorado come into this game on a hot streak, scoring seven goals in the past two matches. With another game on Saturday against Seattle before the World Cup break, the Fire will be looking to come back home with something. 

Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Continuing the disciplined defensive line – not allowing the Rapids players to get in behind

In Sunday’s match against LA, the Fire backline played extremely well as a unit, with players keeping their shape and not getting pulled out of position. Importantly, the players kept a good defensive line, preventing the LA attackers from getting behind. LA tried this tactic quite often each time, they were caught offside.

With players like Dillon Powers and especially striker Deshorn Brown, Colorado look to get behind the opposition defense at every opportunity. Powers and Brown play in a similar way to Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, with coach Pablo Mastroeni essentially giving the players a free role to operate wherever on the pitch.

With this in mind, the Fire could play a similar formation to what we saw on Sunday, with homegrown player Chris Ritter playing alongside Jeff Larentowicz in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This worked to perfection against LA, where the central midfield/defensive block of four (Soumare, Hurtado, Larentowicz and Ritter) prevented Donovan and Keane from getting much time and space on the ball to create.

Against Keane especially, the Fire players played a very physical game, constantly launching into aggressive tackles against the Irishman who was clearly irritated at this tactic. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar tactic played out on Wednesday night.

If the Fire’s defense and central midfield can put in a similar performance to the one against LA, the Rapids will find it very hard to break the Men in Red down.

Keeping tabs on Marvell Wynne -- locking up the right hand side of the Rapids attack

Over the Rapids’ last two matches, right back Marvell Wynne has had stellar performances getting forward on the right wing. For most of his career, Wynne has made a living getting forward and putting in dangerous crosses.

With Gonzalo Segares playing only after getting injections in his injured ankle,  it would not surprise me if Mastroeni targets the Fire’s left and sets up to have Wynne getting forward all night. If the Fire continue to play with the two holding midfielder formation, it provides more cover for Segares.

On the left hand side of midfield, Dilly Duka put in a much improved defensive performance against LA and if he again gets the start Wednesday, I expect to see a similar effort. Another tactic is to force Wynne to defend and not allow him to get forward and support the attack.

The threat of Quincy Amarikwa getting in behind the Colorado defense can be a strong deterrent. If the Fire can also get the ball to Duka in the attack, it will also force Wynne to focus more on his defensive duties.

The Fire’s new attacking threat from the right – the Grant Ward/Lovel Palmer combo

Last weekend, Coach Yallop started young Englishman Grant Ward on the right hand side of an advanced midfield trio with Harry Shipp playing centrally and Duka on the left. Though naturally left footed, starting Ward as an inverted winger means he is free to cut into the middle onto his stronger left foot.

With Harry Shipp on the other side of the field in previous matches this season, Ward frequently moved into the middle of the field against LA, linking up with Amarikwa and co. Not only does Ward’s attacking shift to the middle create problems centrally for teams, but it opens up a lot of space on the wing for Lovel Palmer to get forward.

Yallop praised Palmer after the LA match and for good reason, the right back providing a constant threat down the outside. Just as the Rapids will be hoping Wynne can be the difference for Colorado on their right, a strong attacking performance from Palmer on Wednesday evening could be the difference for the Fire.

Prediction: Even though the Fire are banged up and facing a hot Rapids squad, the team come away with a big victory – 1-0 Fire with a goal from Quincy Amarikwa.

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

29 May 2:13 pm

After a lackluster performance in Columbus last week, the Chicago Fire need to pick themselves up for a massive week ahead, starting with Sunday’s game at home against the LA Galaxy. Landon Donovan’s USMNT snub means he will be looking to prove Jürgen Klinsman wrong all while adding to his MLS scoring record. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective…

Winning the midfield battle – a change of formation against LA may be necessary

While there is an obvious attacking threat that needs to be stifled, LA’s defense is leading the league with only nine goals given up all season. A key to that has been the play of the Galaxy midfield, dominating possession and not allowing the other team to attack.

With this in mind, a change in formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 could be in the cards. This would provide more support to Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and would also match up well against LA’s narrow midfield. A holding midfield duo Larentowicz and one of Logan Pause or Matt watson would not only put more on pressure on Juninho and co., but would also mean another player to pick up Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane when they drop deep – which I will explain in more detail later.

Pause has had some stellar performances off the bench of late and is pushing for a starting place. Ahead of the proposed Watson/Pause/Larentowicz duo, I would like to see Grant Ward and Benji Joya on the outsides with Harry Shipp operating behind the striker, presumably Quincy Amarikwa in the absence of Mike Magee. Shipp is most effective when he drifts inside and links with the strikers.

With Patrick Nyarko missing and Dilly Duka not doing enough defensively last week, a Ward/Joya tandem on the wings would not only provide some dynamism in the attack but also provide more protection for the Fire’s  outside  defenders. Dan Gargan and more so A.J. DeLaGarza are constantly getting forward, and benefit from the Galaxy’s narrow midfield.

This formation would put a lot of pressure on Quincy Amarikwa to man the forward line alone, but the 4-2-3-1 formation would mean less emphasis on the striker to hold up the ball and would allow Amarikwa to what he does best: harass the opposition’s defense.

Some may see this  formation as a negative one, especially when the Fire are at home, but against a midfield as strong as LA’s, I think this could give the team its best chance of winning.

Slowing down the Donovan/Keane juggernaut – doing a better job than against Higuain last week

After watching the clearly inspired performances of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane last weekend against the Philadelphia Union, it’s impossible for me to write about anything else for this preview. Donovan was clearly a man on a mission to surpass the MLS scoring record following his surprise snub from the final U.S. World Cup squad.

The Union were unable to handle the combination play and movement of Donovan/Keane as one dropped deep to collect the ball while the other would make a defense-splitting run.

Dropping deep, especially by Keane, allows players like Gyasi Zardes to move into that space and look for passes from the Irishman. Last week, I highlighted the attacking threat of Federico Higuain and the Fire did not deal with the Argentine well, allowing him to dictate the game and set up both of the Crew goals.

A much better job needs to be done this week but unfortunately, the Fire need to deal with two players instead of one. The Fire midfield, as I mentioned earlier, have an important role to play in attempting to stop Donovan/Keane from getting the ball when they drop deep for it.

The Fire defense also needs to be stingier. Too often, including on both of the goals, Columbus players were able to get in behind the Fire back line - something that needs to be addressed and prevented on Sunday. If the Fire do a better job of stopping Donovan and Keane than they did last week against Higuain, it will massively improve the Fire’s chances of picking up a positive result.

Prediction: Fire start a testing week with a positive result - 1-1 with a goal from Benji Joya. 

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

23 May 7:38 am

The Fire head to Columbus on Saturday night (6:00pm on My50/TWCSC) looking to make it three wins in a row after laboring to earn a victory at home against Sporting KC last weekend. The Crew started well under new coach Gregg Berhalter but haven’t won in eight matches. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Another week, another weakened defense – taking advantage of the Crew’s makeshift back four

The Fire took full advantage of Sporting KC’s defensive absences last weekend and I expect the team to look to follow suit on Saturday night. Columbus will be missing two of their Costa Rican defenders, center back Giancarlo Gonzalez and left back Waylon Francis while Michael Parkhurst will return after being cut from the U.S. World Cup squad.

Last week, the Fire looked to put pressure on the KC back line and it worked very well, forcing two penalty kicks in the first 15 minutes of the match. I look for the Fire to be more consistent with the high pressure tactic instead of starting with it, then sitting back before taking it back up again.

Like last week, the Fire are catching Columbus at a good time and need to be ruthless. If the team had managed to pick up a third goal last week, the last twenty minutes or so wouldn’t have been as nerve wracking. If the team does manage to take a lead, looking to double it instead of sitting back and letting Columbus dictate should be the plan.

Both Quincy Amarikwa and Mike Magee found space in behind the KC defense last week and if they can be found again by the likes of Shipp and Joya, the Fire could certainly leave Columbus with three points.

Mass changes on the right? – Dealing with the possible injury losses of Nyarko and Palmer

The Fire’s injury report published late this week brought some unwelcome news in the form of injury to Patrick Nyarko and sickness for Lovel Palmer. The Fire’s starters in right midfield and defense could both miss out on Saturday which would be a big blow considering how well both played last week.

Palmer had been criticized by some for his defensive performances but he had a fine game against Sporting KC. Nyarko was also a standout player last week, both tracking back to help out Palmer defensively and helping to pressure the KC players off the ball.

With both players potentially missing this week, Coach Yallop has a tough decision on his hands. Matt Watson has had some time at right back this season when Palmer was suspended but Logan Pause or even the fit-again Steven Kinney could feature.

On the wing, Victor Pineda may get the start while Dilly Duka could also make the move from his usual left wing position. Duka replaced Nyarko last week and looked good in the attacking third, cutting in onto his favored left foot. If Duka does get the nod, I look for him to track back more and help out whoever our right-back is defensively.

The Fire outside defenders have been left isolated too often this season which is one of the reasons the team has given up 19 goals to date. With the possibility of two stalwarts in the Fire lineup missing, the Crew’s plan will be attack as often as possible down the Fire right so a strong defensive performance from Nyarko and Palmer’s replacements is imperative.

Keeping Higuain on a tight leash – not allowing the Argentine to create for the Crew

For me, Federico Higuain is probably the best creative midfielder in all of MLS. His vision, passing range and set piece deliveries are unique and he would improve any team in the league if he joined them.  

Like Magee, Higuain likes to drop deep to get the ball and is also very comfortable operating in the space between the opposition midfield and defense. He essentially has a free role with Columbus and covers quite a bit of ground, making him hard to track.

Last week’s 3-3 draw with Portland also highlighted Higuain’s scoring threat, chipping the 6’4” Donovan Ricketts from outside the area to earn the Crew a 3-3 draw. With six goals and three assists on the year, Higuain has been directly involved in 70% of the Crew’s 13 goals in 2014.

In matches this season, the Fire have generally done a good job keeping the opposing team’s most influential players quiet which is mostly down to stopping the person from getting the ball. Assistant coach C.J. Brown emphasized this point during the buildup to the Columbus match.

With this in mind, most of the burden will be on Jeff Larentowicz to try and keep Higuain under lock and key.

Prediction: A high scoring draw (2-2) with goals from Mike Magee and Harry Shipp

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

16 May 7:00 am

The Fire finally picked up three points last week in dramatic fashion with a 5-4 win over Red Bull in New Jersey and will look to make it two on the trot when they welcome defending MLS Cup champs Sporting Kansas City to Toyota Park on Sunday (2pm CT My50/TWCSC-WI/UniMas).

Sporting brings a depleted squad to Chicago but their first loss at home in some time at the hands of the Union on Wednesday night means they come to town with a bad taste in their mouth. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Taking advantage of a depleted SKC defense – testing the makeshift back line

On Sunday, Kansas City will take the field without either member of their famed center backs – Aurelien Collin (injury) and Matt Besler (international duty). Right back Chance Myers is also a doubt. On the outside, Seth Sinovic could be the only regular starter in the back four to play on Sunday while Brazilian Igor Julião had a solid debut in Wednesday’s match against Philly.

In the past, SKC have dealt with the loss of Besler due to national team commitments but losing both center backs is a large blow. SKC’s patched up defense must have Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa licking their lips. Last week we saw Harry Shipp play an absolutely brilliant defense-splitting pass to put Mike Magee in 1v1 with Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles.

Against SKC, Shipp and whoever plays in the center of midfield alongside Jeff Larentowicz should be looking to play those types of passes in behind the SKC defense to the onrushing Magee or Amarikwa.

Repeating last week’s second half tactic on Sunday – putting high pressure on SKC

Amarikwa described Frank Yallop’s tactical switch at halftime of the New York game the best. When asked, he said, “We came in at half time and knew we were sitting in too much. We were giving New York too much respect to play and we know we can score goals. That’s what we’ve done consistently this year. So, we said in the second half we’re just going to high press, what do we have to lose, and I think it really caught them off guard.”

The exact same tactic should be in place from the first whistle against SKC. In Wednesday’s match against the Union, Sporting gave up the ball on far too many occasions, many times with minimal pressure applied by the opposition. The Union sat back and used the counter attack to their advantage but for the Fire, forcing a new-look SKC into mistakes will be critical.

If Benji Joya gets the start again in the center of the park, I expect to see more from him in this regard. Joya is slowly but surely improving the defensive side of his game but against a team like SKC, I expect him to take a page out of the Dax McCarty playbook and not allow the SKC players any time on the ball.

Joya has the comfort of Jeff Larentowicz behind him so taking a few risks and pressing higher up the field could reap rewards

Providing more support to the outside backs – wing backs exposed again against NYRB last week

As I discussed last week, a lot of the problems for the Fire defensively stem from attacks coming from the wide areas. That was again the case against the Red Bulls in Saturday’s game. It was obvious that NYRB coach Mike Petke told his team to try and isolate Greg Cochrane on the left hand side. During the first half, the Red Bulls attacked almost exclusively down the Fire left. Cochrane certainly held his own but he lacked support from Harry Shipp who was playing in front of him.

On the other side, Lovel Palmer had a tough game in New York. The Red Bulls were again allowed space and time to put in crosses and it really hurt the Fire. Case in point being the Red Bulls first goal, where Eric Alexander was given yards of space to pick out a cross and he duly found the head of Tim Cahill, the best header of a ball in the league.

Against a team like Sporting KC, who put an emphasis on getting their full backs forward to support the outside attackers, the Fire need to try and minimize the amount of 1v1 situations between our outside backs and the SKC wide men.

Prediction: The Fire are hitting KC at the right time: 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: No cardiac arrest after 5-4 win in New York

08 May 10:15 am

Last Saturday’s injury time loss to RSL prolonged the Fire’s misery for another week as the team continues to search for their first win on the season.  It doesn’t get any easier this weekend, when the Men in Red travel to Red Bull Arena to face New York on Saturday evening (5:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The Red Bulls have yet to really hit the ground running the season and will be looking to repeat the drubbing of the Fire in the last regular season game of 2013.

Here are some tactical observations to look out for on Saturday evening.

A potential shakeup in the back? A return for Segares likely but other changes possible

Frank Yallop didn’t have positive things to say about his team’s defending for the last 20+ minutes against RSL as and I expect him to make one or more changes to the back four for Saturday’s game. With Gonzalo Segares making the 18 last Saturday, one potential switch is at left back in place of Greg Cochrane.

Cochrane’s attacking ability has been a highlight during his stint in the starting eleven but he was caught out defensively on more than one occasion during the last 20 minutes against RSL. From a purely tactical perspective, the return of Segares would boost the Fire’s aerial defending prowess, especially against threats such as Tim Cahill.

A few weeks ago, Frank Yallop spoke about the need to get Patrick Ianni game time with both Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare in the team’s reserve game vs. Charlotte, in the case he may need to be utilized in a future match.

 Some of the mental mistakes made by Soumare last season have crept back into his play of late and this could result in Ianni getting a run Saturday vs. Red Bull. a

New York have scored the most goals in the East this season and the Fire cannot afford to make any more mental mistakes especially against a team boasting the Conference’s top goal scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry, the Fire’s arch nemesis  over the past few seasons.

What to do up front? – Will Amarikwa or Anangono partner Magee up front?

In a game where it was imperative that he put in a solid performance, Juan Luis Anangono gave a good shift against RSL last week, picking up a goal and linking well at times with Mike Magee. His competition for a starting spot on Saturday evening is the returning top goal scorer Quincy Amarikwa who missed the match due to red card suspension.

Tactically, there are arguments to be made for both players to get the nod. Amarikwa’s constant high pressure on the opposition’s backline would be welcome against a New York team who continue to be weak defensively in the wide areas.

Quincy is also the more ideal player to have in 1v1 situations, especially if the Fire can get him against one of the Red Bull center backs. In the middle, Jamison Olave has lost a step of pace from his days in Salt Lake and his partner Armando has yet to settle fully into MLS.

Anangono’s size is an important factor to consider, both in the attack, and defensively where he would be useful for set pieces. It is also important for the Fire to start being smarter in possession, especially holding the ball up in the attack.

Anangono has been a mixed bag in this regard so far this season but if he is given his second start in a row, I expect to see an emphasis on this tactic on Saturday night.

Monitoring Lloyd Sam – Stepping out and pressuring the Red Bull winger

Just looking at Lloyd Sam’s four assists this season gives you a good indication into the threat the Englishman poses. From his wide right position, Sam’s crossing is extremely accurate. Not only does he put himself into good wide positions, his ability to still put in a cross while under pressure from a defender makes him even more dangerous. Another problem with the Fire’s late game collapse last week was the lack of urgency by the team’s outside midfielders and defenders to close down the RSL wide players resulting in free crosses.

In Saturday’s game, the Fire must not allow Sam to get similar amounts of space granted to RSL. Stifling Sam will also cut the supply to Wright-Phillips and Henry.

Prediction: If I predict we will win, the team will end up with a tie so I’m going with a 2-2 tie with goals from Quincy Amarikwa and Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: The Centerback

01 May 7:47 am

After yet another draw against the Revs last time out, the Fire head into May without a win. The first of four grueling matches this month is against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park on Saturday evening (7:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). Both teams enter this game with sour tastes in their mouths after the way their last matches ended and I expect it to be a frantic first 20 minutes or so. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Replacing Quincy – how will coach Yallop adjust to the loss of the team’s top scorer?

Perhaps the most important outcome of the match against New England last time out was the red card and one game suspension for Qunicy Amarikwa, the team’s top goal scorer and most consistent attacking threat this season. Replacing Amarikwa is no easy task, especially because his partnership with Mike Magee was just starting to bloom, but the Fire coaching staff does have plenty of options.

The most obvious and like for like switch would be for Juan Luis Anangono and act as the target striker with Magee playing behind him. Anangono has come off the bench on a consistent basis this season and will be looking to avenge his injury time penalty miss against New England.

A more likely scenario however would be for either Victor Pineda or Benji Joya to start in place of Amarikwa. Both players are comfortable playing in the forward roles and Joya especially would relish a chance to start in his more natural position instead of a wide one where he began the season.

Playing with either Joya or Pineda up front would also allow the Fire to continue to play a target-less striker formation, something that has worked to date this season. That being said, Frank Yallop could also decide to start Joya or Pineda in one of the wide positions in an attempt to combat RSL’s midfield diamond, as I will explain below.

Don’t be too distracted by the obvious – Plata and Saborio are the clear danger men but Luke Mulholland makes RSL tick

Many will argue RSL’s unbeaten start to the season is down to players like Joao Plata, Alvaro Saborio or Javier Morales making the difference but the player who has had possibility the biggest impact this season is Englishman Luke Mulholland.

Mulholland plays on the outside of RSL’s compact midfield diamond, with Ned Grabavoy operating on the other side. In attack, Mulholland can provide balls into the area from a wide position but he also excels at making late runs into the box where he often finds space due to defenders concentrating on RSL’s more known attacking threats.

Defensively, Mulholland provides cover for his full back and does not get caught up the field often in transition. The Englishmen has chipped in with two goals and one assist in four starts this season and acts as the youthful spark in a midfield containing veterans such as Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales.

Mulholland is also very versatile, with he and Grabavoy able to operate comfortably on either side of the diamond. To combat this, I could see the Fire drafting Matt Watson or Logan Pause in to pack the midfield, especially against RSL’s narrow formation. Watson or Pause could play alongside anchor Jeff Larentowicz or a bit higher up, perhaps alongside Harry Shipp or Alex in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

In last week’s match against Vancouver, RSL overran the Whitecaps midfield for much of the first half. Putting an extra body in the middle on Saturday night would ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to the Men in Red.

Exposing RSL on the flanks – proving an attacking threat from both wings

Since the return of Patrick Nyarko to the starting eleven, the Ghanaian has been a one-man wrecking crew down the right hand side for the Fire. Nyarko has also combined well with right back Lovel Palmer in attack – something we saw work in the Fire’s favor against New England two weeks ago.

Due to RSL’s narrow formation, they can be exploited on the wings, where the full backs are sometimes left isolated. Nyarko and Palmer should thrive against this type of formation but for the Fire to take full advantage, the team needs to also have a consistent attacking threat from the left.

As mentioned in previous previews, left back Greg Cochrane has excelled in the absence of Gonzalo Segares and is always looking to get forward to support the attack.

In recent matches, Harry Shipp has drifted inside from his wide left position to great effect but against RSL, whoever occupies the wide left position must try to take advantage of their narrow midfield by attacking from wide. With the center of the park sure to be busy, if the Fire focus their attack in the wide areas, it could result in the team picking up its first win of the season.

Prediction: It was a long time coming, but the Fire finally pick up three points – 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.

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

WATCH: Kevin and Jeff preview Saturday's game vs. RSL

10 April 7:38 am

After a heartbreaking draw against the Union last weekend, the Fire travel north to Montreal to face another side looking for a first win of the season Saturday (2:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The game has added spice with former coach Frank Klopas facing the Men in Red for the first time as opposition coach.

Here are a few tactical observations to keep in mind on Saturday.

Continued focus on the wing play - taking advantage of Shipp's positioning

In last Saturday’s match, Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup and impressed. On the other side of the field, Harry Shipp looks much more comfortable when he cuts inside, as opposed to hugging the touchline and taking on players.

Shipp's set piece play alone is worth a place in the starting eleven, but his ability to pick a pass is also a dangerous weapon. Shipp's tendency to drift inside also benefits the Fire for other reasons.

First, in the absence of a creative central midfielder, it’s not felt as much when the rookie comes central and occupies those positions. Against a team like Montreal that boasts an impressive attack, the use of two defensive-minded midfielders can be necessary (as I will explain in more detail later) but with Shipp filling the gap, the Fire don't lose much in an attacking sense.

Shipp's positioning also opens the door for Greg Cochrane to show his attacking talents from the left back position. Cochrane has fit seamlessly into the Fire back line and his excellent crossing ability has been on show in recent matches.

With the Impact's wide players like Mapp reluctant to track back on a consistent basis, the Fire could again benefit from attacking in the wide areas.

Continuing to win the ball high up the field - catching Montreal in transition

In the first half last week against New York, the Impact sliced through the Red Bull midfield as if they had three extra players on the pitch. Klopas emphasized transitioning the ball from defense to attack as quickly as possible and for most of the first half, that worked to devastating effect.

Montreal should've been well ahead at halftime but actually went into the break behind 2-1. The reason for this was because the Canadian team was caught trying to force the ball forward too quickly, resulting in turnovers, which the Red Bulls capitalized on twice in three minutes. I expect the Impact to try this tactic again on Saturday.

Players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa both like to hound the opposing team when they are in possession in their defensive third. The Fire's first goal last week was a perfect example of this, with Amarikwa nicking the ball from a defender before setting up Magee for an easy tap in.

If the Fire can force the Impact into turnovers high up the pitch, it could prove costly for the Canadian team.

Attempting to contain Montreal's fearsome attack - staying compact and limiting mental mistakes

Just when we thought an attack featuring Marco Di Vaio, an in-form Justin Mapp and Felipe was going to be a challenge, the Impact went out and acquired promising American youngster Jack McInerney.

This move could see the Impact change formation to a two striker statute with Di Vaio and Jack Mac up front or see McInerney play in one of the wide attacking roles behind the target striker. In any case, the fluidity of the Impact's attack will be a major challenge for the Fire to contend with on Saturday.

None of the Montreal attacking players stay static for long, with Felipe essentially having a free role in the hole, Di Vaio often pushing wide, and Mapp cutting inside with the ball at his feet on a regular basis. With this in mind, the Fire defense needs to stay organized and compact and not allow Montreal to drag players out of position.

This has not been a problem for the Fire this season, with most of the team’s nine goals against coming from lapses from set pieces. A clean sheet Saturday afternoon would be a massive achievement.

Prediction: The Fire score early and finish the game off late 2-0 with goals from Magee and Hurtado.

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

03 April 8:04 am

After picking up a point on the road in D.C. last week, the Fire are back at Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon to face the Philadelphia Union (3:30pm CT My50/TWCSC) looking for the club’s first win of the season and to extend their unbeaten streak to four games. 

Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective…

A change on the wing? Going with a veteran over youth

In last week’s match in D.C., youngster Benji Joya again started on the wing for the Fire but again failed to last the full 90 minutes in his third start in a row. Defensively, Joya left his outside back Greg Cochrane exposed on more than one occasion in the first half before Frank Yallop switched Joya to the right wing.

In the attack, Joya also found it difficult to get into the game before he was substituted in place of Patrick Nyarko. The Ghanaian had an immediate impact; setting up Qunicy Amarikwa for the equalizer after a brilliant nutmeg.

Saturday seems like a perfect game for Nyarko to get his second start in 2014 for a number of reasons. First, his speed in the attack will cause Union left back Fabinho trouble. In the Union’s last two matches, the Brazilian’s lack of pace has been a weak spot.

Nyarko also provides ample cover defensively, something the Fire will need against a Philly team who's tactics emphasize getting as many players forward as possible when they attack.

Bringing the strikers closer together - pushing Magee closer to the goal

In D.C., Mike Magee cut a frustrated figure, trying his best to get into the game but with not a lot of chances to influence it. Magee started in a deeper role behind Quincy Amarikwa and both players were unable to link up on many occasions throughout the match, but not for lack of trying.

Against Philly, I expect Magee to be a lot closer to his striker partner with the Fire playing more of a 4-1-3-2 role instead of a 4-1-4-1. Moving Magee further forward allows Alex to further influence the game from midfield, something he wasn't able to do in D.C.

At this point in the season, coach Yallop favors the Magee/Amarikwa partnership in the attack and in a home game, I expect a formation that fosters as much interplay between the pair as possible.

Stifling the Union attack - limiting opportunities for Jack Mac

In last week’s match away to Montreal, striker Jack McInerney caused major problems when he was able to get on the end of through balls from the Philly midfield.

In the attack, players like Le Toux and creative mid Vincent  Nogueira are always looking to play McInerney in behind while U.S. international Maurice Edu can also do the same from his deeper midfield role. 

While much of the focus will be on McInerney, Brazilian Leonardo Fernandez has impressed coming off the bench in Philly's last two matches, scoring in one, and it would be no surprise to see him on the pitch from the start on Saturday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jack McInerney was traded to the Montreal Impact in exchange for Andrew Wenger Friday morning, hence his name being struck through. It is not known at time of edit if Wenger will join the Union in Chicago for Saturday's match.

Prediction: The Fire will finally get a first win of the season - 2-1 with goals from Quincy Amarikwa and Harry Shipp.

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

27 March 3:12 pm

After picking up a point in the home opener against Supporter’s Shield winners New York last week, the Fire head to D.C. looking to steal all three points for the first time this season (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
 
D.C. are in transition and are also in search of their first win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
 
Continuing to attack with pace - utilizing Alex
 
Against New York last week, the Fire looked very dangerous on the counter attack when Alex was given space to run at the Red Bulls defense. Not only was the Brazilian able to beat players 1v1 but he drew defenders out of position, opening up space for players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa to move into.
 
In D.C.'s last match away in Toronto, Ben Olsen's team was also incapable of defending against the quick counter attack. Michael Bradley and Co. found it much too easy to bypass the lone United defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who received little help from his fellow midfielders.

I expect D.C. to deploy another central midfielder to help out Kitchen against the Fire, but if the Men in Red can continue to break with that much pace and the interplay between Alex, Magee and Amarikwa continues to improve, the Fire should fare well on Saturday.
 
More attacking play from wide - taking advantage of D.C. team not fully settled
 
Against New York last weekend the Fire were forced into making changes at both outside back positions due to injury and suspension respectively.
 
Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane have had barely any time to work with their new teammates since their recent moves and it showed at times in last week’s game. Against D.C., where there is a good chance both will start again, I look for an improvement in the attacking play from both players.
 
It will also be interesting to see how Watson/Shipp and Cochrane/Joya combine down each flank after another week’s worth of training together. While there is certainly a weakness in the D.C. midfield, a balance between attacking down the middle and from the wings is necessary.
 
With so many new players on the field for D.C., positioning, especially defensive positioning, is a major problem. This was quite obvious in the Toronto match, with D.C. players often gesturing to one another in an attempt to determine who to mark.
 
If the Fire can get Watson and Cochrane forward to support the attack, it will pin D.C. back and could benefit the away team.
 
Keeping Eddie Johnson isolated and limiting set pieces - making it harder for D.C. to find the net

 
D.C.'s most notable offseason acquisition was striker Eddie Johnson, who on his day is one of the league’s best strikers. In his first two games however, Johnson was an isolated figure up front, managing only 1.5 shots according to the website Who Scored.
 
The Fire’s defense did a fine job shutting down Thierry Henry last week and will be looking to do the same against Johnson and perhaps register a first shutout of the season. D.C. have yet to score this year but are a major threat from set pieces with players like Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola looking to get on the end of quality deliveries from Luis Silva.

D.C. got men in the box at any opportunity against both Toronto and Columbus and I expect it to be no different on Saturday. After giving up yet another goal from a set piece last week, the Fire coaching staff will no doubt be encouraging the players to keep their concentration, especially against a team desperate to pick up its first points and goal of the season.
 
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Alex and Quincy Amarikwa.

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

WATCH: Sean Johnson, Matt Watson preview D.C. United