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21 October 8:56 am

On Sunday, Chicago’s third annual Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) officially came to a close.  The Fire were excited to be one of two sports teams in town (the other being the Bulls) to participate.  CIW has quickly grown to be Chicago’s premier event for sharing ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world and getting invited to participate is a great honor.

More than 30 students came to Toyota Park on Friday afternoon to join in our Youth Lab.  Representatives from each area of the Front Office set aside their time to give the group a behind-the-scenes look at the Fire, from getting ready  for game day to what it takes to be a good corporate citizen, to what it really takes if you want to work in sports.  The evening wrapped with an all-access tour of Toyota Park.

While we’re sad to see another Chicago Ideas Week come and go, we were definitely happy to play host this year (even late on a Friday afternoon).  Check out https://www.chicagoideas.com/ for more great content from this year’s week. 

20 October 5:13 pm

I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.

Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.

First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:

 

Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...

Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union  vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)

Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)

The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...

- Win at New York
- Draw/lose at New York and have either Houston draw/lose at D.C. or New England draw/lose at Columbus
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
 
The Fire can clinch the East's third seed if...

- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.

18 October 11:51 am

Chicago Fire Season Ticket Holders,

As a token of our appreciation for your loyal support in 2013, Toyota Park will be honoring ALL Season Ticket Holder discounts on concessions for Saturday's home regular season finale vs. Toronto FC.

Those are (and where you can find them...)

$2 Popcorn
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Club
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Village Grill (behind Section 134)

$2 Hot Dogs
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Extreme Signature Dogs (behind Section 108)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Chicago Stop (behind Section 118)
Corner Kickin' Chicken (behind Section 122)

$2 Sodas
Sold at ALL concession stands

Plus complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and cider for premium seat holders (Club, Fieldside, Suites) and 10% off the pre-game buffet in the Stadium Club!

16 October 2:11 pm

Guess what day it is!? #WoopsWrongFire is here! (Check out the first and second editions here). Folks mistakenly tweet at us thinking that we are the TV show, and we respond below. Enjoy!

THIS LADY, KNOWS WHAT'S UP!

Like Donkey Kong.

Hey, Adam Levine... Hunter Jumper's comin' for you.

Just like a playoff race in October, huh? (You can get your tickets here, you're welcome.)

Cool with us... You'll have to bring your own make-up though... @Jefecrandall has run us dry on eyeliner.

15 October 2:13 pm

Hey, look at that... For his vaillant performance en route to a win over FC Dallas, the folks over at MLSsoccer.com decided to make Mike Magee the #3 performer of the week!

And since we're on the subject of Mike Magee, we would like to subtly steer you in the direction to support him to be the MLS MVP. Check out the video below!

#MikeMageeMVP

15 October 12:06 pm

The Fire won back-to-back away games and scored six goals. They sit in a playoff position and control their own fate with two games remaining. Juan Luis Anangono is heating up. Mike Magee is so hot he’s scoring goals by accident. Sean Johnson is playing like, and being recognized as, one of the four or five best American goalies. Jeff Larentowicz is owning midfields. Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry are two of only three MLS players who’ve played every single minute so far this season and their defensive relationship is finally solidifying. There’s real depth on the outside and through the middle (where captain Logan Pause and summer standout Daniel Paladini are working to get past Alex and Arevalo Rios).

That’s the general view right now. The squad is playing up to their potential and the depth is supporting them. The competition for spots is pushing everyone harder, and the depth is allowing Frank Klopas to cover for injuries, international duty (Rios, Lindpere), or to go with the hotter player (Anangono over Chris Rolfe).

In other words, things are shaping up nicely. The general feeling is a good one, momentum is building, the Twitter trolls have returned to their caves, and it’s hard to fend off enticing thoughts like, you know those lower-seeded teams that barrel into the playoffs and scare everyone because they’re playing with momentum and confidence? What if the Fire can be that team?

All season long, the Fire’s major problem was consistency. They were infuriatingly inconsistent from game to game and, indeed, from half to half. Maybe it was a focus thing, maybe it was a changing personnel thing, who knows. But now the Fire are managing games better. They’re attacking straight from the beginning. They’re pressuring the ball all over the field. They’re getting crucial two-goal advantages and defending well enough to hold on to them.

We saw all that last week in D.C., where a super high defensive line pushed the Fire team way up the field to pressure United players into mistakes that led to chances and goals. We saw the same thing in Dallas on Saturday night. Alex, especially, was way up the field in the first half, never letting the Dallas players play the ball comfortable in their own half. (Magee, Anangono, Patrick Nyarko, and Dilly Duka deserve credit too.) How many shots did the Fire have at the top of the Dallas box in the first 30 minutes? It was harassment.

So just like in DC, a high defensive line and concentrated pressure led to a 2-0 first half lead. But just like in DC, we saw where it could be dangerous. We saw the team pay the price of so much early pressure, with Nyarko tweaking a hamstring and the rest of the team almost running out of gas late in the second half. We also saw how pushing too eagerly can be scary:

But I like this high pressure because it fits the moment, with the Fire desperately needing these results to make the playoffs. There are just two games left and the Fire have to prove their potentially newfound consistency beyond the past two away wins. They have to show the urgency and the commitment and the work rate into the next two games, too. Klopas's high risk and high pressure tactic fits. 

It's a great moment: After all the work and all the struggle, suddenly the players’ quality shines through. Suddenly everybody trusts each other. Goals and points happen. Anibaba scores a stunner. Other teams hit the posts. 

I don't know about predicting anything against Toronto and New York. But if we keep seeing the Fire play as they have these past two games, they'll get to play a few more.

11 October 9:34 am

Chicago Fire midfielders Joel Lindpere and Egidio Arevalo Rios won't be in Dallas this weekend as they've joined up with the Estonian and Uruguayan national teams respectively for FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

Lindpere and Estonia have already been eliminated from contention to qualify for Brazil 2014 but coming off one of the biggest results in the nation's history last month (2-2 draw vs. Holland), they'll be looking to play spoiler as they welcome Turkey to Tallinn Friday afternoon (1:30pm CT).

On 13 points, the Turkish side sits one back of Hungary for the second place playoff spot in UEFA Group D, level with Estonia's Tuesday opponents Romania who visit lowly Andorra on Friday.

Arevalo Rios and Uruguay's position in CONMEBOL qualifying is much more intriguing. Uruguay and Ecuador sit tied on points at 22 with the two nations set to play Friday afternoon in Quito (4pm CT on beINSport Espanol). The winner of the match looks certain to have a leg up on the fourth and final automatic qualifying bid out of South America with one round of matches to play.

Getting a win in Ecuador will be most crucial for Uruguay who sit fifth because of the goal difference tie breaker and because they'll close out qualifying with a home match against group leaders Argentina while Ecuador will face Chile Tuesday in Santiago.  

11 October 8:43 am

After getting the job done in DC last Friday night, the Fire head south to take on a FC Dallas side needing a miracle to make the MLS Cup playoffs Saturday night (7pm CT My50/TWC Wisconsin). Dallas are in free fall and despite the Fire’s record in Texas, the Men in Red should be settling for nothing less than three points. Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Perez away on Panama duty

Blas Perez has all the characteristics of an elite CONCACAF striker: finishing ability, gamesmanship and non-stop focus; similar to Carlos Ruiz. So perhaps it’s a good thing that the Dallas’s leading goal scorer is away for Panama’s crucial World Cup qualifying match with Mexico this weekend.

Perez has 11 goals on the year, with his closest teammate being Kenny Cooper at four. In Perez’s absence, it’s hard to see Dallas switching way from their lone striker formation and Cooper would seem the likely candidate to slot in after ending his nearly five-month goal scoring drought last weekend vs. RSL.

Cooper is a powerful forward that has historically done well against the Fire, tallying six goals in 12 career matches. With a goal last weekend under his belt and Dallas fighting for their playoff lives, he won’t be one to take lightly.

Focusing on Jackson – the Brazilian is instrumental in the Hoops’ attack

Jackson has impressed me in Dallas’s most recent matches against Columbus and RSL. He normally operates on the right wing, trying to get the ball inside to Perez or a midfield runner. In the last match against RSL, Jackson drifted inside more often.

This was in part due to the fact that RSL had a man sent off early after a disgraceful tackle on the Brazilian. He also showed that he can be a threat in the box, forcing Nick Rimando into a brilliant 1v1 save after an attempted flick over the keeper with the outside of his foot.

In last week’s match against DC, the Fire played a very open style of play in the first half, attacking in numbers. If you only looked at the score line, you would think that this tactic was a success but it could’ve been a lot different if it wasn’t for Sean Johnson. He bailed his team out with some brilliant saves after DC caught the Fire out with too many players forward.

It is understandable that the Fire will play in a similar fashion against Dallas due to the need for three points but allowing a player like Jackson time and space on a counter attack can be very dangerous.

Singling out Kellyn Acosta – targeting the Homegrown wingback

In their most recent home loss to Columbus, FC Dallas were exposed on the wings, most notably on the left where Dominic Oduro torched Zach Loyd. On the right, FC Dallas Homegrown player Kellyn Acosta also looked vulnerable. His distribution out of the back was poor; with the 18-year-old trying to play one-touch passes too often.

Columbus clearly targeted Acosta, with players such as Federico Higuain running at the defender whenever possible. A tactic that I would like to see on Saturday night is a constant switching of the Fire wide players so that Acosta is never comfortable.

If Fire wingers Nyarko, Duka, Alex and Co. can get into 1v1 or 2v1 situations with Acosta, it could pay dividends for the Men in Red.

Prediction: The Fire won’t play as open as last weekend but score early and late. 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex 

08 October 2:28 pm

When the Chicago History Museum reached out to the Fire to take part in an even commemorating the "Great Chicago Fire" of 1871 Tuesday, I thought it was a great idea.

Even better was when I was asked to join Fire midfielder Brendan King (who is currently on the mend with a hamstring injury) to take part and tell why October 8 is not only significant to the city of Chicago but also to our club.

So there I was, notes prepared to discuss the events of 1871 and 1997 with the assembled group of third and fourth graders. Brendan, the professional soccer player, was there to field the tougher questions about you know being a professional soccer player but not before this fantastic photo-op with Mrs. O'Leary's Cow...

Joined by a representative from the Chicago Fire Department, we stepped to the stage in front of the mass of elementary school children and the first question went to us...

Was it about the history of the Fire? 

No. Rather it was, "How many games have you won this year?"

Both Brendan and I couldn't get the words out fast enough to say, "We've won 12 so far and we just beat D.C. United 3-0 on Friday!"

A loud applause emanated from the crowd! 

But then something happened. Husky looking men dressed in black and yellow regalia strolled up the aisle way. Were they members of the Columbus Crew coming to crash the party?

A closer look saw them carrying axes and other tools... Ah shoot, they must be actual firemen...

These guys were dressed in their full uniform and you could tell they've carried a room before... I leaned to Brendan and said, "I wonder if we get another question this entire panel?" 

After about 26 questions relating to smoke inhalation and whether you should run or crawl out of a fire, Sparky, who was late arriving to one of two Sweet 16 parties for himself today, finally showed up and regained the room for the club! Way to go Sparky!

With some attention back on the club, Brendan and I finally received the question we'd been waiting for from an astute child in the front row: "Why do you call yourselves the Fire?"

Let's just say we hit it out of the park, mesmerizing the gathered youths with the story of our launch on this day 16 years ago at Navy Pier and telling them how our club tied itself to the city's history from day one. 

Of course, young children have short attention spans so we got asked the question a few more times but it was all to drive the message of the Fire's tie to the city of Chicago home.

What a great event! Thanks to the Chicago History Museum for asking us to take part!

PHOTO CREDIT: Chicago History Museum/James Warden

08 October 1:54 pm

 

The big stories of Friday night’s win at DC United have to be the Fire staying in the playoff hunt (now two points behind Philly for the East’s fifth and final spot) and Sean Johnson’s saves that helped procure an invaluable clean sheet. But a closer look finds a Fire team with an ignominious away record finally succeeding away from Toyota Park with the help of a new approach that could propel them into the playoffs: a high defensive line.
 
To get the qualifiers out of the way, yes, DCU was playing a little hungover after their incredible U.S. Open Cup win at Salt Lake on Tuesday night, and yes, they were playing some young guns. But these are professionals playing for their jobs and for their pride. With some better finishing they could have made this night super awkward.
But that said, the Fire managed to not only keep a clean sheet en route to a comfortable seeming 3-0 win, they did so with a super high defensive line. It had some hiccups but, like the Fire coaches have been clamoring for the past few weeks, they finally found themselves with an advantage of at least two goals. It gave them a little bit of emotional space to play in, a little bit of confidence, and those are the things that the Fire need to succeed away from home.
 
It’s important to acknowledge that the Fire’s three goals came for the most part against the run of play. DCU held a lot of possession, something the Fire are OK with, but they soaked up the pressure and hit DCU back efficiently, repeatedly, and without mercy, exactly what Frank Klopas envisioned for a tricky away game.
 
They did so by pushing Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry way up the field. Along with Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios scrambling in midfield, that scrunched the amount of space DCU’s midfielders had to play in. With less room to play, they were more likely to lose the ball gifted the Fire playmakers with chances here and there throughout the game. It was Patrick Nyarko stepping up in the sixth minute which led to Mike Magee’s shot that was saved by Joe Willis. The foul that led to the Fire’s second goal came after another giveaway gave the Fire possession in the 25th
 
With two more away games left, it’s enticing to think that this high line and high pressure approach is the Fire’s ticket to the playoffs, but we saw on Friday how the high line invites its own risks. Leaving so much space behind the defense means that balls between or around the defenders can pose serious threats to a backpedaling line. The best way to counter that is to constantly pressure the ball so that whoever’s on it never has the time to look up and find the pass behind the defenders. There was a 10 minute period after the Fire’s first two goals when DCU was creating chances and Klopas appeared on the bottom of the TV feed, screaming at his midfielders to apply more pressure on the ball.
 
 
It’s reassuring to see Klopas continually tweaking the tactics, even so late in the season, because we’ve seen that this team needs those sort of adjustments to continue gelling into this final phase. But considering his allegiance to the traditional 4-4-2, it’s also interesting to see Klopas take on the trendy defensive high line. It’s the high line that Pep Guardiola has rode at Barcelona and now Bayern Munich, and the Fire share with Guardiola’s teams the characteristic of being most dangerous on the counterattack, right after the high line wins the ball.
But with so much space behind the defenders, any mistake can be costly. A quick jaunt through tactics guru Michael Cox’s articles shows exactly how scary it can be. It’s a high risk sort of approach, one that requires the entire team defending as one unit, always pressuring the ball, always keeping neat straight lines in the back, and always having faith that your teammates are pressuring as hard as you are.
 
 
The Fire came out needing three points to stay in the playoff race and they managed to put a solid game together that was marked more by game management and efficiency than halftime adjustments and inconsistent focus. With just nine regular season points left to play for, it was refreshing, and much needed. The Fire will take those risks in the next three games. The only question is whether when Philly slip up, they can keep the focus and confidence and squeeze into the playoffs.