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20 September 8:57 am

After a dramatic later winner against New England, the Men in Red head to Firehouse East (#FHEAST) Saturday night to face a surging Columbus team (LIVE 6pm CT on My50). Since relieving coach Robert Warzycha of his duties and replacing him with Technical Director Brian Bliss, the Crew have won two of three and remain in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.

The Columbus hierarchy are calling this match a six-pointer and I tend to agree. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Sticking tight to Dominic Oduro – regardless of what position he plays in

In my last preview of a Fire vs. Columbus match, I heaped praise on Oduro and since then, the Ghanaian has continued to put in good performances.

Many in Columbus called for Oduro to be played up top and for the first two games under Brian Bliss this happened but last weekend the ex-Fire man moved to the right wing, making room for Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta to take their places in the middle of the attack.

In truth, Oduro is difficult to contain in either position.

On the wing, his pace forces the outside defenders to be on their guard and not stray too far forward. Hiss crossing is also dangerous -- he looks to get the ball in the box as early as possible, oftentimes playing it low to the ground, bending it around the defenders. These sort of balls are a nightmare to defend and limiting Oduro’s space to cross will be important.

Oduro’s runs also make him a difficult player to mark when he plays up top. In the Crew’s last match against Montreal, he made a brilliant run into the box to get on the end of a sublime through ball from Federico Higuain and score the winner.

It will be an added incentive for the Fire defenders to keep their former teammate off the score sheet on Saturday night.

The midfield battle – Will Trap and Tony Tchani vs Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios

In just a few matches together, Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios have formed quite a formidable partnership in the center of midfield.

In the Crew’s last match against the Impact, Will Trapp continued to start, this time alongside Tony Tchani. This partnership is similar to the Fire’s, with one player advancing to help the attack while the other sits.

Tchani particularly caught the eye, bringing a physical presence that was lacking to the Crew’s midfield. The Cameroonian has surprisingly good foot skills for a burly 6’4’’ midfielder and is equally comfortable playing through balls from deep or driving forward with the ball.

The battle between the two sets of central midfielders will be very interesting to watch, with both trying to catch the other out.

The Fire’s central pair must continue to stay disciplined and not be caught in a situation where both are too far forward. The Fire’s midfield tandem certainly have the edge in experience and I expect them to display that against the younger pair.

Focusing the attacks down the Columbus left – targeting Tyson Wahl and co.

In the first two matches under Brian Bliss, Tyson Wahl returned at left back for the Crew, after sitting out the end of Warzycha’s reign. Wahl didn’t have the best of games in the first two outings of the Bliss era before moving to center back for last week’s match against Montreal.

It remains to be seen what position he starts in on Saturday night but in any case, the left side of defense is certainly a weak link for the Crew and one the Fire should look to exploit.

In the Montreal game, former Fire winger Justin Mapp caused the Crew all sorts of problems from his wide right position. After strong performances for Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in recent weeks, picking two of the four to occupy the wide positions will be a tough decision for Frank Klopas.

I look for Jalil Anibaba to get forward at every opportunity to support the starting right winger and extend the Crew’s defensive woes on the left hand side for another match.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. 

18 September 4:20 pm

Last night, Marty Allen, the Grand Prize winner in our Mobile App Contest powered by Cricket got to fulfill his prize, going out to dinner with Gonzalo Segares and Daniel Paladini at Vapiano in Lincoln Park!

Check out a couple photos from dinner and be sure to download the club's new and improved mobile app, available on iOS and Droid by visiting www.chicago-fire.com/app.


 

18 September 10:03 am

In advance of Thursday's Soccer & Style runway show, it appears Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper and Paolo Tornaghi have begun channeling their inner Zoolander...

Catch the trio plus a number of other Fire players walk down the runway Thursday night at Roof on the Wit, benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Tickets available here

 

17 September 9:42 am

In society we all can't agree on everything, but there is one thing we can all agree on... Everything is better in slow motion.

This week we caught two goals on our "behind the net" cameras. First we have Mike Magee's perfectly timed run to give him his 16th MLS goal on the season.  And if that wasn't enough, we also caught Alex's #BRAZILIANT shot from distance to put the game away.

Enjoy.

16 September 3:23 pm

Some of the best tweets from Saturday's 3-2 victory over New England are below... Have the chance to see your tweets in a future gallery, by hashtagging #cf97!

16 September 9:38 am

So now we have a different sort of perspective. Now suddenly the Fire are sitting in a playoff spot. Now the fight has paid off and the double comeback on Saturday night has everyone high and talking about “attitude” and “mentality” and there’s a different feel. Can you tell? Off-field issues, on field disappointments, coaching decisions, refereeing - it all feels a little irrelevant right now.

Now the approach is different. Now the Fire have in some way reached their goal, they’ve come back and got into a playoff spot. Now the team has a little momentum again, a little confidence, a little faith in this season’s various experiments.

Suddenly the Arevalo Rios/Jeff Larentowicz partnership looks as good as the Alex/Larentowicz partnership, while Alex has excelled as a utility attacker (center/left/right) off the bench or filling in for Rios on international duty.

Juan Luis Anangono finally finished and is beginning to look like a player you would spend transfer dollars on, while some healthy competition between Patrick Nyarko, Dilly Duka, and Joel Lindpere for outside midfield spots will only push them more and mean more service for Anangono.

Suddenly, the Fire look like a deep, experienced, full squad that can bring players like Chris Rolfe and Logan Pause off the bench if need be.

I just mean to say that the feeling after a dramatic and total team victory like Saturday’s is so much different from the panic, terror, and anger that fans felt on and off for most of the season. Toyota Park was more energized after Alex’s goal on Saturday than at any other time all year.

It feels like some fans and commentators have been calling games “must win” for the Fire since the spring, in a way that - deserved or not - everything felt like it was on the edge of a complete and utter disaster. That’s sports, especially in Chicago, but now that a goal’s been reached, there’s a feeling that you could almost call pride, back again.

So forgive us, playoff gods, for looking to the calendar because, as Mike Magee said Larentowicz told the team down 2-1 at halftime on Saturday, “the season gets shorter and shorter now and business has to be done.”

How will the team deal with being in 5th place looking down, instead of the other way around?

The Fire still have to improve on their away form if they’re going to hold their position despite tricky trips to Columbus, RFK, and Dallas, before finishing the season at first place New York. And the Fire still have to take the seemingly easier points against Toronto and DC. But it’s just six games and they hold their own destiny.

We know the playoff spot is the Fire’s to lose, and the fans can sense that this team, with its three different phases this year, and its hot streaks and cold streaks and other hot streaks and other cold streaks - this team might just have found enough consistency to not only make the playoffs but, well, if it was too early to panic about making the playoffs, it’s probably too early for the overly optimistic thoughts too, right?

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

15 September 10:51 am

So what happened there? A sequence of three controversial events stacked up to cause much of the Toyota Park crowd to boo referee Ismail Elfath and crew as they went into the interval.

The First:

With the teams locked at 1-1, Patrick Nyarko broke through the New England backline and was thought to have won a penalty just as the clock hit 44:00 after contact with Revolution defender Jose Goncalves at the top of the box.

Elfath waved play on much to the chagrin of players and fans alike but okay, no big deal...

The Second:

Maybe its conjecture but the play seemed to throw Elfath off his game.

He likely would have signaled the amount of stoppage time or communicated via radio headset to fourth official Silviu Petrescu right after that play but with some jeers raining down and the signal to play on, perhaps he forgot? Perhaps the communication wasn’t received on the sidelilne?

Either way the amount of stoppage time was never put up on the board by Petrescu and as a result, never announced in-stadium. It did however make its way into the broadcast though how, I’m still trying to deduce as no official number was ever given.

In the end, we probably won’t know why it didn’t happen as Elfath was asked via pool reporter post-game why the fourth official didn’t raise the board to signal stoppage time.

The somewhat avoidant response was, “The priority of the fourth official is to keep order in the technical area.”

Which seems to suggest Petrescu was too busy dealing with both team's coaching staffs to raise the board during any point of what ended up being three additional minutes of stoppage time. Without directly answering the question though, Elfath continues to leave the incident open for interpretation.

If it’s safe for me to put my editorial hat on: The Pool Reporter system is a definite step forward for the league and Professional Referees Organization but its only as good as the referees being honest enough to  answer the question being asked.

Though there's nothing specific about the raising of the stoppage time signal in the Laws of the Game, the signal is something universally expected at the international and professional level.

Even if there was chaos for three minutes in the technical area (which would be an overstatement), the job of the fourth official is also to inform the players, coaches and those in attendance what that number is.

That didn't occur unfortunately.  

The Third:

With no stoppage time signaled, you could make a case that the half should have ended right when the clock struck 45:00. It didn’t, and in fact saw New England score their second go-ahead goal of the night when Saer Sene received a pass from Dimitry Imbongo and finished past Johnson to make it 2-1.

Should the goal have stood? Upon further review, absolutely not...

Off the goal kick in which Bobby Shuttleworth found Imbongo, the Congolese forward was aided by the use of his hand to settle the ball before spraying towards goal and laying off for Sene.

There’s the old adage that you should play to hear the whistle but looking back on the series of events, it seems the teams should have gone into halftime locked 1-1.

Where do we go from here?

There’s no sour grapes as the Fire overcame the controversy to take a 3-2 win in dramatic fashion at home over New England. The victory sees the team into a playoff position for the first time this season, something unthinkable following the side's 2-7-1 start to the season.

Just as good, the last two games between these two clubs seem to show a revival in the once heated rivalry between the sides.

On to the next one at Columbus.

14 September 11:38 am

Mike Magee already has double-digit goals in 2013. 

In Regular Season terms, the six he scored in LA (three of which came against the Fire on Opening Day) combined with the nine he's tallied for the Men in Red since May have him second in the MLS Golden Boot Race with 15.

He's also scored double-digits for the Fire across all competitions, with his nine league goals combining with three in U.S. Open Cup play to give him 12 across all competitions.

Still, that long-hanging statistic of hitting double-digit regular season goals in one season for one club is there for Magee tonight as he looks to become the seventh player in club history to achieve the feat.

PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry

Having appeared in just 15 games, it made me wonder if he could be the quickest to do it in a Fire shirt and then I remembered: Ante Razov...

Razov is of course the club's all-time leading scorer with 76 regular season goals in 155 games. He hit double-digit goals five of his six seasons in Chicago. It stands to reason that he might have Magee beat multiple times in this stat.

Take a look...

Ante Razov's Double Digit Goals
Year Games Needed
1998 27
1999 18
2000 11
2002 14
2003 8

So Magee won't beat him but upon further review, if he bags a goal Saturday vs. New England or in the next two games, he'll be come the second fastest player to hit double-digits for the Fire after Razov. Not bad for a guy who asked for Ante's blessing before he took the #9 shirt with the Men in Red.

Check out the rest of the data below...

Player Games Needed Year(s)
Damani Ralph 19 2003, 2004
Eric Wynalda 19 2001
Josh Wolff 20 1998
Dominic Oduro 27 2011
Dema Kovalenko 28 2000

 

14 September 8:48 am

The Fire are proud to be a sponsor of the Great Chicago Fire Hydrants, a public art exhibition celebrating the heroism of Chicago’s firefighters.  The city-wide program launched on September 11, but the Fire wanted to give our fans a first glimpse of our hydrant at tonight’s game before it goes on display for two months at the Hancock Plaza downtown.

In addition to the Fire and our creative team, scores of other local artists have decorated 5-foot tall fiberglass fire hydrants sponsored by Chicagoland businesses.  The first hydrants were installed in various locations around the city last week on September 11.  Following the public exhibition the hydrants will be auctioned on December 4, 2013 to benefit the 100 Club of Chicago, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the families of fallen police and firefighters.

Two special touches to the hydrant appear on its rings. The top honors the seven members of the club’s Ring of Fire: Peter Nowak, Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Wilt, Bob Bradley, Chris Armas and C.J. Brown. While the club’s three tenets -- Tradition. Honor. Passion. – appear on the base ring (check out the photo gallery below).

Get your photo with the Fire’s hydrant located behind Section 8 during the game up until half time and in the Stadium Club post-game.  Don’t worry –  if you miss your opportunity to get a photo, stop by the Hancock Plaza (just steps from The Chicago Water Tower) beginning next week to see the hydrant on display through November.

Be sure to tag photos with #cf97 and http://www.facebook.com/greatchicagofirehydrants or on Twitter.

For more information, including all the artist biographies, display locations and hydrant photos visit: www.GreatChicagoFireHydrants.com.

Chicago Fire's Entry in Great Chicago Fire Hydrant Project

13 September 1:06 pm

For all the talk of the Fire’s possession problems, you wouldn’t have known it in the first 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s game in Toronto. The Alex/Jeff Larentowicz partnership hummed along like it did during the squad’s hottest streak this year, a fresh looking Patrick Nyarko did his havoc-creating thing, and it all culminated with a deserved goal.

Of course, at the final whistle it was obviously a shame they didn’t get one or two more during that period. But that’s what this Fire does. They pull off the tough results and tend to drop the seemingly easier ones. Even on short rest, away from home (where they’ve struggled all year), Toronto was the perfect opponent.

And in the first 20 minutes, the Fire pretty much had their way with the ball and the field, pressing hard to win it up field, running off each other -- it was yummy. It’s hard to pick one sequence but there was one down the right side in the 15th minute I loved. The Fire won the ball and played a couple fast one-touch passes before Nyarko just missed Chris Rolfe, wide open past midfield. It didn’t come off, but just look at the wide open spaces in TFC’s team shape.

TFC started bad. Really bad. They misplaced more balls than a dog with amnesia and the Fire took all the space they wanted. It was a veritable buffet for Rolfe, Dilly Duka, and Mike Magee, enjoying constant service from midfield as well as the enterprising Gonzalo Segares.

TFC’s goal shouldn’t have been the last goal of the game but it was and thankfully other results held up so the Fire are still in perfectly okay position for the playoffs. They need to pick up points down the stretch, yeah, but they’re all of one point out of fifth with seven games to play. I still don’t understand the doomsayers calling the season off already.

If the 14th minute, free-flowing Fire example showed everything this team can be when it flows right, Quincy Amarikwa’s 78th minute chance showed what’s sometimes dispiriting about them. They let points get away from them.

Off a TFC attack, Magee got the ball in his own half and turned through the midfield to play Rolfe, who spotted Amirakwa’s dash inside. It was a great run because he timed it later than Juan Luis Anangono’s, which was a bit too early so his defender could recover before Pause pushed close enough to goal.
 
Amarikwa’s run came directly in front of his defender, giving Pause the angle and target he needed, and Quincy was in. He had the choice of laying off for Anangono, who was beyond the goalie and just a simple touch away from giving the Fire the lead, but he went himself. Against his own team, in on goal, Amarikwa went himself and shot right at TFC keeper Joe Bendik. Anangono (and Fire fans) were furious.

It’s not outrageous for a striker in that position to go himself; actually, it’s probably the right thing to do versus risk an extra pass. But it was a moment the Fire couldn’t quite grasp, the kind of moment they’ll need to in the next seven games if they’re to keep their season going into the playoffs.