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.
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.
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
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?"
- HISTORY: Why we're named the Chicago 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
On this day 142 years ago, the Great Chicago Fire began in our city. Long after the rebuilding had been finished, on this day 16 years ago, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club (NOT the Chicago Rhythm) was founded at iconic Navy Pier, immediately tying the newest MLS franchise to one of the city’s most defining historical events.
Today, as we do every year, we recognize the legacy not only of the city of Chicago but of the 16 years of our club and we hope you'll join us tonight at the Toyota Park Stadium Club to do so.
Until then, here are a few Fire related 16s…
The men who wore 16...
Josh Wolff (1998-2002), Andy Williams (2003-2004), Will John (2005), Brian Plotkin (2006-2007), Marco Pappa (2008-2012), Brendan King (2013- )
…did Williams and Pappa wear #16 throughout their Fire tenures, both also racked up 16 regular season assists in their time with the club.
Did you know...?
Neither Fire legends Lubos Kubik (1998-2000) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (2007-2009) wore 16 but both scored 16 MLS regular season goals and it was the attacker Blanco who tallied more from the spot?
The Mexican World Cup veteran edged Kubik 7-5 in penalty kicks converted for the Fire.
Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens racked up 16 wins with the Fire between 2004-2007. The tally his fourth most among Fire goalkeepers behind Zach Thornton (109), Sean Johnson (39) and Jon Busch (25).
When he appears on Saturday, Sean Johnson will tie DaMarcus Beasley for 16th on the club’s all-time MLS appearance list at 98 games played.
Current Fire defender Gonzalo Segares sits seventh on the club’s all-time U.S. Open Cup appearance list with 16 games played while…
…former Fire defender C.J. Brown holds the record for most international appearances (CONCACAF & SuperLiga) with 16.
It's been an honor to be part of this club for four of its historic 16 seasons. Here's to many more. See everyone tonight and HAPPY SWEET 16 FIRE!
The Fire and a few other results went their way this weekend. Still, the Men in Red remain just below the red line, two points back of the final playoff spot in the East with three matches left to play.
A breakdown of the weekend and what it means for the current Eastern Conference playoff picture…
x - 1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53 (15-9-8)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWWW (11pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 45.0
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI
Rundown: New York held a long lead, controversy ensued, New England went up 2-1 late only to see Tim Cahill bag an incredible header to see Red Bull walk away with a 2-2 draw and eventually become the first team in MLS to clinch a playoff berth.
Still, the game will feel like a missed opportunity at home for a team still hoping to win the Supporters Shield and lock down the Eastern Conference top seed. The result is disappointing from a Fire perspective for two reasons: 1) It gives New England an extra point and 2) It almost assuredly makes Red Bull’s home game vs. the Fire on October 27 all the more meaningful.
New York will take a break off this week before visiting high-flying Houston on October 20.
2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51 (15-10-6)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5: WLWWW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 7-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 35.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI
Rundown: Sporting KC did exactly what they needed to do, getting a well-earned 1-0 victory at Columbus Saturday night. The result means Sporting has earned just three points less on the road than they have at home this season – a somewhat incredible away record in MLS terms.
KC controls their own destiny for Eastern Conference top spot but faces a very tough test Wednesday vs. a Dynamo side that jumped up to third this weekend. A Sporting win in that match automatically puts them into the playoffs but they can also make it with a combination draw and Fire draw or loss would also do the trick.
3) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 47 (13-10-8)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.7
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.
Rundown: Houston continued their climb up the table with their third straight win Friday vs. Montreal. Things looked bleak for the Dynamo in early September but the side now seems destined to once again reach the playoffs and with back-to-back matches vs. Sporting KC and New York, their ascent might not stop at third place.
All we can say is, typical Houston Dynamo…
4) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-10-7)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home/ 2 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLLW (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC
Rundown: Montreal fell again 1-0 at Houston Friday night, moving the side that spent much of the regular season at the top of the East all the way down to fourth place. The Impact still hold a game in hand on everyone and both of their remaining home matches are six-pointers against New England (this week) and Philadelphia (October 19). If they can recover from their down form and win those games, they should still be in the playoffs.
5) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 45 (12-10-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLLD (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-5 / 5-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 37.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC
Rundown: There was a point Saturday night in which it looked like all three Eastern Conference games would go the Fire’s way, then Kleberson’s 96th minute free kick happened, giving Philadelphia a crucial 1-0 home win over Toronto FC.
With that win, the Union stayed above the red line, two points ahead of the Fire with three matches remaining. Philly will look to take advantage of Saturday’s game at lowly D.C. before having to close with tough matches at Montreal and vs. Sporting KC.
6) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 43 (12-12-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLWD (7pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 3-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 40
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY
Rundown: The Fire did the business with a 3-0 win at D.C. on Friday night and if not for Kleberson’s late free kick in Philly, would have sat in fifth place to end the weekend.
The Fire visit FC Dallas who kept their quite slim Western Conference playoff hopes alive with a 1-1 draw vs. Real Salt Lake Saturday. With the Galaxy destroying Chivas USA and even Vancouver picking up a point vs. Portland Sunday, it doesn’t look good for Dallas, who are seven points out of the final playoff spot with three games to go, meaning a loss Saturday would officially be there end of the season.
On the other hand, the Fire are 3-12-2 all-time in Dallas and will go for their second straight away win on Saturday – a feat the team has achieved just once in the past four seasons. A win in Frisco will put the Fire in prime position with a home match vs. Toronto looming.
7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 42 (11-11-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWLL (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Pts: 42.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB
Rundown: New England were no doubt the biggest losers from this weekend’s results, scoring two goals to go up 2-1 late only to have Cahill’s 96th minute header serve as a huge gut punch. A visit to Montreal, who are also coming off a loss at Houston, looms quite large and defeat in Quebec could do serious damage to the Revs’ playoff hopes.
Still, the home-and-home vs. Columbus to close the season will keep things interesting for the Revolution and at the very least, likely keep them in the mix until the final weekend.
8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-15-5)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-6-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 47
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE
Rundown: As great as the Crew’s run under interim head man Brian Bliss was, all it would take was another loss to deal a horrible blow to their playoff hopes. The Crew will now take their bye week but they need to win their remaining two matches and hope for major help around the East in order to make the playoffs.
There’s still a chance but it’s just not very good.
Select shots from the Fire's win over D.C. United presented by MiAllstate
CREDIT: USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES
After a disappointing September, the Fire head to the Capitol to face a D.C. United squad still on cloud nine after their shock upset of Real Salt Lake in the 100th U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday evening (LIVE 7pm CT on NBCSN). D.C.’s win combined with the Fire’s erratic away form means this game is very difficult to predict.
Here are some things to look out for a tactical perspective…
Forcing disruptions in the D.C. backline – not allowing them to act as a unit
In many games this season, D.C.’s opponents have stretched their backline, causing a number of errors. One example of this is forcing a central defender out of the middle and out wide. Another is forcing the defenders deep into their own half.
In D.C.’s recent match against New England, the Revs’ attack forced United to drop deeper and deeper, allowing players like Kelyn Rowe free shots from outside the box because defenders didn’t step up to challenge them.
In the Fire’s last MLS match against D.C., Joel Lindepere played some brilliant balls over the top of the United defense to the Fire strikers who were onside due to a combination of good runs and poor organization by the D.C. backline.
With the titanic effort put in on Tuesday night in Salt Lake, D.C. will almost certainly be making changes in defense but no matter who gets the start, the Fire players must be prepared to hound United’s backline from the first whistle and force them into making mistakes.
Changes to the Fire team – a more attacking starting eleven needed
In the first half of last weekend’s match against Montreal, the Fire set up too cautiously for my liking, most notably in the middle of the field where Logan Pause and Arevalo Rios played their first game together. Both players excel at breaking up the play but without Larentowicz or a more attacking player in the middle, the Fire were lacking in the attack.
Coach Frank Klopas recognized this and made two changes at halftime which completely turned the game around. The introduction of Alex and Chris Rolfe sparked the Men in Red into life offensively and but for some better luck, the team would have walked away with three points.
Bakary Soumare should return to the backline after his suspension, allowing Larentowicz to slot back into the midfield. Alex made big impact from the bench last week and starting him in front of Dilly Duka would give the Fire another dimension in the attack with his linkup play with Magee and Anangonó excellent in recent matches.
Duka has looked a little weary of late which isn’t a surprise considering he has started seven more matches this season than he did for the Crew throughout the whole of last season, already playing almost 500 more minutes with four games and potential playoff games to come.
A focus on Luis Silva – the former TFC man should start after being a sub in Salt Lake
Luis Silva came on for veteran Dwayne DeRosario with 15 minutes left to play in Tuesday’s Open Cup final and according to Washington Post journalist Steven Goff, Silva should get the start tonight.
Silva is comfortable playing as the lone striker or in the number 10 role, just behind the advanced forward.
As I mentioned in my tactical preview for the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, Silva and DeRo rely on their wide players to support the attack which allows Silva to get into the box and feed on crosses instead of having to drop deep and try and creature from there.
That being said, Silva is not afraid to take a shot from distance as Fire fans will remember, he scored a stunning 25 yard curler into the top corner against the Men in Red in July. The next week he also struck from distance, hitting a low bullet into the bottom corner against New England at RFK Stadium.
D.C. have scored a league low 20 goals this season and if the Fire can keep Silva under wraps tonight it will help keep the Red and Black off the score sheet.
Prediction: I have no idea what D.C. team we are going to see tonight but for all the talk of playing playoff spoiler, I think their minds will still be at Rio Tinto Stadium. 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Anangonó, and Berry.