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02 August 8:23 am

The Fire head east to Philly on Saturday night to take on the Union in a critical Eastern Conference clash (LIVE 6:30pm CT on My50). After earning a credible come-from-behind draw in Houston last weekend, the Men in Red will be confident of picking up all three points (and extracting some revenge) at PPL Park.

Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Isolating Jeff Parke – getting behind and in 1v1 situations with the Union defender

Similar to the Fire, individual errors have cost the Union in recent matches and veteran defender Jeff Parke has been the weak link in the Union defense over the past few MLS games.

Though excellent in the air, his positioning errors or slack marking led to numerous chances created for the opposing team. In both matches against Chivas and Houston, Parke was either forced or strayed out of position, leaving room behind him to be exploited.

READ: Duka, Alex look healthy for Philadelphia clash

With the ability of Magee and Rolfe to drop into deeper positions to pick up the ball and thus drag defenders like Parke out of position, the other Fire players must recognize these opportunities when they arise and try and take advantage of them.

Staying with the runners – trying to limit giving up preventable goals

In soccer, there is a major difference between giving up a 30 yard screamer and giving up a tap in because a defender decided to switch off and not follow his runner.

 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

All too often for the Fire this season giving up easy goals and frequently going a goal behind has been the teams M.O.  Fire center back Bakary Soumare has made more than one costly error over the past month, most recently on the Dynamo goal last weekend and the center-back will be looking for a solid performance against his old club on Saturday.

With that being said, the defense as a whole has been guilty of individual errors which has meant that the team’s last clean sheet in league play was nine games ago, twelve if you count all matches. As I have mentioned in previous previews, a clean sheet, especially in an away game, would be a major positive for the Fire.

Against a team with such attacking threats as Philly, a clean sheet would also give the back line confidence heading into the biggest game of the season to date, the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against D.C. on Wednesday (TICKETS).

Taking advantage of the diamond system – pressuring Philly in their defensive third

The Union usually use a system similar in some ways to the Fire, deploying only one recognized defensive midfielder. In Philly’s case this is stalwart Brian Carroll.

Carroll plays in the “Makelele role,” sitting in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and rarely venturing into the opposing team’s attacking third. In this system, the assumption is that Carroll will not give up possession or be ahead of the ball in his defensive third.

READ: Mike Magee is the cover boy in the latest edition of MLS Overlap

One way to counter this system is to pressure Carroll and the Philly defenders when they have the ball and try and force turnovers in their defensive third.

We all saw how effective this tactic can be on the Fire’s goal last weekend. Patrick Nyarko stole the ball from a Dynamo defender before bursting into the box and crossing to Mike Magee for a tap in finish. A similar turnover on Saturday night could lead to the winning goal for the Fire.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

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

31 July 11:45 am

A few months ago, a young Chicago filmmaker reached out to the Fire.  His name was Parker Heaps, and he was with a new organization called World FC.

He reached out to the Club because he and his partners had just begun filming a documentary, the basis of which would feature their own road trip from Chicago to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  The goal of the film was not only to document their travels, but more importantly, bring to light how soccer affects communities on a local, national and global level.  They would also be donating gently used soccer equipment to those communities in need along the way. 

On May 31, Parker and the guys came out to Toyota Park to speak with some of players, in particular those with a wide range of global soccer experience. 

They spoke with Alex, a Brazilian, where soccer is king; Wells Thompson, an American who has spent time playing soccer in Africa; as well as Estonian Joel Lindpere, who has played soccer all over the globe, including Bulgaria and Norway. Once the interviews were done, the guys made plans to come back on June 2 for the Fire game against D.C. United, to capture images of the game, as well as with Chicago’s amazing fans.   

When the guys arrived at the park, I was also able to introduce them to Fire owner Andrew Hauptman.  An avid soccer fan, as well as philanthropist and co-founder of City Year Los Angeles, Andrew was interested to learn more about their specific project and decided that he’d like to down with the guys and offer his additional perspective for the film.   

Now, two months later, we’re especially excited to see that the first trailer for the film is available online.  Check it out below and also be sure to follow the guys on Twitter @TheWorldFC.  Wish them luck as they make their way to Brazil as we’re sure they will make Chicago proud.    

31 July 10:30 am

MLSsoccer.com and Howler Magazine have released the second edition of Overlap and look who's on the cover!

It's #MLSALLSTAR and Chicago Fire goal-scorer extraordinaire Mike Magee.

You'll laugh, and you'll cry (not really) as Daniel Libit explores Mike Magee's return back home to Chicago, and how he has provided "the spark" that the Men in Red needed to get back on track.

That's all i'm giving away, now go read it for yourself!

Overlap is available on iPad and Android tablet.

30 July 4:46 pm

Just like the podcast, GifTuesday is also making it's triumphant return. This week Mike Magee reminds us that he had a little help scoring his goal in Houston.

30 July 9:24 am

Fire forward Mike Magee is soaking in this week's MLS All-Star festivities in Kansas City and really why shouldn't he?

After 11 seasons in MLS, the league's joint-leading goal scorer is the longest tenured player on this year's All-Star roster to be making his first appearance in the mid-summer classic. 

On Monday, Magic Mike joined fellow MLS All-Stars Will Johnson of Portland and Patrice Bernier of Montreal and host Nick Firchau on ExtraTime Radio to have a frank discussion about how they see the league in 2013, the dumbest questions they receive from reporters, Mike's sincere avoidance of Twitter and the honor of taking part in this year's game.

Listen here.

29 July 10:49 am

The Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field meant that even though the Fire were in Houston on Saturday, Chicago would not be deprived of live soccer this weekend. Thank goodness. From a Fire point of view, it’s pretty special that Sean Johnson and alum DaMarcus Beasley overlapped on this USMNT squad.

The game itself wasn’t as exciting as you could have hoped from the two best Gold Cup teams. Panama’s tight defense kept the U.S. side from running at them the way they ran at Honduras and El Salvador and they never looked like they would put up the crooked numbers that defined their tournament.

BLOG: Beasley captains USMNT to 5th Gold Cup title

There were even a few times when the game looked like a cagey MLS match, with a challenger in town to try to steal the day, staying taut, and not making mistakes. But the USMNT wore down Panama, took their best (and really only clear cut) chance, held on against a barrage of balls floated into the box in the final minutes and were crowned deserved champions.

How nice would it be to see the Fire handle games like that? On Saturday, we saw the Fire come back from behind yet again. We saw them nearly nick all three points and then nearly lose them all. We saw flashes of dangerous counterattacks and Paolo Tornaghi making some big saves. Most of all, we saw despite obvious improvements over the last trip to Houston, the team is still missing one little bit of finality in both halves.

Back in April, the 2013 Fire v1.0 went to Houston with the goal of slowing the game down, playing calmly and controlling the match. The greenhouse (orange-house?) that is BBVA Compass Stadium dictated that, and we saw players run themselves dead on that afternoon, which also included a vintage Brad Davis garbage goal, Wells Thompson, and a last minute Jeff Larentowicz hit off the crossbar (HIGHLIGHTS from April 14).

On Saturday, the 2013 Fire v2.0 went to Houston with a different mindset. They went to play, to take some initiative. You could see it at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half when Lindpere and Nyarko were pushed way up the field on the outside.

HIGHLIGHTS: Fire earn tough 1-1 draw in Houston

Alas, the result wasn’t much different. Houston, one of the hardest teams to beat away in the history of MLS, controlled the game. The Fire looked absolutely spent at the end of the game, much of which they spent chasing the orange midfielders around and trying to clear their persistent crosses into the box.

But the difference this time around was the way in which the Fire actually looked dangerous at times, stealing into Houston’s half on counter attacks and nearly grabbing the lead on a late Chris Rolfe chance.

In April, we looked at the difficulty of balancing the mindset to calm the game down without sacrificing the risk-taking attitude needed to be offensive, to attack. Now, with Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee (and the Alex/Larentowicz partnership), it seems like 2013 Fire v2.0 are poised to find that balance.

As another new striker and the All-Star break arrive, maybe the Fire will find that teeny bit of difference. If so, next time we play Houston at Toyota Park in September, they’ll be the ones wilting, exhausted after falling to 2013 Fire v3.0

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

29 July 8:43 am

There are few players of Fire past that hold as an emotional connection to Chicago as former winger DaMarcus Beasley.


Scott Strazzante/Tribune

Having began his career with the Men in Red in 2000, Beasley made 134 competitive appearances, tallying 18 goals and 28 assists in four and a half seasons before signing with Dutch Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven in 2004.

He also helped the club to three domestic titles in his time and along with Josh Wolff was the Fire's first representative on a U.S. World Cup team in 2002.

PERUSE: TrueCar Chicago Fire Player Registry

Beasley has had ups and downs in his career, falling out of the national team picture twice only to earn his way back. His current international renaissance was made more special by his captaining of the side to Sunday's Gold Cup title where it all began for him with the Fire at Soldier Field.

Chicago Redeye asked the veteran winger (and now converted left back) what it meant to raise the trophy in Chicago, with Beasley saying, "I still have so much love for the fans of the Chicago Fire. This was my first real club." 

With a pretty strong love for the club and city, could a Fire return happen for Beasley before his career ends?

Last September, the Fire alum retured to the Windy City to take in a game at Toyota Park and told Chicago-Fire.com this:

26 July 10:09 am

After a confidence boosting 4-1 win over D.C. United at Toyota Park last weekend, the Fire fly south to take on the Houston Dynamo at the fortress that is BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday night (LIVE 8pm CT on NBC Sports / La Ley 107.9 FM). Houston beat Premier League side Stoke City 2-0 at midweek and currently occupy the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a position the Fire is fighting for.

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

Shadowing Andrew Driver – A threat both inside and out

Englishman Andrew Driver has had a stellar debut season in MLS for the Dynamo and his versatility has made him one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS this season.

WATCH: Match Preview: Fire vs. Dynamo

Though naturally left footed, Driver is comfortable playing on either wing and is most dangerous when playing on the right, where he can cut in onto his left foot.

Though not on the level of Brad Davis, Driver’s crossing ability and dead ball prowess gives Houston another dimension and makes the Texas team even more threatening on set pieces.

READ: Fire winger Duka a no-go for Houston

When the ball is on the other side of the field, Driver gets into the box to support the forwards and has chipped in with three goals this season.

He’s also not afraid to come inside and switch positions with withdrawn striker Giles Barnes who played primarily on the wing in England before being converted by Houston coach Dom Kinnear.

Driver’s most recent goal came against D.C. United in May where he won the ball and played it wide to Will Bruin before bursting into the box and receiving a return pass before finishing.

Tracking Driver’s runs when he does cut inside will be key on Saturday night.

How to beat the Houston backline – 1v1s and runs off the ball

In last week’s match against D.C., the Fire forwards, most notably Chris Rolfe, made some brilliant runs off the ball and were found by great penetrating passes from midfield. Both of Rolfe’s goals came from off the ball runs and more of the same will be needed on Saturday.

A weakness of the Houston defense is paying too much attention to the person with the ball and neglecting to pick up the runs from other forwards or midfielders.

In the Dynamo’s last league match against New England, they allowed Diego Fagundez to pass the ball to Chad Barrett at the top of the box and pick up a return pass unmarked in the box. But for some better finishing, the Dynamo would’ve been a goal down.

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In the Dynamo’s last league loss against the Red Bulls, the killer second goal came when the Houston defense fixated on Thierry Henry, allowing Johnny Steele to make a run into the box unmarked and the Irishman scored after a simple through ball from Henry.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Off the ball runs from Rolfe and Mike Magee can open up the Houston defense and it will be up to players like Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere to find the strikers as they did so well last Saturday.

The center midfield battle – who starts for the Fire

In recent weeks, Fire coach Frank Klopas has stuck with the midfield duo of Jeff Larentowicz and Alex to great effect but there are others knocking on the door for a starting spot and Saturday’s match could be the perfect time to make a change.

Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are back from injury and suspension respectively and I believe one could come into the starting lineup in place of Alex.

Houston are a team that have high-energy midfielders such as Adam Moffatt, Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. All three are not afraid to get forward and this will force the Fire’s two center midfielders to protect the back line.

With the fluidity of players like Giles Barnes, Driver and Garcia to deal with, a player like Pause or Paladini who are more defensive minded than Alex, may be more suited to deal with the flooded midfield.

Against a team like Houston, you must watch for through balls in behind the defense. A player like Logan Pause, who reads the game so well defensively and is constantly intercepting opposition passes, could be a better fit tactically.

Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Chris Rolfe.

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

25 July 9:10 am

Joel Lindpere continues to get big ups for his one goal, two assists performance in Saturday's 4-1 win over D.C. United as the Estonian international was named to the FIFA 13 Ultimate Team of the Week today!

Congrats Joel!