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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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|
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...
|Damani Ralph||19||2003, 2004|
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.
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
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.
After missing yet another opportunity to jump into the Playoff spots after a disappointing draw in Toronto midweek, the Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday to face the team they are trying to catch, the New England Revolution (LIVE 7pm CT on My50). The Revs occupy the fifth and final Playoff spot and will be looking to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Tracking Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez – monitoring the Revs playmakers movement
Both Rowe and Fagundez are having fantastic seasons for New England despite their young age. For an 18 year old, Fagundez has a real eye for goal and a knack of getting into very good positions in the box. Many of his goals this season have been tap-ins, with the Uruguayan being in the right spot at the right time.
Rowe on the other hand likes to operate outside the box and is excellent at picking up the ball in the space between the midfield and the back line. In New England’s last two matches against Toronto and Montreal, Rowe was allowed too much space to pick up the ball in these positions. From there, he is equally comfortable shooting from distance or running at defenders. He displayed both in the matches against the Impact and TFC.
To stop Rowe, the communication and decision making by the Fire’s midfielders and defenders is very important. Defenders such as Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must come out and close down Rowe as quickly as possible when he picks up the ball in that position. As for Fagundez, tracking his runs into the box will also be crucial.
Concentrating on team defense – cutting out individual errors and defending better as a team
In the Fire’s last few matches, individual errors and lack of concentration have been the team’s downfall. On Wednesday night, a piece of nonchalant defending led to TFC’s tying goal while multiple players were guilty of not tracking their runners in the matches against Seattle and Houston.
Individual errors have plagued Fire defenders this season while the wingers are the culprits responsible for sometimes failing to follow their marks. As a defensive unit, the players must be focused for the entire 90 minutes, especially now because there is little room for error if the Men in Red are to make the Playoffs. Against a team with such fluid attacking play and movement as New England, lapses in concentration like these will be punished.
Getting in 1v1 situations with A.J. Soares – Fire attack must try and isolate the Revs defender
In New England’s last match against Montreal, something that struck me was the ease in which Impact striker Marco Di Vaio was able to score both of his goals. Both goals were very similar, with the Italian receiving the ball in the box and going 1v1 with Soares before making a cut, losing the Revs defender and finishing with ease.
Don’t get me wrong, Di Vaio is a brilliant striker but his ability to beat players 1v1 is not his strong point, his deadly finishing is. As we have seen this season, Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee are not afraid to run at defenders and Quincy Amarikwa showed on Wednesday in Toronto that his pace coming off the bench can cause any defense problems.
Against New England this weekend, I would like to see the Fire strikers take on Soares if they find themselves in a position to.
Prediction: The Fire take the frustrations of the past few weeks out on the Revs and comfortably win 3-1 with goals from Magee (2) and Patrick Nyarko.
Saturday night didn’t feel good. A strong Fire performance in always difficult atmosphere at Century Link Field certainly left me feeling like the team had done enough to take something away from Seattle. In the end, that wasn’t to be.
With the 2-1 loss, Fire hearts looked at three very big matches Sunday involving Houston, New England and Philadelphia, maybe lit a candle, said a prayer or crossed fingers. That sound you heard round about midnight was a huge sigh of relief as all three teams immediately ahead of the Men in Red in the Eastern Conference playoff race also went down in defeat.
Hence this blog title, as the positioning between the Top 7 in the East remains the same as it was when I wrote the first edition of 2013 Playoff Math two weeks ago, albeit with a bit of a separation between top and bottom.
A breakdown of where things stand heading into this week…
1) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-7-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: WDWWL (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 69
Average Opponents Pts: 35.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC
Rundown: Chronologically, Montreal’s 4-1 win at New England was the second of three needed Fire results Sunday and though the Impact had only won once away to an Eastern opponent this season, showed up in droves early on as Matt Reis’ fifth minute red card for taking down Marco Di Vaio set the tone for the evening in Montreal’s 4-2 win.
With the win, the Impact stayed on top of the Eastern Conference (with two games in hand) and may have helped the Fire more than just in the standings as Reis will now be suspended for the Revolution’s visit to Chicago this Saturday.
Given Montreal’s home form, a visit from the Crew Saturday should probably see them atop the East by the time I’m writing this column next week. With games in hand on both New York and Sporting KC, the Impact hold the inside track to the top spot in the East if they can hold serve down the stretch.
2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLDL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 36.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI
Rundown: The fact that Red Bull had never won in Houston during the MLS regular season didn’t exactly bode well form them on Sunday but a smaller than normal crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium saw a few mistakes at the back which New York did well to capitalize on in their 4-1 win.
Red Bull have just six games left to play with the next two at home vs. Toronto FC and FC Dallas. Wins in those and we’re either talking about them officially clinching a playoff spot or being having the opportunity to do it in Seattle on October 5.
3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WWLLW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI
Rundown: Sporting KC go into their bye week coming off a strong 3-0 home win over Columbus Saturday night. Like Montreal, they’ve set themselves up well now to balance their remaining Champions League fixtures (they next play Real Esteli on September 17) and could lock down a playoff spot by the end of September.
4) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-9-9)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLDW (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Pts: 34.7
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC
Rundown: Despite having a man advantage for the final 33 minutes, Philadelphia was unable to muster a point in a 1-0 defeat at San Jose in the Fire’s last needed result of the night.
Philadelphia still sits fourth but only by two points ahead of Saturday’s game vs. Houston, one of two very big matches with playoff implications this week.
5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-10-7)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LDWWL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 33.4
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB
Rundown: Like I said above, New England’s 4-2 loss to Montreal helped contribute to everything staying the same towards the bottom of the race. They’ll be without starting goalkeeper Matt Reis in Saturday’s pivotal visit to Toyota Park but will still likely come in confident knowing they’ve won the previous two encounters between the sides this year.
6) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 37 (10-9-7)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLWL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-3-3 / 3-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 35.7
Remaining Schedule:9/14 @ PHI, 9/21, 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.
Rundown: It wasn’t a good week for Houston who dropped a 2-0 to Columbus at midweek before Sunday’s 4-1 thumping vs. New York. Given Houston’s recent form (4 points from their last five games), Fire fans will lament the two points dropped to the Dynamo at the beginning of the month but should also be thankful for the fact the Dynamo have continued to struggle following that result.
A loss at Philadelphia next Saturday combined with a win from the Fire or New England may be panic button time for the Dynamo.
7) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 35 (10-11-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (3 home / 5 away)
Last 5 Games: LDWLW (7pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-2 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 32.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY
Rundown: Dropping three points late in the last two matches doesn’t fill one with confidence but the team’s performance at Seattle was very encouraging and they were perhaps rewarded by Sunday’s trifecta of results. In reality, the weekend was a complete wash in terms of Playoff Math, so the Fire enter a two-game week with a huge opportunity.
The team faces a quick turnaround Wednesday, playing their game in hand on New England and Houston when they visit lowly Toronto FC (who fell 4-0 at Portland Saturday). A win in Ontario followed by one in Saturday’s six-pointer vs. the Revs (and a draw between the Union in Dynamo in Philadelphia) would actually put the Fire into fourth place in the East with six games remaining.
It’s fair to admit no one saw the Fire being in this position following Saturday's game but as they say, that’s why they play the games and there’s all to play for still.
8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 32 (9-14-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LWLLW (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 6-5-3 / 3-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE
Rundown: In Brian Bliss’ first game as interim head coach, Columbus took a huge step defeating Houston 2-0 last Wednesday only to fall 3-0 at KC Saturday night.
By virtue of their point total and remaining schedule, the Crew are certainly still in the playoff race but are at a point where any further slip-ups will probably mean the end to their season.
The MLS Team Writers Union continues to grow and so I thought, why not reach out and get my counterpart's takes on relevant questions surrounding their team in the leadup to matches...
In today's Three Questions, I go old school with one of the longest tenured Team Writers in MLS (and doppelganger match for Rob Riggle), Sounders FC's Matt Gaschk...
Jeff Crandall: With Wednesday night's victory over Chivas USA, the Sounders continue to be the hottest team in MLS having won six of their last seven matches. What has been the main contribution to the recent success?
Matt Gaschk: The greatest difference over the last seven matches has been the commitment on the defensive side of the ball. With four shutouts in the last seven matches, the defense has jumped to tops in the West, allowing just 1.04 goals per game, but it has been much more than just the back four. The defensive spark has come from all over the field and the team finally seems to have clicked into place and pulling in the same direction.
With so many changes to the roster over the off-season, it took a lot of time for people to find their roles. Now, even though they have yet to play at full strength, they have been able to find different ways to win games because the core of the team has kept them on the right path.
JC: How much do the international absences of Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey and the injury to Brad Evans effect Seattle's chances for three points on Saturday?
MG: Dempsey has been a tremendous boost for the team – both on the field and in the locker room, where he has helped re-energize a group that was already driven to succeed. However, his addition has been a boost to what was already a solid team, so while losing him means less talent on the field, it doesn’t necessarily mean a loss in the team dynamic.
Johnson has been on fire of late with three goals and one assist in his last four matches, and he has proven to be highly important to Seattle’s success. When he is engaged, he is among the more lethal finishers in the league.
The loss of Evans, if he is unable to play, takes greater effect when Seattle loses its depth. He can play so many different roles for the team, not the least of which is as a coach on the field, that when he is available it is almost as though Sigi Schmid’s roster has additional players on it.
Servando Carrasco has filled in in the middle of midfield and Marc Burch has provided cover on the left side, so there are players available to fill roles, but it is the depth beyond those spots that has thinned with injuries to Shalrie Joseph and Steve Zakuani.
JC: Obafemi Martins has been out for nearly a month with an ankle injury but seems to be on the comeback trail. What has the Nigerian DP added for the Sounders this season and is there a chance he returns Saturday?
MG: After the 2012 season, Sounders FC ownership vowed to find their Robbie Keane. They sought a player with high levels of European success who is still driven to succeed at a high level when presented with the new challenge of playing in MLS. Martins fit that bill and, while he may not be on the MVP-caliber scoring clip that Keane has seen this season, he has provided a world-class striker that not only scores his own remarkable goals, but also creates space for his teammates to find the scoreboard as well.
Although he has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, his seven goals and three assists in just 15 appearances have been an offensive boost. He has yet to take the field with Dempsey – and won’t this weekend while Dempsey is away on international duty – but when he does, it will make for one of the strongest attacks in MLS.
After leaving two points on the field last Sunday, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest, traditionally not a happy hunting ground of the Men in Red, for a Saturday night matchup with Seattle (9pm CT on NBCSN) . The Sounders are hitting form at the right time, surging to six wins in their last seven matches. Here are some things to keep an eye out for from a tactical perspective.
Taking advantage of speed – hitting Seattle on the counter attack
The Fire’s bread and butter in away matches is the counter attack, lulling teams into a false sense of security and allowing them to push men forward before forcing a turnover and countering with numbers. A number of factors contribute to this.
In midfield, the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Arevalo Rios, Alex, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are very capable of forcing turnovers by applying pressure or reading the game and intercepting passes. With Rios away on international duty, Alex, Pause and Paladini will battle it out for the central midfield berth.
Alex is equally capable playing on the outside, and with him, Nyarko and Dilly Duka, the Fire have ample speed for to push the break. In attack, I expect the Fire to stick with Rolfe and Magee again due to their quickness.
Juan Luis Anangono is also an option but if the Fire go with the counter attack strategy, there is no need to a target striker in the starting eleven.
Taking advantage of set pieces – punishing Seattle on free kicks and corners
WATCH: Anibaba, Segares talk Saturday's match
In Seattle’s last three or so matches the Sounders have been very sloppy defending set pieces. In the second half of last Wednesday’s match against Chivas in particular, the LA team could have easily scored two or even three goals from free kicks, but for some better finishing.
The Fire worked quite a bit on set pieces at training on Thursday, clearly seeing Seattle’s obvious issues in that area. The Men in Red scored their first goal from a corner in last week’s match against Houston, and with Magee and Duka putting balls in and players like Austin Berry and Larentowicz challenging in the box, the Fire certainly have the ability to cause the Sounders more problems in this area.
Keeping an eye on Rosales and Yedlin – set pieces and crosses from wide
Seattle are a similar team to Sporting KC with both teams having a very dangerous creative midfielder, as well as outside defenders that like to get forward and get crosses in the box.
Though he hasn’t started every match for the team Mauro Rosales leads the Sounders with seven assists, two more than American Brad Evans. Rosales’ favorite target to look for from set pieces and crosses has been Eddie Johnson, picking the American out for a number of headed goals in recent matches. Johnson will also be missing on Saturday but Rosales has a plethora of other players to look for.
Rosales also has the rare ability to put dangerous balls into the box from deep positions, especially on free kicks. Seattle’s Homegrown defender Deandre Yedlin has had an absolutely stellar rookie year, even being named to the MLS All-Star team. He combines well on the right with another missing player for Seattle, Brad Evans.
Without him, Yedlin will be required to pick up the slack. As with the Kansas City match, the Fire players must not pay too much attention to Rosales and neglect Yedlin because if he is given time and space, it could be costly.
Prediction: Mike Magee gets back on track and the Fire win 1-0.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
The final installment in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 5 designer Jordan Parks.
Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1), Danny Carlino (Option 2), Freddie Christiano (Option 3) and Eric Puente (Option 4) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!
What was the inspiration behind your design?
The inspiration for my third kit design came from Chicago’s rich industrial history, the beautiful city skyline, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These three elements helped fuel my concept and display the true honor, passion, and tradition of this club and this great city.
The blue to white gradient in my design begins with the rich navy blue of the club, incorporates the light blue of the famous Chicago flag, and fades to a bright white to show the eliteness of this powerful city.
VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5
The subtle abstract view of the skyline represents the flames that ravaged the city in 1871 and the building blocks which made this city bounce back from devastation to become one of the most economically powerful in America.
What do you feel is unique about your design?
After looking at past kits worn by the Fire and researching other clubs past and present designs, I decided to simplify mine and keep the base color white; paying tribute to past away kits worn by the Fire.
While the Chicago flag is a well known and recognizable symbol of Chicago, I tried to stay away from blatantly using the flag as the base for my design as it has been done before and many Fire supporters want this as a permanent kit option rather than a third kit.
READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules
What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?
As a young designer, seeing my design being worn by my club would be absolutely exhilarating. I have been a Fire supporter for many years and having this opportunity with the club has already been rewarding in itself.
The reality of having my concept turned into a final solution is what I stand for as a designer. I work to succeed and push to exceed. Seeing the mighty Fire wearing my kit design in victory would be the best reward I could ask for. I believe with a fresh third kit option, the Chicago Fire can bring home another MLS Cup in style. Go Fire!