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12 April 8:51 am

After picking up their first win of the season last week, the Fire travel to Houston for Sunday’s match (4pm CT on UniMas/La Ley 107.9FM) brimming with confidence. The Dynamo lost again on the road last week against Portland but are returning to BBBV Compass Stadium, a place where they have never lost. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Giles Barnes – excelling in the role of second striker and deceptively good in the air

Giles Barnes has had an excellent start to 2013, playing in an almost free role just behind the target striker. Barnes is dangerous in a number of areas: he can drop deep or wide with the ball, taking on defenders, he can also win flicks on to his strike partner and he has come up with two headed goals already this season.

AthletiCo Coaching Corner

Against Portland last week and San Jose the week before, Barnes linked up well with central midfielders Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, taking the ball from them before turning and running at defenders from deep or around the box.

In the air, Barnes won many dangerous flick-ons against San Jose in Houston’s last home match. Barnes’ ability to win balls in the air seemed to baffle San Jose, who were clearly anticipating him to be running onto the flicks by Will Bruin.

In the matches against San Jose and the week before against Vancouver, Barnes chipped in with two headed goals. When teams play Houston, it is easy to get distracted by players such as Brad Davis or Boniek Garcia but Barnes has been their most dangerous player this season.

The Fire cannot give him space on the ground and players like Austin Berry need to match Barnes in the air.

 The possible return of Arne – if he returns, who moves to the bench?

Much of the talk this week in the Fire camp is the potential return of Arne Friedrich to a Fire back line that has been decimated by injuries at the beginning of the season.

Though everyone is looking forward to Arne’s return, it brings up a very tough tactical decision for head coach Frank Klopas, namely who plays at right back.

Wells Thompson has done a very solid job over the past two matches in that position, improving from a shaky first half against Chivas to having a standout game in last week’s win against NYRB.

Wells stated this week that he would like to “lock the down the spot and become a regular starter" and he certainly has put forth a good case to the coaches.

Thompson’s distribution out of the back is excellent and as the away team this week, the Fire will be looking to hold onto the ball for as long as possible and not be wasteful in possession.

Paladini, Thompson Preview Houston

The other realistic candidate for the starting right back spot should Friedrich return is Jalil Anibaba, last season’s starter. Against a physical and big team like Houston, Jalil’s strength could be needed.

Anibaba is also excellent in the air and with players like Barnes and Bruin to contend with, Klopas may turn to the third-year defender.

Houston’s knack for scoring goals from set pieces is also well-known and Anibaba’s presence in the box could be all-important on Sunday afternoon.

The Dynamo's frequency of scoring from corners is such that the home fans get to their feet for every corner, expecting a goal or good chance to be created from each one.

Though there was a lot of talk about Logan Pause moving to right-back at the beginning of this season, I don’t see the Fire changing too much the in the midfield after last week’s performance.

A start for Jalil at right back would be tough on Wells Thompson after two great performances, but tactically, starting Anibaba would make the most sense.  

Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Sherjill MacDonald

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

11 April 12:51 pm

Former Chicago Fire player Jared Montz is Juggling to save lives... and you should too.

The Online Soccer Academy World Juggle-A-Thon will take place on April 25th (World Malaria Day) to raise money for Nothing But Nets, a foundation that provides bed nets for people in Africa to prevent malaria.

Check out the cameos made by some Fire and Red Stars players, as well as some folks from Section 8 Chicago in Jared's #SoccerWalking Chicago video below.

For more information on the Juggle-A-Thon, or to make a donation Click Here.

11 April 9:27 am

Maicon Santos’ two-goal substitute performance had me thinking this week, how often have Fire players come off the bench to tally a brace?

The Answer: It’s a very rare thing… Santos’ effort on Sunday was just the fifth time (or .008%) in the club’s 573 all-time competitive matches that a player has scored two goals off the bench. It was just the third time in MLS league play and first since 2006.

The others...

Orr Barouch - Chicago Fire 4, New York Red Bulls 0 - U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal (7/12/2011)

In a memorable match that was moved up to 5pm because of a massive power outage at Toyota Park, Barouch came on at halftime for Cristian Nazarit with the Fire already leading 2-0. It took the Israeli youth international just five minutes to make it 3-0 before closing the scoring off a feed from Diego Chaves in the 69th minute (WATCH).

PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry

Barouch led the side with three goals in Open Cup play on the way to the tournament final that year.

Chad Barrett – Chicago Fire 2, Real Salt Lake 1 – MLS Regular Season (6/28/2006)

Throughout much of his first two seasons with the Men in Red, Chad Barrett was an oft-used second half attacking sub. In this match, he repaid Dave Sarachan’s faith in him, entering for captain Chris Armas in the 68th minute before heading home the equalizer off a cross from Justin Mapp in the 80th minute (WATCH).

Five minutes later, Mapp would slot Barrett through the RSL backline before the second-year striker put slid his effort past Scott Garlick and in off the post for the winner (WATCH).

The effort was the first of two braces for Barrett during his time with the Men in Red, the other coming in a 5-1 victory at Red Bull on May 25, 2008.

Dipsy Selolwane – Chicago Fire 4, San Juan Jabloteh 0 – CONCACAF Champions Cup (3/17/2004)

With the team coming off a somewhat shocking 5-2 first leg defeat away to the Trinidadian side, the Men in Red returned to Soldier Field needing four goals in the second leg in order to advance.

Though Damani Ralph took the aggregate score to 5-3 just before halftime, Selolwane entered for current Fire captain Logan Pause to provide more offense after the break. The Botswanan international’s long-range effort in the 51st minute brought the Fire to within a goal before his empty net finish 11 minutes later brought the score level.

Selolwane proved to be Man of the Match when he set up Chris Armas’ 90th minute series winner to push the Fire past Jabloteh 6-5 on aggregate and into the Champions Cup semifinals.

Interestingly, that performance was the only brace of Selolwane's Fire career, though he did come up with back-to-back game-winners in the team's run to the U.S. Open Cup final that season.

Hristo Stoitchkov – Chicago Fire 7, Kansas City Wizards 0 – MLS Regular Season (7/4/2001)

Of course the Mad Bulgarian was the first to do this with the Fire and of course it came in the Fourth of July Massacre.  

With the team already leading 4-0, there was little need for Stoitchkov to come on in the 78th. One minute after entering the match, Piotr Nowak scored his second to take the game to 5-0 and then Stoitchkov proceeded to drive the dagger in tallying in the 83rd and 88th minutes to exact revenge for the Fire’s MLS Cup loss to Kansas City the year before (WATCH). 

Like Barrett, Stoitchkov tallied two braces while with the Men in Red. The first came in his debut appearance, a 4-2 Opening Day loss to the Dallas Burn on March 18, 2000.

09 April 4:50 pm

In celebration of Maicon Santos, and Daniel Paladini's selection for MLS Team of the week, we put together a couple of GIFs of their goals from the weekend (just in case you missed them).

Happy watching!

 

09 April 2:29 pm

Last month we asked you to help us pick who our Quaker Bobblehead giveaway should be for our July 7 game against Sporting KC.

After two weeks of voting, it was clear that one player campaigned much harder than the rest of his teammates for the right to be immortalized on a Quaker Bobblehead.

The first 5,000 supporters into Toyota Park that day will receive one. Get your tickets here!

09 April 10:10 am

Following Sunday's 3-1 win over New York the two club's reserve sides also played. With a lot of injuries, the Fire were forced to field five Academy and one guest player in what we'll call a character-building 6-1 defeat...

I'll be honest, there wasn't much pretty about the game but Fire rookie midfielder Yazid Atouba did reward the fans that stuck around with the beautiful strike. Que Golazo!

09 April 9:35 am

Its fun to win. Even better is looking back on all the tweets surrounding a win... 

Didn't have the time? We did it for you! Some of the top tweets surrounding Sunday's 3-1 comeback over New York below...

Be sure to Tweet #cf97 to see your name in a future Storify gallery...

06 April 11:24 am

A quick update on the injury front for Sunday's game vs. New York...

MLSsoccer.com's Franco Panizio reports that forward Fabian Espindola, who has been listed as questionable all week with a hamstring strain, will not be traveling to Chicago for Sunday's game.

Espindola also missed Red Bull's 2-1 win over Philadelphia last week.

Panizio also reports that frontline partner Thierry Henry will be part of the 18, though he seems likely to come off the bench for the second-straight week.

Also listed as questionable in recovery from an MCL strain, the Frenchman played 31 minutes and scored the game-winner in his team's victory over the Union.

On the Fire front, the latest Athletico Injury Report released Friday saw Michael Videira and Steven Kinney removed from the list, though both have been out of action for multiple weeks.

The Fire will be thin in midfield if questionable players Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko (hamstring tightness) and Alex (calf contusion) are unable to go on Sunday. 

05 April 8:54 am

After another tough loss two weeks ago against Chivas USA, the Fire look to pick up their first win of the season against the Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon (4pm CT on ESPN2/La Ley 107.9FM). New York relied on a bit of Henry magic to pick up three points against Philly last week. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective:

Targeting Holgersson – get him in 1v1 situations

Anyone who has watched MLS over the past few seasons knows that Jamison Olave is one of the league’s great defenders. One of Olave’s great strengths is his recovery speed, something his partner Markus Holgersson doesn’t possess. While Holgersson is very adept in the air, if the Fire can get him separated from Olave, it may open the Red Bulls up. The more times the Fire can get players like Chris Rolfe in 1v1 situations with the Swede, the better.

TICKETS: Fire vs. Red Bulls Sunday at 4pm CT

Pause, Lindpere Preview Red Bull

Holgersson also has a tendency to switch off at times, as was seen in the goals Red Bull gave up against Philly last week and against Montreal in a 1-0 loss earlier in the season. As is the case with Arne Friedrich for the Fire, Jamison Olave makes everyone around him better, but if the Fire manage to separate him from Holgersson, they must take advantage.

Stopping Juninho – stifling the deep lying playmaker  

The 38-year-old Brazilian Juninho has excelled in the deep lying playmaker role for the Red Bulls so far this season. Juninho plays ahead of the back four and receives the ball from the defenders before starting the attacks from a very deep position.  

His exceptional passing range means he can easily look to play the ball up to Dax McCarty through the middle, play it out to the wing, or look for a long ball up to Tim Cahill who is excellent in the air.

The Fire must try and make it difficult for Juninho to start the attacks, and the prime candidate for this role is the second striker, namely Rolfe or Alex (if he’s available). In the second leg of the recent Champions League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid, United forward Danny Welbeck did a great job of stifling Madrid’s deep lying playmaker Xabi Alonso and I look for Rolfe or Alex to try and emulate that on Sunday.

When the Fire lose the ball in the attacking third, someone must immediately look to pick up Juninho and try and make it difficult for the Red Bulls to play through him.

Athletico Coaching Corner with Matko

Helping out on the right – don’t isolate the right back

Last game, Wells Thompson did a solid job filling in a right back, a position with little player consistency for the Fire due to injuries this season. Chivas USA did look dangerous however when the managed to get Wells in 1v1 situations, especially in the first half.

READ: Stopping Thierry Henry

With Logan Pause nearing fitness it may be the case that Pause slots in on the right with Wells moving ahead of him but in either case, the right midfielder must track back and help. The Red Bulls love to have Henry drift wide and the Fire must try and prevent him from getting in 1v1 situations at all costs.

Though many would argue the Red Bulls’ weakest players are the wingers, outside defenders like Heath Pearce are not afraid to get forward and support in the attack. Red Bull’s movement off the ball from players like McCarty and Henry make them a hard team to defend against.

Though the Fire are the home team, head coach Frank Klopas said that the number one goal for Sunday’s match is keeping a clean sheet. With that in mind, a solid defensive effort from front to back is essential.

Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Sherjill MacDonald who looked to be almost back to his old self last weekend.   

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

26 March 2:11 pm

Here at the Fire we love Twitter in more ways than one. It's a great source of communication, but also the only place to find #JumperThoughts.

Fire defender Hunter Jumper is a man of infinite wisdom, and his tweets reflect that. So without further ado, I give you #JumperThoughts Vol. 1... Enjoy!