TACTICAL: Rebuilt Fire defense gets first real test against Chivas USA's Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales
The Fire are in Los Angeles for the first game of the season looking to start off on a good note unlike this time last year when the team fell to the other team in LA, 4-0. As per usual, Chivas USA’s offseason was filled with turmoil, but there is a new air of optimism around the club after it was bought by MLS. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Fire’s new look back line – how will teams offseason acquisitions work as a unit?
New Fire head coach Frank Yallop was very upfront about his desire for the team to improve defensively this season after the team gave up a whopping 52 goals last year. It is likely that two new additions to the defense will start on Sunday afternoon, with former RSL utility player Lovel Palmer slotting in a right back and former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado set to start in the middle.
Hurtado’s partnership with Bakary Soumare at the heart of the Fire’s defense is crucial to the team’s success and both players will be looking to continue their good preseason form. In the air, both players are clearly dominant but it will be important that they do not get stretched by the Chivas USA attack especially with a player like Mauro Rosales looking to play balls behind the defense for Erick Torres and co.
Frank Yallop likes to have his fullbacks get forward and support the attack and Palmer certainly fits that style of play. The Fire’s distribution out of the back last season was not a strong point and Palmer’s good technical ability will mean the team will not be giving the ball needlessly back to the opposition as much this season.
It will certainly take time for the new look defense to gel, but a good start and perhaps a clean sheet would build confidence before the tougher tests ahead in the form of Portland and New York.
A new back line for Chivas USA – opportunities for the Fire to take?
Chivas USA overhauled the squad again this offseason but the team that gave up the most goals in the league last year don’t look like they’ve improved in that department, at least not on paper.
The team went undefeated in preseason but it remains to be seen whether this unit can be effective during league play. It is unclear who Fire legend Carlos Bocanegra will be paired with -- Bobby Burling or newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste but in either case, if the Fire creative players like Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Alex can get in 1v1 situations, I like this team’s chances.
The Fire could have more luck on the outsides, especially down the right where Eric Avila has a habit of straying too far forward from his full back position. The combination of little help defensively from Mauro Rosales and the attacking threats of Dilly Duka and Gonzalo Segares could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
A switch in philosophy – high pressure replaces the counter attack
For much of last season, the Fire tended to sit deep and try to hit teams on the counter attack but with the change in head coach comes a change in philosophy. Instead of the counter attack game, Yallop has emphasized a high pressure philosophy, with the Fire’s attackers putting pressure on the opponents’ defense when they are in possession.
This tactic was apparent in the team’s final match of the Diamond Desert Cup in Tucson last week where Juan Luis Anangono, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka all put the Chivas Guadalajara youth team defense under constant pressure and forced a number of mistakes from the Mexican squad.
If the team can push the issue against the new look Chivas USA back four and force the team into giving up possession, it will only help the Fire’s chances. Though possession is not always an important factor, especially in an away match, the team will certainly be looking to control the tempo and increase the possession statistics this season and this change in philosophy should help that.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: C.J. Brown says, "The first game we get to focus on ourselves"
Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa proved rather effective in what time he got on the field last year (he scored three goals in 299 minutes). In his time off of it, he also proved to be perhaps the top MLS player in the league's Fantasy Manager game.
Sign-up for Quincy's League using code: 17933-3213
(Photo courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps)
When asked about finalizing his roster before the start of the 2014 season Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop said on a conference call last week that he and his staff were "looking at other possibilities with other teams about maybe trading. We’re forever on the lookout.”
The options have become clearer as Yallop and his staff have pulled the trigger on two trades in three days.
Neither player is brought in with a view of starting but it seems likely Yallop and his staff will look to both to provide depth. Cochrane played 12 matches for LA during his rookie season in 2013, filling in mostly for veteran Todd Dunivant.
Watson, who's known for a high work ethic and steady, consistent performances, played a more regular role with the Whitecaps over the past two seasons, appearing in 21 matches in 2013.
The acquisitions mean that the team roster sits at 29 players four days out from the season opener vs. Chivas USA. While MLS rosters can accomodate 30 players, Yallop has said he expects to start the season with 28, likely using the open two spots to earn allocation money from the league to help with the team's tight salary situation.
With the team admitting they're working towards a loan deal with Tottenham Hotspur's Grant Ward, it seems likely more moves could be imminent.
Select shots from Friday morning's training session in Tucson, Arizona:
Chicago Fire assistant coach Clint Mathis had a number of classy goals during his playing career. While he'll tell you his most memorable was the one he scored vs. South Korea at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the goal of his that will forever stick in my mind is this one he scored four games into his stay with Hannover 96 in 2004.
Towards the end of training today, Clint drafted Head Coach Frank Yallop, Goalkeeping Coach Aron Hyde and Sean Johnson into service to cross him balls for this clinic. While he didn't hit the target on every attempt, we have to give it up to Fire Equipment Manager Allan Araujo for helping Clint with one trick shot...
We've seen Fire legend Hristo Stoitchkov around Chicago a couple times the past two seasons so we may have a better idea than most on with what he's been up to.
Still, this "Whatever Happened To..." feature from MLSsoccer.com's Simon Borg has a fantastic number of quotes from the former European Player of the Year regarding his time in Chicago, controversey surrounding his career and his decision to retire.
Our favorite: "I put Chicago on the same level as Barcelona, the Bulgarian national team and CSKA Sofia. The same level. I came here at 32, 33 years old, but I enjoyed it like I was an 18-year-old."
Read the full feature here.
Heading to Arizona to catch the Fire play FC Tucson this weekend? Following the match (set for 1:00pm Mountain Time), the club is hosting a Happy Hour for Fire supporters in the hotel bar at the Desert Diamond Casino (7350 S. Nogales Hwy; Tucson) from 5:30-7:30pm MT.
All Fire fans in and around Tucson are welcome to attend!
As someone that's taken in Section 8 Chicago trips to Montreal, Toronto, Kansas City, Columbus, Philadelphia, New York and in a month, Portland, I've come to appreciate the character and drive that is inherent in a traveling supporter's blood as they lend their voice to help the Fire on the road.
And while it's amazing to see so many take air trips, bus rides or insanely long travels in a stuffy van for a regular season match, I've also come to appreciate some of the faces I see every year in preseason.
For "The West Wing" aficionados out there, it reminds me of Bradley Whitford's character Josh Lyman trying to get to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for a New York Mets intrasquad game during Season 2's "Stackhouse Filibuster" just so catcher Mike Piazza could say, "Dude" to him.
At this point, if you're not understanding the Sorkinese I'm throwing at you, please meet Ray Cook, the Chicago Fire's very own version of Josh Lyman (more in the sports fan sense).
Ray traveled to Tucson via Amtrak from Chicago and even beat the team here (arriving Friday). I've seen Ray each of the last four preseasons (usually in Charleston, S.C.) but as he says, his tradition of making it out prior to the start of every campaign dates back to 2000 and has taken him to such places as Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jackson, Miss., New Orleans and Guadalajara, Mexico.
This is why he does it...
You'd have to say with all the snow in Chicago last night (and this winter), he's looking pretty smart.