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22 August 6:35 am

The Fire head to DC (live coverage at 6pm CT on CSNChicago) on the back of three straight victories after a tough 2-1 win at home against New England on Saturday. DC are entering the game after a fiery match against Philadelphia the following day where controversy and red cards reigned. Both United and the Fire are calling this a "six pointer" and DC will be looking for revenge after last year’s incredible "Capital Comeback" at RFK Stadium. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective. 

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The Return of Pappa: Who Starts on the Left?

Marco Pappa came off the bench for the last 13 minutes (plus another questionable five minutes off stoppage time) against New England after playing longer than Frank Klopas had liked for Guatemala in a midweek friendly. Pappa's return means it’s likely that Patrick Nyarko will begin the game against DC on the bench.

WATCH: Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United Preview

Having set up Chris Rolfe’s 5th minute penalty call and assisted on Sherjill MacDonald’s eventual game-winner, Nyarko had a very productive 75 minutes before being subbed out after picking up a slight back injury.

Both players are playing well at the moment but Nyarko's slight knock combined with a well-rested Pappa makes it more likely the Guatemalan will start. Nyarko has excelled in his recent role coming off the bench and could make a big impact if called upon.

DC Defenders: Bare Bones at the Back

With a combination of injuries (Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard) and suspensions (Emiliano Dudar), DC United are very thin at the back.

One position in particular which is a problem area for Ben Olsen is right-back. Dejan Jakovic played most of the Philadelphia game there and looked very shaky at times before being subbed out. Olsen stated that the sub was because Jakovic needed a breather in order to be ready for Wednesday's match but it is likely that he will play in the middle with Chris Korb moving to the right.

Olsen has also floated the idea of playing Andy Najar in this position but that seems unlikely Wednesday night. Pappa or Nyarko on the left, combined with Gonazlo Segares getting forward in support, has the potential to exploit this DC weakness.

Outside Backs: Beware of Runs in Behind

Though Sega and Anibaba have done a fantastic job getting forward to support in the attack, they must also beware of being caught high up the field. This happened on more that one occasion against New England last week and could cause problems Wednesday.

Fire coach Frank Klopas noted that in the New England match the team had a lot of turnovers and were sloppy at times with their passes and with Jalil and Gonzalo's eagerness to get forward, a bad pass resulting in a turnover can leave the team exposed.

Rolfe vs Kitchen: Holding Mid vs Creative Play-maker

The battle I am most looking forward to tonight is Fire PDL alum Chris Rolfe vs. a much more recent Fire PDL alum Perry Kitchen. Kitchen plays in the holding midfield role for United, sitting just in front of the back four, a position that Rolfe loves to operate in. Against New England, Rolfe was everywhere and his combination play was superb.

After seeing the performance against the Revs, it wouldn't surprise me if DC coach Ben Olsen had Kitchen man-mark Rolfe in an attempt to stop him from creating. What made Rolfe so dangerous was his movement, not only dropping behind MacDonald, but also looking to get in behind the defense. If Rolfe can create space for himself like he did on Saturday night, it could help to unlock the DC defense.

Prediction: 1-1 with Sherjill MacDonald tallying his second goal in a Fire shirt

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

21 August 3:32 pm

In this edition we sat down with midfielder Michael Videira. A Milford, Mass. native, Michael was a three-time MAC Hermann trophy semifinalist and helped the Duke Blue Devils reach the College Cup in his freshman year. Michael took the time to dispel the rumor that he is an expert sailor and answer our Burning Questions about the difference between Bostonians and Chicagoans, his favorite movies and what bugs him the most.

AOTI: Your bio lists one of your interests as boating. What is your favorite type of boating and what’s the best part about being on the water?

MV: Where did that come from? I guess sailing. I’ve only gone a couple of times. During pre-season Kwame [Watson-Siriboe] said that I was interested in boating because I had just gotten back from a trip to the British Virgin Islands. It must’ve been Kwame. I lived on a boat for like 10 days so I learned how to sail. I like boating; everyone likes going on a boat. I still get seasickness, which is really unfortunate for liking to go on boats all the time. 

AOTI: What are your top three favorite movies?

MV:  It varies every week. I usually like comedies anyways, so it's usually just the next comedy that's coming out. I'm really excited to see "The Campaign." I haven’t seen that one yet. I'm also a fan of dry humor, I like some Wes Anderson films. I've yet to see "Moonrise Kingdom," but I heard it's pretty good, which is something else I'd like to see. Those'll probably be my two favorites as soon as I see them. 

I like Wes Anderson films; I think they're hilarious, and I think Bill Murray is one of the funniest actors or comedians there are. "Caddyshack" won me over; it's up there for sure.

AOTI: You were drafted by the New England Revolution in 2008 but elected to go abroad and play for Hamilton Academical of the Scottish Premier League. What was the most unexpected thing about living in Scotland?

MV: I know people complain about the weather in the UK in general but it was ridiculous. It started raining in August and pretty much didn't stop until spring. It was cold and rainy everyday but it was expected. People say London has bad weather but they have no idea until they go up to Glasgow. At the same time, people make the best of it. To be honest, they have such great attitudes, everyone there is nice and friendly. Which is nice; I guess you have to make up for it one way or another. And they usually drink a lot more probably because of it. 

AOTI: You hail from Milford, Mass. What's the biggest difference between Bostonians and Chicagoans?

MV: I guess Chicagoans, when they first meet a complete stranger, they’re still polite and nice to you where as in Boston, people kind of mind their own. So even here, if you’re meeting a group of friends out patio somewhere, they’re all really friendly where as Boston people keep to themselves. And of course the East Coast stigma is that everyone is pretty mean out there supposedly. I actually have to agree with that now that I moved to Chicago. I’ve noticed that when I go home people aren’t as nice; aren’t as friendly.

AOTI:  What's your biggest pet peeve?

MV: I have a couple. I don’t like leaving lights on. That’s a big one. I don’t like when people leave the lights on. And I don't like pink sporting hats. A pink Red Sox hat is my biggest pet peeve of all time. Just different colored sporting hats for a certain team; I just think they should just be the colors represented. 

AOTI: Three things you'd need on a deserted island?

MV: I would bring my iPod with probably a lot of Motown and country music. I'd definitely have to bring some sort of soccer ball or basketball, but if I'm by myself, I'd need one with a paddle or one that you could flip it into the cup, something to entertain myself. And probably just a catalog of movies. I'd just bring "Castaway" and base my life off of what Tom Hanks did in that movie. He made it out. 

Check out previous "Burning Questions" segments below...

Burning Questions with Jay  Nolly
Burning Questions with Hunter Jumper

 

21 August 12:02 pm

The long-standing rumors of Fire midfielder Marco Pappa’s move across the pond finally came true last Monday as the Fire and Dutch club SC Heerenveen jointly announced the Guatemalan international would move to the Netherlands effective January 1, 2013.

While Pappa has been a key part of the team the last four seasons, his desire to go to Europe at the end of his MLS contract was pretty well known. The Fire did right by Pappa and according to the interview to the right, the midfielder is looking to do right by the club that gave him the shop-window opportunity.

WATCH: Pappa Talks Fire Focus

“I still have a contract with the Fire,” said Pappa. “We talked about this situation. I’m going to keep doing my best like I always do and I’m happy for the opportunity but right now it would be good to get a championship [here] before going to Europe.”

While a player signing a contract with another club before the one he’s with is finished seems a little odd, it’s common practice throughout the world and is becoming more regular in MLS. For instance it was just three years ago that Fire forward Chris Rolfe signed a pre-contract with Aalborg BK in the Danish SuperLiga.

The best thing about Rolfe’s situation was that the Fire played the MLS rules well, giving the forward a “qualifying offer”, that is an offer deemed credible for his market value, before he signed with Aalborg. By doing that, the club retained his MLS rights, paving the way for his smooth return earlier this April.

Though defender Gonzalo Segares didn’t sign a pre-contract with Cypriot club Apollon Limassol during 2009, his situation is similar to that of Rolfe’s. The Costa Rican international played the first six months of 2010 in Cyprus before returning to the Fire that August, a move again made easier by the qualifying offer.

When Wilman Conde made his desire known to return to MLS from Mexican side Atlas earlier this year, the Fire cashed on the qualifying offer made to the Colombian defender at the end of 2010, earning a nice chunk of allocation money in January’s trade that sent him to New York.

Aside from doing right by a player that has performed for the club, the best part of Pappa’s move to Holland is that like in the differing case of Rolfe, Segares and Conde, the Fire have kept future options open with the player.

Most will agree that Marco has all the tools to be successful in Holland but unforeseen things can happen and though no transfer fee is being wired from The Netherlands to Chicago, it’s a sign the Fire have done some good business.

With 10 regular season matches plus a potential playoff run, Pappa still has plenty to prove before heading to Holland. 

20 August 1:16 pm

There was a point Sunday afternoon in which things were looking pretty good for the Fire’s positioning in the East. DC United had just suffered a somewhat controversial 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia while due north Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe had put the West’s bottom team Portland up 2-0 at New York.

Of course Kenny Cooper and Tim Cahill had pulled the home side back level before halftime, the Timbers flubbed two breakaway chances and Heath Pearce headed home the winner in the 83rd minute to push New York back into sole possession of second place in the East.

Later on Sunday night, Columbus used goals from Cole Grossman and Eddie Gaven to erase a 1-0 deficit but had to settle for a 2-2 draw when Andy Gruenebaum muffed Adam Moffat’s 82nd minute equalizer.

WATCH: Red Bull 3, Timbers 2

The result meant that the Top 5 in the Eastern Conference closed the weekend the same way they entered it, effectively pushing the Fire back down to fourth place (losing the goals scored tie breaker to Houston).

All this is by way of saying its going to be a scrap or as Brendan Hannan put it this morning, a “real dog fight” the rest of the way in the Eastern Conference. With 10 matches remaining and five of them against the other four in the Top Five, the Fire control their playoff destiny and seeding perhaps just as much as anyone in the East.

"[Playoff qualification] is in our hands," head coach Frank Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. "They’re all obviously difficult matches because most of the games we play are going to be against teams that are going to be right there until the end. Its exciting but I think we feel good about having those games at home and having the opportunity to control our own destiny." 

While Montreal and Columbus still have a shot at the postseason, popular opinion has the top five now remaining the top five come October 28 making a “mini-league” of sorts the rest of the way for the Fire, Sporting KC, Red Bull, the Dynamo and United.

See below the “mini-league” grid of remaining matches between the East’s top 5 teams.

  SKC NYRB HOU CHI DCU
SKC x vs. 8/26
@ 9/19
@ 10/20
vs. 9/14 vs. 9/28 -
NYRB @ 8/26
vs. 9/19
vs. 10/20
x - vs. 10/6 @ 8/29
HOU @ 9/14 - x @ 9/2  -
CHI @ 9/28 @ 10/6 vs. 9/2 x @ 8/22
vs. 10/27
DCU - vs. 8/29 - vs. 8/22
@ 10/27
x

When looking at the chart, two things undoubtedly stick out...

1) No that's not a mistake, the East's top two teams Sporting KC and New York, will play eachother three more times through the end of the season. Depending on how their other matches go (something that will continue to be a common theme), the Conference's top seeds could well be decided in those three games.

2)  The Fire are the only team in the Top 5 that will play everyone around them and have two games against D.C., meaning the team seems to have the best shot of controlling it's own destiny in the tight playoff race. With 15 points available in these matches, if the Men in Red can take anywhere around 11 or 12, they could be in very good shape for a top two finish.

Either way, the Fire manager reiterated the game of most importance is the one upcoming.

"It’s up to us," continued Klopas. "We don’t have to rely on other teams like we did last year but the most important thing is to not look too far down the road and so our next game against D.C. is what we have to hone in on right now."  

16 August 2:10 pm

We pride ourselves as pretty snappy dressers here at Always on the Inside. With the Second Annual White Party just one week away, we thought it would be a good time for the Always on the Inside fashonistas to give the world the dos and don’ts on what to wear to the White Party.

DO: Rachel Bilson looks happy as a clam in a breezy white sundress (shopping bag full of groceries optional, but the event is for charity, we’d find something to do with it):

 

DO: Looking for something a little sassier? Check out the Belted Open Back Romper from AKIRA:

 

DO: Don’t worry gents, even you can look great clad in all white. This male model looks hot, even while rocking a fanny pack and croakies:

 

Just remember that while it’s a great idea to add color through your accessories, even Lindsay Lohan knows that a dress splashed (okay, it’s a multi-colored dream coat) with multiple colors is not the way to go for the White Party. Definitely a don’t.

 

As an added bonus, if you purchase a ticket to the White Party, you can print out your confirmation email and receive 20% off all full-priced items at any AKIRA Women’s, Men’s or Footwear boutique.

This is definitely a party you don’t want to miss out on so make sure to buy your ticket and join us on Thursday, Aug. 23 from 7:30 – 11:30 p.m. CT at the MCA Warehouse (1747 W. Hubbard). Get to know the Fire and the Chicago Fire Foundation off the pitch while enjoying a premium open bar, live DJ, hors d’oeuvres and a gift bag (who doesn’t love a goody bag?!), so dress in some stylish white attire and come party with us!

 

 

16 August 9:24 am

A quick round up of how Fire first teamers Marco Pappa, Orr Barouch, Sean Johnson and U18 Youth Academy product Reid Strain fared for their countries in Wednesday's FIFA international date...

Guatemala 3, Paraguay 3 - RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa received the call up for los Chapines’ friendly against Paraguay. Pappa played for 77 minutes in the 3-3 draw, scoring a penalty that Carlos Ruiz drew. Pappa later set up Manuel Leon for Guatemala’s second goal on the night. Guatemala gave up the two goal lead, conceding three goals to Paraguay before former MLS star Carlos Ruiz tied the match from the penalty spot.

Israel U-21 2,  Russia U-21 2 at Arena Khimki in Khimki, Russia

Making his fifth appearance for the Israeli U-21's, Orr Barouch logged 84 minutes and would tally his second international goal for the visitors in the 36th minute. Barouch’s shot, struck with his left foot from outside the box, hit the left post before going in the back of the net. Russia struck back, tying the game in the 56th. Israel took the lead again in the 71st when Mohamed Kalebat scored. Russia would not be outdone, and tied the match six minutes later in the 77th. See highlights of the match below...

USA 1, Mexico 0 - Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was called up by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the United States Men’s National Team’s friendly match against Mexico Wednesday night. Johnson didn’t see any time in the match, but was able to be a part of the history that was made when the US defeated Mexico at the Azteca for the first time in the 75 year history between the two sides. 

Spain 2, Puerto Rico 1 - Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Chicago Fire U18 Youth Academy product Reid Strain was an unused substitute in Puerto Rico’s 2-1 loss to Spain. The result was considered positive for the Puerto Rican side and was a valuable experience for Strain.

WATCH: Barouch Scores in Israel U-21's 2-2 Draw at Russia

14 August 3:28 pm

While Fire first teamers Sean Johnson, Marco Pappa and Orr Barouch all take to the field for their national sides Wednesday, another player in the club will be part of an international friendly as well.

Meet Reid Strain. A member of the 2012 Chicago Fire U18 Youth Academy side that went 26-1-1 en route to the 2012 U.S. Club Soccer National Championship, the Barrington, Ill. product has joined the Puerto Rican national team for Wednesday’s friendly against Spain in Bayamon.

Eligible for Puerto Rico through his mother, Strain missed the U18 Youth Academy’s run at last month’s U.S. Club Soccer National championships after being called up for the territory’s U-20 CONCACAF World Championship qualifying matches.

“He was very reluctant to play for the U-20 Puerto Rican national team when he got the call up last month,” said Chicago Fire U18 Youth Academy head coach Paul Cadwell. “He didn’t want to miss the national championships with his Fire team so it took some talking to him from his parents and from myself to encourage him to not miss such an opportunity.”

In those games, the forward tallied two goals, both game winners, in 2-0 victories over Barbados and Bermuda. A 0-0 draw in the group finale vs. Haiti pushed Puerto Rico to a second-place finish on goal difference but advanced the side to the final round of CONCACAF’s Caribbean U-20 Finals – the first time a Puerto Rican team has made it out of its qualifying group in and youth tournament.

The finals will be played November 3-11 in Jamaica and with his role in the previous matches as well as being the only uncapped player called up for Wednesday’s friendly vs. Spain, it’s a good bet Strain will play a part.

Why haven’t we heard more of Strain until now?

“Unfortunately, Reid has been plagued by an ankle injury the last 18 months,” said U18 Youth Academy Head Coach Paul Cadwell. It’s one of the reasons he didn’t make our Fall [U.S. Soccer Development] Academy team. We didn’t get the ability to get a good look at him but he’s a great youth player for us this season. He has shown the ability to score a variety of goals.”

I’m very proud of Reid at having the opportunity to play against the world’s number one team is a dream. Whether he sees the field or not, just the fact that he is going be listed in a squad that plays the current world and European champions is something that he will never forget.”

14 August 2:00 pm

Have you ever wondered what your favorite Fire players are like off the pitch? Well, we aim to please here at Always on the Inside. Each week we are going to sit down with a different player to get answers to those pesky Burning Questions.
 
In this edition we sat down with the easygoing Jay Nolly. A Littleton, Colo. native with a great head of hair, Jay had an incredible four-year goalkeeping career with the storied Indiana University soccer program, where he led the Hoosiers to back-to-back NCAA Division I National Championships in 2003 and 2004. Jay took some time to answer our Burning Questions about playing for legendary coach Jerry Yeagley, his love for the outdoors and why “Superman” just might be an appropriate nickname for the laid-back ‘keeper.

 
Always on the Inside: You’ve been living in Chicago for almost a year now. How are you liking it? Do you have a spot that you frequent enough to have a standing order?
 

Jay Nolly: My spot is actually Starbucks in the morning. There’s a little shop next to where I live. Me and my wife know all the girls that work there; we talk to them all the time. I usually have a 35 minute drive with traffic in the morning, so it’s nice to have a cup of coffee on the way. They see me walk in the door and they have it ready. I’m simple; I just get a tall, mild coffee with cream. The just know. They’re like, “Same thing? Tall?” And I’ll just say, “Yup.”
 
There’s a another place we go to once in a while; it’s called DMK, the burger bar. Whenever we go there I’ll have an Allagash White, so they’ll just ask, “Another Allagash?”
 
AOTI: You’re one of the few guys on the team that does not reside in the city. What’s the best part about living out in the ‘burbs?
 
JN: It’s easier for me and my wife. We both grew up in the suburbs. Neither of us have ever really lived in a big city; even in Vancouver we lived in the suburbs. You know, just having grocery stores and restaurants around, there’s less traffic, better parking, it was just less stress for us. We’re pretty easy going people.
 
AOTI: Do you have any pets?
 
JN: We have a dog, a Yorkshire Terrier named Hercules.
 
AOTI: You have been described as an avid fly fisherman. Have you found any good fishing holes in Illinois?
 
JN: I’ve been fishing a little bit; it’s back to my Midwest roots which is Bass fishing. I was on the IU Bass Fishing Team. I’ve gotten to Bass fish a little bit more. I’ve set up some things to meet friends once the salmon start running in the river to go fly fishing in Michigan City or down lower.  
 
AOTI: Best fishing movie?
JN: It’s got to be “A River Runs Through It.” Great actors, great place.
 
AOTI: Do you like other outdoor sports or activities in addition to fishing?

JN: Pretty much everything outdoors, I love. When I was younger we did a lot of camping, white water rafting, canoeing. I have my own one-man pontoon boat that me and a couple buddies have taken fly fishing out on the river. But I pretty much just love the outdoors. I grew up with two older brothers and we were pretty much in the mountains all the time.
 
AOTI: What was it like winning back-to-back national championships with Indiana University?
 
JN: It’s unreal. That’s just one of those things, you’re playing for a school, you’re in college. I was younger but the history that the school has to keep that tradition going, especially cause it was Jerry Yeagley’s last year and then it was Mike Freitag’s first year my last two year. It was sending Coach Yeagley out on a great note because he’s probably the iconic figure for college soccer. It’s something that I feel is so fresh even though it was eight, nine years ago.
 
AOTI: What was it like to play for Jerry Yeagley?
 
JN: It’s unreal. He respects every player and all he really asks of you is to give an honest effort. He doesn’t like people to cut corners. I think that’s why the school has done so well over the years is that they just get honest players that work hard.
 
I’d play for Yeagley over and over again. It’s just the person that he is; he still calls his players. I got a call from him last week and I’ve been out of college for nine years. He still reaches out to players; that level of respect that he has for people that he’s coached is just unreal.
 
AOTI: There are currently five people in the front office who also went to IU, so we have a few Hoosier-themed questions for you. First off, which pizza place do you prefer: Mother Bear’s, Mad Mushroom or Avers?

JN: Can I say Pizza Express? The Big Ten. It was a large pizza, ten breadsticks and two Cokes; that was the go to. It was $10 or $11. That was the best when you got cheese and ranch dipping sauces. That was the go to for us, we only did Pizza Express.
 
The soccer team was kind of sponsored by it but the cups were the best cups to have; they had IU Soccer on them. If you put ice and anything in them, they were just the best cups. We had like 35 of them at our house. I don’t know what it was about the cups, it was just one of those things.
 
AOTI: Best Bloomington bar: Killroy’s-Sports or Nick’s?
 
JN: That one’s tough because I knew some of the guys that worked at Nick’s and I have a jersey that’s hanging up in Nick’s. That’s the classic place. For happy hour and a college lifestyle it was Killroy’s. But now if I were to go back, it’d be Nick’s for sure.
 
AOTI: Favorite Indiana movie: “Hoosiers” or “Breaking Away”?
 
JN: “Breaking Away.” One, because I’ve jumped off those same quarries that they went to. And Little 500 is just awesome. “Hoosiers” is such a classic but I would say “Breaking Away.”
 
AOTI: Switching gears now, while you were in Vancouver you saved a young pitch invader. First, how does it feel to be a hero and second, how often do you deter pitch invaders?
 
JN: I’ve had people run across the field before but that was the first time that someone was actually close. It was just a little kid and he was running out and laughing. I think he got away from his brother or something, and just started running onto the field. Luckily the ball was on the other half. The only thing I thought about was to get him off real quick, so I picked him up and turned around but no one was there to hand him to, so I had to run over to the side. Luckily the ball never came down to our end but they kept on playing; nobody stopped the game. So it feels good to feel like a hero, to save a life.
 
AOTI: Who would you consider your celebrity doppelganger? We want to get your thoughts first because we have someone in mind.
 
JN: When I was younger, people thought I looked like Heath Ledger from “10 Things I Hate About You” because of my nose and smile or something.
 
AOTI: We think Dean Cain.
 
JN: I’ve heard that. And also the other guy that played Superman later. Brandon Roth. In Vancouver the weight trainers called me Superman; they said I looked like him but only when he was Superman. I don’t know, usually when I show up to training I have my hair done and I look presentable, so they would just always call me Superman, cause that’s just what I look like, I guess.

Follow "Superman" on twitter: @jaynolly

10 August 2:47 pm

 

Former Fire forward Brian McBride is stepping back out of retirement tomorrow as he lines up for ninth-tier English side Wembley FC in the aptly named “Extra Preliminary Round” of the 2012/13 F.A. Cup.

In a move sponsored by Budweiser, the legendary American striker who played for Fulham, Everton and Preston North End will lineup with the likes of fellow former English Premier League stars Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Claudio Caniggia and Graeme Le Saux as Wembley opens up Cup play against Langford FC Saturday morning. Fans can watch the match LIVE on Facebook beginning at 6:45am CT

The game marks the second time McBride has “stepped out of retirement” to take to the field in England. Last year the former Fire forward lined up with fellow American Brad Friedel and the New York Cosmos to play in Paul Scholes Testimonial match at Old Trafford in Manchester last summer.

Check out the full read on Brian’s return to English football from Avi Creditor at Soccer By Ives

 

10 August 9:07 am

Last week, the Fire played a team with a newish coach and it’s the same with week when the Men in Red travel to Philadelphia to face a Union team headed by interim coach John Hackworth. Philly have had some ups and downs but are a very difficult team to beat on their day. Here are a few tactical things to look out for in Sunday night's game:

Freddy Adu: Jekyll and Hyde

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Philly

 

Freddy Adu has a long history of inconsistency. When he is on, he can be one of the best attacking players in MLS but far too often fans haven't seen the best of him. This season has also been a mixed one for Freddy but the past two games in particular, he has failed to show up. He did score a penalty in a 2-1 win over New England but in Montreal last week he was very isolated on the right wing.

Fullback Sheanon Williams failed to get forward to support Adu on the outside and this forced him to constantly play the ball into the middle when he would get it in a wide position. He even switched wings for a time but this didn't help. Under Hackworth, Philadelphia have become an attacking force but last week the wing play of Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp prevented their outside backs from getting forward.

The Fire should look to mimic that tactic, especially because it limits the support for young Fredua.

New Forward Taking On New Defender?

Last week, Fire Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald replaced Dominic Oduro at halftime and helped the team overturn a 1-0 deficit. MacDonald is getting back to match fitness and Sunday’s game could be a good opportunity for him to get his first start.

Oduro has struggled to find the net of late and his speed could be a game changer off the bench. If Philly are in need of a goal, Oduro is the perfect person to bring in because his “freaky fast” pace enhances the Fire's counter attacking ability ten-fold.

Whoever starts up top for the Fire Sunday could be facing a new center back paring for the Union, who may give a first start to former Fire player Bakary Soumare. The Mali international has been rehabbing a knee injury since returning to MLS from Germany side Karlsruher in June but he did play 90 minutes in a reserve game last week and could replace second-year defender Amobi Okugo at the heart of the Union defense.

New partnerships have the potential to be shaky and if Soumare does indeed start, I would look for the Fire to test out the new look back line as early and often as possible.

This, of course can also be achieved through set pieces. Philly have had a major problem this year in that department, giving up the most headed goals in the league. As we saw last week, the Fire and especially rookie-of-the-year candidate Austin Berry are a threat from corners and free kicks and this could be key to unlocking the Union.

Depth: If we need it, it’s there

With any team, having strong options off the bench is a massive bonus. It can help the coach to change his tactics but it also increases competition for the first team. After last month’s acquisitions, the Fire now have a bench that is not only stronger but has plenty of MLS experience.

Take last Saturday’s game for example: the Fire lineup card had names like Dan Gargan, Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Paladini, Alex and Sherjill MacDonald on the sub’s list. Soon enough we could be adding Cory Gibbs there.

The team's depth is going to be very important in the push to move as high up in the Conference standings as possible. If things aren't going well on Sunday, coach Klopas has tried and tested players that he can call on, something that could be the difference between one point and three.

Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Philadelphia Union 0 behind goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.

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