It was a cold and windy training session on Friday at Toyota Park. After the team went through their final preparations for Saturday's match vs. Philadelphia, they hurried in to join the Fire Front Office staff in wishing head coach Frank Yallop a very happy 50th birthday...
Frank was much obliged by the gesture...
Want to thank all the fire front office and staff for a fantastic birthday surprise #cf97
— Frank Yallop (@FrankYallop) April 4, 2014
After picking up a point on the road in D.C. last week, the Fire are back at Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon to face the Philadelphia Union (3:30pm CT My50/TWCSC) looking for the club’s first win of the season and to extend their unbeaten streak to four games.
Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective…
A change on the wing? Going with a veteran over youth
In last week’s match in D.C., youngster Benji Joya again started on the wing for the Fire but again failed to last the full 90 minutes in his third start in a row. Defensively, Joya left his outside back Greg Cochrane exposed on more than one occasion in the first half before Frank Yallop switched Joya to the right wing.
In the attack, Joya also found it difficult to get into the game before he was substituted in place of Patrick Nyarko. The Ghanaian had an immediate impact; setting up Qunicy Amarikwa for the equalizer after a brilliant nutmeg.
Saturday seems like a perfect game for Nyarko to get his second start in 2014 for a number of reasons. First, his speed in the attack will cause Union left back Fabinho trouble. In the Union’s last two matches, the Brazilian’s lack of pace has been a weak spot.
Nyarko also provides ample cover defensively, something the Fire will need against a Philly team who's tactics emphasize getting as many players forward as possible when they attack.
Bringing the strikers closer together - pushing Magee closer to the goal
In D.C., Mike Magee cut a frustrated figure, trying his best to get into the game but with not a lot of chances to influence it. Magee started in a deeper role behind Quincy Amarikwa and both players were unable to link up on many occasions throughout the match, but not for lack of trying.
Against Philly, I expect Magee to be a lot closer to his striker partner with the Fire playing more of a 4-1-3-2 role instead of a 4-1-4-1. Moving Magee further forward allows Alex to further influence the game from midfield, something he wasn't able to do in D.C.
At this point in the season, coach Yallop favors the Magee/Amarikwa partnership in the attack and in a home game, I expect a formation that fosters as much interplay between the pair as possible.
Stifling the Union attack - limiting opportunities for
In last week’s match away to Montreal, striker
Jack McInerney caused major problems when he was able to get on the end of through balls from the Philly midfield.
In the attack, players like Le Toux and creative mid Vincent Nogueira are always looking to play
McInerney in behind while U.S. international Maurice Edu can also do the same from his deeper midfield role.
While much of the focus will be on
McInerney, Brazilian Leonardo Fernandez has impressed coming off the bench in Philly's last two matches, scoring in one, and it would be no surprise to see him on the pitch from the start on Saturday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jack McInerney was traded to the Montreal Impact in exchange for Andrew Wenger Friday morning, hence his name being struck through. It is not known at time of edit if Wenger will join the Union in Chicago for Saturday's match.
Prediction: The Fire will finally get a first win of the season - 2-1 with goals from Quincy Amarikwa and Harry Shipp.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
From Brandon Marshall to Ron Harper, and Ozzie Guillen to Richard Dent, the new Harry Caray’s Chicago Sports Museum and Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch at Water Tower Place was packed with familiar faces of Chicago sports’ past and present on Tuesday night. You can add Chicago Fire’s Mike Magee to that mix, as well.
Joined by teammates Quincy Amarikwa and Gonzalo Segares at the museum’s VIP grand opening, the 2013 MLS MVP checked out various displays of Chicago sports memorabilia, among which was his own game-worn Fire jersey sitting in a glass case next to other jerseys worn by fellow Chicago professional athletes.
Magee’s jersey wasn’t the only Fire representation in the museum; Brian McBride’s game-worn Fire jersey also sits among an elite group of Chicago sports gear, including Derrick Rose’s Simeon High School jersey.
After exploring and engaging in several interactive sports displays, Magee, Amarikwa and Segares enjoyed an evening of Chicago sports camaraderie, chatting and mingling with a few fellow professional athletes and celebrities from area (such as James Denton and Billy Zane).
Magee even managed to reel in new Fire fans, including Brandon Marshall and Jarrett Payton as well as catching up with Fire fan Ozzie Guillen, who expressed interest in checking out Chicago’s most recent MVP in action soon.
Outside a bar at halftime, one team was up a man and four goals. The crowd outside was split, not between teams but between ideals. Who would go back to watch the second half? It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the beginning of spring and a few of us wanted to go sit in a park. The game was all but over. But for some reason, everybody followed one guy back in, back to their seats at the bar. “It’s part of the contract,” he said. “It’s what we do.”
What contract? It’s the contract we sign as fans. The contract to watch and be a part of the sport in America. But what responsibility do we have to the game? What do we owe it? Are we ever allowed our Saturday afternoons?
My annual fan contracts have evolved over the years with regards to the Fire and the sport of soccer in general. Whereas I used to sign up for the atmosphere, or the results themselves, now I sign for the athletics, the ideas, and the story of the competition. Sometimes, I even take my Saturday afternoons soccer-free.
I don’t have to sing or cry anymore. I salute those fans, those who sign the emotional fan contract. They’re stronger than I. They’re the ones singing at Toyota Park against Red Bulls in the cold. They’re the ones proving the word fan comes from fanatic. They’re the ones spending hours upon hours on tifo or travelling all over the country, dealing with airports and buses and Kansas City. Those fans carry the club. They’re as much a part of the team as the players.
- TIFO TIMELAPSE: The work put in to create home opener tifo
But then, I’m not one of them. I’m a different kind of fan. I’m a supporter, in the true sense of that word. I want the team to do well and I want to support it towards its goals. My contract with the team is to be a part of that progression.
Nowadays, that supporter contracts costs me two things: my money and my time. I pay to watch the games and I give my time to watch and read about my team.
But as a supporter, I can’t stand the occasional debates about who the “real” fans are. They’re tiresome. The truth is that it’s simply difficult in MLS to figure out the “right” way to support your team. Young, and comprised of mostly young organizations, it’s a unique league in the world of soccer. Doesn’t it come with a different kind of contract for us to sign now as fans, supporters, consumers, and participants?
In MLS, there is for us American soccer fans the first chance in a generation to support our local team. Our team in our city. Our contract with the league and our team in the league is about something bigger. It’s about the idea of growing something that is ours.
Our participation, now, is the basis of American soccer.
It’s in that umbrella of growth, that fungal tarpaulin, under which we all stand together. Hipster craft beer MLS fans, soccer moms, whatever. We all struggle with our responsibility, caught between fandom and supporterdom, between Saturday afternoons and the bar - but that’s ok. That’s part of the uniqueness of our American soccer contract. We get to carve out our own relationships with the team and the league. Like a cartoon rumble, we define it as it defines us, and we roll together down the hill.
Some of us will go to the stadium once a year for the tailgate while others go every week out of unshakeable loyalty to the badge; some of us will go to see a new tactical development while others want to see a guy they played against in high school - the point is that we’re all there. Supporters and fans, side by side.
In the end all the arguments about MLS fans are pointless because there is only one way to watch the game. It’s the way that makes you want to watch, follow, and maybe buy a shirt or a ticket. That’s the way we build this thing - so go and find your way.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
On how he felt entering the match
“Confident, you know, we have not lost in two matches and I always look at the positive if I can, and you know we haven’t lost in three, that’s the way I look at it. We haven’t won a game yet this season but again, it’s not easy to win games, especially away from home in this league so we are looking forward to playing at home next weekend and hopefully we can get that in.”
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
On the team’s defensive effort:
“I thought it was good, to be fair. I thought it was just a bit unfortunate. The second goal there was a bit of pinball action around. They got good forcing and I thought we had some similar situations where we had the ball in their box and things didn’t really fall our way, but that’s just the way it goes, that’s soccer for you. I think we’ve done well and at the end of the day we’ve got to look at it. We got a point. We came in and I think we deserved three. We played well enough to get three, but it is just up to us to really push over that hump and turn the ties into wins.”
On the tough field conditions:
“It’s alright, I mean it’s part of the game. We train in Chicago – it’s been snowy, it’s been rainy, it’s been cold, so the conditions we are used to. You know, so it’s nothing we don’t see on a regular basis. The conditions were tough, but at the end of the day, we are professionals, it’s what we signed up for and we deal with it.”
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire Forward
On having three consecutive draws
“It’s the third straight game we got points, I mean that’s how you got to look at it. Not dropping points, especially on the road, is huge in this league. If you look at teams that make the playoffs on a regular basis, they don’t lose, they at least get a draw or a win and you know that’s how it goes. And if we can come away with points every single time on the road, I will take them.”
On the difficult conditions
“You know, whenever it is raining like that it can get a little slick and hard to control the ball at times. You saw that last play; Pat played a good ball in behind that took a touch, on a regular field that holds up, for me today, it skips away. Just the elements you’ve got to deal with, and hopefully it starts clearing up everywhere across the league because everywhere we’ve been, the elements haven’t been too kind to us.”
Select shots from the Fire's 2-2 draw with D.C. United presented by MiAllstate.
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After picking up a point in the home opener against Supporter’s Shield winners New York last week, the Fire head to D.C. looking to steal all three points for the first time this season (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
D.C. are in transition and are also in search of their first win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Continuing to attack with pace - utilizing Alex
Against New York last week, the Fire looked very dangerous on the counter attack when Alex was given space to run at the Red Bulls defense. Not only was the Brazilian able to beat players 1v1 but he drew defenders out of position, opening up space for players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa to move into.
In D.C.'s last match away in Toronto, Ben Olsen's team was also incapable of defending against the quick counter attack. Michael Bradley and Co. found it much too easy to bypass the lone United defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who received little help from his fellow midfielders.
I expect D.C. to deploy another central midfielder to help out Kitchen against the Fire, but if the Men in Red can continue to break with that much pace and the interplay between Alex, Magee and Amarikwa continues to improve, the Fire should fare well on Saturday.
More attacking play from wide - taking advantage of D.C. team not fully settled
Against New York last weekend the Fire were forced into making changes at both outside back positions due to injury and suspension respectively.
Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane have had barely any time to work with their new teammates since their recent moves and it showed at times in last week’s game. Against D.C., where there is a good chance both will start again, I look for an improvement in the attacking play from both players.
It will also be interesting to see how Watson/Shipp and Cochrane/Joya combine down each flank after another week’s worth of training together. While there is certainly a weakness in the D.C. midfield, a balance between attacking down the middle and from the wings is necessary.
With so many new players on the field for D.C., positioning, especially defensive positioning, is a major problem. This was quite obvious in the Toronto match, with D.C. players often gesturing to one another in an attempt to determine who to mark.
If the Fire can get Watson and Cochrane forward to support the attack, it will pin D.C. back and could benefit the away team.
Keeping Eddie Johnson isolated and limiting set pieces - making it harder for D.C. to find the net
D.C.'s most notable offseason acquisition was striker Eddie Johnson, who on his day is one of the league’s best strikers. In his first two games however, Johnson was an isolated figure up front, managing only 1.5 shots according to the website Who Scored.
The Fire’s defense did a fine job shutting down Thierry Henry last week and will be looking to do the same against Johnson and perhaps register a first shutout of the season. D.C. have yet to score this year but are a major threat from set pieces with players like Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola looking to get on the end of quality deliveries from Luis Silva.
D.C. got men in the box at any opportunity against both Toronto and Columbus and I expect it to be no different on Saturday. After giving up yet another goal from a set piece last week, the Fire coaching staff will no doubt be encouraging the players to keep their concentration, especially against a team desperate to pick up its first points and goal of the season.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Alex and Quincy Amarikwa.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: Sean Johnson, Matt Watson preview D.C. United