The Fire head west to Utah on Saturday night after dropping two games against the Union both at home and in Philadelphia. The team is without a goal in three games and face a daunting task against \ in-form Real Salt Lake (7:30pm CT on My50). RSL swept Chivas aside last weekend, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
The return of Soumare – more changes for the Fire back line?
On Thursday, the Fire acquired former player Bakary Soumare from the Union. Soumare will provide some much-needed depth at the center back position with the long-term future of Arne Friedrich in doubt.
Soumare’s return comes at a good time for the Fire who are without a number of players due to injury and suspension. With Wells Thompson suspended, Frank Klopas could choose to move Jalil Anibaba to the right side of defense and slot Soumare in alongside Austin Berry.
Athletico Coaching Corner: Real Salt Lake
The injury to Friedrich has meant a longer than expected spell in the middle for Anibaba and in his absence, the right-back position has changed hands on numerous occasions this season.
Though right-back isn’t Anibaba’s natural position, the defender has played there for a lot of his Fire career and is comfortable in it.
Against a team like Salt Lake who are known for their aerial prowess, another big body on the back line like Soumare’s in addition to Anibaba and Berry would be very useful.
Getting some consistency in defense is very important from here on out and a starting four of Anibaba, Soumare, Berry and Segares would appear to have the right blend of youth and experience.
The Fire’s attack – pace vs possession
In both games vs. the Union, coach Frank Klopas started Patrick Nyarko up front with Chris Rolfe in an attempt to bring some speed to the forward line.
Against Salt Lake however, a more logical tactic would be to use a bigger body who can hold the ball up and can be used as an outlet to relieve pressure.
Sherjill MacDonald is fit again after an illness and could start up front as the target forward. This would allow the Fire to move Patrick Nyarko back to the wing, possibly in place of Joel Lindpere who has logged a lot of minutes this season.
Though Nyarko’s creativity and pace in the attack worked well against Philly, his desire to track back and help the defense could prove very important, especially against a team with a wealth of attacking options who are so offensive minded at home.
The problem with starting MacDonald up front is that he can oftentimes be left devoid of support and it will be up to players like Rolfe, and Duka to get forward and support the Dutchman.
If he does get the nod, the battle between him and the RSL center backs such as Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be very interesting to watch.
RSL’s midfielders – tracking runs into the box
RSL plays with a diamond midfield system with Kyle Beckerman anchoring and Javier Morales playing at the top of the diamond. Morales is the team’s playmaker and oftentimes acts as a third striker, getting forward to support the front two.
Duka, Larentowicz preview Real Salt Lake
Though Morales is an obvious target, players like Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil who play on the flanks cut inside on a regular basis, making runs into the middle when joining in the attack.
With this many players getting forward, the Fire must be aware not only of who is marking who but must prevent RSL from getting second ball opportunities.
Similar to the Fire for most of the season, RSL likes to play with at least one mobile striker while the other tends to play higher up the field.
The mobile striker, oftentimes Joao Plata, drifts into wide positions, usually on the right hand side. His moves out wide open up more space for players like Morales, Grabavoy and Gil to move into.
Plata has four assists this season and is a good crosser of the ball. His crossing ability was displayed earlier this month against Vancouver where he put in a perfect ball Gil to head home the winner.
Staying tight with runners from midfield and not allowing second ball opportunities will improve the Fire’s chances of getting a result on the road dramatically.
Prediction: Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the hardest places in MLS to get a result in. The Fire has had no luck this season and perhaps Saturday night will be the night. 1-1 with Chris Rolfe scoring the Fire’s goal from the penalty spot.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
“There was thunder in our air; nature, as we embodied it, became overcast -- for we had not yet found the way. The formula of our happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal...” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Be wary of people who throw around Nietzsche quotes. His writing is so punchy that it’s easy to find good quotes inside of paragraphs about almost anything. Notice: I can take a line from a book Nietzsche wrote called The Anti-Christ and make it about soccer.
But if I can take a quote about anything out of context and pass it off as fair, it’s a quote about goals, right? Goals, too, have a way themselves of coming out of context. Ask the Fire about it recently.
Where do goals come from? In no sport is scoring as mystifying, and, as a result, as satisfying. Goals are rare enough to be special, but common enough to drive the sport completely, and their origin remains a mystery. What fickle furnace forges them? They come from the heavens, where so many players give credit in their celebrations, and from an entire team’s psychic connections. They come from perfect timing, impeccable technique, and acts of brilliance. They also come from deflections, bad refereeing, and those mis-kicked crosses that loop into the back post.
Where do goals come from? Don’t ask the Fire right now. A team that hasn’t always had problems scoring, the Fire find themselves in goal purgatory. For whatever reason, goals hate the Fire right now. They played well enough to at least earn a point out of Saturday’s game, and absolutely dominated the first matchup against Philly last week -- but the Fire couldn’t score. The drought has become confounding, almost like a natural disaster, something to marvel at in awe and horror.
It hurts even more to play against Jack McInerney twice in a row. McInerney has more goals this season than the entire Fire squad. He’s so hot that goals are showing up in his bed at night. He’s waking up next to goals he doesn’t remember meeting.
Okay, okay. The point is that goals are not to be trusted. They’re misleading. Goal stats rarely tell the story of a game, especially when teams control a game without scoring, like the Fire did two weeks ago and in periods on Saturday.
After a few unlucky breaks and a scuffed chance or two, it can feel like everything is conspired against you. The ref hates you, the ball and the vagaries of its deflections hate you, the goals themselves, they look so small now, even with their giant looming posts and their soft, welcoming nets -- don’t trust them, they definitely hate you. Meanwhile, set plays executed perfectly in training don’t come off. You start to over-think simple five yard passes. Your shoelaces untie themselves. It’s excruciating. You can work, you can run, you can do everything you can, but nothing works.
Where do goals come from? Can Klopas and Pause go on some sort of vision quest to find some? The Fire are getting shots (22 over the last two matches vs. Philly), managing games, and getting chances, but the payoff is late.
Well, maybe there's more in the Nietzsche about goal-droughts that I thought. Much of The Anti-Christ is in response to Arthur Schopenhauer’s cycle of desire and dissatisfaction, the cycle that defines
goals humanity. But like the Fire, Nietzsche is concerned with how we overcome our contemporary (~1880s) problems. He says that despite the fact that we once found happiness, we lost it. “We grew dismal; they called us fatalists.”
But once “there was thunder in our air” and surely we’ll recover it. “A Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal...”
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
Select shots from the Chicago Fire Rec Soccer league Final at Toyota Park on Sunday
The Fire’s summer friendly opponents and Team for the World alliance partners Club America took a further step to their first domestic crown since 2005, defeating Monterrey 2-1 (and 4-3 on aggregate) in leg two of the Liga MX semifinals Saturday night at the Estadio Azteca.
In leg one last Wednesday, Ecuadorian international Christian Benitez continued his exploits from the weekend’s 2-1 victory over Pumas UNAM, scoring both goals in the team’s 2-2 draw at Monterrey.
That result set the stage for Saturday’s match, which saw America take the advantage just after the hour mark. In the 62nd minute, Aguilas midfielder Ruben Sambueza was brought down on the right side of the area by Monterrey defender Leobardo Lopez, forcing referee Jorge Antonio Perez to point to the spot.
A minute later, Aguilas striker Raul Jimenez placed his effort past Jonathan Orozco into the lower left netting to give America a 1-0 lead and 3-2 aggregate advantage.
The home side pretty much iced the series 19 minutes later after a Monterrey giveaway at midfield. Jimenez and Benitez quickly broke out in a give and go before the Ecuadorian was slipped into the box and finished past Ibarra for the 2-0 lead and 4-2 advantage.
The goal was Benitez’ fifth in four playoff matches.
Los Rayados pushed late and pulled one back deep into second half stoppage time. Substitute Guillermo Madrigal settled in the box, turned and forced a diving stop out of Moises Munoz before striker Aldo de Nigris finished from close range.
The goal to the aggregate score to 4-3 but the referee blew the whistle soon after, advancing America to the Liga MX Clasura finals against Cruz Azul.
Leg one of the finals will be played at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Thursday with the return leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday.
The Chicago Fire take on Club America in an international friendly on Wednesday, July 10 at Toyota Park.
Atletico de Madrid takes Copa del Rey title
Atletico Madrid over came a 25-match winless run against city rivals Real Madrid and a 1-0 deficit to win the Copa del Rey 2-1 in extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu on Friday night.
Real Madrid took the early lead when Cristiano Ronaldo rose above the rest to head home a corner kick in the 14th minute.
Atletico would respond 21 minutes later when Radamel Falcao did yeoman's work at midfield before springing Diego Costa between two Madrid defenders. The Brazilian fired from the top of the penalty area and beating 'keeper Diego Lopez inside the left post.
You could see Real Madrid begin to come undone in the 75th minute when manager Jose Mourinho was sent off for leaving the technical area to argue a play.
Fifteen minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo kicked Atletico defender Juanfran but the offense went unnoticed and the teams went to extra time level at 1-1.
Atletico would find the game-winner off a corner. Koke's take from the right was headed straight back to him but he whipped in another ball which found the head of Brazilian defender MIranda to beat Diego Lopez inside the near post.
The wheels came off for Real Madrid when Ronaldo was sent off following a scuffle at midfield in the 115th minute.
Shortly thereafter the referee blew the whistle, confirming Atletico's 2-1 triumph. The victory gave the club its 10th Copa del Rey title and first since 1996.
Select shots from the Fire's match with the Union
Credit: USA Today Sports Images
The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week
In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.
Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.
WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly
This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.
In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.
When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.
Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.
Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian
In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.
Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.
In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.
Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.
Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson
I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.
On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.
On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.
Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.
Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to serve as a witness for today's Third Round U.S. Open Cup draw at Soccer House in Chicago.
I detailed the interesting tidbits of how the draw is done but in case you don't want to nerd out, just check out the potential third round matchups below...
HOME TEAMS LISTED FIRST
#1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro) vs. Philadelphia Union -or- Philadelphia Union vs. Ocean City Nor'easters
#2 Richmond Kickers (USL-Pro) vs. D.C. United -or- D.C. United vs. Icon FC (USASA)
#3 Rochester Rhinos (USL-Pro) vs. New England Revolution -or- New England Revolution vs. GPS Portland Phoenix (USL PDL)
#4 Charlotte Eagles (USL-Pro) vs. Chicago Fire -or- Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders U-23 (USL PDL)
#5 Orlando City Lions (USL-Pro) vs. Colorado Rapids -or- Colorado Rapids vs. Ocala Stampede (USL PDL)
#6 Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) / Laredo Heat (USL PDL) vs. FC Dallas
#7 Charleston Battery (USL-Pro) / Portland Timbers U-23 vs. San Jose Earthquakes
#8 Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United FC (NASL) - Des Moines Menace (USL PDL) / Madison 56ers (NPSL)
#9 Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) / Georgia Revolution (USASA)
#10 LA Blues (USL-Pro) / Ventura County Fusion (USL PDL) vs. Chivas USA
#11 Carolina Rail Hawks (NASL) / Carolina Dynamo (USL PDL) vs. LA Galaxy
#12 Columbus Crew vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL-Pro) / Dearborn SC (USASA) winner
#13 New York Red Bulls vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-Pro) / Reading United (USL PDL) winner
#14 San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) / FC Tucson (USL PDL vs. Houston Dynamo
#15 Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) vs. Seattle Sounders FC -or- Seattle Sounders vs. VSI Tampa Bay (USL-Pro)
#16 Portland Timbers vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-Pro) / Austin Aztex (USL PDL)
Saturday was rough. You could almost feel the sucker punch coming, and it still hurt. Bad. There were a few interesting moments in the game but I couldn’t stop thinking about the wind. It’s one of the identifying characteristics of footy that you play in basically any condition, and it affects the way you play, the way you think about playing, and, obviously the results.
For all its stripped down, no pads, anyone-can-play humanity, the NBA is sterile in this regard. Every court is exactly the same and predictable (unless you have a bad shooting night, then you can blame the stadium’s depth perception, or lighting problems). Football has to play in weather, but they ruin the fun by putting Super Bowls in safe weather cities. Baseball has to play in weather too, but they cancel games if anyone gets mud on their shoes.
No, soccer has to deal with the elements in every way, from bee attacks to snow to pitch problems to wind.
Saturday against Philly began as a perfect example. The wind was strong enough to blow the froth off your beer. I saw a garbage can at Toyota Park get blown over and almost tumble down an aisle. Meanwhile, Philly could hardly get the ball in the air, and when they did, the wind held it up like the perfect alley oop. Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba were able to measure the long balls up easily and win them consistently, even over Connor Casey.
But as the game developed, it was interesting because the wind didn’t seem to influence the game as much as it could have. It was irritating for the players (I’ve never seen Gonzalo Segares overhit so many crosses), and definitely a factor (it made Sean Johnson look like superman, I swear he could’ve kicked a goal kick into a bags game on the Party Deck in the first half if he wanted to), but it wasn’t the storyline.
Anibaba and Berry kept winning headers off goal kicks and clearances going both directions, and neither team were obviously playing out of the back on the ground the way teams do when they’re avoiding long balls into the wind. It seemed like a stalemate between the wind and the two sides. If only the wind could’ve pushed Patrick Nyarko's second half chance just an inch or two left, we’d be here sipping champagne joking about the wind, but we got sucker punched.
Let’s take the funny with the tragic, here. The Fire were clearly robbed of three points, and the good news is that there’s plenty of time to recover these lost points. The Rolfe/Nyarko partnership is promising, the weather’s getting better, and at the end of the season we’ll look back at plays like this one from Anibaba and laugh.
Our Team for the World partner Club America took a big step towards their first domestic title since 2005, defeating Pumas UNAM 2-1 in the second leg of the Liga MX Clasura quarterfinals on Saturday at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Heading into the match, America already held a 1-0 aggregate lead after Raul Jimenez struck in the 28th minute of the first leg on Wednesday.
Pumas pulled the series level by virtue of Robin Ramirez' classy one-time volley past Moises Munoz in the 21st minute.
Club America would re-take the lead as Ecuadorian international Christian Benitez finished from close range following a redirected shot in the 56th minute.
With the hosts already looking like they'd advance, Benitez put the final nail in the coffin deep into second half stoppage time, beating Pumas 'keeper Miguel Palacios inside the post to clinch a 3-1 aggregate victory.
With the win, Club America moves on to the Liga MX Clasura semifinals and will vist Montrerrey in Wednesday's first leg before welcoming los Rayados to the Azteca for leg two Saturday night.
The Chicago Fire face Club America in an international friendly on Saturday, July 10 at Toyota Park.
Instead of talking to him in 140 characters, why not join him live for a Google+ Hangout Friday afternoon?
Daniel will begin taking your questions at 12:15pm CT but you can begin asking him questions for the chance to win
- 2 FREE Premier tickets to Saturday's match vs. Philadelphia Union
- 2 FREE tickets to next Thursday's Art of Futbol event
- A team-signed Chicago Fire ball.