Blog

Chicago Fire

24 April 7:31 am

Hey everyone. I'm still a little sour about my sending off at the weekend but I'm not going to let that get in the way of my latest #BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy Challenge video.

In today's show, I award last week's winner, "Smoke + Mirrors", show off the top prize for the month of March (I'm looking at you Zusi n Me Wynne'n) and then to keep things interesting, take a different direction with the show...

So... I destroyed Jeff Crandall in the first #QuincyTime challenge but let's make it more interesting... Tweet your ideas for the next challenge to me @QuincyAmarikwa using #QuincyTime and we'll sort out the best ones for future episodes!

You can still join the #BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy League by clicking here and using League Code: 17933-3213

23 April 10:13 am

Frank Yallop winless in seven games, unbeaten in six as head coach of Chicago Fire

What is it going to take for Frank Yallop to get his first regular season victory as head coach of the Chicago Fire?

Following Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 tie at home to the New England Revolution, the Fire are now without a win in seven MLS games after an opening day defeat at Chivas USA and six subsequent ties as their season has yet to fully take off.

However, four of those seven games were on the road, so if the Fire can pick up all three points at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, May 3 after a bye week, the complexion of the season, and more importantly the table, will suddenly look a whole lot better.

Thankfully for Yallop and his coaching staff, the Chicago fan-base have shown remarkable patience and understanding as he tries to impart his philosophies and footballing ideals on to this new group of players.

Yallop came to the Fire with a proven track record in the MLS following a lengthy professional career in England and on the international stage with Canada.

His vast experience in England and early MLS successes as a coach with San Jose Earthquakes has given Yallop, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the confidence to remain calm despite the relatively disappointing start to the campaign.

When speaking about the team, their attitude, their effort in training and their prospects for the season, Yallop hasn’t changed in his thinking since his arrival at Toyota Park last October. If anything, he is more optimistic now than before the season began.

He sees a group of players that have shown significant signs of progress in the short time he has been with them and he believes that their first win is about to come. Yes, he believed it would come at home to the Red Bulls. Away to DC.

His confidence in himself and his team still intact, he insisted the win would come with the visit of the Union to Toyota Park. And again, a week later, there was an assured statement that the win would arrive on the road in Montreal.

Looking back, it is possible to see where and how three points may have been won in any of these games, with a little luck or a hint of good fortune. Mike Magee’s late penalty miss against Philadelphia. Late saves by the Impact’s Troy Perkins from Patrick Nyarko and Magee that would have earned the Fire their first win.

Juan Luis Anangono’s penalty miss against New England last time out was another glaring example of a missed opportunity and another occasion where the Fire should have sealed the three points their efforts over the previous 90 minutes deserved.

The reason no one has pushed the panic button just yet, is largely down to the quality of play produced each week, the vast amount of chances being created and the overall level of entertainment served up by Yallop and his attack-minded tactics.

No other team has had more shots this campaign at 101, while only the Montreal Impact have hit the target more often, 38 times to the Fire’s 35 (which they tie with the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City).

They are the fourth highest scorers after seven games with 10 goals, while Quincy Amarikwa is tied for second on the goalscoring list with four.

There are significant signs of improvement since the side’s defeat at Chivas, with Yallop’s influence gaining momentum with each and every game.

Having struggled to assert themselves in the possession stakes in the opening three games, the Fire have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents in their last three games.

This has translated itself into more goalscoring opportunities, with the Fire amassing an impressive 54 shots to their opponents’ 17 over the last three games.

Which suggests to me that they are doing well defensively, restricting other teams to an average of six shots per game, while also creating enough themselves to comfortably win games.

That has not happened thus far, but surely it is only a matter of time.

There have been several other positive features to Yallop’s tenure, most notably his willingness to give youth a chance. Earlier in the year, he insisted that he would select players on merit rather than reputation, and he has stood by that assertion with the likes of Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Greg Cochrane and Victor Pineda all getting a chance to impress.

Add to that the blossoming central defensive partnership of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare, which has impressed in recent games despite the concession of 11 goals, and it is clear to see that the Fire have a solid base upon which to build.

His faith in the wing play of Nyarko and Shipp has also reaped reward with both players contributing to the fluent, incisive build-up play down both flanks that has been a feature of the Fire’s games thus far.

And with reigning MLS MVP Magee improving with every game following his early season injury problems, and his effective link up play with Amarikwa showing real signs of promise, surely that first win will come sooner rather than later.

Stats at a glance (the Fire read first):

Opponent Shots Possession % Pass Accuracy Passes
Chivas USA 7/14 44.7% / 55.3% 77% 303/369
Portland Timbers 14/21 38.5% / 61.5% 64% 243/398
New York Red Bulls 13/10 42.6% / 57.4% 72% 340/449
D.C. United 13/17 49% / 51% 72% 372 / 383
Philadelphia Union 20/7 53.2% / 46.8% 74% 349/304
Montreal Impact 17/6 56.2% / 43.8% 79% 420/333
New England Revolution 17/4 51.9% / 48.1% 76% 338/321

 

22 April 12:59 pm

An update on Chicago Fire loanee Grant Ward's recovery from surgery to repair broken metatarsal in his foot, from the man himself...
 

Seems like we could be seeing Grant Stateside sometime soon... In case you've forgotten, a look back on this golazo he scored for the team in preseason vs. Colorado... 

19 April 6:02 pm

Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
 
On where the team needs to go from here
 
“Tough one. Déjà vu from the last home game we had. Should have four more points than we’ve got. The team kept going, fighting and that’s good. It feels empty because of the way we have put a lot of effort into the games we’ve had and you don’t get rewarded for it. I think we’ve played pretty well, created some good chances today, had another chance in the last dying seconds to win it and we didn’t. We deserved to win. We had some good performances today. Overall, I can’t fault the guys for effort.“
 
On quality of penalty and Mike Magee not taking it
 
“It wasn’t a good penalty kick. Mike missed his last one. Jeff scored a penalty this season. I’m 50 yards away, I can scream whatever I want, it’s up to them to sort it out and who’s taking it, and they decided Juan is taking it”
 
On the referee and Quincy Amarikwa’s second yellow card
 
“Didn’t touch him. It’s maybe a foul on Quincy, he’s not diving. He gets run into and he goes down. I can’t comment on the referee, but he’s wasn’t good. He missed some plays that were important in this match.”
 
On the morale of the team
 
“Nope, It’s fine. We know we should have won two more games, maybe three, but we haven’t. It’s not like we have fumbled through the game. I thought we played well today. I thought we played well, we dominated. They had some spells, they’re a good team. But you look at the chances and stuff that we did, it’s just disappointing that we don’t have a win.”
 
On the missing piece to get over that hump
 
“The missing piece is ice-cold finishing in the last seconds of a game. Away from home it’s difficult to win matches, but at home you got to win. That’s how you get your points and do well on the year. We’ve had two games, and there is no time left on the clock, and we have a penalty kick. The players know that it is important to score that. It’s just a shame we haven’t gotten the points for the performances we’ve had. It’s a long season, but you can’t keep falling behind the guys ahead of you.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire defender
 
On the result, missing two penalty kicks at the end of games:
 
“It was bizarre - to see that once is tough, but twice is even worse. It is tough to take.”
 
On Anangono taking the penalty kick:
 
“Juan stepped up and grabbed the ball, and that’s just what happened.  As the captain and the one who’s made a penalty this year I should have been the one to take the penalty but I didn’t – that’s on me, not on Juan.”
 
On the second yellow on Amarikwa:
 
“I’m not going to comment on referee decisions.  In the end, it’s a red card and it’s something we’ll have to deal with.  Quincy has been outstanding for us.  It’s going to be a shame to have to miss him the next game, but we’ll move on.”
 
On not getting a result:
 
“The last three games we’ve certainly been the better team – Philadelphia, Montreal and tonight.  I don’t think that tonight the other team really wanted to win from the start.  They were slowing the game down in the first half and got fortunate on the penalty call.  I think it was a penalty because Patrick [Nyarko] clipped him, they got the goal they wanted and they slowed down.  In the run of play, outside the last couple of minutes when we were pushing forward, I’m not sure they get a shot on goal from open play.  All-in-all it’s more of the same, but if we can get wins going forward it will be ok.”
 
On the string of draws:
 
“We feel like we’re playing so well at the start of the year and the build-up of points we feel should have makes the draws tough to take.  Again, the way the next game goes – up or down will say a lot.  If we win we’re unbeaten with a win.  If not, things look a little differently.  Everyone needs to stay positive and keep pushing.  The good thing is that we’ve been the better team the last three games.”
 
On the play of Harry Shipp:
 
“Harry has been outstanding. If I had to say two guys that have pulled us through the first seven games, it’s definitely been Harry and Quincy.  As soon I, and I’m sure the coaches, saw him we knew he was going to do something for us this year, and he has, and needs to continue.”
 
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire forward
 
On foul that led to his second yellow card:
 
“Clearly I don’t think it was a foul, but it’s not my decision to make so what can you do?”
 
On his goal:
 
“The ball came back to Harry, I had space in the middle, pointed and he put the ball right where I wanted him to. I took my first touch into the box, put a bit of my body on Farrell, saw that the keeper’s legs were open and put the ball between his legs and that was that.”
 
On the result:
 
“It’s disappointing to not come away with three points, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to win games.  Juan puts that PK in and it’s a different outlook.  As long as we’re coming away with points we’re carrying this confidence into future games and it’s just a matter of time before we’re coming away with some wins.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire forward
 
On his performance:
 
“Since I got suspended, I had a week to reevaluate my game, I was struggling physically and that red card at the game in Portland affected me mentally.  I decided to get back to basics and just play my game.  I think it’s been ok so far during the past three weeks but I’m still not happy because we’re not getting the wins.  I hope to keep playing the same, getting better and that we get the win soon.”
 
On draws at home:
 
“It’s been extremely frustrating, especially since we’re dominating teams, we’re out playing teams and creating the best chances and we’re not getting wins – that’s the most frustrating part.  I keep telling the guys that if we keep playing like this we’re not going to lose a lot of games and the tide is not always going to go against us like this.  We just need to keep pushing and sustain that until the end of the game.  We need to buckle down, even though we’re frustrated, and the wins will come.”
 
On how this year’s start compares to last year’s start:
 
“It feels differently this year because we are dominating teams.  The last three weeks we feel like we deserved victories, judging from the fact that we that we’ve had possession and have created more chances than the other team – that’s been the most frustrating part.  We know we can play the soccer, now it’s just how to find the victories – that’s the test for us right now.”
 
On the bye next week:
 
“We wish we were still playing just because we need to build momentum.  The week off breaks that up, but guys are experienced and we know what we’re doing right and will continued that stride when we play again.”

17 April 10:27 am

MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle and break down the Fire's match vs. the Revs.

17 April 8:47 am

OK, so we got a little lazy on the first month of the #BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy League, my apologies.

We're making amends with the first of what will be a weekly video series for everyone in the league. In today's episode, I outline how you can win weekly prizes, make up what those prizes might be and give our four winners for the month of March. 

WATCH:

If you haven't already joined the league, do so at mlssoccer.com/fantasy using code 17933-3213. Be sure to tweet your MLS Fantasy questions to me @QuincyAmarikwa using hashtag #BeatQuincy and LIKE our new Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/beatquincy!

17 April 8:23 am

The Chicago Fire’s performance in Montreal deserved all three points. Tactically Frank Yallop got it spot on, and Montreal looked like the road team on their own pitch. Yes, the team had an abundance of quality chances, and, not for the first time should have wrapped it up.

Now six matches in, I feel the jigsaw is starting to take shape. The Fire has learned some lessons, grown as a team, and are now poised to claim all three against New England this Saturday (3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).

Personally, I’m excited to jump on the ‘Pub to Pitch’ bus from A.J. Hudson’s and enjoy the match without a headset. It promises to be a very open and exciting match, and here’s what I’d look for from a tactical perspective…

Defender of the Year Injured?

In 2013, the Revs stood tall and kept an MLS best 14 clean sheets. After a dismal start this year, conceding four in Houston, Jay Heaps’ defense is starting to show its strengths once more, allowing just three goals in their last four matches.

New England’s hope of keeping the Fire scoreless will be dealt a huge blow if 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves fails to overcome a right quad injury that he picked up last week. Goncalves was outstanding against the Fire last season. His strength and positional awareness often masks many of the deficiencies in partner A.J. Soares.

Soares tends to ball watch, a trait that won’t bode well against the budding partnership of Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa. The Revs full backs also love to attack, meaning there may be plenty of space for Amarikwa to test Soares’ pace and strength. From where I’m standing, there’s only one winner in that battle. Excuse me, what time is it again? That’s right, it’s #QuincyTime!

Revs attack is riddled with talent, yet predictable

Only three Revs players have hit the back of the net this season, and the team has been held scoreless in four of its six matches. There are many reasons for this lack of production, including injuries to key players and new players gelling. My take is that this Revs 4-1-4-1 formation is too predictable at the moment.

Teal Bunbury is obviously a good player, but he’s been a little too isolated by himself, and if the Fire defense do anything, don’t allow him stretch his legs in behind. Daigo Kobayashi and Lee Nguyen are excellent ball players, with exquisite vision and passing ability and they’ll look for Bunbury through the channels or over the top all afternoon.

The Fire gave up two big chances in Montreal last week, both errors, sending McInerney and Di Vaio racing through on goal. Luckily for the Fire, Di Vaio blazed over in the second half.

Chicago’s defense has been improving every match, and I have no doubt that the Men in Red have the ability to physically brush Bunbury and Co. aside, however, have they learned enough lessons in order to stay mentally strong for 90+ minutes and eliminate any costly errors?

From battle of the Franks, to battle of the Flanks

There's a possibility that Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp will again occupy the flanks for the Fire on Saturday. Offensively, they’ll be given room to express themselves, but defensively they’ve got a tough job on their hands.

New England’s wingers, poster boy Diego Fagundez and Frenchman Saer Sene love to cut inside, leaving space for their full backs (Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney, Kevin Alston etc) to attack. New York’s constant rotation in midfield caused the Fire problems earlier this season, and they’ll face a Revs side that also loves to roam. Discipline, shape and communication will be key when defending.

With that said, New England leave gaps and they can certainly be exposed when they turn the ball over. It’s crucial that when the Fire do win the ball back, they pick a pass and look to hit Amarikwa or Nyarko in transition immediately.

When the Fire plays with pace and direction, it’s a very dangerous team, but when the Fire loses its momentum and tempo, they suddenly start to play on the opposition’s terms. A perfect example of this was the excellent first 20 minutes vs Philadelphia, compared to the shoddy second 25.

PREDICTION:  I don’t see a reason to make any changes to the team. Those 11 deserve to play from the start, but if fit, I think Dilly Duka would be a great guy to bring on against the Revs.

This is a good matchup for the Fire right now. I’ll go with a first clean sheet and a first win of the season. 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.

Editor’s Note: What’s that? Kevin Egan’s doing the Tactical Preview now? Nah, just lending a hand to fellow Irishman Stephen Piggott who is currently in the Republic and unable to do this week’s Tactical Preview.

Thanks for your help Kevin! Follow him on Twitter @Kev_Egan!

16 April 8:37 am

In case you didn't know by now, Saturday's Fire/Red Stars doubleheader at Toyota Park will feature a pair of cousins as Mike Magee and Jackie Santacaterina line up for their squads in front of friends, family and their hometown fans. In case you don't have tickets, click here....

Pick up Wednesday's edition of the Chicago Redeye and get the full scoop on Mike and Jackie's competitive relationship growing up, how each of them did on a soccer-themed quiz and this video where they find out how they did:

15 April 3:07 pm

With the growth in popularity of the game in this country comes the higher knowledge of history, both good and bad, that surrounds the game we love.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, England, claiming the lives of 96 Liverpool FC supporters who attended the ground to see their club’s FA Cup semifinal clash with Nottingham Forest.

As has become standard worldwide, supporters of the two clubs were separated to prevent any incident, with Liverpool supporters being given the Leppings Lane Stand at the west side of the ground. 

Access to the stand was only possible through a few ill-repaired turnstiles and led to serious overcrowding outside of the stadium prior to kickoff of the match. Looking to ease pressure on the entry way, officials ordered an exit gate to be opened, the path through which led to a standing section that was already overcrowded. 

Crushing ensued as too many fans were located in the terraces and were pinned up against a barrier meant to keep fans off the pitch. The game actually didn’t even halt until the sixth minute when fans trying to escape the crush walked on to the field along with police who ordered the match to be postponed.

About an hour north of Sheffield, a 25-year-old Frank Yallop came on as a substitute in Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Bradford City. Having led 2-1 at halftime, the result was a disappointing one for the Tractor Boys who dropped points to a Bradford City club below them in the Second Division table.

With the game kicking off at the same time as the cup semifinal though, Yallop and his teammates didn’t find out about the tragedy until after they’d come off the field at Valley Parade.

 “It was terrible,” Yallop recalled to Chicago-Fire.com. “I just remember the images and panic on everyone’s faces. Seeing it on the news, it was really devastating to watch -- all they showed on TV was carrying people on the advertising boards to get care from the paramedics.”

Perhaps the news hit a bit closer to home for those that had just completed the match at Bradford City’s ground as four years earlier, it was the site of a fire that engulfed one entire stand during the final match of the 1984/85 season. That tragedy took the lives of 56, saw over 200 injured and was started by one lit cigarette discarded underneath the all-wooden stand.

The Bradford City fired occurred just weeks before another stadium crush in a match involving Liverpool occurred at the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. On that day, 39 people, most of which were supporters of Italian side Juventus, lost their lives and resulted in English clubs being banned from European competition indefinitely.

Perhaps in part because of the Heysel incident, many pointed the blame for the crush at Hillsborough on Liverpool supporters. Claims of drunkenness and fans without tickets trying to gain entry into the ground were bothgiven as contributing factors for the incident. In the end, the Taylor Report (published in 1990) found the main factor to Hillsborough to be failure of police control.

More recent inquiries from the Hillsborough Independent Panel exonerated Liverpool supporters of wrong doing in the incident, placing the blame squarely on public safety officials.

“It was sad because people had gotten to the game early to see a semifinal,” Yallop said. “From mistakes made by the police, 96 people lose their lives. It’s a tragic accident.”

The Taylor Report’s main recommendation saw stadiums in the UK made to be all-seater in order to make crowd control easier and safer, which greatly reduced the capacity of many stadiums in the country.

Twenty-five years on from Hillsborough, tributes from clubs and supporters around the world have poured in and tonight ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series tackles the events at Hillsborough (7pm CT on ESPN). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann spoke to Director Daniel Gordon about the film on Monday: 

15 April 8:05 am

It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.

In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.

After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”

It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.

You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.

The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.

And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”

That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.

Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.

This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.

It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.

What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own. 

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.