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TACTICAL: Rebuilt Fire defense gets first real test against Chivas USA's Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales
The Fire are in Los Angeles for the first game of the season looking to start off on a good note unlike this time last year when the team fell to the other team in LA, 4-0. As per usual, Chivas USA’s offseason was filled with turmoil, but there is a new air of optimism around the club after it was bought by MLS. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Fire’s new look back line – how will teams offseason acquisitions work as a unit?
New Fire head coach Frank Yallop was very upfront about his desire for the team to improve defensively this season after the team gave up a whopping 52 goals last year. It is likely that two new additions to the defense will start on Sunday afternoon, with former RSL utility player Lovel Palmer slotting in a right back and former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado set to start in the middle.
Hurtado’s partnership with Bakary Soumare at the heart of the Fire’s defense is crucial to the team’s success and both players will be looking to continue their good preseason form. In the air, both players are clearly dominant but it will be important that they do not get stretched by the Chivas USA attack especially with a player like Mauro Rosales looking to play balls behind the defense for Erick Torres and co.
Frank Yallop likes to have his fullbacks get forward and support the attack and Palmer certainly fits that style of play. The Fire’s distribution out of the back last season was not a strong point and Palmer’s good technical ability will mean the team will not be giving the ball needlessly back to the opposition as much this season.
It will certainly take time for the new look defense to gel, but a good start and perhaps a clean sheet would build confidence before the tougher tests ahead in the form of Portland and New York.
A new back line for Chivas USA – opportunities for the Fire to take?
Chivas USA overhauled the squad again this offseason but the team that gave up the most goals in the league last year don’t look like they’ve improved in that department, at least not on paper.
The team went undefeated in preseason but it remains to be seen whether this unit can be effective during league play. It is unclear who Fire legend Carlos Bocanegra will be paired with -- Bobby Burling or newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste but in either case, if the Fire creative players like Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Alex can get in 1v1 situations, I like this team’s chances.
The Fire could have more luck on the outsides, especially down the right where Eric Avila has a habit of straying too far forward from his full back position. The combination of little help defensively from Mauro Rosales and the attacking threats of Dilly Duka and Gonzalo Segares could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
A switch in philosophy – high pressure replaces the counter attack
For much of last season, the Fire tended to sit deep and try to hit teams on the counter attack but with the change in head coach comes a change in philosophy. Instead of the counter attack game, Yallop has emphasized a high pressure philosophy, with the Fire’s attackers putting pressure on the opponents’ defense when they are in possession.
This tactic was apparent in the team’s final match of the Diamond Desert Cup in Tucson last week where Juan Luis Anangono, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka all put the Chivas Guadalajara youth team defense under constant pressure and forced a number of mistakes from the Mexican squad.
If the team can push the issue against the new look Chivas USA back four and force the team into giving up possession, it will only help the Fire’s chances. Though possession is not always an important factor, especially in an away match, the team will certainly be looking to control the tempo and increase the possession statistics this season and this change in philosophy should help that.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: C.J. Brown says, "The first game we get to focus on ourselves"
Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa proved rather effective in what time he got on the field last year (he scored three goals in 299 minutes). In his time off of it, he also proved to be perhaps the top MLS player in the league's Fantasy Manager game.
Sign-up for Quincy's League using code: 17933-3213
(Photo courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps)
When asked about finalizing his roster before the start of the 2014 season Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop said on a conference call last week that he and his staff were "looking at other possibilities with other teams about maybe trading. We’re forever on the lookout.”
The options have become clearer as Yallop and his staff have pulled the trigger on two trades in three days.
Neither player is brought in with a view of starting but it seems likely Yallop and his staff will look to both to provide depth. Cochrane played 12 matches for LA during his rookie season in 2013, filling in mostly for veteran Todd Dunivant.
Watson, who's known for a high work ethic and steady, consistent performances, played a more regular role with the Whitecaps over the past two seasons, appearing in 21 matches in 2013.
The acquisitions mean that the team roster sits at 29 players four days out from the season opener vs. Chivas USA. While MLS rosters can accomodate 30 players, Yallop has said he expects to start the season with 28, likely using the open two spots to earn allocation money from the league to help with the team's tight salary situation.
With the team admitting they're working towards a loan deal with Tottenham Hotspur's Grant Ward, it seems likely more moves could be imminent.
Select shots from this afternoon's Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon and Primary Kit Unveiling
Select shots from Friday morning's training session in Tucson, Arizona:
Select shots from the Fire's loss to New England
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over FC Tucson.