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Chicago Fire

06 September 7:10 am

After leaving two points on the field last Sunday, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest, traditionally not a happy hunting ground of the Men in Red, for a Saturday night matchup with Seattle (9pm CT on NBCSN) . The Sounders are hitting form at the right time, surging to six wins in their last seven matches. Here are some things to keep an eye out for from a tactical perspective.

Taking advantage of speed – hitting Seattle on the counter attack

The Fire’s bread and butter in away matches is the counter attack, lulling teams into a false sense of security and allowing them to push men forward before forcing a turnover and countering with numbers. A number of factors contribute to this.

In midfield, the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Arevalo Rios, Alex, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are very capable of forcing turnovers by applying pressure or reading the game and intercepting passes. With Rios away on international duty, Alex, Pause and Paladini will battle it out for the central midfield berth.

Alex is equally capable playing on the outside, and with him, Nyarko and Dilly Duka, the Fire have ample speed for to push the break. In attack, I expect the Fire to stick with Rolfe and Magee again due to their quickness.

Juan Luis Anangono is also an option but if the Fire go with the counter attack strategy, there is no need to a target striker in the starting eleven.

Taking advantage of set pieces – punishing Seattle on free kicks and corners

WATCH: Anibaba, Segares talk Saturday's match

In Seattle’s last three or so matches the Sounders have been very sloppy defending set pieces. In the second half of last Wednesday’s match against Chivas in particular, the LA team could have easily scored two or even three goals from free kicks, but for some better finishing.

The Fire worked quite a bit on set pieces at training on Thursday, clearly seeing Seattle’s obvious issues in that area. The Men in Red scored their first goal from a corner in last week’s match against Houston, and with Magee and Duka putting balls in and players like Austin Berry and Larentowicz challenging in the box, the Fire certainly have the ability to cause the Sounders more problems in this area.

Keeping an eye on Rosales and Yedlin – set pieces and crosses from wide

Seattle are a similar team to Sporting KC with both teams having a very dangerous creative midfielder, as well as outside defenders that like to get forward and get crosses in the box.

Though he hasn’t started every match for the team Mauro Rosales leads the Sounders with seven assists, two more than American Brad Evans. Rosales’ favorite target to look for from set pieces and crosses has been Eddie Johnson, picking the American out for a number of headed goals in recent matches.  Johnson will also be missing on Saturday but Rosales has a plethora of other players to look for.

Rosales also has the rare ability to put dangerous balls into the box from deep positions, especially on free kicks. Seattle’s Homegrown defender Deandre Yedlin has had an absolutely stellar rookie year, even being named to the MLS All-Star team. He combines well on the right with another missing player for Seattle, Brad Evans.

Without him, Yedlin will be required to pick up the slack. As with the Kansas City match, the Fire players must not pay too much attention to Rosales and neglect Yedlin because if he is given time and space, it could be costly.

Prediction: Mike Magee gets back on track and the Fire win 1-0.

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

 

05 September 3:23 pm

The final installment in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 5 designer Jordan Parks.

Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1)Danny Carlino (Option 2)Freddie Christiano (Option 3) and Eric Puente (Option 4) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!

What was the inspiration behind your design?

The inspiration for my third kit design came from Chicago’s rich industrial history, the beautiful city skyline, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These three elements helped fuel my concept and display the true honor, passion, and tradition of this club and this great city.

The blue to white gradient in my design begins with the rich navy blue of the club, incorporates the light blue of the famous Chicago flag, and fades to a bright white to show the eliteness of this powerful city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

The subtle abstract view of the skyline represents the flames that ravaged the city in 1871 and the building blocks which made this city bounce back from devastation to become one of the most economically powerful in America.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

After looking at past kits worn by the Fire and researching other clubs past and present designs, I decided to simplify mine and keep the base color white; paying tribute to past away kits worn by the Fire.

While the Chicago flag is a well known and recognizable symbol of Chicago, I tried to stay away from blatantly using the flag as the base for my design as it has been done before and many Fire supporters want this as a permanent kit option rather than a third kit.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

I believe my design is unique because of its elegance and simplicity while showing physical and historical attributes of the great city we call home.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

As a young designer, seeing my design being worn by my club would be absolutely exhilarating. I have been a Fire supporter for many years and having this opportunity with the club has already been rewarding in itself.

The reality of having my concept turned into a final solution is what I stand for as a designer. I work to succeed and push to exceed. Seeing the mighty Fire wearing my kit design in victory would be the best reward I could ask for. I believe with a fresh third kit option, the Chicago Fire can bring home another MLS Cup in style. Go Fire!

05 September 8:18 am

The third in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 3 designer Freddie Christiano.

On Wednesday I spoke with Mike Sever (Option 1) and Danny Carlino (Option 2) about the inspiration behind their designs. More Q&A's coming later Thursday.

What was the inspiration behind your design?

I was hoping I would get a chance to answer a question like this during the competition. The design looks simple, but there were a lot of different things that inspired the design. It is obvious from all the designs presented that we as fans wanted some representation of the Chicago flag back on the jersey. I did not want the jersey to be a remake of the old Puma design so I thought about how I could place the flag somewhere on the kit where it had meaning. I wanted to have meaning not only to a fan, but anyone who will wear the jersey.

In my full submission to the Chicago Fire I included the words “#WearYourHeartOnYourSleeve”. This became the overall inspiration for the jersey and why I placed the flag on the sleeve. We are really passionate about sports here in Chicago and we aren't afraid to let anyone know how we feel. I think we can convey that passion to the players on the field playing for our team as well. By placing the Chicago flag on the sleeve, it is a reminder to the players their emotion, pride, and heart on the field is matched by that of those in the stands and through out the city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I didn't want to distract from the sleeve element, so I based the rest of the design on something I learned from playing soccer, which was to “keep it simple”. I wanted a color to help make the sleeve stand out, but it also needed to have significance.

I have seen some comments regarding my choice of black and it not being related to Chicago and compared to other cities kits. I actually found that color inspiration from our skyline. Any way you view the Chicago skyline, you are seeing two of the most iconic buildings of our city: The Willis Tower and  John Hancock Building. These two buildings do not stand out only because of their size but also because of their color.  This was also the perfect color to make the sleeve stand out and maintain integrity for the main color of the kit. The vertical strip was a simple way to bring more of flag inspiration into the design and tie it up to the Fire crest, linking the two together. When the stripe wraps to the back of the jersey it fades to the silhouette of the Willis Tower.

The Fire crest needed to be as unique as the overall design. I was inspired when looking at the crest on my 1999 Chicago Fire kit. Although, it is not clear from the image posted the entire crest in my design would be of this metallic threading.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

Besides the choice of color, every design element of this kit has significant meaning. This is more than a kit that I have designed, it is about interconnecting players, fans, and a city. It establishes bonds of tradition, honor, and passion felt by all when carrying the flag on their sleeve.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

Giving the flag significant placement and a motto, “Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve”, helps establish these bonds and makes everyone aware what it means to be from Chicago and play for our club. The motto will also give supporter groups new chants to create when players take the field in an intimidating black kit!

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

If chosen, I would feel happiest knowing the majority of fans feel as passionate about this kit and its meaning as I do. They understood it can be as powerful as connecting players to fans on another level.

The Fire is a team I grew up supporting and would love to be part of the club from an opportunity like this. Having your kit made forever links you to the team and Its history. That would be something special.

04 September 12:55 pm

Over the next few days we'll be rolling out interviews with each of the five #cf97ThirdKit finalists asking for the inspiration and unique qualities of their entries.

First up, Mike Sever and Option #1...

What was the inspiration behind your design?

My inspiration was the history of both the team and the history of the City of Chicago. While the sky blue and white color is obviously a nod to the Fire's popular "Flag Jersey" from 2005, there are other references that longtime fans may recognize. First, the jersey returns the club's traditional white stripe to the front across the chest, but with a subtle twist. The two navy stripes inside the white chest stripe not only allude to the two blue stripes in a white field on the Chicago city flag, but are also a throwback to the navy and white stripes on the Fire's home and away uniforms during their trophy-winning heyday of the club’s early years.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I decided to put the Chicago flag on the back after being unable to find a way to put it on the front without the jersey looking too crowded. I added the year 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, which despite its destructive power, also gave Chicago a unique opportunity to start fresh and rebuild itself into the city it is today.  I decided to use 1871 instead of 1997 (the year of the club's founding) because I've always felt the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was named in remembrance of the historical event of the 1871 Fire (and the subsequent resilience to rebuild Chicago even bigger than before), rather than merely naming the team after the phenomenon of light and heat. Besides, doesn't "The Great Chicago Fire" have a nice ring to it?

What do you feel is unique about your design?

All five final designs have some degree of sky blue and white in them, which is not surprising as Fire supporters have been clamoring for a Chicago-flag-themed jersey since its last appearance in 2005. However, Design #1 is the only one that blends the team's history with its present. No other jersey design uses the Chicago flag, the Fire's traditional white chest stripe, AND a nod to the early teams whose success in adverse conditions at Soldier Field and Cardinal Stadium helped pave the way for the team we see today. 

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

While a third jersey often gives teams an opportunity to mix up their look with different colors and patterns, I still want people to be able to see this jersey on the street or on TV and instantly recognize it as the Chicago Fire. One of the great things about the sport of soccer is how even though teams change their jerseys seemingly every year, the looks remain the same, with very few exceptions. Real Madrid is always going to be all white. Celtic is always going to be green and white hoops. Liverpool will always be red and Chelsea will always be blue. In that vein, no other team in MLS has ever worn a single stripe across the chest, and no other team in MLS plays in the colors of the Chicago flag. This jersey is something new, but it is familiar, and unmistakably Chicago.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club’s new third kit?

I'm not even thinking about that yet. I'm not anything close to a professional designer, so it's already an honor for my design to be included with the four other finalists, and it's beyond my imagination to have the club I've been following since I was a kid wear a shirt I designed. I mean, I remember trying to draw the old "Fire truck" logo in the margins of my 8th grade notebooks after the team was announced in 1997, and I still have the ticket stub from my first-ever Fire game 15 years ago.  I didn't even think my design would make it this far in the contest. It's crazy for me to even think about winning, but I'd like to encourage everyone to vote for Design #1!

03 September 10:32 am

Gut punched again! Maybe not as bad as the Philly gut punch game from May, definitely not as painful as the Open Cup gut punch, but Houston’s smash and grab draw is the kind of result that could shake a team. That said, we’ve been here before this season. The Fire have proven they can rebound from disappointing results and it’s too early for the playoff panic, there are too many games left to play. Games like Sunday’s hurt, but now, a few days after, it doesn’t seem like any sort of total season KO.

What it is: another example of this team’s schizophrenia and oft-infuriating inconsistency. I mean, how delicious was that first half?

READ: Playoff Math - Still only two points out

Dilly Duka was terrorizing, Alex has taken his move to the outside with relish, Arevalo Rios and Jeff Larentowicz are working well together, Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee keep popping up in annoying positions to track, and the Fire broke down a solid Houston defense, creating chance after chance after chance.

But because this game rarely if ever makes sense the way it should, the Fire let their guard down for a crucial period and relinquished a few points at home. It’s not the result of a dominant team, but then, that’s not what this Fire team is. It’s a team still trying to lock down its identity and self-expectations and the good news is that there’s still some time to do it.

One thing the team has to get used to is Frank Klopas’ efficiency approach. “They had possession,” he said after the game, “but we are the ones that created the better chances.” This is a common adage for Klopas this year. He’s proven time and again that he’s comfortable ceding to possession to the other team, letting them play with it and knock it around sideways as much as they want - as long as, when the Fire have the ball, they make use of it to be dangerous.

Before you scoff, remember that it’s the same approach that Jose Mourinho used at Chelsea and Inter Milan to beat Barcelona. It means counter attacks, quick passing, explosive breaks, all of which we saw against Houston. But it also means taking the (potentially few) chances you’re given as well as long periods of focus and discipline to keep your cool and keep your shape as the other team knocks it around.

With the other team passing around, especially on a hot, sun burnt afternoon like Sunday’s, it can be easy to loosen up and sit back at times.

That causes two problems…

First, as the defense falls backward, it creates more space in front of them for the other team to move forward. While it was all good for Houston to pass around the Fire’s half 30-40 yards from goal, as the Fire’s defense moved too far back later in the game, Houston pushed closer and closer, and started finding space around the edge of the area (where the goal eventually came from). But as Gonzalo Segares said in his comments after the game, it’s not always just the defense’s fault for falling backwards, especially when they’re under attack for so many minutes.

READ: Magee, Segares, Klopas lament two dropped points Sunday vs. Dynamo

The second challenge with sitting back is that the attackers have to hold the ball up front to let the lines move up, and they have to take the open counter attacking chances that come when the other team presses to equalize. Juan Luis Anangono was unusually ineffectual when he came on Sunday, but maybe the Fire were just unlucky. If Magee’s second half shot off the post had gone in, it’s hard to see Houston getting their draw.

The Fire have proven to be a tough team to beat when they score first this year, and much of that is down to Klopas’ efficiency approach as well as the focus and discipline of the defense. In that sense, Sunday’s gut punch was an outlier. But if there’s one thing for sure about the Fire this year, it’s that their previous games are not necessarily indicators of their future ones, and no matter how many times they successfully see out the tight ones, it’s the gut punch games that we remember.

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

 

01 September 6:20 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo
Toyota Park – September 1, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the game
 
“I thought the guys played well. I think we came out and created a lot of opportunities. It’s a shame we didn’t put the game away. It’s tough the way you lose in the last minute, but that’s how it is sometimes. It’s disappointing. We have to make sure we play all the way to the end. Obviously, this hurts right now dropping these two points at home. We have a tough stretch of three games coming up so all of the points really count. So we have to find a way to pick them up somewhere else.”
 
On the last ten minutes of the game
 
“The team is playing a lot of long balls to put guys in and we knew we had to defend well. We have to be better in possession. That’s the key, if you get the ball and you keep turning it over then they are going to play a long ball. When we did get the ball we had to be better even in transitions from when we did get it to be a little bit better and finish the game. That’s how it goes and we just have to move on.”
 
On the Houston goal
 
“I saw the same thing you saw. We have to defend better and stop the ball, so I saw the same thing you saw.”
 
On taking Alex out of the game
 
“He was tired, he worked very hard. I don’t know if you were watching the same game I was, but he had a good game. He got tired towards the end, so we needed fresh legs in the game. That is why we have a team we have to rely on our players. Unfortunately we dropped those two points at this point of the season where all of the points count. We have to find a way to pick up these two points.”
 
On Houston’s possession
 
“They kept possession and knocked it in the back. We had to be better with our decision making and sometimes taking extra dribbles. They had possession, but we are the ones that created the better chances.”
 
Chris Rolfe, Chicago Fire Forward
 
On the result:
           
“I thought we played well and everybody worked hard.  To give up a goal in the 90th minute is always tough to swallow.”
 
On the offensive chances in the first half:
 
“If you look at Mike and me, we had plenty of chances to put the game away in the first half.  It’s a game of inches and it just hasn’t been going our way a little bit. The defense played well today and stopped a lot of dangerous attacks; they just kind of got worn down.”
 
On the play he received a yellow card caution:
 
“He took a long touch, I saw the ball and thought I could get there, but I’m not a good defender so I fouled him.”
 
On dropping two points:
 
“We’ve got a tough stretch coming up here, especially against Seattle.  But it’s a good time to catch them; I think they are missing a couple of players. It’s still going to be tough, we put a lot into this one – we needed three points and we came away with one.  We need to deal with it and pick up three points somewhere else.”
 
Gonzalo Segares, Chicago Fire Defender
 
On the result:
 
“This one feels like a loss, we had three points in our hands and we let it slip away, it’s definitely tough to swallow.”
 
On the late Houston goal:
 
“We have to be able to manage the game better.  Just a minute before that we were dropping back and holding, we just have to be able to maintain that.”
 
On the last few minutes of the game:
 
“We stopped moving the ball, we couldn’t put two or three passes together and get the ball back, so it was hard for us in the back to move the lines up so we could get back in shape and not just be sitting in the back like how it happened.  It happened in a few games prior to this, teams start pushing to come back and it’s just a matter of us in the back learning how to manage it.  The line needs to move up and the guys in front of us to hold it and give us a breather because for 10 minutes they are coming and coming knocking the door.  A lot of times we are able to hold them off, but today we couldn’t.  We definitely need to learn from it.”
 
On the differences in the first half versus the second half
 
“We had plenty of chances in the first half to be up 2-0 or 3-0 and put them away, but we didn’t.  We let them have a little breather and they came back and tied the game. That’s frustrating because it’s a game that we thought we had three points in our hand.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On dropping points at home:
 
“In the end it feels like we lost some points, but it was a tough game and it’s a tough team.  For the remainder of the year we have to look to get max points at home, tonight we let a couple slip.”
 
On the last ten minutes of the game:
 
“They take off midfielders and bring on forwards so there are more guys up front.  They are bigger guys and they launch balls forward. I felt like we dealt with it for the most part until the end when we weren’t getting on after we cleared it and that gave them more space to come back at us.  A guy got free, and it’s not guy you want to leave open in the box.”
 
On the difference between the first and second half:
 
“They changed personnel a little bit.  In the first have we were good, positive and created a lot of chances, but unfortunately we didn’t put them away because I think that if we had it would have been a much different game.  In the second half they’re an experienced team, they bring on guys who know they can try and get points on the road by putting the ball into the box, and they did that.” 
 
Houston Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear
 
On the match:
 
“I thought we started off the game really good.  In the first ten minutes I thought we were excellent.  Obviously some miscues in midfield led to some chances for them and that sort of slowed us down a little bit.  In the second half, I think we got out stuff together, we played a little better and at the end we were just chucking balls in the box, and Cam [Weaver] was getting his head on a few of them.  It was a good heads up play by Corey [Ashe].  It’s a little bit of a mixed bag.  I think it’s a good point, I think we created enough chances to get a goal.  Tally [Hall] made a great save at the end.  It’s tough.  They’re fighting for their playoff lives, we are also.  There’s going to be swings in momentum, but just glad to see the momentum swing back to help get us a goal and a point.”
 
On getting more consistent results:
 
“It’s not just us.  It’s not just walk on the field and win the game.  Sometimes you are playing against very good teams.  The object is to step on the field and play well and win every game, no matter what.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s a busy week for us with our Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday coming up, and a big game in Columbus on that Wednesday…so we want to remain consistent.  We want to drive home and reinforce why we’ve been successful and remind ourselves what is not working for us.  If we can put those all together, get the bad out of the way, it makes for a complete performance.”
 
On Eric Brunner’s injury:
 
“He turned his ankle, that’s all I can tell you right now.”
 
Houston Dynamo Midfielder Corey Ashe
 
On his assist:
 
“[The ball] was well struck by [Moffat].  I was trying to push the pace towards the end since we were down a goal and try to capitalize on the fact that some of their guys weren’t being honest defensively so I wanted to take advantage of that and fortunately I saw Moffat at the last second and rolled it back to him and he did the rest.”
 
On the result:
 
“I think a tie was appropriate.  I thought in the first half we were really giving the ball away, we were really out of sync, we were fortunate not to have them score more, but I thought the team showed a lot of effort, a lot of resiliency.  We were able to fight back and get that point.  It’s definitely what you need at this stage of the season.”
 
On feeling the playoff pressure:
 
“A little bit.  I think what everyone around the league knows about this team is that we’re good at finishing the season.  A lot of veterans have been here and done it and this gives us the lift that we need.  Obviously coming off a disappointing loss in Montreal, you take a step kind of in the right direction result-wise, but we know we still have a lot of work to go.  Obviously Columbus is right behind us, so we are at the stage where you can’t be really dropping points.  Chicago is so close to us, the race for the playoffs is so tight, so every game is really important.”
 
Houston Dynamo Midfielder and Captain Brad Davis
 
On the team’s performance:
 
“I thought the beginning of the game was good for us.  I thought we started great, had a real good opportunity there with Will [Bruin] on goal, and I think we had one other decent chance I can remember. I think after the first 15 minutes, once that goal didn’t go in, I think the tables kind of turned a little bit.  They put us under pressure.  They scored a goal on a set piece, and that’s something we need to work on and get tighter.  We’ve allowed too many goals this year on set pieces.  We need a little fire lit under us, came in here at half time and had a good chat, and came out with the right attitude.  I felt that the second half showed a team that is fighting.  Things haven’t necessarily gone the way we’ve liked them to, but we continue to fight and get everything we can.  Today is another example and it shows what we are capable of when we are down and our backs are against the wall.  We have to get something out of it, and we were able to.”
 
Houston Dynamo Midfielder Adam Moffat
 
On his goal:
 
“I saw Corey bringing it, and I made a little extra effort to make a decent run in behind him there and he spotted it and it was a great play by him.  I think I took a touch and a little time, and if I have time like that that close to goal, I’m going to have a crack.  I’m grateful nobody pressured me.  I caught it really nice.”
01 September 5:35 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 1-1 draw with Houston.

 

 

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire

28 August 3:39 pm

With the Eastern Conference playoff race so tight between seven teams, some called me crazy for starting Playoff Math so early this year. I shunned the criticism because I feel strongly that Eastern Conference nerds need their fix the remaining two months of the season.

In an attempt to keep this piece at readable length, I chose not to use a points per game basis as fellow stat nerd Tweed Thornton at Hot Time in Old Town uses. His analysis is equally interesting and I suggest you check it out.

So, with that, I breakdown the playoff outlook for the eight teams that still have a reasonable shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot…

Montreal Impact
Current Points: 41 (12-7-5)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home/ 6 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-2
Maximum Possible Pts: 71
Average Opponents Pts: 34.4
Remaining Schedule:  8/31 @ PHI, 9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Though they had a small dip in form, Montreal is back at the top of the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s 5-0 shellacking of Houston. Much of Montreal’s success can be chalked up to their dominant home record (they’ve lost just one game at Stade Saputo this season) but the team also has the toughest remaining schedule and has away matches against playoff contenders, Philadelphia, New England, the Fire and Houston before season’s end. Add to that the fact that Montreal is also competing in CONCACAF Champions League play on September 17 at San Jose and September 24 at Heredia and the top spot is far from secure.

New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining:  8 (5 home / 3 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.3
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. D.C., 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Despite a 3-2 defeat to Chivas USA at the weekend, Red Bull still sits in pretty good shape, two points back of the lead. New York holds a strong home record and of their eight remaining matches, five will be played at Red Bull Arena. Also unlike fellow playoff contenders Montreal, Sporting KC and Houston, New York only needs to focus on MLS Regular Season play the rest of the way.

Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. COL, 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC holds an identical record to New York and has to juggle two more Champions League games but has one of the easiest remaining schedules among the eight playoff contenders. Though their home record isn’t as stellar as you’d think, with the strong atmosphere Sporting Park provides, its unlikely KC is the team currently inside the bubble that falls down the stretch.

Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 38 (10-8-8)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home  / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-4 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 33.1
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. MTL, 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: With eight games left, the Union sit just three points out of first place thanks to the 4-5-4 record on the road (second best in the East) while holding serve at home (6-3-4). Things just got pretty interesting for Philly after New England’s 5-1 weekend thrashing of the Union pulled the playoff race much tighter. From a Fire perspective, their grounded out, back-to-back wins over the Men in Red in May could easily be pointed to as the difference between being in and outside the playoff bubble. If the Fire take three points in either of the 1-0 losses, the two teams are swapped in the Eastern Conference table…

New England Revolution
Current Points: 36 (10-9-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-3
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/30 @ TFC, 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England has been the surprise entrant into the race this season. The Revs have certainly found ways to punch way above their weight. Even after a six-game winless run in July and August, New England still find themselves inside the bubble with seven of their nine remaining games all against relevant Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 36 (10-8-6)
Games Remaining: 10 (5 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 33
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 @ CHI, 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21 vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Though not quite as great as 2012, Houston has kept up pretty good form at BBVA Compass Stadium so far in 2013. The Dynamo sit sixth only by the Goals For tiebreaker and currently hold at least a game in hand on everyone in front of them except for Montreal. At the same time, a loss to the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park would see the Men in Red leapfrog the Dynamo into sixth place with nine matches remaining.

Chicago Fire
Current Points: 34 (10-10-4)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home / 6 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-1 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 31.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: After failing to win a game in the month of March, the Fire’s 8-3-3 record since the arrivals of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee in late May is nothing short of fantastic. Having said that, the team still finds itself two points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Much of the team’s success is due to holding the second best home record in the Eastern Conference (8-4-1) though the side’s away record is also the second worst (2-6-3). Perhaps worse though is that after Sunday’s game vs. Houston, the team will play just three more home matches in 2013 vs. six away games.

The key to any team making the playoffs is doing the business at home and the Fire should still aim for the maximum 12 points available there. However, in order to make the postseason again in 2013, the team needs to find ways to pick up more points on the road. Luckily they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference and visit both Toronto FC and D.C. in two of their remaining six away games.

Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-12-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-4-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 33.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. SEA, 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Crew are here because though it doesn’t seem likely, they’re still in the playoff race. In my opinion, the key for Columbus is how they do in their next two matches, both of which are at home. A win over Western Conference foes Seattle won’t be considered a “six pointer” but it will keep the Crew alive for another important midweek home date vs. Houston.

27 August 9:44 am
Chicago Fire staff are volunteering their time at the Greater Chicago Food Depository today ahead of Sunday's Food Drive at Toyota Park.

Check out some photos of the helping hands below: 
 
Be sure to take part in our Food Drive this Sunday by bringing shelf-stable food items to any gate at Toyota Park. Suggested items include beans, canned fruit, canned vegetables, cereal, chili, jelly, macaroni and cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, rice, shelf-stable milk, soup, stew and tuna
 
Additional information on the Fire’s partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository can be found here.
 
 
26 August 12:28 pm

If there was ever a game for our schizophrenic 2013 Fire to overcome on what in any other week might have been a highly appealing Friday night home game - this was it.

Squad issues: Hunter Jumper had to replace suspended Bakary Soumare and his calming presence, while new arrivals Arevalo Rios and Juan Luis Anangono are still working to fit neatly into the side.

Opponent: KC, the only team to beat the Fire at Toyota Park in the Mike Magee era, coming to town with Graham Zusi and Teal Bunbury back fit, the team with the most headed goals in MLS against the Fire’s makeshift center back pairing.

Off the field: Coach Frank Klopas was suspended, national headlines off the field, time running out on the playoff race.

And then, like they’ve done time and again this year, the Fire rebounded from a disappointing loss to play up to their potential and not only take all three points, but also show the fans that there’s real quality on this team.

Whereas Rios and Jeff Larentowicz seemed out of rhythm in New England, they matched each other swimmingly on Friday, stepping and dropping, playing each other in tight spaces, and frustrating Benny Feilhaber and the rest.

Whereas wide players created next to nothing in New England, Dilly Duka was a force on the right on Friday. Meanwhile, Alex, who seemed out of place as a substitute deployed wide in New England, picked his runs to the middle of the field with considerable vision on Friday, providing support for Magee and Chris Rolfe up top, pushing counter attacks forward, and getting back to help prevent Zusi’s service on KC’s right side.

So let’s give credit to the squad for playing up to their potential in yet another massive game for the Fire. Let’s also look briefly at the magic of the 4-4-2 formation, that often-mocked old school set up the Fire rely on because Arrigo Sacchi and (occasionally) Sir Alex Ferguson aside, it’s not exactly the formation of kings.

The 4-4-2 is the everyman’s formation, the formation you play in your rec league, the most logical way to cover the field and balance attack with defense. Yet at the top level, it’s fallen out of fashion in the past decade or so thanks to the emergence of the three man midfield, Vicente Del Bosque’s 7-midfielder thing, and the desire to free up superstar players in attacking positions.

But the Fire proved that the 4-4-2 is still a viable formation in the right setting. Unlike complicated, imbalanced, shifting formations, the 4-4-2 is less about creating specific advantages in areas of the field than it is about creating 1v1 situations everywhere. That means it’s about winning individual battles, endeavoring for second balls off 50/50s, and that extra 10-yard sprint.

Of course it has its subtler points: overlapping outside backs, the way Magee dropped deeper once Anangono came on to make it more of a 4-4-1-1, etc. But what we saw on Friday night was a team focused on working hard on and off the ball for the entire game. In that way, Hunter Jumper’s scrappy goal was a perfect game-winner, because all game the Fire were on the ground, reaching balls just an inch before KC player’s could.

The commitment seemed to shoot out from Rios and Larentowicz’s eyes. They were everywhere, covering far more space than two men ought to, sliding around, starting counter attacks, holding the ball, and annoying KC all game.

You could say it’s a weakness of the 4-4-2, that it takes complete self-sacrifice. But you have only to look at the reaction of Rios at the final whistle to see that the pride in exhaustion is always worth it. 

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