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Chicago Fire

23 August 8:09 am

 

After a morale sapping 2-0 loss in New England last week, the Fire need to pick themselves up for the visit of Eastern Conference table toppers Sporting KC Friday night. There has been no love lost between the sides over the past few seasons and this one promises to be no different. Here are few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Changes to the Fire defense – who will replace Bakary Soumare

Since the return of Bakary Soumare, the Fire’s starting back four has remained virtually unchanged despite some less than stellar performances. Soumare’s suspension forces Frank Klopas into making a tough decision.

The two most likely options are moving Jalil Anibaba into the middle and replacing him with Logan Pause/Wells Thompson/Mike Videra or keeping Jalil at right back and drafting Hunter Jumper into the middle.

The latter seems the more likely choice, especially considering Jumper’s height and the coaching staff’s desire to play big men against Sporting KC in the past. Jumper has had limited playing time this season (just one appearance so far) and will need to adjust to a SKC team who started off so well at Toyota Park last time out.

A strong start and scoring first will be a huge boost to the Fire psychologically.

How to break SKC down – target the outside defenders

Kansas City have the second best defensive record in the East thanks in part to a brilliant goalkeeper and rock solid central defense pairing but it’s on the outside of the defensive four that some cracks appear.

In SKC’s recent loss against New York, more than one of the goals scored by the Red Bulls came from getting in behind the defense. With players like Mike Magee, who is so good at making runs, the Fire need to be trying to play through balls as much as possible Friday night.

Getting into 1v1 situations with the SKC outside backs is another good tactic. Joel Lindpere has made no secret of his desire to play in the middle and not on the wing, where he feels that his lack of place and ability to take a man on are on show.

With that in mind, switching Alex to the wing is a good option. With Alex and Dilly Duka on the wings, the SKC outside defenders would certainly be on the back foot for most of the night.

SKC wing play – don’t allow easy crosses

Just as the Fire should be looking to attack down the wings, the Men in Red must also be wary of SKC’s wide play. Normally, SKC rely on U.S. international Graham Zusi to create from midfield but in his absence, more emphasis has been put on getting the ball wide and putting crosses into the box for Bieler, Kamara and Saad.

In Sporting’s last match against New England, this tactic worked to perfection, with the first two goals of the night coming from crosses. New England allowed the SKC players far too much room to pick people out with crosses.

The Fire must be quicker to close Kansas City down, especially when they get the ball into the wide areas. It is expected that Zusi will be back in the starting lineup tonight but his presence should not distract the Fire from concentrating, not allowing Sporting players time on the ball.

Prediction: It’s a must win for the Fire and I expect them to come out on top: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee.

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

21 August 7:50 pm

I have a confession to make. I’m a new Chicago Fire fan, having been hired to oversee communications for the club just six months ago. But according to some folks, I was also a “s***** hire.” The only professional experience (“zero soccer experience”) I have is “promoting a video game” and I do “not belong leading the Communications department.”

Additionally, I also “need to shave.” To be fair, that one is true, but my wife thinks I look weird totally clean shaven. To be fairer, all of the other statements might also be true, but I would like the opportunity to prove how s*****I am first. To be fairest of all, maybe I already have proven it six months into the job.

But I’m more interested in learning what made me a s***** hire on day one? What brought about the warm reception from a vocal few as I was introduced as a new member of the “Fire family?” My best guess is that because I work for an owner who is supposedly “cheap,” “doesn’t care,” and only sees the team as a “toy.” Or maybe it’s because I’m joining a front office staff that just “doesn’t get it” or only makes “bad decisions.” 

Really? Yikes.

Fortunately, those are the only things that I’ve read about online, or have had forwarded my way, or that I have seen on the supporter message boards (I would hate to read the non-supporter boards).  That was until the experience at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal when the Fire laid a giant egg against D.C. United. I don’t pretend to know all the history, but from what I’ve heard, the stories told to me, watching the videos, hearing from staff and our owner, I knew how important this game was. I knew why the Club decided to promote the heck out of it (Facebook ads, on broadcast, social media, letter from ownership, ads at the Messi & Friends game, ads at the U.S. Soccer Viewing Party, free parking, make-up games, discounted food, etc.), and while the crowd and atmosphere led by a robust showing of Section 8 were great, unfortunately the result was gut wrenchingly disappointing. 

Yes, ownership and family were at the game. And yes, fans have a right to boo and show how disappointed they are, especially when the Club they love doesn’t perform up to expectations. Look, I’m an unabashed Detroit Lions fan, I know the mentality of a fan going an entire season without winning or watching a team go longer than a decade without a playoff appearance. It’s the thrill of victory and agony of defeat that makes sports great. And from what I’ve seen and heard from Fire supporters, I know it runs even deeper in soccer than anywhere else in sports.    

But are personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc., that happened at that Open Cup game OK? Are shouting obscenities to staff, our owner and his family, or other supporters attending games with their families the norm? There’s a fine line between love and hate and being critical vs. being destructive. Certain incidents in particular related to that game have given me and others at the Club pause. 

It has been shared with me that the Club’s charter (co-written by our owner and Section 8 leadership) makes it clear that all who enter Toyota Park are to be “respectful of all other supporters, participants, match officials, entertainers, athletes, stadium personnel, staff members and stadium property.” Are to “behave in a responsible manner and not interfere in other supporters’ enjoyment of the match.” And are “to refrain from using foul, sexist, racial, or offensive language including any type of obscene gesture.”

In the aftermath of that game, we/I have heard from many longstanding supporters who were afraid, fearful, disgusted with certain attendees behavior. Our role as a club is to draw a line and protect the sanctity and honor of the organization and all its supporters. 

While I may be new to the team, I know the Club isn’t delusional. Owner Andrew Hauptman has set high standards that he hasn’t shied away from. And while these standards might not always be met, you can tell that he has instilled into this group a focus on performance, community, collaboration and connectivity.  In many ways, the club is more successful than ever by these standards, including the footprint of its foundation, social reach, growth in corporate partnerships, expansion of the season ticket base, deep investments and exponential scale in youth and recreational soccer, broadcasting and so on.

But beyond that, there’s the other side that you don’t always get to see.  Chances are that if you’ve met our owner or even just had a conversation with him, you know he tells it like it is, for good or for bad. There’s also a real sense of caring at the Fire, be it regarding the business of the club, or on a more personal level. One “Fire family” isn’t a cliché.  The inclusive and authentic nature of our culture starts from the top down. Hopefully you see pieces of it in action by just attending a game and being welcomed at Toyota Park, or from our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (including upcoming Food Drive at our September 1 game), our annual Practice in the Community event coming up this Saturday, our commitment to inclusiveness by participating at the Pride Parade or the upcoming Pride Initiative on September 28, staff members lobbying City Council on behalf of LGBT athletes, honoring important community leaders on Hispanic Heritage night, partnering with Chicago Public Schools, and so on.     

Even going back to the field, earlier in the season, ownership was the first to tell you that the team on the field was frankly just not good enough (even though the jury is out on this year).  And in sports, because of that, there will always be those who want ownership to sell.  Want to make calls for front office firings? Find me someone who doesn’t think they could be doing their job better. Telling me I suck at my job? That all comes with the territory I guess. But don’t also be surprised that if someone personally goes after anyone in the Club or its supporters in a way that defies the inclusive culture being built at the Fire, that the Club will respond sincerely and want to know why they would still want to be a part of it?

Our integrity within this Club actually matters to us. For me personally and others on the staff, this is our livelihood. Failure isn’t an option. Why would we choose to work together on building this Club with anyone who takes a stand that prevents progress, espouses negativity and is just downright not truthful, inhibiting us from doing our jobs to the best of our ability? Or worse, make attending a game for a supporter a fearful experience?

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about soccer, the Fire or MLS.  But what attracted me to the job is working in sports, connecting with passionate fans, being part of an organization that stands up for values like integrity, hard work, and humility and a 24/7 desire to bleed for this incredible Club. I heard every one of those elements in my conversations with our owner, AK, and others I met before making the decision to join. I knew that I was becoming part of a bigger movement, tasked with growing the game and the Club, leaving a positive impact on the community and Chicago as a whole. And with all its inherent challenges, that’s what we are going to do. For me personally, I would love your help to get there. In fact, I know how much I need it.

I have another confession – the majority of folks I’ve met since I’ve joined, the staff, supporters, bloggers, media, Club Seat Holders, Section 8 members, etc., have all been more than welcoming. I’ve felt that they want both the Club and me to succeed.  While there will always be those who might choose a different route, I’m glad to know that there will be thousands of others that will have my back.

19 August 12:54 pm

Over the weekend, Chicago Fire Season Ticket Holders began receiving #FIREUP renewal packets in the mail regarding 2014 Season Tickets. Chicago-Fire.com did a Q&A with Vice President of Ticket Sales, Service and Operations Mike Ernst to explain the philosophy behind some of the changes to the club's Season Ticket packages next season.

Chicago-Fire.com: Why is there a reduction from a 20 tickets to 18 tickets in the Season Ticket Holder packages?

Mike Ernst: Having discussed the potential move in the past, there are a couple of reasons we decided to make the switch this year.

First, we have seen over the course of the past several years that the Bonus Games were not always popular with our Season Ticket Holders. When we had a match against a big-name team like Manchester United, people were extremely happy, but if the game(s) were against a perceived lesser opponent, people were not as interested and were less likely to attend. 

I think this stems from the fact that the games are exhibitions in nature and often times the regular starters did not play due to the competition calendar. 

As a Club, we have tried to do our best to balance making sure the First Team is rested and has a competitive advantage in games that count (MLS Regular Season & U.S. Open Cup) while also putting on exhibitions that attract new, prospective fans.  

C-F.com: Does the exclusion of Bonus Matches from this year’s season ticket packages mean the Fire won’t be hosting international friendlies next year?

ME: Far from it, exhibitions against international opponents will continue to be a focus for our Club going forward and  we will give Season Ticket Holders the chance to purchase their tickets for any of these games before the general public. In addition, Season Ticket Holders will be able to purchase these tickets at a significant savings off the face value. 

These matches give us the opportunity to raise the profile of our Club with the opponent’s fan base and the broader general public. The goal of hosting these matches is to attract local fans of another Club to a Fire game with the aim of converting them to supporting their local Club. 

It is critical for the continued growth of our Club to recruit new fans and then convert them  to Season Ticket Holders over time.

C-F.com: Why has the Club shifted course on U.S. Open Cup games with the offering of the U.S. Open Cup Series Ticket? What does that mean?

ME: The U.S. Open Cup Series ticket will be the 18th game in the season ticket package. That ticket (and parking if applicable) will be good for up to three games if the Fire host the 3rd Round, 4th Round and Quarterfinal at home. 

This change is the next step in ownership’s commitment to contend for the U.S. Open Cup on an annual basis. In the past, we have and have not included U.S. Open Cup games in our season ticket package. We feel it is important to take this step, so that we give the guys on the field the best possible competitive advantage. 

In the event that we do not host a U.S. Open Cup game at home, the Series ticket will be good for exchange to another MLS regular season home match.

C-F.comWhat benefits are changing for Season Ticket Holders in 2014?

ME: The Club is committed to providing Fire fans with the best season ticket benefits in Chicago. In 2014, we will continue to offer free parking/$6 parking where applicable, the same exchange program to help you avoid wasting tickets, and a 20% off savings on merchandise at the TOYOTA PARK team store and online. In addition, it is important to note that we are not raising the price of tickets on a per-game basis.

Our goal is to continue to grow the season ticket base, so that we put the Club in a situation to sellout every match at TOYOTA PARK and thereby provide the team on the pitch with a home-field advantage. While that will not happen overnight, we believe that providing all Fire fans with an affordable and flexible season ticket option is critical to achieving our goal.  

C-F.comWhen can Season Ticket Holders expect to receive tickets for 2014?

We are expecting the 2014 season to begin sometime in early to mid-March, so we are aiming to have Season Tickets out by mid-February. It is important to us to make sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible. 

In addition, we are still looking at options on how Season Tickets will be formatted for next year. There will be more information on that in the coming months. 

17 August 10:23 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, Mass. – August 17, 2013
 
Chicago Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich
 
“I think that as it wore on, [the Revs] found a goal – a long ball, pulled apart in the back – and Juan (Agudelo) made a good play out of it. I need to watch the replay to see if it went over the line. It’s a tough one and they call it, so now we’re chasing the game. It was a little helter-skelter in the end and they get a second one. We hit a post early. Mike (Magee) was in later in the game and speared one to Dilly (Duka) and we just couldn’t tap it in. We had our looks and it’s a tough place to play. At the end of the day, things just didn’t go our way.
 
Any time you bring new guys in, it takes some time. So I think is just a matter of getting to know each other and familiarity and all that type of stuff.
 
We’ll brush it off. There are 11 more games and you can’t get tied up in one game. It’s just unfortunate with the events that happened. It’s silly in some ways, but what are you going to do?
 
I don’t know what happened after the game and like I said earlier, I just don’t think non-players should be making comments to players on the field if that’s the case. I don’t know what I happened from there. It’s not for me to judge that. But I guess the referee judged it. So, it is what it is.  It’s unfortunate, and we’ll more on, brush ourselves off and get ready for the next game.”
 
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson
 
“I thought they finished their opportunities, plain and simple. I thought it was a hard-fought game; (we) just ended up on the wrong side of the result.
 
You saw it, we lost. What more do you want me to say? Push and score a goal. It happens.”
 
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
 
“It was difficult. I think that the second half for us was a bit better. We were able to pressure more in the midfield. In the first half they had a lot of time. But that said, I don’t think they had a lot of chances in the first half. I think that as the game got stretched, as we pushed more guys forward, they got a second goal. For us it was a tough game, but we try and move forward.
 
It was tough. This was a big game. We were sitting right on top of the Revs before the game and now they leapfrog over us, so we’re hoping to continue to push to get into that playoff spot. We’re getting to a point in the year where they are running out of games. So whether it’s at home or on the road, we want to get points and tonight we let this one slip.
 
It’s always fun [playing against your former team.] You get to see familiar faces and play in the old stadium, but that all kind of goes out the window once the whistle blows and things get going. After the game you shake hands. It was good. I would have liked to have won, but that’s what happens.”
 
New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps
 
“I thought it was a pretty hard-fought match, but we came out with the right mentality. We certainly changed the lineup from our last couple games. I thought the guys that got in tonight did an excellent job.
 
It’s a little bit feel, it’s a little bit going over a lot of film and just seeing where we might need an uptick in certain areas. I thought Matt (Reis) has been training really well and pushing Bobby (Shuttleworth) and Bobby’s played great all year. It’s a great little competition, but sometimes when guys are pushing in training – to reward and give an opportunity, I thought Matt earned it.
 
With Juan (Agudelo) coming back – he wanted to come back last week, but we had to listen to our medical staff because he had a knee injury and we wanted to be smart. For me, Juan has a really good presence up there. He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous when he holds it. It’s not just holding it to play it; it’s holding it to get people in and then giving it up. So for me, he gives players like Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn (Rowe) a little bit more time to find the gaps, and Diego (Fagundez) as well. When you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.
 
I think it was the effort from everybody. We were closing down on every opportunity and that’s exactly what we need as a constant. I think when we do that, from Lee to Kelyn to Scott (Caldwell) to Diego when he’s there in there. And Saer (Sene) came in and Chad (Barrett), and when we can limit them, there’s just a little bit more urgency we do a lot better. Then again, I thought A.J. (Soares) did a nice job coming in and was very vocal in training all week and very vocal on the field and we need that.
 
We needed a win. Last week, we were really disappointed with the way the game went from top to bottom. We were really disappointed with (the loss) to Toronto as well, because we played decent enough to do something in that game. But we didn’t and that was a real kick to our psyche. We needed to rebound. I thought tonight after another loss, you really start asking a lot of guys, and tonight the energy was there. Right from the opening whistle, I felt really good about our chances.
 
To be honest with you I don’t know (what happened after the final whistle). I’ll need to go back and look on film. I know that there were red cards shown to (Bakary) Soumare and Saer Sene. I don’t know what exactly transpired to lead that. It’s two teams going at it and we’ll see it on film, but there was definitely a lot of emotion.
 
It’s funny, we talked a lot about (shutting Mike Magee down) and he still got a shot. That’s how he gets chances. It was a shot deflection and he’s just so elusive inside the box, you just can’t get too close to him. So, for us we talked a lot about where he arrives. He likes to drift, he finds the gaps – he’s really good at that. If we can keep an eye on him, that was the best – I think we did much better in the second half actually, to communicate every step he made. He’d start wide and drift in and go long, so as long as (Andrew) Farrell was communicating that pass on to A.J., it worked well. In the first half, it was a little bit of a breakdown, because Farrell had to come over all the way and he almost had his chance. But that’s what Mike Magee’s been doing. He’s just been lethal when he gets a yard of space and that’s hard to defend.
 
Not much (was different to create chances in the second half.) For me, we talk about possession and where you have good, dangerous possession and there’s a difference. In the weeks before we had center back, center back outside back – that to me is not dangerous. We were at the top of their box moving it from the final third area, not totally in the box. But we had them in the area where you limit counterattacks, you limit anything they’re doing and you’re not so far up the field. It was a good possession and I thought it was a dangerous possession, which makes (Chicago) work harder. In the second half, I thought it was a lot of the same, but we were able to break through.”
 
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis
 
“I think that’s one of the things that I have always been good at throughout my career, whether it’s been in college all the way up until now. Even if I don’t get in a lot of games, there’s not that much of a drop-off when I do get in. It was nice to get back out there. It was great. I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen again, but I was happy to help the team. It was a big game for us. We really needed the points, and we came out and did everything we needed to do.
 
We really want to make it tough [for other teams] to play here, and being at home, we should be getting three points every time we play at home. I feel like if we can do that – if we can win out our games at home – we’ll put ourselves in a great chance to make the playoffs.
 
I thought as a team, we did a great job. We weathered the storm a little bit. We knew they were going to come out and really pressure us, which we did and then we were able to control the game from then on out. The guys did a great job and we broke them down. It took a while – we knew it was going to take a while, but we were persistent and finally got what we needed.
 
I think I have been doing this for long enough that the nerves are there, but it’s the excitement. You never know when it’s going to be your last game, you never know. You always got to enjoy getting out there. It was a lot of fun.
 
[Getting the start] felt good. I heard [I would be starting] I think it was Thursday or so. [The coaches] just asked if I was ready to play and I said ‘Yeah.’
 
Yeah, [Juan Agudelo’s goal] was a great goal, and that’s what he brings. He brings that little bit that you need. You can see why the premier leagues are asking for him.
 
[Juan Agudelo] does all the things well. He holds the ball up well, he gets behind well, takes people on. He’s got the complete package.
 
It’s one game. We are going to have to look at it, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well and move on.
 
I thought [the back line] did well. We were saying before, they had a few chances in the beginning and then not too many throughout the rest of the game. We were organized. The chances that they did get were not spectacular chances. I thought we did great.”
 
New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies
 
“I’m glad that we got the three points. That’s the most important thing. Am I happy with my play? Absolutely not. But it’s good to get the junk out of my system now, before we start getting into tougher situations. Just getting out there felt great. This is a team where I think I’ll really be put in a position to succeed. The midfielders create a lot of space for the forwards and provide great chances and great service, so I’m psyched. I’m psyched for the games ahead and once I get my feet back under me after the craziest two weeks, three weeks. I think things will go much better than they had today.
 
I expected to come on. Once you get the actual ‘you’re going in,’ (I felt) just sheer excitement. I’m so happy to be back. I’m so happy to be part of this team and this organization that I’ve grown up watching and it’s an exciting time. It’s 10 games left now and the playoffs are on the horizon if we continue to play like we did today. I was also very impressed with the way we played today. The way we were able to control the ball in their half and keep possession and keep moving it. I think that is a great sign of how far soccer has come in MLS – just in the two years I’ve been gone or year and a half or so. Teams are starting to understand how to keep the ball and how to keep the defense moving even if you can’t break them down. I’m excited to be a part of this team.
 
I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a perfect time to come on. They’re going to be pushing forward and they’re going to leave so much space open,’ and they did. I was just unlucky not to finish my chances but they’ll come. As a striker, it has to go in and out if it doesn’t work out for you.
 
It depends how much time you get with the guys [to learn a new system.] I’m just taking it game by game and we’ll see what happens. I think fairly quickly, I’ll be able to be on the same page as these guys. I think it’s just a matter of timing at this point. A lot of the guys know how I play, which is great. I think soon enough it will click.
 
It’s amazing (to play soccer in New England again.) I’ve grown up here, played soccer here for 18 years. There’s so many people that I’ve played with or against here in New England and have come to support me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I feel like I’m on the last hurdle; the last step before I can get back to where I was before the accident. I think I’m very close to crossing that finish line and that’s why I came here, because it’s a perfect opportunity for me to play with players like this, to cross the finish line.
 
(My fitness is) alright. Obviously, with more minutes, the better it’ll get, so there’s still 10 games left. Soon enough I’ll be 90-minutes fit and then it’s just a matter of finishing your chances and getting the opportunity.
 
As long as you capitalize on your chances and take advantage of your opportunity, you’re going to play. That’s all I have to focus on and I’m just glad there’s competition here, because it pushes people and it’ll only make the team better.
 
My brother, who’s like my best friend and just a lot of friends (were at the match.) Unfortunately, the families don’t make it out till next week. I guess that’s a good thing. You know, get the bad game out of the way and then for the next game, I’ll be ready.
 
I don’t feel pressure from anyone else except for myself. I put all the pressure on myself – I’ve always done that. I’ve kind of come in here with the idea of playing a lot, helping this team win and putting all the pressure on myself to be the guy that the team can lean on and depend on to grind out results, to make it happen, to get this team to the playoffs. We’ll see how each game goes and step-by-step I think I’ll get there.
 
Yeah, a little bit (of nerves stepping onto the field.) First time in a while but, that’s a good feeling.”
16 August 8:31 am

The Fire head east for another six pointer Saturday night, facing a slumping New England Revolution squad in Foxboro. Despite being without key players Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, the Men in Red beat Montreal at home last weekend. The Revs got handily beaten 3-0 in KC and are 0-2 in the month of August.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The Magee/Anangonó partnership – how will it fare?

With Chris Rolfe not training this week and Mike Magee back, it appears the Fire will start with Magee and new DP striker Juan Luis Anangonó up front on the turf against New England.

The U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat is the only time both players have been on the pitch together and it will be interesting to see how they combine against a New England team that has given up the second least amount of goals in the East.

Anangonó is very mobile for a target forward and is capable of dropping deep, something that Magee is also comfortable doing. On the turf, it will be important to keep the ball on the ground and retaining possession will also be key and I believe it will be up to both Magee and Anangonó to get other players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere involved in the attack.

Any new strike partnership takes time to gel, but I look for Magee and Anangonó to not stray too far from each other and be heavily involved Saturday night.

The Rios/Larentowicz partnership – another potential central midfield pairing

WATCH:  Lindpere, Larentowicz preview Revolution

Last weekend, we saw the return of Logan Pause, partnering Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and allowing the Ginger Ninja to get forward and support the attack.

This week, we could see a debut for Uruguayan midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, assumingly partnering the former New England man in the center of the park.

Most observers see Rios as a tough tackling midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks. This is certainly the case, but like Larentowicz, the Uruguayan also likes to get forward.

What will surprise some teams and even some Fire fans is Rios’s willingness to get forward when possible. Though he won’t score many goals (he had five in 53 matches last season) Rios will certainly start quite a few attacks from breaking up play in  the opposition’s half, something we’ve seen Patrick Nyarko do a lot of this season.  

What will be very important on Saturday night is that both players must know where the other is and not have a situation where they’re caught too high up the field. Communication and discipline from both players will be important, but I have no worries considering the wealth of experience the duo possesses.

New England’s Attack – who will get the start on Saturday night?

When people look at the Revs attack, Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene immediately spring to mind. In addition, New England have a couple of American strikers that have the ability to change games, namely Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies.

Agudelo is back to fitness after missing the last eight matches and is a familiar foe for the Fire, scoring in a 4-1 defeat by Chivas USA at Toyota Park back in March. He scored three goals in five games for the Revs before being injured and is certainly a threat.

Davies is looking to get his career back on track with the Revs and has a point to prove in MLS but he hasn’t played a competitive match in a few months.

With the addition of the former U.S. international, the Revs have excellent strength in depth at the forward position and have the luxury of bringing on high quality strikers if need be.

I touched on this issue when the Fire played Philly back to back earlier this season and it will be important that the team is prepared to change midway through the game and adjust to whoever comes off the bench. All four strikers bring different qualities and it will be important for the Frank Klopas to adjust his side accordingly.

Prediction: With so many question marks about who will start and new partnerships on the field, this game is very difficult to predict. I am going with 1-0 Fire (first clean sheet in two months!) with a goal from Juan Luis Anangonó.

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

14 August 8:15 am

As an organization, the Fire recognizes that Twitter is one of the most import social communication platforms it can use to engage with supporters.

The official Fire account (@ChicagoFire) is used to connect with fans, generate awareness, highlight promotions, or just informing fans in a real-time manner, i.e., news, weather and traffic alerts.  To broaden the discussion around the club and create deeper engagement with supporters, Chicago Fire Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla (AK) will be joining the conversation.

Beginning today, you’re invited to follow AK at @atulkhosla. While it will be impossible for him to engage and respond to every question (he does have a day job), you can expect AK to listen, answer questions, offer some behind-the-scenes access as well as his point of view about the business direction of the club, MLS overall, and the vision for the future. 

He can also discuss the finer intricacies of the dining in Bucktown, Badger football, and things that rhyme with coleslaw.

13 August 4:46 pm

If you saw this week's MLS save of the week nomination earler, you may have noticed something weird.

Helper to the 'keeper/forward, Chris Rolfe is up for his line clearing header that "saved the day". (VOTE HERE)

But let's not forget that "The Milkman" delivered too.

Sean Johnson made three big saves on Saturday night, and none more stellar than his point blank stop on Justin Mapp in the 39th minute of play. (watch above)

For his performance, MLSsoccer.com has named Sean to the Team of the Week, proving once again that they don't call him "The Milkman" for nothin'!

12 August 9:56 am

In the 87th minute on Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Fire were holding on to a 2-1 lead against Montreal, who were seven points and two playoff positions ahead in the table. Daniel Paladini, who had come on for Alex 25 minutes earlier, set up to take a corner, but there were just two Fire players forward against six or so in blue. Jeff Larentowicz and Quincy Amarikwa were moving around, doing their best to make space, but this was all about the chance to have the ball deep in Montreal’s half and relieve some pressure.

BTL: The Production

Paladini saw Amarikwa a half yard away from his marker at the penalty spot and floated a ball in towards him. Judging from how the ball arrived to Amarikwa at about the height of Montreal center back Hassoun Camara, and considering Camara’s listed at 6-2 and Amarikwa at 5-9, the Fire forward’s insanely acrobatic bicycle attempt got his feet up to a half-foot above his own head.

Even though Amarikwa whiffed, it was one of those athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic moments that can define a soccer game because generally, the team that comes out the most athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic is going to win the games. (Also, Amarikwa made up for the whiff by converting an equally impressive bike in the reserve match on Sunday morning.) It said more, too, that it was a substitute that was making this sort of tone-setting play.

Amarikwa has impressed Fire fans in his cameos this season because of his work rate, willingness to take defenders on, and his creative spontaneity on the ball (even if that means sometimes he holds onto it for a bit too long). Those were exactly the traits the Fire needed to get maximum points at home on Saturday, a critical result that leaves the team now just two points out of a playoff spot. Even though he didn’t have the impact on the game, Amarikwa's work was symbolic of that of the whole team.

In the third game in eight days, with Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe day-to-day, Patrick Nyarko out, Dilly Duka picking up a new knock every game, new DP Juan Luis Anangono acclimating to MLS, Logan Pause coming back from injury, and the pressure for points greater than it’s been all season following Wednesday’s Open Cup exit, the Fire came out on Saturday with a new look to them.

BTL: Fire 2.0 earns key point in Houston

As two deeper lying midfielders, Pause and Larentowicz haven’t found their rhythm together this season, but this time Frank Klopas put them out with Alex (who took the spot when Pause got injured) pushed forward with Anangono. The wide players were the same (Joel Lindpere and Duka), but the seemingly minor adjustment of adding Pause and pushing Alex farther forward actually provided the Fire the first fresh tactical look seen since the spring.

And it was a solid system, too, because it morphed from a 4-5-1 with Alex dropping deeper during periods of Montreal possession, into the usual Fire 4-4-2 when the Fire won the ball, with Alex pushing on into space with Anangono. They worked well together on certain fast breaks; Anangono showed that he’s not afraid to make lung-busting runs to clear out space for others. But as much as the system provided some necessary defensive support without sacrificing the slingshot counterattacking Klopas loves, the game was always going to be decided by the players stepping up into the spaces left by Nyarko, Magee, and Rolfe.

Klopas couldn't have asked for a better response from Lindpere and Duka, the two creative wide players who have fought for their playing time all season, and who scored the two goals. They took their chances (and a bit of luck), but they also held the ball, moved the team forward, tracked back, and generally kept the pace of the game far above the revolting one we saw on Wednesday night.

Saturday night showed the Fire’s depth and flexibility in personnel, tactics, and mindset, and it was Amarikwa’s bike that showed the Fire’s potential for style and spontaneity. If this team is going to complete this massive comeback into playoff contention, it’s as much the creativity as it is the grit that’s going to take them there and it’ll have to come not just from the superstars and leaders, but from everyone on the team. 

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