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Chicago Fire

08 October 1:54 pm

 

The big stories of Friday night’s win at DC United have to be the Fire staying in the playoff hunt (now two points behind Philly for the East’s fifth and final spot) and Sean Johnson’s saves that helped procure an invaluable clean sheet. But a closer look finds a Fire team with an ignominious away record finally succeeding away from Toyota Park with the help of a new approach that could propel them into the playoffs: a high defensive line.
 
To get the qualifiers out of the way, yes, DCU was playing a little hungover after their incredible U.S. Open Cup win at Salt Lake on Tuesday night, and yes, they were playing some young guns. But these are professionals playing for their jobs and for their pride. With some better finishing they could have made this night super awkward.
But that said, the Fire managed to not only keep a clean sheet en route to a comfortable seeming 3-0 win, they did so with a super high defensive line. It had some hiccups but, like the Fire coaches have been clamoring for the past few weeks, they finally found themselves with an advantage of at least two goals. It gave them a little bit of emotional space to play in, a little bit of confidence, and those are the things that the Fire need to succeed away from home.
 
It’s important to acknowledge that the Fire’s three goals came for the most part against the run of play. DCU held a lot of possession, something the Fire are OK with, but they soaked up the pressure and hit DCU back efficiently, repeatedly, and without mercy, exactly what Frank Klopas envisioned for a tricky away game.
 
They did so by pushing Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry way up the field. Along with Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios scrambling in midfield, that scrunched the amount of space DCU’s midfielders had to play in. With less room to play, they were more likely to lose the ball gifted the Fire playmakers with chances here and there throughout the game. It was Patrick Nyarko stepping up in the sixth minute which led to Mike Magee’s shot that was saved by Joe Willis. The foul that led to the Fire’s second goal came after another giveaway gave the Fire possession in the 25th
 
With two more away games left, it’s enticing to think that this high line and high pressure approach is the Fire’s ticket to the playoffs, but we saw on Friday how the high line invites its own risks. Leaving so much space behind the defense means that balls between or around the defenders can pose serious threats to a backpedaling line. The best way to counter that is to constantly pressure the ball so that whoever’s on it never has the time to look up and find the pass behind the defenders. There was a 10 minute period after the Fire’s first two goals when DCU was creating chances and Klopas appeared on the bottom of the TV feed, screaming at his midfielders to apply more pressure on the ball.
 
 
It’s reassuring to see Klopas continually tweaking the tactics, even so late in the season, because we’ve seen that this team needs those sort of adjustments to continue gelling into this final phase. But considering his allegiance to the traditional 4-4-2, it’s also interesting to see Klopas take on the trendy defensive high line. It’s the high line that Pep Guardiola has rode at Barcelona and now Bayern Munich, and the Fire share with Guardiola’s teams the characteristic of being most dangerous on the counterattack, right after the high line wins the ball.
But with so much space behind the defenders, any mistake can be costly. A quick jaunt through tactics guru Michael Cox’s articles shows exactly how scary it can be. It’s a high risk sort of approach, one that requires the entire team defending as one unit, always pressuring the ball, always keeping neat straight lines in the back, and always having faith that your teammates are pressuring as hard as you are.
 
 
The Fire came out needing three points to stay in the playoff race and they managed to put a solid game together that was marked more by game management and efficiency than halftime adjustments and inconsistent focus. With just nine regular season points left to play for, it was refreshing, and much needed. The Fire will take those risks in the next three games. The only question is whether when Philly slip up, they can keep the focus and confidence and squeeze into the playoffs.

 

08 October 6:52 am

On this day 142 years ago, the Great Chicago Fire began in our city. Long after the rebuilding had been finished, on this day 16 years ago, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club (NOT the Chicago Rhythm) was founded at iconic Navy Pier, immediately tying the newest MLS franchise to one of the city’s most defining historical events.

Today, as we do every year, we recognize the legacy not only of the city of Chicago but of the 16 years of our club and we hope you'll join us tonight at the Toyota Park Stadium Club to do so.

Until then, here are a few Fire related 16s…

The men who wore 16...

Josh Wolff (1998-2002), Andy Williams (2003-2004), Will John (2005), Brian Plotkin (2006-2007), Marco Pappa (2008-2012), Brendan King (2013- )

Not only...

…did Williams and Pappa wear #16 throughout their Fire tenures, both also racked up 16 regular season assists in their time with the club.

Did you know...?

Neither Fire legends Lubos Kubik (1998-2000) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (2007-2009) wore 16 but both scored 16 MLS regular season goals and it was the attacker Blanco who tallied more from the spot?

The Mexican World Cup veteran edged Kubik 7-5 in penalty kicks converted for the Fire.

Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens racked up 16 wins with the Fire between 2004-2007. The tally his fourth most among Fire goalkeepers behind Zach Thornton (109), Sean Johnson (39) and Jon Busch (25).

Also…

When he appears on Saturday, Sean Johnson will tie DaMarcus Beasley for 16th on the club’s all-time MLS appearance list at 98 games played.

Current Fire defender Gonzalo Segares sits seventh on the club’s all-time U.S. Open Cup appearance list with 16 games played while…

former Fire defender C.J. Brown holds the record for most international appearances (CONCACAF & SuperLiga) with 16.

It's been an honor to be part of this club for four of its historic 16 seasons. Here's to many more. See everyone tonight and HAPPY SWEET 16 FIRE!

07 October 6:18 pm

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club and Fire Foundation are happy to support the Chicago Department of Public Health in encouraging residents to get a flu shot and stay healthy this winter. 

On Monday morning, Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares joined Dr. Bechara Choucair, CDPH Commissioner, and Anna Esquivel, CDPH RN, at the Little Village Community Council for a press event unveiling CDPH billboard, print and CTA flu shot awareness ads featuring Segares and other prominent Chicago sports figures including Mike Ditka, and Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles, both from the Chicago Sky.

Segares received his annual flu shot from CDPH Immunization Medical Director Julie Morita, M.D and the Department also administered free flu shots at the event for Little Village Community members. 

Gonzalo was interviewed by FOX 32 and Univision telling reporters that – "I’ve got to stay healthy for my long season, and I always get my shot once a year. It’s definitely encouraging for people to come over and get theirs."

Gonzalo wasn’t the only celebrity at the event as the Fire’s mascot Sparky also “received” his flu shot.

The annual shot is the best protection against influenza and we want all our fans to be safe, especially during the colder off season. Check out the photos for more and keep an eye out for the ads throughout Chicagoland!   

For more information on the flu vaccine, please click here.

07 October 8:34 am

The Fire and a few other results went their way this weekend. Still, the Men in Red remain just below the red line, two points back of the final playoff spot in the East with three matches left to play.

A breakdown of the weekend and what it means for the current Eastern Conference playoff picture…

x - 1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53 (15-9-8)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWWW (11pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 45.0
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York held a long lead, controversy ensued, New England went up 2-1 late only to see Tim Cahill bag an incredible header to see Red Bull walk away with a 2-2 draw and eventually become the first team in MLS to clinch a playoff berth.

Still, the game will feel like a missed opportunity at home for a team still hoping to win the Supporters Shield and lock down the Eastern Conference top seed. The result is disappointing from a Fire perspective for two reasons: 1) It gives New England an extra point and 2) It almost assuredly makes Red Bull’s home game vs. the Fire on October 27 all the more meaningful.

New York will take a break off this week before visiting high-flying Houston on October 20.

2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51 (15-10-6)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5: WLWWW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 7-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 35.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC did exactly what they needed to do, getting a well-earned 1-0 victory at Columbus Saturday night. The result means Sporting has earned just three points less on the road than they have at home this season – a somewhat incredible away record in MLS terms.

KC controls their own destiny for Eastern Conference top spot but faces a very tough test Wednesday vs. a Dynamo side that jumped up to third this weekend. A Sporting win in that match automatically puts them into the playoffs but they can also make it with a combination draw and Fire draw or loss would also do the trick.

3) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 47 (13-10-8)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.7
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Houston continued their climb up the table with their third straight win Friday vs. Montreal. Things looked bleak for the Dynamo in early September but the side now seems destined to once again reach the playoffs and with back-to-back matches vs. Sporting KC and New York, their ascent might not stop at third place.

All we can say is, typical Houston Dynamo…

4) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-10-7)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home/ 2 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLLW (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Montreal fell again 1-0 at Houston Friday night, moving the side that spent much of the regular season at the top of the East all the way down to fourth place. The Impact still hold a game in hand on everyone and both of their remaining home matches are six-pointers against New England (this week) and Philadelphia (October 19). If they can recover from their down form and win those games, they should still be in the playoffs.

5) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 45 (12-10-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home  / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLLD (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-5 / 5-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 37.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: There was a point Saturday night in which it looked like all three Eastern Conference games would go the Fire’s way, then Kleberson’s 96th minute free kick happened, giving Philadelphia a crucial 1-0 home win over Toronto FC.

With that win, the Union stayed above the red line, two points ahead of the Fire with three matches remaining. Philly will look to take advantage of Saturday’s game at lowly D.C. before having to close with tough matches at Montreal and vs. Sporting KC.

6) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 43 (12-12-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLWD (7pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 3-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 40
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: The Fire did the business with a 3-0 win at D.C. on Friday night and if not for Kleberson’s late free kick in Philly, would have sat in fifth place to end the weekend.

The Fire visit FC Dallas who kept their quite slim Western Conference playoff hopes alive with a 1-1 draw vs. Real Salt Lake Saturday. With the Galaxy destroying Chivas USA and even Vancouver picking up a point vs. Portland Sunday, it doesn’t look good for Dallas, who are seven points out of the final playoff spot with three games to go, meaning a loss Saturday would officially be there end of the season.

On the other hand, the Fire are 3-12-2 all-time in Dallas and will go for their second straight away win on Saturday – a feat the team has achieved just once in the past four seasons. A win in Frisco will put the Fire in prime position with a home match vs. Toronto looming.

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 42 (11-11-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWLL (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Pts: 42.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England were no doubt the biggest losers from this weekend’s results, scoring two goals to go up 2-1 late only to have Cahill’s 96th minute header serve as a huge gut punch. A visit to Montreal, who are also coming off a loss at Houston, looms quite large and defeat in Quebec could do serious damage to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Still, the home-and-home vs. Columbus to close the season will keep things interesting for the Revolution and at the very least, likely keep them in the mix until the final weekend.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-15-5)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-6-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 47
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: As great as the Crew’s run under interim head man Brian Bliss was, all it would take was another loss to deal a horrible blow to their playoff hopes. The Crew will now take their bye week but they need to win their remaining two matches and hope for major help around the East in order to make the playoffs.

There’s still a chance but it’s just not very good.

05 October 11:41 am

What's more fun than a 3-0 win? Going back and reading all the tweets from said win! 

Check out the story of last night's match, as told through the famous #cf97 hashtag on Twitter! Tweet with us during games and you could see your message here:

 
04 October 11:43 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at D.C. United
RFK Stadium – Washington, D.C.
Friday, October 4, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the team’s approach to facing D.C. United and the home side’s high-energy display:
 
“For sure, that was to be expected. Winning the Open Cup is a great achievement and it doesn’t matter what their record is. They have a lot of quality players on their team and obviously coming off that, being at home, we knew it was going to be a difficult match. We had some chances early on. I think they did also, but we were able to finish out chances. I think that was the key in the game. I think, obviously, in the second half Sean made some big saves for us and I think we were smart towards the end to close the game off. We kept our shape really well, we were smart in possession, and we knew, as they were pushing, that there would be opportunities on the break. But we didn’t have to go every time. I think we needed to be on the ball a little bit more, but then again the third goal, obviously, it was great, but I just wanted to keep the ball. We were smart, we kept our shape, we didn’t get stretched out knowing that they had to push. I think when you keep a clean sheet and you put your chances away, you put yourself in a good position to win. We knew it was going to be a difficult match. It’s a quality team regardless of their record, plus coming off that final, you know? They put their emotions into it, and really, they were playing loose.”
 
On what he saw on Jeff Larentowicz’s goal
 
“Just some good ball movement, and obviously, the movement off the ball was the key. You get those chances and you put them away. But yeah, there was some good ball movement and some good off-the-ball movement, and I think the field was fantastic tonight. It made for a good game. You could move the ball quickly and stuff like that. It was a good combination, and guys were rewarded for their movement off the ball.”
 
On Mike Magee’s role on the night:
 
“I think that you need to find other guys. I think Mike, as a striker, I think one of his roles is to score. You give him two or three chances, you know he’s going to do that. But he’s also the guy where it really doesn’t matter. For him, he’d give up the 18 goals if that would mean we have four more wins for the team. That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s good because then, when you, with Juan and Quincy coming in with their ability and attitude, the movement off the ball creates a lot of space for our midfield players. And Mike is smart to find those guys. I think Jeff did a very good job joining in late and making late runs. A lot of times goals follow goals. When you’re on the road and get chances, you got to put them away and you need to be able to defend well and we did, and Sean came up with some big saves.”
 
On Sean Johnson’s performance:
 
“He played well. He made some key saves. We talked about our ability to close games out in the end and how we do it. We didn’t do a good job last week against Montreal. We had the lead up into the final ten minutes and we were pushing the game a little bit and we didn’t keep our shape as we were moving forward, it was almost like we were down 2-1. I thought we were smarter about this, the way we went about this game. We had the lead, and I think we pushed at the right moments, we took the risks at the right moments, but I always know that we kept numbers up in the back. It’s great when you win. D.C. United, like I said, has a lot of quality and it’s never easy for the players to come and play here.”
 
On the team’s mentality entering the final games of the regular season:
 
“We knew we had to win tonight. I saw that Montreal and Houston played tonight and Houston won that game, and there are a lot of matches tomorrow. We knew that this was a big game for us. We needed to get points. We’re playing four games—three on the road—and we need to find points to be there. It’s never easy. But it’s great that we got the three points here and you can watch the games a little bit more relaxed tomorrow.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On the team’s performance:
 
“We’re in the playoff race and we want to stay alive. I think last week we gave some points away. Every time we’ve gone on the road and had an opportunity to push ourselves further in the playoff race we haven’t done it but tonight we did it. D.C.’s a team coming off a big win and we wanted to make sure we came in and beat them.”
 
On his goal:
 
“Juan had the ball wide and took a couple guys on. I know that my job is to get in the box when I see a play develop. The ball came to me and I was able to finish it. Juan did all the work and I just kind of cleaned it up at the end.”
 
On the win affecting the team’s confidence in the playoff push:
 
“Yeah, it keeps us alive. I think we haven’t done well on the road this year. To score three goals is great, and to keep ourselves in it is all we could have asked. We get to play next week again in a game that means something. We all believe we can get into the playoffs but we have to make sure we do it when we have the opportunity.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
 
On his team’s start to the game:
 
“It took us a while to really get settled into the game. There was a very high level of play to the game for the first few minutes. It was tough—I’m not going to say it was an easy time. We definitely had to grind it out.”
 
On the effect of the result in the team’s playoff push:
 
“It’s huge. We got three points, and especially in this time of year when we’re fighting for a playoff spot. It’s massive no matter where you are—home or away. I think every point matters, and to come away with three points is a big task and everyone should be happy. Now we can get better and get ready for next week.”
04 October 11:07 pm

Select shots from the Fire's win over D.C. United presented by MiAllstate

CREDIT: USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES

04 October 8:16 am

After a disappointing September, the Fire head to the Capitol to face a D.C. United squad still on cloud nine after their shock upset of Real Salt Lake in the 100th U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday evening (LIVE 7pm CT on NBCSN). D.C.’s win combined with the Fire’s erratic away form means this game is very difficult to predict.

Here are some things to look out for a tactical perspective…

Forcing disruptions in the D.C. backline – not allowing them to act as a unit

In many games this season, D.C.’s opponents have stretched their backline, causing a number of errors. One example of this is forcing a central defender out of the middle and out wide. Another is forcing the defenders deep into their own half.

In D.C.’s recent match against New England, the Revs’ attack forced United to drop deeper and deeper, allowing players like Kelyn Rowe free shots from outside the box because defenders didn’t step up to challenge them.

In the Fire’s last MLS match against D.C., Joel Lindepere played some brilliant balls over the top of the United defense to the Fire strikers who were onside due to a combination of good runs and poor organization by the D.C. backline.

With the titanic effort put in on Tuesday night in Salt Lake, D.C. will almost certainly be making changes in defense but no matter who gets the start, the Fire players must be prepared to hound United’s backline from the first whistle and force them into making mistakes.

Changes to the Fire team – a more attacking starting eleven needed

In the first half of last weekend’s match against Montreal, the Fire set up too cautiously for my liking, most notably in the middle of the field where Logan Pause and Arevalo Rios played their first game together. Both players excel at breaking up the play but without Larentowicz or a more attacking player in the middle, the Fire were lacking in the attack.

Coach Frank Klopas recognized this and made two changes at halftime which completely turned the game around. The introduction of Alex and Chris Rolfe sparked the Men in Red into life offensively and but for some better luck, the team would have walked away with three points.

Bakary Soumare should return to the backline after his suspension, allowing Larentowicz to slot back into the midfield. Alex made big impact from the bench last week and starting him in front of Dilly Duka would give the Fire another dimension in the attack with his linkup play with Magee and Anangonó excellent in recent matches.

Duka has looked a little weary of late which isn’t a surprise considering he has started seven more matches this season than he did for the Crew throughout the whole of last season, already playing almost 500 more minutes with four games and potential playoff games to come.

A focus on Luis Silva – the former TFC man should start after being a sub in Salt Lake

Luis Silva came on for veteran Dwayne DeRosario with 15 minutes left to play in Tuesday’s Open Cup final and according to Washington Post journalist Steven Goff, Silva should get the start tonight.

Silva is comfortable playing as the lone striker or in the number 10 role, just behind the advanced forward.

As I mentioned in my tactical preview for the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, Silva and DeRo rely on their wide players to support the attack which allows Silva to get into the box and feed on crosses instead of having to drop deep and try and creature from there.

That being said, Silva is not afraid to take a shot from distance as Fire fans will remember, he scored a stunning 25 yard curler into the top corner against the Men in Red in July. The next week he also struck from distance, hitting a low bullet into the bottom corner against New England at RFK Stadium.

D.C. have scored a league low 20 goals this season and if the Fire can keep Silva under wraps tonight it will help keep the Red and Black off the score sheet.

Prediction: I have no idea what D.C. team we are going to see tonight but for all the talk of playing playoff spoiler, I think their minds will still be at Rio Tinto Stadium. 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Anangonó, and Berry.

04 October 8:01 am

MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek give the key things to look for in Friday night's game vs. D.C. United (LIVE 7pm CT on NBC Sports Network).

03 October 10:49 am

As Chris Rolfe himself pointed out to Anthony Zilis recently, 2013 has been his worst year statistically with just four goals and one assist over 28 games this season. Still, teammates have backed him, with his contribution as a midfield sub in last Saturday's 2-2 draw specifically sticking out.

The mention of this being a poor statistical season combined with Mike Magee calling Rolfe a "great finisher" had me go back and nerd out on his body of work over the years. With 48 goals, Rolfe continues to be the club's second all-time scoring leader behind Ante Razov at 76.

The fact that Rolfe has now equaled the number of seasons Razov played made their shots to goal percentage an interesting and worthy comparison.

See the tables below...

Ante Razov
Years GP Goals Shots SOG Goals/Shots % Goals/SOG %
1998 30 10 88 41 11.36% 24.39%
1999 30 14 90 49 15.56% 28.57%
2000 24 18 127 63 14.17% 28.57%
2001 7 2 26 11 7.69% 18.18%
2002 25 14 115 56 12.17% 25%
2003 26 14 119 67 11.76% 20.9%
2004 13 4 52 25 7.69% 16%
TOTALS 155 76 617 312 12.32% 24.36%

 

Chris Rolfe
Years GP Goals Shots SOG Goals/Shots % Goals/SOG %
2005 29 8 61 32 13.11% 25%
2006 21 7 39 19 17.95% 36.84%
2007 19 6 38 19 15.79% 31.58%
2008 26 9 42 24 21.43% 37.5%
2009 28 6 62 26 9.68% 23.08%
2012 22 8 58 20 13.79% 40%
2013 28 4 66 18 6.06% 22.22%
TOTALS 173 48 366 158 13.11% 30.38%

Some Takeaways...

- Despite playing 18 matches more, Razov took 251 more shots and 153 more shots on goal than Rolfe. That might have to do with the fact that...

  • Rolfe has played a significant amount of his Fire career out on the wing  -and-
  • Razov was arguably surrounded by a stronger cast of attacking players (the league never had more than 12 teams when he was in Chicago)  -and-
  • Ante just shot a heck of a lot more than Chris

- To Magee's point, Rolfe is a stronger finisher over the course of his Fire career. Only once did Razov go above 15% conversion on his goals/shot ratio while Rolfe did it three times. Between 2006-08, the current Fire attacker also went above 31% on his Goals/SOG ratio and has never dipped below 20% in his career.

- While there isn't much difference in the pair's career goals/shots ratio (less than one percentage point), Rolfe's Goals/SOG ratio is noticeably higher, coming in at just over 30%.