The potential quarterfinal pairings for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup set to be played Wednesday, June 26:
1) Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew winner hosts Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City winner
2) D.C. United/Philadelphia Union winner hosts New England Revolution/New York Red Bulls winner
3) FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo winner hosts Portland Timbers/Tampa Bay Rowdies winner
4) Real Salt Lake/Charleston Battery winner hosts Carolina RailHawks/Chivas USA winner
Click Here to buy tickets for the Fire's Fourth Round USOC match vs. the Columbus Crew (Wednesday June 12th, 7:30pm Toyota Park)
Buzz buzz buzz. Inside the Fire this week, if you put your ear real close, you could catch what you’d swear was a little optimism, a little sunshine, a little buzz. And goals! After breaking their goal drought late at RSL, the Fire added two new starters, cleaned up their first U.S. Open Cup game 2-0, and duplicated that score Sunday at home against DC United.
Last week I said that, like a developing chess game, this season is very much still developing an identity. It was obvious in the last 20 minutes of the RSL game, when the Klopas Gambit succeeded in providing the Fire more attacking options than we’d seen all year.
So when captain Logan Pause went down to a groin strain midweek, Klopas had a choice to make with his starting line-up against D.C. Continue with the blocky set up that’s been stable but struggling or take advantage of the modicum of momentum and take a risk. He put an attacking player in for Pause, moved Jeff Larentowicz into Pause’s old spot anchoring the midfield, and suddenly, right away on Sunday, the Fire had five attacking players coming at DC from unexpected directions. Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere popped up centrally and combined with Rolfe and Magee who were moving between United’s midfield and defensive lines, and Alex found himself running through in support.
After what was admittedly a fortunate first goal, though, and as the game progressed, Klopas found himself in an unfamiliar position. Here were the Fire, ahead, with five attack-minded players on the field. It didn’t matter that they weren’t exactly bossing the game. Eventually Daniel Paladidni came on to help lock down the result. It worked.
What was interesting was the refreshing feeling of closing out a game in the lead. There’s something less stressful about being ahead and having the choice of continuing what’s worked or moving to add structure and keep D.C. at bay. Compare that to the stressful, semi-desperate feeling of being behind and scrambling to find the right balance of attackers that can even the game without giving up any more goals.
Klopas balanced his team expertly. They remained dangerous, a feeling confirmed as the game concluded with Magee and Nyarko running into wide open spaces on counterattacks and keeping United pinned back (and eventually grabbing the clinching second goal). Meanwhile, D.C. never put together a few minutes of attack that made them look like they could get back into the game.
There’s a lot to fear when you change too much in a team too quickly, especially when part of that change is removing a player like Pause, who for years has been a linchpin for the whole team’s play. And yet the Fire capitalized on the buzz and instituted a change of attitude from the very beginning of the game yesterday, a change that resulted in the super important first goal.
At just five minutes into the game, look at how many Fire players are forward. Look at how central Nyarko is, and how far up Alex is. It’s worth asking if, in the old set-up, either Pause of Larentowicz would ever be this far forward this early in the game. Yes this moment came from a Sean Johnson dead ball, so players were able to push up, but the example holds.
And so what if this set-up only led to a botched cross from Lindpere, but just three minutes later, D.C. gave the ball away and the Fire jumped on it. Alex got forward right away, combined with Lindpere out wide, and the winger drew the foul that led to the first goal.
The faint buzz you’re starting to hear from Bridgeview isn’t a roar, not yet anyway, but with a clearly different approach, an injection of new players and optimism, we’re getting a lot closer to a Fire squad that will pick up points all over the league.
Fire Homegrown talent Victor Pineda is away with the US U-20 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France. The tournament is a prep for the FIFA U-20 World Cup taking place in Turkey later this month and could be make or break for players hoping to make that roster.
Coming off a right ankle injury, Pineda did not make the field in the Americans’ first two matches against France and Colombia (both losses) but started and went 60 minutes in the U.S. win over the Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday. Here are my observations of Victor’s performance:
Victor started on the right of a three man attack, wearing the number 7. He spent most of the first half playing almost on the touchline on the right wing.
Around the fifth minute, Pineda controlled a cross-field ball, cut inside and hit a tame shot on target with his left foot. He combined well with FC Dallas right-back Kellyn Acosta with the pair exchanging numerous one-two passes.
Pineda also tucked inside, allowing Acosta space to move into on the wing. The U.S. team applied a lot of high pressure on the DRC back line and at one point Pineda almost blocked a kick by the DRC keeper.
Coach Tab Ramos switched Pineda to the left wing and it was from this position that he created the U.S.'s best chance of the half. \
On 35 minutes, he got the ball wide and beat a DRC defender with pace before breaking into the box, faking right and cutting back left with a Cruyff turn, beating another defender before shooting with his left and forcing the keeper to make an excellent save. This was the last major action of the first half (40 minutes) for Pineda.
In the second half he continued on the left wing, cutting inside and demanding the ball off his teammates, displaying his strong self belief and confidence. He displayed another neat bit of skill 15 minutes into the second half when he allowed the ball to go in between his legs before turning away from a DRC player who could do nothing except foul him.
On 60 minutes, Victor was substituted, not surprising for a player who is only just coming back from an ankle injury.
In conclusion, Pineda was heavily involved during his time on the field and certainly made the case for a start in the US's last group match against South Korea on Wednesday (9:55am CT on beInSport).
Check back later this week for a recap of Victor’s next match with the U-20s.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over D.C. United
CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire
The Fire’s Athletico Injury Report has become much shorter with a number of players coming off the list in the last week.
Daniel Paladini (left calf inflammation), Maicon Santos (right shoulder sprain), Hunter Jumper (right groin tightness) and Yazid Atouba (right ankle sprain) all came off the report over the last week and will be available for selection by Frank Klopas in Sunday’s showdown with D.C. United.
The one addition to the list this week is captain Logan Pause who is listed as questionable after suffering a left groin injury just before halftime of Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over the Charlotte Eagles.
Should he be unable to go, Paladini will most likely step back into the Fire midfield in his stead.
Arne Friedrich is back in Germany again receiving treatment for his hip problem while Steven Kinney remains out with a right quad strain.
The Fire entertain lowly D.C. United this Sunday at Toyota Park (LIVE 4pm CT on My50/UniMas) after a week of very positive results in MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The Men in Red got a credible draw at RSL before traveling to South Carolina to take on the Charlotte Eagles, winning 2-0 and advancing to the fourth round of the Cup.
D.C. dropped a 2-0 result to Portland at RFK Stadium last weekend and squeezed by the Richmond Kickers on penalties in the Cup at midweek. Here are some tactical things to look out for during Sunday afternoon’s game.
Magee and Rolfe – a budding partnership to continue up front?
Rolfe and Magee looked to get each other involved in the attack and tried to play as close to one another as possible.
Coach Frank Klopas indicated after signing Magee that he feels his best position is playing up front and because both he and Rolfe are so mobile, it makes sense to continue to start the pair against a D.C. team
that has struggled on the defensive end this season.
Soumare, Rolfe preview D.C. United
Magee’s move up front also allows Patrick Nyarko to slot back into a wide position which allows him to be more creative and take players on.
This new partnership has the potential to blossom into a very successful one and the more time both players get to spend on the field together, the better.
Exposing the Kitchen/DeLeon partnership – taking advantage when one gets forward
In D.C.’s last game against Portland the team played Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen together in the middle of the field, similar to how the Fire play with Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause.
When D.C. attacked, either DeLeon or Kitchen would get forward to support Chris Pontius and Carlos Ruiz.
This left the team with only one holding midfielder and Portland took full advantage of this, breaking at every opportunity and opening D.C. up with either a long ball into space or attacking through the middle where they only faced one holding player.
Portland’s stretching of the field during the counter attacks opened up huge pockets of space in the middle and players like Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe were able to get forward and put real pressure on the United defense.
Kitchen is a more disciplined player than the sophomore DeLeon and the Fire must look to try and take advantage of this when D.C. turn the ball over in an advanced position.
Keeping an eye on Kyle Porter – DC’s tricky winger
I admit that the Portland/DC game was the first time I had seen Kyle Porter play and he impressed me a lot. Porter reminded me of a young Justin Mapp, a player with great promise but who can also be very frustrating at times.
Porter is very good in 1v1 situations but sometimes tries to do too much with the ball and not make the simple pass. Porter’s crossing ability is also very impressive and he put numerous free kicks into dangerous positions.
Porter combined well with veteran James Riley on the right wing and Fire left back Gonzalo Segares will be tested on Sunday night. That being said, Porter can also be a bit naive on the defensive side of the ball and the Fire should look to exploit the space behind him if he is slow to track back.
Prediction: Statistically, D.C. is the weakest team in MLS and with the Fire playing at home, three points is a must. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over the Charlotte Eagles
Credit: USA Today Sports Images
Chess fans sometimes talk about how the number of possible permutations in a game outnumbers the number of atoms in the observable universe. Every game starts the same, they say, with the pieces set up exactly so, but from there on it’s almost impossible to predict. And that’s with pieces that are limited to certain movements and don’t have independent decision making capacities! Surely in soccer there are many, many more possible permutations in a game.
It seems like this Fire season is full of unexpected permutations. Shots that don’t go in, sucker punches, surprise goalscorers, the Nyarko-Rolfe partnership, 11 different starting lineups in 11 games, it goes on. And then there’s the season as a whole, which, if it were a chess game, would still be in the first stages with no clear path to victory or defeat.
Then came the news last week of two bona fide MLS starters joining the squad in Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee. In defense, where Soumare’s experience and size will fit right in, and up top, where Magee’s six goals this season matched the Fire’s entire team total until Saturday night, the Fire are hoping to take away some of the frustrating unexpectedness of the season thus far. To keep the chess analogy going, the Fire’s front office is castling 11 moves in, which makes perfect sense. They’re moving pieces into a more recognizable system, complete with pawns staggered to protect the king in defense and positioning other players to be poised in attack.
Chess fans also like to talk about the three phases to a game: the opening, middlegame, and endgame. Within individual games, everybody’s been talking about the Fire’s endgame problems in front of goal. But there’s been less discussion about middlegame and opening. How are the Fire positioned when they get the ball? How are they moving towards goalscoring positions? And so on.
After going down a goal in the second half on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, coach Frank Klopas started throwing players forward in a way we haven’t seen all season. The Klopas Gambit was bold, necessary, and ultimately successful in helping the Fire steal a point against the always well organized RSL.
Two images show the difference. First look at this shot from a Fire attack in the first half:
Some context: Soumare won the ball, it fell to Dilly Duka in the center circle, and he floated a ball forward towards Chris Rolfe. But nobody except Nyarko and Rolfe are forward, they’re surrounded by eight RSL players! Compare that to this image, after the Klopas Gambit:
This is right after Sherjill McDonald came on as the last sub, joining Quincy Amarikwa and Alex. Now it’s six attackers on seven RSLers up top. It’s no surprise that the Fire’s tying goal came just a minute later.
OK it’s not totally fair to take snapshots because so little in soccer happens in a vacuum. It makes perfect sense for the Fire not to commit too many players forward in the opening minutes of a game at the formidable Rio Tinto stadium, etc. But the point is the flexibility of the team. This team is definitely still being built. Despite having played 11 games, Klopas found success with something he hadn’t done all season, there are two new starters, and it’s clear that the Fire are still in the opening part of the season.
For the Fire this season, the board is still open. The game against RSL should allay the worst fears of Fire’s faithful: If the season’s opening is as tough as the opening at RSL on Saturday, there’s always the middlegame and endgame to come. New pieces are being introduced and mobilized, and if these images are anything to go by, there are many, many, many more permutations for this team to go through before the season’s end.