After a lackluster performance last weekend out in LA, the Fire are in Portland for what should be a much sterner test against a Timbers team unbeaten in home regular season play for over a year (1:30pm CT on My50 / TWCWI). The Timbers will also be looking to avenge the 2-2 draw in the team's only meeting last season where a brilliant Fire comeback left Caleb Porter seething. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
A tweak in formation option A: Packing the midfield
Against a Portland team playing their usual 4-3-3 formation, a safer option for the Fire, especially away from home, is to play another holding midfielder alongside Jeff Larentowicz in an attempt to pack the midfield. Portland rely on late runs from players like Will Johnson and another holding midfielder would ensure the Fire would be able to track these runs more effectively.
Logan Pause would be the prime candidate to partner Larentowicz in the engine room. Portland always look to get playmaker Diego Valeri on the ball and rely on his through balls to create many of the team's chances. Pause and Larentowicz read the game extremely well and are masters at intercepting the kind of balls Valeri will be looking to play.
This option requires that the Fire drop one of its attacking players, which in this case could be Chris Rolfe who is battling an injury. The approach could be seen as a negative one, but playing against a team unbeaten at home for over a year and one that scored the third highest amount of goals in the league last season, the Men in Red also need be realistic.
A tweak in formation option B: Eliminating the target striker
A more progressive option for the Fire this weekend would be eliminating the target striker completely in favor of a smaller and quicker attack. This move would see Juan Luis Anangono, a player isolated during large stretches of last weekend's match, drop to the bench in favor of a quicker, more dynamic player such as Quincy Amarikwa, a player on the cusp of a starting eleven place.
In last weekend's match against the Union, Portland were undone on more than a few occasions by some neat and quick interplay by the Philly midfielders and strikers. With this smaller formation, the Fire will have more opportunities to play this type of game.
The interplay between players such as Duka, Rolfe, Joya, Amarikwa, Alex and Nyarko could certainly cause the Timbers problems with Benji Joya's goal last week serving as a classic example of this: Amarikwa playing a brilliant through ball to Alex who in turn found Joya at the back post for a tap in finish.
While this formation would certainly make the Fire quicker, it should also provide the Men in Red with an opportunity to have more possession and even slow the game down at times, especially if the away team manages to take the lead. With possession below 45% in last week's loss, an emphasis on keeping more of the ball is also necessary.
Set pieces: a weakness for both teams
Both the Fire and Timbers have had problems defending set pieces in the past and that was apparent again during the first match of the season for both teams. Fire defender Bakary Soumare admitted fault after his mark was able to head home the winner for Chivas while Portland also gave up a goal from a corner against the Union.
The Fire's defensive play from crosses and set pieces was certainly suspect last weekend and coach Frank Yallop made no secret of his disappointment at how his team gave up goals in this manner.
Though Portland are not a very big team, players like Diego Valeri and Gaston Fernandez are some of the best set piece takers in the league and a more cohesive performance by the Fire back four is needed on Sunday afternoon. On the other side of the ball, with the Timbers also looking frail on set pieces, I expect the Fire to load the box when the dead ball opportunities arise.
Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Alex
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve
WATCH: Clint Mathis on what it will take to earn a result in Portland
Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop
Overall thoughts on the game
“If you look at the game as a whole, for us, we were poor. I thought our whole demeanor wasn’t what we’ve seen and worked on in preseason. Just very disappointing. Having said that, coming back and tying the game 2-2, we fought back, kept going, got back to tie the game, and to give up a set play like that is poor on our behalf. We’ve got to learn from it, we got to move on, but very disappointing.”
On the rebuilding of the backline
“Defensive set plays is everybody. I haven’t yet seen a replay of the third Chivas goal, but it didn’t look good from where I was sitting. It looked like a free header from six yards out. If you give that to anybody, they’re going to score. All in all, I thought we had a few chances in the game. Sunday afternoon, tough conditions with the heat, but there’s no excuses for us; we have to make sure that we’re ready to play and dig deep when we need to. We should’ve at least gotten a tie out of the game.”
Thoughts on Benji Joya’s debut
“Yeah, he scored a goal, he did well. He’s young; you’re going to get young decisions. He had a couple of fouls where I thought maybe he shouldn’t have dived in, but he did fine.”
On Mike Magee
“To be honest, he’s still a bit injured, so I didn’t want to risk him in this game. We said maybe, but I had already put Logan [Pause] on, Chris Rolfe was cramping, and we had already used all our subs. Mike was good for maybe ten minutes but we had to change it a little bit. It is what it is. I think Mike wanted to be part of it today and I did as well, but I didn’t want to risk it and give him 25 minutes when he probably only had 10 in him, and his hamstring is still a little bit tight, so I didn’t want to go there.”
If he saw anything of concern
“I think just our demeanor especially in the last goal against, our heads dropped a little bit with the two goals against. I think Quincy [Amarikwa] sparked us a little bit, did well, made it difficult for them to play against us, and all of a sudden, they get chances out of that. There are some positives, if you like, but losing is terrible, it never feels good no matter how you look at it. For us as a group, we have to make sure that we don’t buckle under and we’re ready for the fight until the last minute of the game. If you’re not ready to fight, then we’re in trouble.”
Chicago Fire defender Bakary Soumare
Overall thoughts on the game
“It was unfortunate. We worked really hard the second half to comeback; we could’ve gotten away with one point, unfortunately it didn’t happen. We have to regroup for next Sunday and hopefully get a good result.”
On Chicago’s spirit in making a comeback
“It showed character. It showed that the guys that came into the game, Quincy and Benji, they already played and they gave us a great push. They came out in the right moment, worked hard and gave us two goals to comeback and we let it slip in the end.”
On the backline’s performance
“Every time you give up three goals, you can’t say you’re figured out too well. Our goal this season was not to concede as many goals, and today we gave up three so you can’t say we did a good job. We worked really hard; the coaching staff has done a great job with the backline, working on defense. We know we conceded three goals today and we’re not happy about that.”
Chicago Fire midfielder Benji Joya
First goal in first game as a professional
“This week, all I’ve put in my mind is to get the debut and get a goal and get my name on the score sheet and luckily, the first touch I had today turned into a goal and I’m really proud of that.”
Overall thought on the game
“It’s part of the game. Sometimes you comeback and at the end, you get a little bit low and they get a good corner, good cross and that’s what pros are going to do. If you slack, they’re going to come out on top. I’m really proud of the effort of the guys and it’s the beginning of the season and we still have another game to look forward to and we really need to focus on the next game and get the win.”
On the team’s effort to win the game
“The effort was there, things didn’t go our way this game, but it happens. Soccer is back and forth and you just have to be constant. Things didn’t go our way today and we have to keep looking forward to the next game.”
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TACTICAL: Rebuilt Fire defense gets first real test against Chivas USA's Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales
The Fire are in Los Angeles for the first game of the season looking to start off on a good note unlike this time last year when the team fell to the other team in LA, 4-0. As per usual, Chivas USA’s offseason was filled with turmoil, but there is a new air of optimism around the club after it was bought by MLS. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Fire’s new look back line – how will teams offseason acquisitions work as a unit?
New Fire head coach Frank Yallop was very upfront about his desire for the team to improve defensively this season after the team gave up a whopping 52 goals last year. It is likely that two new additions to the defense will start on Sunday afternoon, with former RSL utility player Lovel Palmer slotting in a right back and former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado set to start in the middle.
Hurtado’s partnership with Bakary Soumare at the heart of the Fire’s defense is crucial to the team’s success and both players will be looking to continue their good preseason form. In the air, both players are clearly dominant but it will be important that they do not get stretched by the Chivas USA attack especially with a player like Mauro Rosales looking to play balls behind the defense for Erick Torres and co.
Frank Yallop likes to have his fullbacks get forward and support the attack and Palmer certainly fits that style of play. The Fire’s distribution out of the back last season was not a strong point and Palmer’s good technical ability will mean the team will not be giving the ball needlessly back to the opposition as much this season.
It will certainly take time for the new look defense to gel, but a good start and perhaps a clean sheet would build confidence before the tougher tests ahead in the form of Portland and New York.
A new back line for Chivas USA – opportunities for the Fire to take?
Chivas USA overhauled the squad again this offseason but the team that gave up the most goals in the league last year don’t look like they’ve improved in that department, at least not on paper.
The team went undefeated in preseason but it remains to be seen whether this unit can be effective during league play. It is unclear who Fire legend Carlos Bocanegra will be paired with -- Bobby Burling or newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste but in either case, if the Fire creative players like Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Alex can get in 1v1 situations, I like this team’s chances.
The Fire could have more luck on the outsides, especially down the right where Eric Avila has a habit of straying too far forward from his full back position. The combination of little help defensively from Mauro Rosales and the attacking threats of Dilly Duka and Gonzalo Segares could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
A switch in philosophy – high pressure replaces the counter attack
For much of last season, the Fire tended to sit deep and try to hit teams on the counter attack but with the change in head coach comes a change in philosophy. Instead of the counter attack game, Yallop has emphasized a high pressure philosophy, with the Fire’s attackers putting pressure on the opponents’ defense when they are in possession.
This tactic was apparent in the team’s final match of the Diamond Desert Cup in Tucson last week where Juan Luis Anangono, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka all put the Chivas Guadalajara youth team defense under constant pressure and forced a number of mistakes from the Mexican squad.
If the team can push the issue against the new look Chivas USA back four and force the team into giving up possession, it will only help the Fire’s chances. Though possession is not always an important factor, especially in an away match, the team will certainly be looking to control the tempo and increase the possession statistics this season and this change in philosophy should help that.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: C.J. Brown says, "The first game we get to focus on ourselves"
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)
Should the Chicago Fire come away victorious over the Charlotte Eagles in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup next Wednesday, the team is guaranteed to host its fourth round match against either the Columbus Crew or Dayton Dutch Lions on Wednesday, June 12 at Toyota Park.
I'll have a full play-by-play of the draw later today on Chicago-Fire but until then, see below all fourth round U.S. Open Cup matchups:
#1 – New England Revolution/Rochester Rhinos hosts Reading United AC/New York Red Bulls winner
#2 – D.C. United/Richmond Kickers winner hosts Ocean City Nor’easters/Philadelphia Union winner
#3 – Chicago Fire hosts Dayton Dutch Lions/Columbus Crew winner
-or- Columbus Crew host Charlotte Eagles
-or- Dayton Dutch Lions host Charlotte Eagles
#4 – Sporting KC host Colorado Rapids/Orlando City winner
-or- Colorado Rapids/Orlando City hosts Des Moines Menace
#5 – FC Dallas hosts FC Tucson/Houston Dynamo winner
-or- Houston Dynamo hosts Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
-or- Ft. Lauderdale Strikers vs. FC Tucson (Host TBD)
#6 – LA Galaxy/Carolina Railhawks winner hosts Chivas USA/LA Blues winner
#7 – Atlanta Silverbacks/Real Salt Lake winner hosts San Jose Earthquakes/Charleston Battery winner
#8 – Seattle Sounders will host Wilmington Hammerheads/Portland Timbers winner
-or- Portland Timbers will host Tampa Bay Rowdies
-or- Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (Host TBD)
In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to serve as a witness for today's Third Round U.S. Open Cup draw at Soccer House in Chicago.
I detailed the interesting tidbits of how the draw is done but in case you don't want to nerd out, just check out the potential third round matchups below...
HOME TEAMS LISTED FIRST
#1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro) vs. Philadelphia Union -or- Philadelphia Union vs. Ocean City Nor'easters
#2 Richmond Kickers (USL-Pro) vs. D.C. United -or- D.C. United vs. Icon FC (USASA)
#3 Rochester Rhinos (USL-Pro) vs. New England Revolution -or- New England Revolution vs. GPS Portland Phoenix (USL PDL)
#4 Charlotte Eagles (USL-Pro) vs. Chicago Fire -or- Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders U-23 (USL PDL)
#5 Orlando City Lions (USL-Pro) vs. Colorado Rapids -or- Colorado Rapids vs. Ocala Stampede (USL PDL)
#6 Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) / Laredo Heat (USL PDL) vs. FC Dallas
#7 Charleston Battery (USL-Pro) / Portland Timbers U-23 vs. San Jose Earthquakes
#8 Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United FC (NASL) - Des Moines Menace (USL PDL) / Madison 56ers (NPSL)
#9 Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) / Georgia Revolution (USASA)
#10 LA Blues (USL-Pro) / Ventura County Fusion (USL PDL) vs. Chivas USA
#11 Carolina Rail Hawks (NASL) / Carolina Dynamo (USL PDL) vs. LA Galaxy
#12 Columbus Crew vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL-Pro) / Dearborn SC (USASA) winner
#13 New York Red Bulls vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-Pro) / Reading United (USL PDL) winner
#14 San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) / FC Tucson (USL PDL vs. Houston Dynamo
#15 Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) vs. Seattle Sounders FC -or- Seattle Sounders vs. VSI Tampa Bay (USL-Pro)
#16 Portland Timbers vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-Pro) / Austin Aztex (USL PDL)
The Fire head back home Sunday afternoon after picking up a hard fought point in Kansas last weekend. Though the team didn't score for the third game in a row, the solid performance despite missing key players was encouraging. Sunday’s opposition Chivas USA come to Bridgeview full of confidence after picking up four points in their last two games. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective on Sunday (Coverage at 3:30pm CT on My50)
High pressure - Chivas players will not stop running
El Chelís, the new Chivas coach, has his team playing a 3-4-3 system with an emphasis on pressuring the opposing team very high up the field. Anyone who has watched Barcelona under Pep Guardiola/Tito Vilanova or Athletic Club under Marcelo Bielsa knows that the high pressure tactic can be very effective, especially against an opponent who is not prepared for it.
Chivas’ three attacking players hound their opponents' defense and try to not allow them to play out of the back. This tactic will put a lot of pressure on suspected midfield starters Daniel Paladini and Jeff Larentowicz to drop deep and collect the ball from the defenders. The goal of the 3-4-3 with the high pressure is to try and win the ball back from your opponent as high up the pitch as possible.
A recent example of this tactic working to perfection was in Chivas' only win to date in week two against FC Dallas. The winning goal came from forcing the Dallas defensive midfielder into playing a suicide ball back to center back George John whose lax first touch allowed Oswaldo Minda to waltz in and score. With this tactic in mind, concentration and communication between the defense and the central midfielders will be very important Sunday.
Balls over the top/in behind - how to beat the 3-4-3
Previewing Chivas USA
The downside of Chivas 3-4-3 tactic is that it leaves a lot of space on the outside for the Fire to exploit. In Chivas’ last two games against LA and Dallas, the wingers got caught too far up the field on multiple occasions, especially when the opposition was able to force a turnover and transition quickly into attack.
In recent games for the Fire, wingers Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko have been required to help out the defense but against Chivas they will find that space will be a lot easier to come by and should be looking to make forward runs into space whenever possible. The Fire must look for the long ball into space constantly because getting a ball in behind can really open Chivas up.
When the Fire inevitably get a ball in behind, they must get more players into the box, especially against a three man back line. In Chivas' opening games, often times it was a defender who had to drift wide to pick up the runner, leaving less numbers and more space in the middle for the opposing team to exploit.
Fouls fouls and more fouls - Fire must stay calm and focused
In Chivas' last two games, they have committed a whopping 40 fouls, something that clearly frustrated their opponents. Part of the reason for that many fouls is the high pressure tactic, trying so frantically to win the ball back, leading oftentimes to a foul.
That being said, another key aspect of Chelís' tactics is to try and stop the other team from getting in any sort of rhythm. How do you do that? By fouling your opponent and slowing the game down, of course.
When a Chivas player is beaten by his man, the natural response is to foul the player. The LA/Dallas players and coaching staff were constantly yelling at the officials for the amount of fouls Chivas committed, but this frustration played right into Chivas' hands.
On the other side of the ball, when Chivas attack, they often look to pick up set pieces in their opponents half. Their players hit the deck when they feel the slightest bit of contact, another aspect of their game plan that can really get under the skin of the opponent. The Fire players and coaching staff must keep their cool, especially if the score line isn't to their liking, because despite their coaches claims to the contrary, Chivas would gladly leave Bridgeview with a point.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve
Fire head coach Frank Klopas did his first media round-up of the week on Wednesday. Some choice quotes from this afternoon's session:
On Paolo Tornaghi's experience stepping in for Sean Johnson last season
"He basically came in at that point as a younger third keeper but he won that second position in preseason and the games that he played. We had a veteran guy as our number two, knowing that Sean had Olympic qualifying games, you saw that he was the one that started in the first game in Montreal.
"We have all the confidence in him, he’s played well and we know we’re going in a situation with World Cup qualifying and Sean being with the national team, its great for him but we have all the confidence in Paolo in moments like this to step in and do a good job because he’s very good ‘keeper."
On Bakary Soumare’s comments regarding his desire for a trade to the Fire
"With the salary cap and what teams want for players, it’s not always so easy. I know Baky very well, he spent a long time here and I saw that. It’s great when you treat guys in the right way, they feel this is always their team. There's always a lot of implications but you look into every situation for sure."
On the team’s outlook to bring in a striker before the summer transfer window
"We’re looking at everything. Any opportunity to see if we improve the team we’re going to look at it. You might feel there will be need somewhere, players might become available but the needs might be something different. We’re looking at all that but also knowing that it’s early in the season."
On the personality of Chivas USA coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola
"I don’t know the guy. It seems like he has the team on the right track and they’re working hard and he’s done a good job so far. Other than that, I don’t know. He’s a competitive guy just like I am."