What is it going to take for Frank Yallop to get his first regular season victory as head coach of the Chicago Fire?
Following Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 tie at home to the New England Revolution, the Fire are now without a win in seven MLS games after an opening day defeat at Chivas USA and six subsequent ties as their season has yet to fully take off.
However, four of those seven games were on the road, so if the Fire can pick up all three points at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, May 3 after a bye week, the complexion of the season, and more importantly the table, will suddenly look a whole lot better.
Thankfully for Yallop and his coaching staff, the Chicago fan-base have shown remarkable patience and understanding as he tries to impart his philosophies and footballing ideals on to this new group of players.
Yallop came to the Fire with a proven track record in the MLS following a lengthy professional career in England and on the international stage with Canada.
His vast experience in England and early MLS successes as a coach with San Jose Earthquakes has given Yallop, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the confidence to remain calm despite the relatively disappointing start to the campaign.
When speaking about the team, their attitude, their effort in training and their prospects for the season, Yallop hasn’t changed in his thinking since his arrival at Toyota Park last October. If anything, he is more optimistic now than before the season began.
He sees a group of players that have shown significant signs of progress in the short time he has been with them and he believes that their first win is about to come. Yes, he believed it would come at home to the Red Bulls. Away to DC.
His confidence in himself and his team still intact, he insisted the win would come with the visit of the Union to Toyota Park. And again, a week later, there was an assured statement that the win would arrive on the road in Montreal.
Looking back, it is possible to see where and how three points may have been won in any of these games, with a little luck or a hint of good fortune. Mike Magee’s late penalty miss against Philadelphia. Late saves by the Impact’s Troy Perkins from Patrick Nyarko and Magee that would have earned the Fire their first win.
Juan Luis Anangono’s penalty miss against New England last time out was another glaring example of a missed opportunity and another occasion where the Fire should have sealed the three points their efforts over the previous 90 minutes deserved.
The reason no one has pushed the panic button just yet, is largely down to the quality of play produced each week, the vast amount of chances being created and the overall level of entertainment served up by Yallop and his attack-minded tactics.
No other team has had more shots this campaign at 101, while only the Montreal Impact have hit the target more often, 38 times to the Fire’s 35 (which they tie with the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City).
They are the fourth highest scorers after seven games with 10 goals, while Quincy Amarikwa is tied for second on the goalscoring list with four.
There are significant signs of improvement since the side’s defeat at Chivas, with Yallop’s influence gaining momentum with each and every game.
Having struggled to assert themselves in the possession stakes in the opening three games, the Fire have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents in their last three games.
This has translated itself into more goalscoring opportunities, with the Fire amassing an impressive 54 shots to their opponents’ 17 over the last three games.
Which suggests to me that they are doing well defensively, restricting other teams to an average of six shots per game, while also creating enough themselves to comfortably win games.
That has not happened thus far, but surely it is only a matter of time.
There have been several other positive features to Yallop’s tenure, most notably his willingness to give youth a chance. Earlier in the year, he insisted that he would select players on merit rather than reputation, and he has stood by that assertion with the likes of Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Greg Cochrane and Victor Pineda all getting a chance to impress.
Add to that the blossoming central defensive partnership of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare, which has impressed in recent games despite the concession of 11 goals, and it is clear to see that the Fire have a solid base upon which to build.
His faith in the wing play of Nyarko and Shipp has also reaped reward with both players contributing to the fluent, incisive build-up play down both flanks that has been a feature of the Fire’s games thus far.
And with reigning MLS MVP Magee improving with every game following his early season injury problems, and his effective link up play with Amarikwa showing real signs of promise, surely that first win will come sooner rather than later.
Stats at a glance (the Fire read first):
|Opponent||Shots||Possession %||Pass Accuracy||Passes|
|Chivas USA||7/14||44.7% / 55.3%||77%||303/369|
|Portland Timbers||14/21||38.5% / 61.5%||64%||243/398|
|New York Red Bulls||13/10||42.6% / 57.4%||72%||340/449|
|D.C. United||13/17||49% / 51%||72%||372 / 383|
|Philadelphia Union||20/7||53.2% / 46.8%||74%||349/304|
|Montreal Impact||17/6||56.2% / 43.8%||79%||420/333|
|New England Revolution||17/4||51.9% / 48.1%||76%||338/321|
Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
On how he felt entering the match
“Confident, you know, we have not lost in two matches and I always look at the positive if I can, and you know we haven’t lost in three, that’s the way I look at it. We haven’t won a game yet this season but again, it’s not easy to win games, especially away from home in this league so we are looking forward to playing at home next weekend and hopefully we can get that in.”
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
On the team’s defensive effort:
“I thought it was good, to be fair. I thought it was just a bit unfortunate. The second goal there was a bit of pinball action around. They got good forcing and I thought we had some similar situations where we had the ball in their box and things didn’t really fall our way, but that’s just the way it goes, that’s soccer for you. I think we’ve done well and at the end of the day we’ve got to look at it. We got a point. We came in and I think we deserved three. We played well enough to get three, but it is just up to us to really push over that hump and turn the ties into wins.”
On the tough field conditions:
“It’s alright, I mean it’s part of the game. We train in Chicago – it’s been snowy, it’s been rainy, it’s been cold, so the conditions we are used to. You know, so it’s nothing we don’t see on a regular basis. The conditions were tough, but at the end of the day, we are professionals, it’s what we signed up for and we deal with it.”
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire Forward
On having three consecutive draws
“It’s the third straight game we got points, I mean that’s how you got to look at it. Not dropping points, especially on the road, is huge in this league. If you look at teams that make the playoffs on a regular basis, they don’t lose, they at least get a draw or a win and you know that’s how it goes. And if we can come away with points every single time on the road, I will take them.”
On the difficult conditions
“You know, whenever it is raining like that it can get a little slick and hard to control the ball at times. You saw that last play; Pat played a good ball in behind that took a touch, on a regular field that holds up, for me today, it skips away. Just the elements you’ve got to deal with, and hopefully it starts clearing up everywhere across the league because everywhere we’ve been, the elements haven’t been too kind to us.”
Select shots from the Fire's 2-2 draw with D.C. United presented by MiAllstate.
After picking up a point in the home opener against Supporter’s Shield winners New York last week, the Fire head to D.C. looking to steal all three points for the first time this season (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
D.C. are in transition and are also in search of their first win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Continuing to attack with pace - utilizing Alex
Against New York last week, the Fire looked very dangerous on the counter attack when Alex was given space to run at the Red Bulls defense. Not only was the Brazilian able to beat players 1v1 but he drew defenders out of position, opening up space for players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa to move into.
In D.C.'s last match away in Toronto, Ben Olsen's team was also incapable of defending against the quick counter attack. Michael Bradley and Co. found it much too easy to bypass the lone United defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who received little help from his fellow midfielders.
I expect D.C. to deploy another central midfielder to help out Kitchen against the Fire, but if the Men in Red can continue to break with that much pace and the interplay between Alex, Magee and Amarikwa continues to improve, the Fire should fare well on Saturday.
More attacking play from wide - taking advantage of D.C. team not fully settled
Against New York last weekend the Fire were forced into making changes at both outside back positions due to injury and suspension respectively.
Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane have had barely any time to work with their new teammates since their recent moves and it showed at times in last week’s game. Against D.C., where there is a good chance both will start again, I look for an improvement in the attacking play from both players.
It will also be interesting to see how Watson/Shipp and Cochrane/Joya combine down each flank after another week’s worth of training together. While there is certainly a weakness in the D.C. midfield, a balance between attacking down the middle and from the wings is necessary.
With so many new players on the field for D.C., positioning, especially defensive positioning, is a major problem. This was quite obvious in the Toronto match, with D.C. players often gesturing to one another in an attempt to determine who to mark.
If the Fire can get Watson and Cochrane forward to support the attack, it will pin D.C. back and could benefit the away team.
Keeping Eddie Johnson isolated and limiting set pieces - making it harder for D.C. to find the net
D.C.'s most notable offseason acquisition was striker Eddie Johnson, who on his day is one of the league’s best strikers. In his first two games however, Johnson was an isolated figure up front, managing only 1.5 shots according to the website Who Scored.
The Fire’s defense did a fine job shutting down Thierry Henry last week and will be looking to do the same against Johnson and perhaps register a first shutout of the season. D.C. have yet to score this year but are a major threat from set pieces with players like Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola looking to get on the end of quality deliveries from Luis Silva.
D.C. got men in the box at any opportunity against both Toronto and Columbus and I expect it to be no different on Saturday. After giving up yet another goal from a set piece last week, the Fire coaching staff will no doubt be encouraging the players to keep their concentration, especially against a team desperate to pick up its first points and goal of the season.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Alex and Quincy Amarikwa.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: Sean Johnson, Matt Watson preview D.C. United
Select shots from the Fire's 1-0 victory over D.C. United
Miss Saturday night's 2-0 win over D.C. United?
Catch the highlights below:
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over D.C.
A third round pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft, Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause had already capped off a decade with the Men in Red last year before extending his deal to come back for a 12th season with the club in 2014 on Friday.
Logan's longevity got me thinking about players that held the longest consecutive tenures in terms of both years and games played ith one MLS club. After some research, I found that Fire legend and new assistant coach C.J. Brown holds the record for consecutive seasons with one team at 13, while Logan will tie Cobi Jones (LA Galaxy) and Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) when he makes his first appearance for the Fire in 2014.
A look at the Top 10 players with the most consecutive seasons at one MLS club...
|Rank||Player||Club||Years||Consecutive Seasons||Games Played|
|1||C.J. Brown||Chicago Fire||1998-2010||13||296|
|2||Cobi Jones||LA Galaxy||1996-2007||12||306|
|3||Pablo Mastroeni||Colorado Rapids||2002-2013||12||216|
|4||Logan Pause||Chicago Fire||2003-present||11*||274|
|5||Shalrie Joseph||New England Revolution||2003-2012||10||261|
|6||Davy Arnaud||Sporting KC||2002-2011||10||218|
|7||Jason Kreis||Dallas Burn||1996-2004||9||247|
|8||Kerry Zavagnin||Kansas City Wizards||2000-2008||9||237|
|9||Landon Donovan||LA Galaxy||2005-present||9*||216|
|10||Jay Heaps||New England Revolution||2001-2009||8||228|
*-denotes active MLS player
You may be wondering where are Jaime Moreno and Ramiro Corrales? Good question. Moreno holds the MLS record for most seasons with one club, spending 14 years with D.C. United but he did have one stint with the MetroStars that broke up his two long stints in the nation's capital.
In Corrales' case, while he never played for another MLS club other than San Jose after being traded back to the Quakes in 2001, he did spend a few years abroad in Norway with HamKam that keep him out of the consecutive seasons count. Corrales spent a total of 12 seasons in San Jose over three stints (1996-97, 2001-04, 2008-13)
Just for fun, a look at the record number for consecutive appearances for MLS club is below too:
|Rank||Player||Club||Years||Consecutive Games Played||Seasons|
|1||Cobi Jones||LA Galaxy||1996-2007||306||12|
|2||C.J. Brown||Chicago Fire||1998-2010||296||13|
|3||Logan Pause||Chicago Fire||2003-present||274*||11|
|4||Shalrie Joseph||New England Revolution||2003-2012||261||10|
|5||Jason Kreis||Dallas Burn||1996-2004||247||9|
|6||Kerry Zavagnin||Kansas City Wizards||2000-2008||237||9|
|7||Jay Heaps||New England Revolution||2001-2009||228||8|
|8||Ramiro Corrales||San Jose Earthquakes||
|9||Nick Garcia||Kansas City Wizards||2000-2007||224||8|
|10||Davy Arnaud||Sporting KC||2002-2011||218||10|
*-denotes active MLS player
I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.
Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.
First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:
Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...
Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)
Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)
The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.