Mike Magee became the first Chicago Fire player since Wilman Conde in 2009 to grab an MLS Best XI selection on Tuesday. The Chicago native joined an exclusive club of 14 players that have earned the honor while with the Men in Red, adding up to 22 total selections (third highest in MLS) since 1998.
For the record, former Fire captain Chris Armas has the most Best XI selections with the club, earning five (1998-2001, 2003) during his 10-year career with the Men in Red.
See below the club's previous MLS Best XI selections:
With two massive road victories under their belt, the Fire play the final regular season game of 2013 at Toyota Park against Toronto FC on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports Wisconsin).
With six goals scored in the last two matches, the Men in Red are hitting form at the right time and know if results go their way, they could be guaranteed an MLS Cup Playoff spot by the final whistle. Toronto have nothing to play for but will be looking to play spoiler. Here are some tactical things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Keeping up the high pressure tactic – play a high line and get players into the TFC box
As I mentioned before, the Fire have scored six goals in the last two games. The closest to that tally in a previous two-game MLS span has been four goals. With that in mind, the Men in Red must try and get people into the box whenever possible against Toronto.
In many games this season, Toronto have not been undone by individual brilliance, but rather defensive errors. TFC coach Ryan Nelson, a former defender, must be disgusted by the amount of tap in goals his team has allowed with Sporting KC, Montreal and New York all scoring simple goals against Toronto and all stemming from defenders ball watching and not following their marks.
The Fire need to try and take advantage of this by getting more players from the midfield into the box to support assumed strikers Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangono. The high pressure tactic can be very beneficial to this, with players like Alex not allowing the defenders to have time and space on the ball. With the team playing a high line and not dropping deep, it will give players an opportunity to get forward and into the box faster.
The Rios conundrum – who to start in the center of midfield?
Arevalo Rios played two grueling matches for Uruguay over the past week, helping La Celeste qualify for the World Cup intercontinental playoff against Jordan.
After playing 180 minutes for his country and only returning to Chicago on Thursday, it might be difficult for him to start in the middle for the Fire on Saturday night.
WATCH: Magee, Berry talk Toronto FC
One reason that the coaching staff might decide to start Rios however is that Jeff Larentowicz is currently sitting on four yellow cards and one more against TFC would rule him out of the season finale at New York next Sunday.
Another option for the Men in Red could be to start Larentowicz and bring on Rios for the former New England man if the Fire are in a comfortable position.
That being said, as we have seen from the past two games, the high pressure tactic is effective regardless of who starts in the middle.
Muzzling Bobby Convey – a danger on both wings
Bobby Convey is one of the few players to have a strong year for TFC and the Fire must not allow him to create chances for target striker Bright Dike. Convey is equally comfortable playing on either wing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started on the right where he would link up with improving right back Mark Bloom.
While Bakary Soumare has found form again in the last few matches after having a few horror moments previously, Gonzalo Segares is a player that will be looking to have a better performance against TFC.
In 1v1 situations, Sega is very difficult to beat but the problems start when players make runs in behind him. The Costa Rican can sometimes be caught too high up the field while other times he is forced to move inside to cover for one of the center backs. Both of these were highlighted in last weekend’s match against Dallas.
Against Toronto, I would also like to see the Fire’s outside midfielder track back and help out Segares more, especially if Bloom gets forward. A composed and compact performance by the Fire’s back four as a unit will give the team a very good chance of coming out of the game with three points and maybe even a guaranteed playoff spot.
Prediction: After having to endure a nervy end to last week’s match, the Fire make it easier on fans by winning 2-0 with goals from Alex and Mike Magee.
Hey, look at that... For his vaillant performance en route to a win over FC Dallas, the folks over at MLSsoccer.com decided to make Mike Magee the #3 performer of the week!
And since we're on the subject of Mike Magee, we would like to subtly steer you in the direction to support him to be the MLS MVP. Check out the video below!
After getting the job done in DC last Friday night, the Fire head south to take on a FC Dallas side needing a miracle to make the MLS Cup playoffs Saturday night (7pm CT My50/TWC Wisconsin). Dallas are in free fall and despite the Fire’s record in Texas, the Men in Red should be settling for nothing less than three points. Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.
Perez away on Panama duty
Blas Perez has all the characteristics of an elite CONCACAF striker: finishing ability, gamesmanship and non-stop focus; similar to Carlos Ruiz. So perhaps it’s a good thing that the Dallas’s leading goal scorer is away for Panama’s crucial World Cup qualifying match with Mexico this weekend.
Perez has 11 goals on the year, with his closest teammate being Kenny Cooper at four. In Perez’s absence, it’s hard to see Dallas switching way from their lone striker formation and Cooper would seem the likely candidate to slot in after ending his nearly five-month goal scoring drought last weekend vs. RSL.
Cooper is a powerful forward that has historically done well against the Fire, tallying six goals in 12 career matches. With a goal last weekend under his belt and Dallas fighting for their playoff lives, he won’t be one to take lightly.
Focusing on Jackson – the Brazilian is instrumental in the Hoops’ attack
Jackson has impressed me in Dallas’s most recent matches against Columbus and RSL. He normally operates on the right wing, trying to get the ball inside to Perez or a midfield runner. In the last match against RSL, Jackson drifted inside more often.
This was in part due to the fact that RSL had a man sent off early after a disgraceful tackle on the Brazilian. He also showed that he can be a threat in the box, forcing Nick Rimando into a brilliant 1v1 save after an attempted flick over the keeper with the outside of his foot.
In last week’s match against DC, the Fire played a very open style of play in the first half, attacking in numbers. If you only looked at the score line, you would think that this tactic was a success but it could’ve been a lot different if it wasn’t for Sean Johnson. He bailed his team out with some brilliant saves after DC caught the Fire out with too many players forward.
It is understandable that the Fire will play in a similar fashion against Dallas due to the need for three points but allowing a player like Jackson time and space on a counter attack can be very dangerous.
Singling out Kellyn Acosta – targeting the Homegrown wingback
In their most recent home loss to Columbus, FC Dallas were exposed on the wings, most notably on the left where Dominic Oduro torched Zach Loyd. On the right, FC Dallas Homegrown player Kellyn Acosta also looked vulnerable. His distribution out of the back was poor; with the 18-year-old trying to play one-touch passes too often.
Columbus clearly targeted Acosta, with players such as Federico Higuain running at the defender whenever possible. A tactic that I would like to see on Saturday night is a constant switching of the Fire wide players so that Acosta is never comfortable.
If Fire wingers Nyarko, Duka, Alex and Co. can get into 1v1 or 2v1 situations with Acosta, it could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
Prediction: The Fire won’t play as open as last weekend but score early and late. 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex
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...
|Years||GP||Goals||Shots||SOG||Goals/Shots %||Goals/SOG %|
|Years||GP||Goals||Shots||SOG||Goals/Shots %||Goals/SOG %|
- 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%.
Gonzalo Segares Yellow Cards
As I was going through my post-game audit of stats (yes I think every Sr. Content Producer does this), I found that Gonzalo Segares is coming up on another career milestone.
About this time last year, Sega had appeared in his 200th competitive match for the Men in Red and a month ago, it was his 200th MLS regular season match but this statistic wasn’t of the appearance variety but rather of the disciplinary.
Segares was shown a 61st minute caution in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New England, getting him to 50 all-time yellow cards in his Fire career (MLS Regular Season) and leaving him just one away of equaling the club’s record holder, C.J. Brown who racked up 51 yellows in 296 MLS appearances.
I of course tweeted about this and never too shy, @SuperSega13 sent this response:
@JefeCrandall what an honor. It has cost me a lot of money. Anything for the team.
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
UPDATE! Upon further review, an inconsistency existed in Elias and Opta's stats. Elias listed Segares with six yellow cards in 2013 but as I looked at the MLS Disciplinary Report this morning, I saw him with seven. After some quick deduction, I realized Elias (and hence myself) failed to count Segares' 86th minute yellow card in the July 3 match vs. San Jose.
This means Segares actually tied Brown's club record on Saturday. Perhaps this tweet from @WhereisHawkins in response to the one above from Gonzalo is even more fitting now...
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
Important to note that Gonzalo is on Caution Watch, so breaking the record this season isn't a necessity...
Austin Berry has played every game...
...since his memorable debut in the team's comeback win at Chivas USA on May 4, 2012. You remember that one -- Berry, was plugged into the lineup next to Arne Friedrich after Jalil Anibaba earned a one-game suspension in the previous match.
Berry conceded a penalty kick to Alejandro Moreno in the 23rd minute only to pull it back on his own two minutes later before Marco Pappa's late strike sealed the three points for the Fire in LA.
Well, maybe you already knew this but Austin Berry hasn't missed a competitive game since, playing 62 consecutive matches as of Saturday night. That number includes all five of the team's Open Cup games as well as last year's playoff match vs. Houston.
The only games he has missed? Friendlies against Santos Laguna in 2012 and Club America this past July.
#Fitness #Longevity #NoCardTrouble
Baky and Sean to 100 Appearances?
Maybe its a bit premature but thought this would be interesting as well. Sean Johnson hit 100 competitive appearances for the Fire in his return from Gold Cup duty in the team's 2-1 win at Philadelphia on August 3.
Should they play in the remainder of the Fire's Regular Season matches this season, he and teammate Bakary Soumare will hit another century milestone.
- PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry
For Johnson, the season finale at New York would be his 100th MLS appearance for the Fire while Soumare, who spent three and a half seasons away from the club, would hit his 100th competitive appearance in the match.
Yellow Card Watch and U.S. National Team callups be damned!
The Centerback: Fire find themselves in playoff place ahead of Crew clash
After leaving two points on the field last Sunday, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest, traditionally not a happy hunting ground of the Men in Red, for a Saturday night matchup with Seattle (9pm CT on NBCSN) . The Sounders are hitting form at the right time, surging to six wins in their last seven matches. Here are some things to keep an eye out for from a tactical perspective.
Taking advantage of speed – hitting Seattle on the counter attack
The Fire’s bread and butter in away matches is the counter attack, lulling teams into a false sense of security and allowing them to push men forward before forcing a turnover and countering with numbers. A number of factors contribute to this.
In midfield, the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Arevalo Rios, Alex, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are very capable of forcing turnovers by applying pressure or reading the game and intercepting passes. With Rios away on international duty, Alex, Pause and Paladini will battle it out for the central midfield berth.
Alex is equally capable playing on the outside, and with him, Nyarko and Dilly Duka, the Fire have ample speed for to push the break. In attack, I expect the Fire to stick with Rolfe and Magee again due to their quickness.
Juan Luis Anangono is also an option but if the Fire go with the counter attack strategy, there is no need to a target striker in the starting eleven.
Taking advantage of set pieces – punishing Seattle on free kicks and corners
WATCH: Anibaba, Segares talk Saturday's match
In Seattle’s last three or so matches the Sounders have been very sloppy defending set pieces. In the second half of last Wednesday’s match against Chivas in particular, the LA team could have easily scored two or even three goals from free kicks, but for some better finishing.
The Fire worked quite a bit on set pieces at training on Thursday, clearly seeing Seattle’s obvious issues in that area. The Men in Red scored their first goal from a corner in last week’s match against Houston, and with Magee and Duka putting balls in and players like Austin Berry and Larentowicz challenging in the box, the Fire certainly have the ability to cause the Sounders more problems in this area.
Keeping an eye on Rosales and Yedlin – set pieces and crosses from wide
Seattle are a similar team to Sporting KC with both teams having a very dangerous creative midfielder, as well as outside defenders that like to get forward and get crosses in the box.
Though he hasn’t started every match for the team Mauro Rosales leads the Sounders with seven assists, two more than American Brad Evans. Rosales’ favorite target to look for from set pieces and crosses has been Eddie Johnson, picking the American out for a number of headed goals in recent matches. Johnson will also be missing on Saturday but Rosales has a plethora of other players to look for.
Rosales also has the rare ability to put dangerous balls into the box from deep positions, especially on free kicks. Seattle’s Homegrown defender Deandre Yedlin has had an absolutely stellar rookie year, even being named to the MLS All-Star team. He combines well on the right with another missing player for Seattle, Brad Evans.
Without him, Yedlin will be required to pick up the slack. As with the Kansas City match, the Fire players must not pay too much attention to Rosales and neglect Yedlin because if he is given time and space, it could be costly.
Prediction: Mike Magee gets back on track and the Fire win 1-0.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
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'!
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.
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.
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.
After a lackluster performance in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss earlier this week, the Fire must pick themselves up for Saturday’s crucial Eastern Conference match against Montreal on Saturday evening at Toyota Park (LIVE 7pm CT on My50). The Impact are still sitting pretty in third place in the East and also played at midweek, beating San Jose 1-0 in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Starting stronger – better tempo from the Fire
Jeff Larentowicz summed up the game against D.C. well when asked how it compared to the 4-1 loss against the same opponent just weeks ago. He astutely observed, “The difference between this game and the last time we played them is that we scored early.”
This might sound overly simplistic, but an early goal and a good start is extremely important.
In Wednesday’s match, the team were positive in the opening exchanges but then allowed D.C. to set the tempo. Against Montreal this weekend, the Fire must come out of the gates quickly and play a very high-tempo game.
In Montreal’s last game against D.C., the Red and Black had a very good opening 30 minutes and created a lot of chances. D.C.’s high-tempo start clearly caught Montreal off guard and it took the Canadian team a while to find their rhythm.
The Fire had a great start against Philly last weekend, scoring in the ninth minute. A repeat of that could put the Fire on course to picking up three more precious points Saturday night.
Attacking Montreal on the outside – wide play important
Against D.C. last weekend, Montreal looked vulnerable in the wide areas, especially when United got their wingbacks forward.
WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner
The Fire are very good at allowing Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba to get forward and help in the attack, especially at home. I look for this to happen as often as possible against the Impact.
The advancement of the wing-backs also allows the Fire wingers to come into the middle and provide support to the strikers.
With the potential absence to Patrick Nyarko after Wednesday’s head injury, the team will be relying on Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka to have big games Saturday night.
Keeping an eye on Justin Mapp – former Fire player finding his groove in Canada
Like Dominic Oduro, many Chicago Fire fans are torn over former winger Justin Mapp. He is certainly one of the most frustrating players to ever wear the badge but his skill and talent was there for all to see.
After leaving the Fire, Mapp had two quiet years in Philly but has flourished in Montreal’s 4-3-3 system, playing in one of the advanced wide positions, tallying two goals and four assists for the Impact this season.
Mapp is comfortable on both wings and is a very good crosser of the ball. He also likes to cut inside from the wing and combine with Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud and Felipe.
Though he might not be the fastest player on the field, Mapp is also very dangerous in the open field, often starting counter attacks for the Impact or looking for through balls to Marco Di Vaio.
Fire fans will also remember that the 28-year-old is very good in 1v1 situations and it will be up to players like Alex and Larentowicz to support the outside defenders and double team him whenever possible.
Mapp is not a physical player and can sometimes be “kicked” out of a game. Limiting the amount of time he has on the ball will be important for the Fire and a physical approach might be the answer.
Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Joel Lindpere.