MLS Regular Season
After a confidence boosting 4-1 win over D.C. United at Toyota Park last weekend, the Fire fly south to take on the Houston Dynamo at the fortress that is BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday night (LIVE 8pm CT on NBC Sports / La Ley 107.9 FM). Houston beat Premier League side Stoke City 2-0 at midweek and currently occupy the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a position the Fire is fighting for.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Shadowing Andrew Driver – A threat both inside and out
Englishman Andrew Driver has had a stellar debut season in MLS for the Dynamo and his versatility has made him one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS this season.
WATCH: Match Preview: Fire vs. Dynamo
Though naturally left footed, Driver is comfortable playing on either wing and is most dangerous when playing on the right, where he can cut in onto his left foot.
Though not on the level of Brad Davis, Driver’s crossing ability and dead ball prowess gives Houston another dimension and makes the Texas team even more threatening on set pieces.
When the ball is on the other side of the field, Driver gets into the box to support the forwards and has chipped in with three goals this season.
He’s also not afraid to come inside and switch positions with withdrawn striker Giles Barnes who played primarily on the wing in England before being converted by Houston coach Dom Kinnear.
Driver’s most recent goal came against D.C. United in May where he won the ball and played it wide to Will Bruin before bursting into the box and receiving a return pass before finishing.
Tracking Driver’s runs when he does cut inside will be key on Saturday night.
How to beat the Houston backline – 1v1s and runs off the ball
In last week’s match against D.C., the Fire forwards, most notably Chris Rolfe, made some brilliant runs off the ball and were found by great penetrating passes from midfield. Both of Rolfe’s goals came from off the ball runs and more of the same will be needed on Saturday.
A weakness of the Houston defense is paying too much attention to the person with the ball and neglecting to pick up the runs from other forwards or midfielders.
In the Dynamo’s last league match against New England, they allowed Diego Fagundez to pass the ball to Chad Barrett at the top of the box and pick up a return pass unmarked in the box. But for some better finishing, the Dynamo would’ve been a goal down.
In the Dynamo’s last league loss against the Red Bulls, the killer second goal came when the Houston defense fixated on Thierry Henry, allowing Johnny Steele to make a run into the box unmarked and the Irishman scored after a simple through ball from Henry.
WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner
The center midfield battle – who starts for the Fire
In recent weeks, Fire coach Frank Klopas has stuck with the midfield duo of Jeff Larentowicz and Alex to great effect but there are others knocking on the door for a starting spot and Saturday’s match could be the perfect time to make a change.
Houston are a team that have high-energy midfielders such as Adam Moffatt, Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. All three are not afraid to get forward and this will force the Fire’s two center midfielders to protect the back line.
With the fluidity of players like Giles Barnes, Driver and Garcia to deal with, a player like Pause or Paladini who are more defensive minded than Alex, may be more suited to deal with the flooded midfield.
Against a team like Houston, you must watch for through balls in behind the defense. A player like Logan Pause, who reads the game so well defensively and is constantly intercepting opposition passes, could be a better fit tactically.
Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Chris Rolfe.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve
Joel Lindpere continues to get big ups for his one goal, two assists performance in Saturday's 4-1 win over D.C. United as the Estonian international was named to the FIFA 13 Ultimate Team of the Week today!
On Tuesday, July 9, a Chicago Fire fan forwarded a Yahoo! article to owner Andrew Hauptman that included a detailed account of a young fan who wanted to meet soccer superstar Lionel Messi on his birthday only to be left disappointed.
Upon further digging, it turned out, he wasn’t the only one. A group of approximately 75 fans had paid a premium for a meet and greet at the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field that ultimately didn’t come to be. Learning more about this group, the Fire owner’s immediate response was to find a way to contact these fans and invite them for a true, VIP experience at an upcoming Chicago Fire game.
Through a little help from Dirty Tackle’s Brooks Peck, an introduction was made, and then an invite was extended for those fans to be a guest of Andrew’s for last Saturday’s match against D.C. United. And while not everyone could attend, with some traveling from California, DC, Toronto and even as far as England for the original game, the Fire welcomed 16 fans to Toyota Park that night.
After a quick tour of the Park, a trip on field and even to the locker room, the guests enjoyed the game from the Second Star Club. The 4-1 win over United was the icing on the cake. Many of the fans were truly grateful for the invitation; calling it a “bright spot in all of this drama.”
One of the families shared this note with the Club after the game:
“…My family and I would like to thank you for yesterday's awesome tickets. We had such a wonderful time and we won't forget it, ever. Please thank Mr. Andrew Hauptman for everything that he did for us. This was a beautiful experience. Looks like we'll be season ticket holders starting next year. Thank you!”
Don’t forget, the Fire is still offering anyone with proof of purchase to the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field a 50 percent discount on a ticket to the Aug. 7 Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal match. All discounted ticket offers must be redeemed at the Toyota Park Box Office only. Inquiries regarding the discount can be directed to 1-888-MLS-FIRE.
I’ve always thought it odd that sports falls into the category of entertainment business. Sure people pay to watch it, same as all entertainment, and there are “actors”, agents, venues and all that. But when you’re emotionally attached, soccer feels like more than merely entertainment. “Entertainment” feels a little shallow, I think of county fair tents, while sports can feel like everything in the world.
Take the idea of “Sport”: Roman, high, physically extreme, competition; and the idea of “Entertainment”: Amusement, fun, pleasure.
But it’s not fair to separate the two quite so fast. I did a Twitter search for “R Kelly tears” after his highly lauded Pitchfork set on Sunday night and remembered that in music, too, people live for what happens on stage. You get caught up with performers and players, you put your expectations on them, you live through them, and when they stand up and return everything in performance, the exaltation is real and thorough and spiritual.
The word performance is interesting. We say players “perform” well (or not) the same way we do about musicians and actors. I suppose the main difference between performing and just, well, doing something, is that performances require an audience. And it’s the audience that makes the show, right? Nobody believes in your work unless you do it in front of a crowd, and the Pope in the woods isn’t selling tickets.
Something about those moments in a performance, when players and audience are one, when expectations are met and then exceeded, time speeds up and slows down, the moment stretches out into something like a feeling, and everything is right again. Whether it’s a band onstage or a team on a field, those encores, those goals, they make us bigger.
Performances are entertainment, and injecting competition into performances only makes them more so. A friend once told me that she had no problem going to youth swim meets; she found them entertaining because she just liked to watch races.
So among all the clamor this weekend about fancy players in town for Pitchfork and the Fire readying to bring in a new Designated Player, the team hosted a D.C. side Saturday night that is absolutely reeling. And the Fire handled business. The most “entertaining” factor in it all, though, was seeing Chris Rolfe grab a couple goals.
I mean, your sister loves Chris Rolfe, we all love Chris Rolfe (you saw his cute reaction to Section 8’s song for him after his first goal, right?), and he was in desperate need for some goals because, let’s face it, you can’t make a career playing up top and not scoring in this league. And it’s not like he wasn’t trying, he leads the team in shots, we see his work rate game after game, but now it looks like Rolfe is finally starting to get in that rhythm where the goal looks all big and goalies are just annoying impediments. His finishes have that quick, confident feel about them again.
It was cathartic to see the elation after his first goal, right in front of Section 8. Rolfe’s been at it for a while, he’s been on more than a few tours, and we all want him to succeed and meet the expectations we put on him. It’s the life of a performer, I guess, to have to deal with not only the usual pressure one puts on oneself, or that a coach puts on, but to face the crowd’s expectations too. Like R. Kelly did on Sunday, and like all great performers, Rolfe stepped up in the moment and made it something bigger, something that we could all share in, and that’s entertainment at its best.
MLS Player of the Week, Goal of the Week nominee, the accolades just keep on coming for Chris Rolfe, but why not? His fourty-fifth minute brace completing goal from Joel Lindpere's perfect placement can only be described with one word... Sick.
That's why MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas breaks it down in this week's Anatomy of a Goal.
Join Daniel Paladini, Gonzalo Segares, and Patrick Nyarko next Thursday July 25th from 6-8pm at Molly’s Cupcakes located at 2536 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park.
Come by and see the Men in Red serve up your favorite cupcakes including the “Chicago Fire Velvet Swirl”. For each Fire Swirl cupcake sold, $1 will go back to the Chicago Fire Foundation.
Molly’s will match all tips collected during the evening with proceeds benefiting the Chicago Fire Foundation.
Ben Olsen, D.C. United Head Coach
Select shots from the Fire's 4-1 win over D.C. United.
CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire
The Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday evening after a disappointing display in Vancouver last weekend, giving up three second half goals to the Whitecaps. D.C. come to town (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) after last playing out a 0-0 draw in Colorado on July 7. With D.C. sitting last in the East and the Fire slipping back from the playoff positions in recent weeks, this game is extremely important.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Team defense – be wary of quick transitions
In last weekend’s match against Vancouver, individual errors were again to blame for the Fire not coming back with any points but the team’s defending in transition also left something to be desired.
When the Fire turn the ball over, it is up to the team as a whole to defend, obviously not just the back four. D.C. will be looking to catch the Fire on the break as much as possible and when this happens, Fire players, most notably the outside defenders must turn attack into defense.
Against Vancouver last weekend, the Whitecaps first goal came from a quick transition from a corner where the Fire were caught with too many players up the field. The Men in Red should be able to create multiple chances against D.C. and while getting forward and coming up with chances is important, the players must not neglect their defensive responsibilities.
DC getting back to full strength – DeLeon and Porter return
Athletico Coaching Corner on D.C.
Over the past few matches, D.C. United have been without two of their start players, Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter due to injury and international duty respectively. Both look set to return to the team on Saturday night which will be a big boost to the Black and Red.
Though still raw, Porter’s crossing and 1v1 abilities make him one of the best up-and-coming wingers in MLS, while DeLeon’s creativity in the attack is also a major threat. D.C. have only scored eight goals this season but Porter and DeLeon have either scored or assisted in three of those.
That may sound like a small number but when you’ve only scored eight, contributing to three makes you responsible for almost half of the teams goals!
Because D.C. plays with one recognized striker, the emphasis is on players like DeLeon and Porter to get forward and support the lone striker whenever possible. The more the Fire can isolate both players and not allow them to link with the lone striker and withdrawn forward Chris Pontious, the better.
Targeting the middle two – getting past Kitchen and Thorrington
D.C. plays a system with two recognized defensive midfielders, presumed Saturday night to be John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen. Unlike Vancouver, whose three central midfielders often get forward to support the attacking three, D.C.’s pair are very much holding midfielders.
Both players sit in front of the back four to provide cover which makes D.C. a very difficult team to break down. There are times however when one of the central two is dragged wide, leaving space in the middle to exploit. When this happens, players like Alex must step forward and take advantage.
Recognizing when these opportunities present themselves and quicker switches of the point of attack from the wing to the middle are things I am looking to see on Saturday night.
After the last home match against Kansas City, Mike Magee criticized his teammates for not getting forward in larger numbers in the second half when the team was down.
If the Fire can get more people forward and force Kitchen and Thorington into 2v1 situations, the team will create chances.
Prediction: 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Nyarko and Alex
And here the Fire go into the second half of the season, now suddenly in a losing streak, with as many questions swirling around everybody as there were in March. Last week I wrote about how the Fire have an opportunity to define their season, but it’s games like Sunday’s in Vancouver that show how this Fire team this year, for good or for bad, just refuses to be defined.
There are a million ways to look at games like Sunday’s. I mean, the Fire lost. They didn’t score when they had the chances, they gave up three goals, and they didn’t get any points. Those are the facts that count, sure, but games are never completely comprehensible in a quantitative way, and, especially as we all try to figure out the true identity of this team, the mysteries are confounding.
Was Sunday’s game as bad as the score line looked? Or did the Fire not get all they deserved? Was the lineup wrong? Or was the lineup fine but certain plays didn’t go the Fire’s way, that’s life, etc.? Let’s look a bit closer…
View 1: The Fire died in the second half, gave up three goals in 20 minutes, and couldn’t muster a comeback.
View 2: The Fire stood up against a plastic pitch and hostile atmosphere, dominated the first half and were unlucky not to score, then broke down against Vancouver’s momentum after Camillo’s first goal (which was brilliant and would’ve come off against anyone.)
View 1: The Fire’s defense is too exposed and the additions of Soumare and Francis, as well as moving Anibaba out wide, couldn’t keep Vancouver at bay.
View 2: The Fire’s defense has cut down the blatant mistakes we saw earlier this season, Segares was suspended, first choice goalie Sean Johnson is with the USMNT, defenses take time to gel, it’s hardly the end of the world, none of Vancouver’s goals were due to terrible defending or mistakes.
View 1: Sunday’s result makes sense because the Fire haven’t been strong away from Toyota Park.
View 2: One of the Fire’s best results this year was a scrappy away draw at RSL in May.
View 1: Klopas’ second half subs aren’t making a difference the way they used to.
View 2: The gist of the substitutions - refreshing center midfielders and providing more options up front (see Lindpere, Quincy, and Maicon) - are exactly the same as they were when they changed games in the unbeaten run. Also, without Paladini and Pause in Vancouver, he had fewer options.
View 1: Magee’s hot run is over.
View 2: Magee created multiple chances in the first half, just missed the back post twice in the second, had a shot blocked later, and was generally all over the place and annoying for Vancouver.
And so on...
So - was the Fire’s unbeaten run a fluke? Were the losses against KC and Vancouver proof that the Fire can’t convert against the best in MLS? Did the additions of Magee and Soumare, the resurgence of Duka-Rolfe-Nyarko trio, and the presence of Larentowicz all flame out?
OR: Did tough-fought results against Portland and RSL prove that the Fire can fight against anyone in the league? Maybe back-to-back losses against KC (the best team in the East) and at Vancouver (one of the hardest places to play in MLS) aren’t totally surprising, even for top teams? Maybe the Fire lost to a brilliant goal and a tough atmosphere/pitch, were unlucky not to score a handful themselves, and should just wash themselves of this game and move on?
In other words, there are no answers. I don’t think the Fire were dominated in Vancouver. But they lost. If the Fire had converted one of their first half chances, maybe Vancouver loses some confidence, and the Fire come away with some points. If not for Camillo’s second goal, the ball didn’t manage to squeeze past three Fire players, and the Fire equalize, who knows?
The “if” game is tough. One could say that the best way to address is that is to decisively remove all “if”s, convert the chances, not give up goals and be champions -- end of story. Fair, but maybe the best approach this year is to embrace what this team is. Maybe this year’s Fire is defined by a transient identity, a team finding itself through wins, losses, and draws. Maybe that’s what’s best about them?