Blog

MLS Regular Season

24 August 12:32 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toyota Park – August 23, 2013
 
Mike Matkovich, Chicago Fire Assistant Coach
 
On the atmosphere
 
“How about those guys tonight? How about the Fire? They played good, good for them. I’m so happy for the guys. They came out here tonight in a playoff atmosphere.”
 
Patrick Nyarko returned after missing two matches with injury but took a few hard hits. What does the team have to do to protect one of its best players?
 
“The most important thing is we went through the protocol. The league does a very good job, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s point 1, 2, 3, 4 all these steps they have to take, so the training staff felt he could give us 30 minutes. We knew that going in, and that was the game plan going in there. It’s a game of contact sometimes guys get hit. He will just get better as we go. He took a tough hit at the DC game.”
 
On Hunter Jumper scoring his first career MLS goal
 
“I am just so happy for Hunter, this is his chance. We talked before the game about giving guys opportunities. He played like a veteran tonight. He was focused and we kept things simple for him. What can you say? He has got to be the man of the match in my eyes.”
 
On the shutout
 
“We kept things tight, obviously they hit a crossbar and we had a brick. You know how it is in this game, you take your chances. For the most part we were pretty strong defensively. We kept things simple early in the game and played in their half. There were times where I thought we could’ve played a bit more. It’s hard to find those moments to play. Overall defensively I thought the guys rolled their sleeves up tonight. At halftime we said you know it’s 45 minutes and you have another 45 minutes of the fight.”
 
On overcoming this week’s distractions
 
“Those things happen in this sport. Professionally the guys are focused and that stuff happens off the field. More importantly we are a group and we are focused on the field. We knew what was at stake. Every point is valuable, so we can’t let that stuff distract us right now that we are in the middle of a playoff race. Most important thing is what happens on the field.”
 
On the play of Arevalo Rios
 
“I think he is just going to get better. It is going to take some time for them to figure him out. The guy has played in two World Cups obviously he gives you everything he has. He has leadership, I know he doesn’t speak English but he leads by example and he is such a great guy to have. He is a true professional and comes in here every day and works hard. It’s just a pleasure to have him on the team.”
 
On Anangono being an impact player
 
“Any time a guy comes to a new country and a new environment it’s going to take some time. He had a great shot, but we just have to give him time. The nice thing about the guy is that he didn’t start and came in played his role and helped us win and that’s the most important thing. Sometimes guys come in and are not team guys, but this guy is clearly a team guy. I think he’s going to get better as we go along. There are so many players throughout the world that have changes. Sometimes it takes up to six months. We will be patient, we like what we saw tonight, his goal is coming.
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On Hunter Jumper tallying a  goal and assist in only two appearances:
           
“I didn’t see the first game he played in, but you can throw away the goal and defensively tonight he was amazing.  To shutout a team like K.C. is as difficult as it gets and he was fabulous.”
 
On the team playing with a chip on their shoulder:
 
“We’re trying to make the playoffs; we have a big chip on our shoulder right now.  I think that playing at home we need points.  Last week we had a terrible result and this week we are trying to make up for it.”
 
Hunter Jumper, Chicago Fire defender
 
On his goal:
 
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but it feels pretty good just because we got the three points.  Going into it we knew it was a really big game.  We looked at it and we were eight points back behind first place and had two games in hand, so three points is huge.”
 
On the shutout and defensive performance:
 
“It was easy out there tonight because communication between the back four and Rios and Larentowicz was unbelievable.  Guys were talking, and when everyone is talking and helping each other out it was easy for me to step in.  Obviously we were going for it and wanted to be better on the ball, but defensively I thought we were sound and weathered the storm.  I thought they had a couple of good chances, but I think we had a couple of good chances as well, especially when Juan [Anangono] came in.  The guy can head the ball, he’s a special player.”
 
On his position change from left back to center back:
 
“I’ve been playing there in practice lately and it’s not the biggest transition, like it would be playing forward to defender.  I definitely appreciate the position a lot more because you don’t realize how much communication you have to have out there.  Last year I thought our defense was incredible – when you have guys like Arne [Friedrich], Austin [Berry] and Baky [Soumare] back there they are natural leaders.  For someone like me, you just have to be open, grow and learn the position.  I just pushed myself and hopefully it won’t be too much of a transition.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On the shutout:
 
“It shows a lot about our team’s character and will.  I think we’ve been okay defensively for the past 11 games or so, but to get a shutout shows and reflects all the hard work we’ve been putting in week in and week out.  I think we deserved it tonight – we fought, we battled and we made plays when we had to and came away with a result.”Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes
 
On the match:
 
“We gave up a very amateur goal early in the first half.  It gave them some life.  We were chasing ever since.  I thought we created more than enough chances to get back in it.  We actually really had some good chances and the frustrating thing is we didn’t score.  That’s really on us.  At the end, you have to score.  That’s what the game is about.  When you don’t score, you’re not going to win.  You’re not going to get back into the game.  Unfortunately, we really needed to put the pressure on and I think we would have scored.  It would have changed the game a little bit for them as well.  They were content with just bunkering down and countering, bunkering, and countering.  They never really built the ball out of the back at all.  They played every ball long from the very get go.  It’s obviously is a much different game.  Anyway, I think we should have scored.”
 
On the upcoming game in Honduras:
 
“We got to do it, right?  After winning the Open Cup last year, that’s the world we are in.  We want to be in the competitions.  It’s exciting for us to be involved in that.  We need to continue to stay in form for the league as well, not just the Champions League.  Good thing is, we have a lot of games left and we have to get back on it quick.”
 
Sporting KC Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen
 
On the having more opportunities to score in the second half:
 
“Yea, I think we did.  I think we started extremely poorly.  We gave up a couple of chances, we gave up a goal.  We were struggling for the first twenty, twenty-five minutes, the last piece of the first half and second half, we did everything we could.  You don’t win games when you don’t score goals.  We created some good chances but we weren’t sharp enough to score with them.”
 
On needing three points to pull ahead of New York:
 
“We should probably not focus on winning our division now and we should focus on making the playoffs now.  Focus on the next point.  The last five points we’ve got five points and we are still in it, which is impressive but the train is going and if you want to be on it, it’s now.”
 
Sporting KC Forward Teal Bunbury
 
On the differences between the first half and the second half:
 
“I felt like we played well in the first half, we were creating a lot of chances but we weren’t putting them in the back of the net.  We had a little mishap and the Fire were able to put it in the back of the net and that’s how they got their goal.  But besides that, I felt like we put them under a lot of pressure and they didn’t have too many chances other than the one they put away.  We had a decent amount and could have done better.  Overall, I felt like we had a really good game, despite not putting goals in the back of the net.”
 
On feeling frustrated not getting the equalizer:
 
“Not really, our mentality is we don’t give up and we just continue.  There’s not a point in the game where we really got frustrated.  Obviously after losing, no one is happy but throughout the whole game I feel like we kept it even keel, didn’t get frustrated, and didn’t show too much emotion.  We were unfortunate not to get a result.”
 
On working towards keeping the team at the top of the conference:
 
“We have a great squad, great team unity.  We have a lot of games coming up, so we are going to forget this game and just move on from it.”
23 August 8:09 am

 

After a morale sapping 2-0 loss in New England last week, the Fire need to pick themselves up for the visit of Eastern Conference table toppers Sporting KC Friday night. There has been no love lost between the sides over the past few seasons and this one promises to be no different. Here are few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Changes to the Fire defense – who will replace Bakary Soumare

Since the return of Bakary Soumare, the Fire’s starting back four has remained virtually unchanged despite some less than stellar performances. Soumare’s suspension forces Frank Klopas into making a tough decision.

The two most likely options are moving Jalil Anibaba into the middle and replacing him with Logan Pause/Wells Thompson/Mike Videra or keeping Jalil at right back and drafting Hunter Jumper into the middle.

The latter seems the more likely choice, especially considering Jumper’s height and the coaching staff’s desire to play big men against Sporting KC in the past. Jumper has had limited playing time this season (just one appearance so far) and will need to adjust to a SKC team who started off so well at Toyota Park last time out.

A strong start and scoring first will be a huge boost to the Fire psychologically.

How to break SKC down – target the outside defenders

Kansas City have the second best defensive record in the East thanks in part to a brilliant goalkeeper and rock solid central defense pairing but it’s on the outside of the defensive four that some cracks appear.

In SKC’s recent loss against New York, more than one of the goals scored by the Red Bulls came from getting in behind the defense. With players like Mike Magee, who is so good at making runs, the Fire need to be trying to play through balls as much as possible Friday night.

Getting into 1v1 situations with the SKC outside backs is another good tactic. Joel Lindpere has made no secret of his desire to play in the middle and not on the wing, where he feels that his lack of place and ability to take a man on are on show.

With that in mind, switching Alex to the wing is a good option. With Alex and Dilly Duka on the wings, the SKC outside defenders would certainly be on the back foot for most of the night.

SKC wing play – don’t allow easy crosses

Just as the Fire should be looking to attack down the wings, the Men in Red must also be wary of SKC’s wide play. Normally, SKC rely on U.S. international Graham Zusi to create from midfield but in his absence, more emphasis has been put on getting the ball wide and putting crosses into the box for Bieler, Kamara and Saad.

In Sporting’s last match against New England, this tactic worked to perfection, with the first two goals of the night coming from crosses. New England allowed the SKC players far too much room to pick people out with crosses.

The Fire must be quicker to close Kansas City down, especially when they get the ball into the wide areas. It is expected that Zusi will be back in the starting lineup tonight but his presence should not distract the Fire from concentrating, not allowing Sporting players time on the ball.

Prediction: It’s a must win for the Fire and I expect them to come out on top: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

19 August 1:28 pm

Call it Fire 2.0 version 2.a. After the Bakary Soumare/Mike Magee stage of the season (the super hot June, Fire 2.0, back in the playoff race) the closing of the transfer window earlier this month saw two more players - Juan Luis Anangono and Arevalo Rios - come in and now we’re seeing another shift in the team.

New players came just in time too, because injury and fatigue start to necessitate rotation around this time in August. Last week against Montreal, Frank Klopas switched up his tactics to accommodate his newfound depth. The finishing and creativity of Magee and Patrick Nyarko were replaced by the industry and hold up play of Alex and Anangono, in a sort of fusion 4-5-1/4-4-2. That set up worked in part because Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause established a base of control and support in the midfield the whole team could build off, and also because of the way the outside midfielders got forward, Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere scored both goals.

On Saturday night in New England, Klopas went back to his trusted 4-4-2 and plugged in new Uruguayan signing Rios alongside Larentowicz in Alex’s former spot in the center of midfield. In his first MLS game, on turf to boot, Rios showed what we’re getting by breaking up play all over the place and springing a few counter attacks. You can see what Klopas is thinking: Always pushing the team to counter swiftly after winning the ball, Klopas must be licking his lips at the idea of Rios looming around and sending Duka, Magee, Angonono, Amarikwa, and Nyarko off into space behind opposing defenses. This ball didn’t turn into anything, but look at how quickly the Fire can forward with Rios:

But Saturday night the Fire lacked a little bit of rhythm and cohesion and it was clear that Rios and Larentowicz - having trained together, what, three days at most - have some work to do to provide the base of control and support that Larentowicz and Pause provided last week, or the balance of control and distribution that Larentowicz and Alex had during the Fire’s turn-around in June/July.

It’s tempting to think that unlocking the code of the center midfield (Laurentowitz/Pause vs. Laurentowitz/Alex vs. Laurentowitz/Rios vs. something else) will unlock the rest of the Fire season. That’s probably psychological game playing, because as off-rhythm as it may have looked on Saturday, if Magee’s shot off the post in the first half is an inch or two right, or if Duka reads Magee’s pass in the second half, the center midfield issues may well have been buried under more stories of Magee’s magical season.

Credit to New England, too, who played deep and didn’t let Anangono get behind them as much as he’d have liked. But the Fire need a plan for teams that play deep. How will they break them down? On Saturday, the Fire couldn’t adjust offensively, and after taking out Duka and Lindpere, they never had the width or chances they created against Montreal.

All year we’ve loved to break up the season into pieces. There was Fire 1.0, Magee’s Fire 2.0, and now the current iteration. I think we’ve been conceptualizing the season in pieces because we want to see the Fire’s poorer displays as merely symptoms of an old version of the Fire, not a sign of what’s to come. The bugs have been fixed, we want to think, and when we see a run of bad form followed by some good games, we say “thank God, ok, we’re past that”.

We know the Fire have the quality to get into the playoffs but then a game like New England comes and they drop points against a playoff challenger. The psychological game we play to convince ourselves that the best is yet to come gets tougher. And all year, for every step the Fire take forward, they take another one back, only to get up and quickly go forward again.

But the season won’t be decided by one game. The Fire have to regroup and figure out how to accommodate all the new players, get the rest of the team healthy, and push into the playoff race. Fans and commentators have argued all season about which is the real 2013, is it the one that beat Montreal last week or the one that lost to New England on Saturday?

I think the bipolar character of this team might be exactly where its strength comes from, and I saw enough on Saturday to suggest that, yes, the best is still to come. So let’s stick with “Fire 2.0v2a.” Next week it’ll probably be something completely different.

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

17 August 10:23 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, Mass. – August 17, 2013
 
Chicago Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich
 
“I think that as it wore on, [the Revs] found a goal – a long ball, pulled apart in the back – and Juan (Agudelo) made a good play out of it. I need to watch the replay to see if it went over the line. It’s a tough one and they call it, so now we’re chasing the game. It was a little helter-skelter in the end and they get a second one. We hit a post early. Mike (Magee) was in later in the game and speared one to Dilly (Duka) and we just couldn’t tap it in. We had our looks and it’s a tough place to play. At the end of the day, things just didn’t go our way.
 
Any time you bring new guys in, it takes some time. So I think is just a matter of getting to know each other and familiarity and all that type of stuff.
 
We’ll brush it off. There are 11 more games and you can’t get tied up in one game. It’s just unfortunate with the events that happened. It’s silly in some ways, but what are you going to do?
 
I don’t know what happened after the game and like I said earlier, I just don’t think non-players should be making comments to players on the field if that’s the case. I don’t know what I happened from there. It’s not for me to judge that. But I guess the referee judged it. So, it is what it is.  It’s unfortunate, and we’ll more on, brush ourselves off and get ready for the next game.”
 
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson
 
“I thought they finished their opportunities, plain and simple. I thought it was a hard-fought game; (we) just ended up on the wrong side of the result.
 
You saw it, we lost. What more do you want me to say? Push and score a goal. It happens.”
 
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
 
“It was difficult. I think that the second half for us was a bit better. We were able to pressure more in the midfield. In the first half they had a lot of time. But that said, I don’t think they had a lot of chances in the first half. I think that as the game got stretched, as we pushed more guys forward, they got a second goal. For us it was a tough game, but we try and move forward.
 
It was tough. This was a big game. We were sitting right on top of the Revs before the game and now they leapfrog over us, so we’re hoping to continue to push to get into that playoff spot. We’re getting to a point in the year where they are running out of games. So whether it’s at home or on the road, we want to get points and tonight we let this one slip.
 
It’s always fun [playing against your former team.] You get to see familiar faces and play in the old stadium, but that all kind of goes out the window once the whistle blows and things get going. After the game you shake hands. It was good. I would have liked to have won, but that’s what happens.”
 
New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps
 
“I thought it was a pretty hard-fought match, but we came out with the right mentality. We certainly changed the lineup from our last couple games. I thought the guys that got in tonight did an excellent job.
 
It’s a little bit feel, it’s a little bit going over a lot of film and just seeing where we might need an uptick in certain areas. I thought Matt (Reis) has been training really well and pushing Bobby (Shuttleworth) and Bobby’s played great all year. It’s a great little competition, but sometimes when guys are pushing in training – to reward and give an opportunity, I thought Matt earned it.
 
With Juan (Agudelo) coming back – he wanted to come back last week, but we had to listen to our medical staff because he had a knee injury and we wanted to be smart. For me, Juan has a really good presence up there. He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous when he holds it. It’s not just holding it to play it; it’s holding it to get people in and then giving it up. So for me, he gives players like Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn (Rowe) a little bit more time to find the gaps, and Diego (Fagundez) as well. When you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.
 
I think it was the effort from everybody. We were closing down on every opportunity and that’s exactly what we need as a constant. I think when we do that, from Lee to Kelyn to Scott (Caldwell) to Diego when he’s there in there. And Saer (Sene) came in and Chad (Barrett), and when we can limit them, there’s just a little bit more urgency we do a lot better. Then again, I thought A.J. (Soares) did a nice job coming in and was very vocal in training all week and very vocal on the field and we need that.
 
We needed a win. Last week, we were really disappointed with the way the game went from top to bottom. We were really disappointed with (the loss) to Toronto as well, because we played decent enough to do something in that game. But we didn’t and that was a real kick to our psyche. We needed to rebound. I thought tonight after another loss, you really start asking a lot of guys, and tonight the energy was there. Right from the opening whistle, I felt really good about our chances.
 
To be honest with you I don’t know (what happened after the final whistle). I’ll need to go back and look on film. I know that there were red cards shown to (Bakary) Soumare and Saer Sene. I don’t know what exactly transpired to lead that. It’s two teams going at it and we’ll see it on film, but there was definitely a lot of emotion.
 
It’s funny, we talked a lot about (shutting Mike Magee down) and he still got a shot. That’s how he gets chances. It was a shot deflection and he’s just so elusive inside the box, you just can’t get too close to him. So, for us we talked a lot about where he arrives. He likes to drift, he finds the gaps – he’s really good at that. If we can keep an eye on him, that was the best – I think we did much better in the second half actually, to communicate every step he made. He’d start wide and drift in and go long, so as long as (Andrew) Farrell was communicating that pass on to A.J., it worked well. In the first half, it was a little bit of a breakdown, because Farrell had to come over all the way and he almost had his chance. But that’s what Mike Magee’s been doing. He’s just been lethal when he gets a yard of space and that’s hard to defend.
 
Not much (was different to create chances in the second half.) For me, we talk about possession and where you have good, dangerous possession and there’s a difference. In the weeks before we had center back, center back outside back – that to me is not dangerous. We were at the top of their box moving it from the final third area, not totally in the box. But we had them in the area where you limit counterattacks, you limit anything they’re doing and you’re not so far up the field. It was a good possession and I thought it was a dangerous possession, which makes (Chicago) work harder. In the second half, I thought it was a lot of the same, but we were able to break through.”
 
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis
 
“I think that’s one of the things that I have always been good at throughout my career, whether it’s been in college all the way up until now. Even if I don’t get in a lot of games, there’s not that much of a drop-off when I do get in. It was nice to get back out there. It was great. I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen again, but I was happy to help the team. It was a big game for us. We really needed the points, and we came out and did everything we needed to do.
 
We really want to make it tough [for other teams] to play here, and being at home, we should be getting three points every time we play at home. I feel like if we can do that – if we can win out our games at home – we’ll put ourselves in a great chance to make the playoffs.
 
I thought as a team, we did a great job. We weathered the storm a little bit. We knew they were going to come out and really pressure us, which we did and then we were able to control the game from then on out. The guys did a great job and we broke them down. It took a while – we knew it was going to take a while, but we were persistent and finally got what we needed.
 
I think I have been doing this for long enough that the nerves are there, but it’s the excitement. You never know when it’s going to be your last game, you never know. You always got to enjoy getting out there. It was a lot of fun.
 
[Getting the start] felt good. I heard [I would be starting] I think it was Thursday or so. [The coaches] just asked if I was ready to play and I said ‘Yeah.’
 
Yeah, [Juan Agudelo’s goal] was a great goal, and that’s what he brings. He brings that little bit that you need. You can see why the premier leagues are asking for him.
 
[Juan Agudelo] does all the things well. He holds the ball up well, he gets behind well, takes people on. He’s got the complete package.
 
It’s one game. We are going to have to look at it, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well and move on.
 
I thought [the back line] did well. We were saying before, they had a few chances in the beginning and then not too many throughout the rest of the game. We were organized. The chances that they did get were not spectacular chances. I thought we did great.”
 
New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies
 
“I’m glad that we got the three points. That’s the most important thing. Am I happy with my play? Absolutely not. But it’s good to get the junk out of my system now, before we start getting into tougher situations. Just getting out there felt great. This is a team where I think I’ll really be put in a position to succeed. The midfielders create a lot of space for the forwards and provide great chances and great service, so I’m psyched. I’m psyched for the games ahead and once I get my feet back under me after the craziest two weeks, three weeks. I think things will go much better than they had today.
 
I expected to come on. Once you get the actual ‘you’re going in,’ (I felt) just sheer excitement. I’m so happy to be back. I’m so happy to be part of this team and this organization that I’ve grown up watching and it’s an exciting time. It’s 10 games left now and the playoffs are on the horizon if we continue to play like we did today. I was also very impressed with the way we played today. The way we were able to control the ball in their half and keep possession and keep moving it. I think that is a great sign of how far soccer has come in MLS – just in the two years I’ve been gone or year and a half or so. Teams are starting to understand how to keep the ball and how to keep the defense moving even if you can’t break them down. I’m excited to be a part of this team.
 
I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a perfect time to come on. They’re going to be pushing forward and they’re going to leave so much space open,’ and they did. I was just unlucky not to finish my chances but they’ll come. As a striker, it has to go in and out if it doesn’t work out for you.
 
It depends how much time you get with the guys [to learn a new system.] I’m just taking it game by game and we’ll see what happens. I think fairly quickly, I’ll be able to be on the same page as these guys. I think it’s just a matter of timing at this point. A lot of the guys know how I play, which is great. I think soon enough it will click.
 
It’s amazing (to play soccer in New England again.) I’ve grown up here, played soccer here for 18 years. There’s so many people that I’ve played with or against here in New England and have come to support me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I feel like I’m on the last hurdle; the last step before I can get back to where I was before the accident. I think I’m very close to crossing that finish line and that’s why I came here, because it’s a perfect opportunity for me to play with players like this, to cross the finish line.
 
(My fitness is) alright. Obviously, with more minutes, the better it’ll get, so there’s still 10 games left. Soon enough I’ll be 90-minutes fit and then it’s just a matter of finishing your chances and getting the opportunity.
 
As long as you capitalize on your chances and take advantage of your opportunity, you’re going to play. That’s all I have to focus on and I’m just glad there’s competition here, because it pushes people and it’ll only make the team better.
 
My brother, who’s like my best friend and just a lot of friends (were at the match.) Unfortunately, the families don’t make it out till next week. I guess that’s a good thing. You know, get the bad game out of the way and then for the next game, I’ll be ready.
 
I don’t feel pressure from anyone else except for myself. I put all the pressure on myself – I’ve always done that. I’ve kind of come in here with the idea of playing a lot, helping this team win and putting all the pressure on myself to be the guy that the team can lean on and depend on to grind out results, to make it happen, to get this team to the playoffs. We’ll see how each game goes and step-by-step I think I’ll get there.
 
Yeah, a little bit (of nerves stepping onto the field.) First time in a while but, that’s a good feeling.”
16 August 8:31 am

The Fire head east for another six pointer Saturday night, facing a slumping New England Revolution squad in Foxboro. Despite being without key players Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, the Men in Red beat Montreal at home last weekend. The Revs got handily beaten 3-0 in KC and are 0-2 in the month of August.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The Magee/Anangonó partnership – how will it fare?

With Chris Rolfe not training this week and Mike Magee back, it appears the Fire will start with Magee and new DP striker Juan Luis Anangonó up front on the turf against New England.

The U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat is the only time both players have been on the pitch together and it will be interesting to see how they combine against a New England team that has given up the second least amount of goals in the East.

Anangonó is very mobile for a target forward and is capable of dropping deep, something that Magee is also comfortable doing. On the turf, it will be important to keep the ball on the ground and retaining possession will also be key and I believe it will be up to both Magee and Anangonó to get other players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere involved in the attack.

Any new strike partnership takes time to gel, but I look for Magee and Anangonó to not stray too far from each other and be heavily involved Saturday night.

The Rios/Larentowicz partnership – another potential central midfield pairing

WATCH:  Lindpere, Larentowicz preview Revolution

Last weekend, we saw the return of Logan Pause, partnering Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and allowing the Ginger Ninja to get forward and support the attack.

This week, we could see a debut for Uruguayan midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, assumingly partnering the former New England man in the center of the park.

Most observers see Rios as a tough tackling midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks. This is certainly the case, but like Larentowicz, the Uruguayan also likes to get forward.

What will surprise some teams and even some Fire fans is Rios’s willingness to get forward when possible. Though he won’t score many goals (he had five in 53 matches last season) Rios will certainly start quite a few attacks from breaking up play in  the opposition’s half, something we’ve seen Patrick Nyarko do a lot of this season.  

What will be very important on Saturday night is that both players must know where the other is and not have a situation where they’re caught too high up the field. Communication and discipline from both players will be important, but I have no worries considering the wealth of experience the duo possesses.

New England’s Attack – who will get the start on Saturday night?

When people look at the Revs attack, Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene immediately spring to mind. In addition, New England have a couple of American strikers that have the ability to change games, namely Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies.

Agudelo is back to fitness after missing the last eight matches and is a familiar foe for the Fire, scoring in a 4-1 defeat by Chivas USA at Toyota Park back in March. He scored three goals in five games for the Revs before being injured and is certainly a threat.

Davies is looking to get his career back on track with the Revs and has a point to prove in MLS but he hasn’t played a competitive match in a few months.

With the addition of the former U.S. international, the Revs have excellent strength in depth at the forward position and have the luxury of bringing on high quality strikers if need be.

I touched on this issue when the Fire played Philly back to back earlier this season and it will be important that the team is prepared to change midway through the game and adjust to whoever comes off the bench. All four strikers bring different qualities and it will be important for the Frank Klopas to adjust his side accordingly.

Prediction: With so many question marks about who will start and new partnerships on the field, this game is very difficult to predict. I am going with 1-0 Fire (first clean sheet in two months!) with a goal from Juan Luis Anangonó.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

13 August 4:46 pm

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'!

12 August 9:56 am

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.

BTL: The Production

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.

BTL: Fire 2.0 earns key point in Houston

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.

10 August 11:54 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact
Toyota Park – August 10, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the win today
 
“All the credit to my players. I think everybody had written us off for the start but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Early on things didn’t go our way, obviously we had some injuries but this team has never given up on our goal, on our focus. This was just a massive game. We’ve been in this spot before and obviously we didn’t take advantage of it to be .500 and now you’re running out of games and they’re massive games, we need points, we are right there and I give all the credit and commitment of the group that in the difficult moments, which are always important because those are the moments that you learn not when things are going your way. It was a massive, important, huge win. Credit to my players that have never given up and that never will until the end. Now we just have to move ahead, it’s a good feeling but the commitment has to be even more from everyone in order to reach our goal.”
 
On the importance of the early goals, even with the top Fire players out
 
“If you look at the statistics, when we score first we are a difficult team. Not just us, but on the road. We are playing against a very difficult team especially defensively and I think we scored some very good goals early on but I think if we were a little bit better with the ball, because we did get in good spots, I think we could have been a little bit more dangerous. I think that in transition opportunities we needed to look to play forward. We addressed that at halftime and look, third game in 8 days. You saw the guys that a little bit maybe second half there were moments when they were running a little bit out of gas but it was their will that got them through and stuck together and being at home with our great fans obviously that was a huge help. The two goals did help for sure. Our goal was to get a clean sheet and it didn’t happen but Sean made some big saves in the end and we defended well.”
 
On the forward combo of Anangono and Alex
 
“They were very good. That’s where Alex is more comfortable playing a little bit higher up the field. Juan brought something different. I think physically he’s suited for the league. He has pace, he looks to run behind, we did a lot of stuff in the final third with him and Alex as far as the movement we needed from the forwards. We had a little bit of trouble in the midfield, they were dropping [Hernan] Bernardello deep, we had to address that issue but I thought it was good. They created chances, they were dangerous, and it’s the first game, it’s only going to get better. We have some depth there and that’s good when you miss some key players. Its’ about the team coming in and winning a massive game.”
 
On if the Fire are peaking at the right time
 
“We definitely have the quality and the depth in the team. I think last year, when you look at the playoff game it came down to little things and I think now all these game and the experience we got last year in those playoff games those little things really matter. Now everything gets a little bit tighter. With the addition of, Juan is going to help, but also a guy like Rios. He’s an unbelievable quality player and it speaks volumes of the commitment. Everybody can talk shit and everything about the commitment of our owner, excuse my language, to bring a guy like that at this point because this is a world class player and I can guarantee you a lot of teams, a lot of teams, would not have made that commitment but it’s all about winning. He’s been there, we haven’t always gotten it right. This guy’s a world-class player. We made the commitment we said ‘this is the guy, bring him’ and he brings depth, leadership, and all that stuff so that’s what it’s all about. We’ll see, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we definitely have the quality right now and the depth to make a strong push. I know the group is committed and they are going to leave everything on the field, and that’s what it’s all about. At the end of it it’s a game and we have to enjoy it too.”
 
On Dilly Duka’s injury and how it affects the team out wide
 
“I think with him and Patrick [Nyarko] obviously the pace and our ability to go one-on-one just create so many opportunities because when you look at the game its basically you’re one-on-one duos. Can you create advantage? I think those guys with the ball at their feet can a lot of times create those advantages because they’re so good one-on-one, they have pace, but it’s about the depth. Joel, again, when he’s called to step in he’s done great. He scored a big goal, worked hard defensively. Look, we have to rely on everyone but the good thing everybody is healthy and is ready. I mean, not everyone is healthy and ready, but I am going and keeping my fingers crossed.”
 
On what happened to Duka’s leg
 
“It’s his ankle, we will see better tomorrow. I think he rolled it, he was icing and stuff. I don’t think it’s serious, but with the stretch of games you’ve got guys with tired legs and it is what it is. Massive win and we will deal with the injuries.”
 
On what Magee’s status is
 
“Day by day.  Day to day. I think he has a calf strain and we will see how that feels. So we will see, its day to day with him.”
 
Gonzalo Segares, Chicago Fire defender
 
On Anangono’s start:
           
“I think he was excellent today - he was putting pressure on Alessandro Nesta and [Matteo] Ferrari causing trouble and winning a lot of balls in the air, holding the ball and creating space to move the lineup.  For being his first start, I thought he was great.”
 
On all the new players coming in:
 
“Our team’s gotten a lot of new players and we need to get them acclimated to the team as soon as possible. They are quality players and they are going to help us to improve now that we are coming down the last stretch of games. We need to make a great push and it’s going to be important to take advantage of the experience that they bring.  They will be great for our team.”
 
On the defense’s performance:
 
“I think that even though we didn’t get the shutout that we wanted, the last couple of games the defense has really been holding – we bend, but we haven’t been breaking.”
 
On hitting .500:
 
“We’ve talked about that.  The main focus is putting pressure on the teams ahead of us like Houston, New England and Philadelphia.  With the win tonight we are right there and stepping on their toes.  We’re putting pressure on them but there’s still a lot of games left, but the motivation is still high and we need to keep pushing and fighting for a playoff spot.”
 
Chris Rolfe, Chicago Fire forward
 
On the result:
 
“This was a big game for us.  We were excited about the game and looking forward to getting a victory after the Open Cup memory and I think we did that.”
 
Dilly Duka, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On his goal:
 
“I’m not sure who I received the ball from, but I was driving down the field, I was surrounded a bit and then it opened up in front of the keeper and I just slid it in.  I was a little fortunate, but it was a big play and it ended up being the game winner.”
 
On his injury:
 
“I tweaked my ankle.  I planted and he got my planted foot.  It’s just tweaked a little bit.  I normally tweak my ankles so it’s just a couple days and I’ll be back.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper:
 
On the result:
 
“This is one where I was just trying to keep us in the game.  I thought we did well pushing the ball out wide and I was able to close the angle and make the plays.”
 
On the defense:
 
“The defense was fantastic tonight limiting chances; not only the back line but Rolfe [Chris] clearing on the line was huge, Austin [Berry] making a play sliding in closing out the ball, Baky [Soumare] biking the ball out.  I think everyone contributed tonight and that’s why we came away with three points.”
 
On being fouled by Paponi:
 
“I think it was an extremely dirty play by Paponi.  I made a good read on his touch, I got to the ball and he just went two feet into me – into my knees.  I wasn’t very happy about it, but I was able to come away and finish the play.”
 
Logan Pause, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
Thoughts on getting his first start since June 22…
 
“It feels great to be back and on the field but most importantly getting three points tonight at home, getting to .500 and continuing to climb up the ladder is the most important thing.”
 
On the work of the team missing Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko…
 
“I think what tonight shows is the depth and quality we have in this locker room and on our roster. The guys stepped up. When guys have been called upon, you see it time and time again and they continue to step up. I’m just proud of the guys and the guys that are shifted around and maybe in different roles. We’re all in it to continue to move things forward and get wins to climb up the ladder.”
 
On coming back from his back injury…
 
“My back – there’s no issue there. Towards the end of the game of course I was a little tired. That’s to be expected and I got through it and I think it’ll just continue to build the more minutes I play.”
 
On the amount of depth the Fire currently have on their roster…
 
“It’s one of the advantages that we have with a deep roster. We sometimes joke we have two starting teams. You look around the locker room at guys that aren’t playing and there are a lot of guys that would be playing on other teams. I think it’s a good thing, it’s a good problem to have for the staff and down the road as we’re going to make a push it’s going to be important.”
 
Montreal Impact Head Coach Marco Schallibaum
 
On putting more pressure on the Fire in the second half:
 
“Yes, but the result is the most important, and we lost the game.  I think the first half wasn’t too bad but we weren’t good in the offensive part.  We played good second half ball.  We needed to get the ball in their box.  The second half was good, we scored and we had a lot of chances.  The second half was very good, but we left with zero points, and that’s disappointing.”
 
On why Di Vaio didn’t get the start:
 
“No, he played Saturday, Wednesday, and I spoke to him yesterday and this morning and he was tired.  He’s not the youngest player.  It’s better than this because I don’t want to lose him because he has a problem.  He was just out because he was tired.”
 
On being frustrated only having one win in 8 games:
 
“It’s not easy to win away.  Chicago is a good team.  But we believe we can win until the end and at every game that we can come away with points to make the playoffs.  We have a good position but we needed more points today.  That’s a good thing; we have enough games to make this game up.”
 
Montreal Impact Goalkeeper Troy Perkins

On the match:
 
“A tale of two halves, really.  Almost with two teams.  We came out in the first half a little flat.  They came out and pressed us and got two goals, a little bit fortunate for them.  We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.  The second half was the way we should have come out to begin with.”
 
On the impact of Di Vaio and Martins in the second half:
 
“We definitely went more attacking in the second half.  We have to.  You’re down 2-0 on the road, and you throw caution to the wind a little bit.  It definitely changed the game for us and we were much more effective I think.”
 
On what was said at halftime:
 
“That it just wasn’t good enough for us.  We know it wasn’t good enough for us.  That’s basically what was said.  We had to come out and we had 45 minutes to make up for it.”
 
On feeling like the team could have equalized in the second half:
 
“I think we deserve a point from it.  I think we are a little unfortunate not to as well.  That’s the way this league is.  In five minutes, it makes a game.”
 
Montreal Impact Midfielder Justin Mapp
 
On the differences between the first and second halves:
 
“We came out a little flat, I think.  We gave up two kind of soft goals.  We were behind the eight ball.  I still thought we have some decent possession in the first half.  But in second half we had the possession [of the match].  Plus we were dangerous.  We pulled a goal closer, but we couldn’t quite get the second one to tie it up.  The guys battled.  I thought we were the better team.  Unfortunately points wise, it didn’t indicate that.”
 
On Montreal controlling the possession of the game:
 
“Yeah, sometimes possession doesn’t necessarily get you goals, which is ultimately what you need.  On the score sheet, they scored two and whether or not we had possession, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
 
On feeling like they deserve to get a point:
 
“I think we definitely deserved it.  Like I said, I thought we were the better team on the night.  But on the score sheet, they scored two and we only got one, so it’s frustrating and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  The guys played hard and I thought we played some good soccer at times.”