MLS Regular Season
The first-ever Soccer & Style event benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation was a great success at ROOF on the Wit last Thursday night.
Fire players Jalil Anibaba, Michael Videira, Hunter Jumper, Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Quincy Amarikwa Daniel Paladini and goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde all did their best jaunt down the runway for a good cause.
True to form, it was Jumper that stole the show. Watch to find out...
On whether, with all of the chances and the red card, it still seemed like a 3-0 game:
No, not at all. We give up the red card and then playing shorthanded, and the first goal was soft. We were coming from behind. Really, we pushed the game. We had chances to tie the game and it doesn’t go your way and then they got a PK. For me, it’s all questionable, but regardless, the team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.
On whether, down 1-0 at half, Chicago was trying to tie the game or still get three points:
You just have to be smart. We had our chances. I think if we would have scored, they would have been under pressure, but we hit the post, we had some good opportunities in the final third and sometimes it just isn’t your night.
On trying to beat a team four times in a season:
It isn’t easy to beat a team four times in one season, but it’s very difficult when you’re playing shorthanded also. We played for the majority of the game, almost 60 minutes, shorthanded, and the guys competed and left it all on the field. We pushed the game. We took risks because what’s the point? 1-0 or 2-0 you still lose, for me it doesn’t matter at that point. We had the chances and we didn’t get [the goal]. The second goal really kills us, the PK shorthanded, questionable but whatever. It is what it is. We’ve just got to move on.
Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka
On the loss:
We have played this team four times this year – you can’t win them all. This is MLS. They scored an early goal, they played well, and we were a little unlucky. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed. The guy didn’t even touch the ball, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Can’t look back – got to look forward.
On the second half:
We definitely believed we could come back and tie, maybe even win the game. There was no doubt in that locker room at halftime about coming out of this game with a loss.
On ‘new-look’ Crew under Bliss:
I thought they were a good team with Robert [Warzycha]. I think they have good personnel and players, but it was just their day.
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
On the loss:
We hit the posts, we hit the crossbar, we got opportunities – overall though we were just not good enough. But in the end we have five more games left and we’re right there. We have been in this spot before. We knew it was going to be a tough road game coming in, but we have games to play and there is going to be more opportunities.
On impact of second goal:
The next goal was going to be big. We knew that if we could keep it at one to nothing we could probably develop opportunities and create chances. The second goal was one that put the game out of reach.
On difficulty of beating teams four times a season:
We knew that coming in, but at the same time we were focused on the end result. This is a tough part of the year. We are a team that knows we can do things on the road, but tonight it wasn’t our best and when you’re not on your best you get beat.
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Crew.
PHOTO CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images
After a dramatic later winner against New England, the Men in Red head to Firehouse East (#FHEAST) Saturday night to face a surging Columbus team (LIVE 6pm CT on My50). Since relieving coach Robert Warzycha of his duties and replacing him with Technical Director Brian Bliss, the Crew have won two of three and remain in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.
The Columbus hierarchy are calling this match a six-pointer and I tend to agree. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Sticking tight to Dominic Oduro – regardless of what position he plays in
In my last preview of a Fire vs. Columbus match, I heaped praise on Oduro and since then, the Ghanaian has continued to put in good performances.
Many in Columbus called for Oduro to be played up top and for the first two games under Brian Bliss this happened but last weekend the ex-Fire man moved to the right wing, making room for Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta to take their places in the middle of the attack.
In truth, Oduro is difficult to contain in either position.
On the wing, his pace forces the outside defenders to be on their guard and not stray too far forward. Hiss crossing is also dangerous -- he looks to get the ball in the box as early as possible, oftentimes playing it low to the ground, bending it around the defenders. These sort of balls are a nightmare to defend and limiting Oduro’s space to cross will be important.
Oduro’s runs also make him a difficult player to mark when he plays up top. In the Crew’s last match against Montreal, he made a brilliant run into the box to get on the end of a sublime through ball from Federico Higuain and score the winner.
It will be an added incentive for the Fire defenders to keep their former teammate off the score sheet on Saturday night.
The midfield battle – Will Trap and Tony Tchani vs Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios
In just a few matches together, Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios have formed quite a formidable partnership in the center of midfield.
In the Crew’s last match against the Impact, Will Trapp continued to start, this time alongside Tony Tchani. This partnership is similar to the Fire’s, with one player advancing to help the attack while the other sits.
Tchani particularly caught the eye, bringing a physical presence that was lacking to the Crew’s midfield. The Cameroonian has surprisingly good foot skills for a burly 6’4’’ midfielder and is equally comfortable playing through balls from deep or driving forward with the ball.
The battle between the two sets of central midfielders will be very interesting to watch, with both trying to catch the other out.
The Fire’s central pair must continue to stay disciplined and not be caught in a situation where both are too far forward. The Fire’s midfield tandem certainly have the edge in experience and I expect them to display that against the younger pair.
Focusing the attacks down the Columbus left – targeting Tyson Wahl and co.
In the first two matches under Brian Bliss, Tyson Wahl returned at left back for the Crew, after sitting out the end of Warzycha’s reign. Wahl didn’t have the best of games in the first two outings of the Bliss era before moving to center back for last week’s match against Montreal.
It remains to be seen what position he starts in on Saturday night but in any case, the left side of defense is certainly a weak link for the Crew and one the Fire should look to exploit.
In the Montreal game, former Fire winger Justin Mapp caused the Crew all sorts of problems from his wide right position. After strong performances for Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in recent weeks, picking two of the four to occupy the wide positions will be a tough decision for Frank Klopas.
I look for Jalil Anibaba to get forward at every opportunity to support the starting right winger and extend the Crew’s defensive woes on the left hand side for another match.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.
Continuing our Three Questions series, I hit up TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett to find out what's been going on with "The Massive's" turnaround in form under interim head coach Brian Bliss ahead of Saturday's visit to Crew Stadium (LIVE 6:00pm CT on My50) I also exchanged answers with him for TheCrew.com, see below
Jeff Crandall: The Crew looked destined to miss the playoffs again this season but the move of Brian Bliss downstairs as interim head coach has seen the team win two of its last three matches. What has changed since he took over the dressing room?
Cody Sharrett: With the coaching change, I think some players felt they had something to prove and re-earn their spots in the lineup. Bliss has brought more accountability to the club with his tell-like-it-is, yet positive approach. Training sessions are definitely more vocal and the players seem to be responding to Bliss’ style.
The change has also helped guys who had maybe fallen out of favor with Robert Warzycha earn new opportunities on the field. Since the coaching change, both Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl have seen their minutes increase. Tchani has brought a physical presence to central midfield and was key in the wins against Houston and Montreal.
Even in the 3-0 loss at Kansas City, Tchani was one of the few bright spots for the Crew. Wahl, on the other hand, brings veteran presence to the backline alongside stalwart Chad Marshall. Aside from one slip up that led to a Marco Di Vaio goal, Wahl paired well with Marshall in his first match of the season at centerback.
JC: The Fire dealt Dominic Oduro to the Crew in a January trade that brought Dilly Duka and eventually Mike Magee to Chicago. Dom just scored his 10th goal of the season for the Crew last weekend, how has he helped the Columbus attack improve this year?
CS: Oduro’s speed has definitely added a different dimension to the Crew attack that just hasn’t been there in the past. Federico Higuaín leads MLS with 44 attempted through balls this season, and with Oduro’s pace, can you blame him? When the two have connected, it’s been a work of art as evidenced by Oduro’s goals in Toronto earlier in the season and last week in Montreal.
A pleasant surprise in Oduro’s game for Crew fans has been his ability to make defenses pay for mistakes, thus coining the term “Grand Theft Oduro.” Teams have been more hesitant playing out of the back due to Oduro’s ability to pounce on miscues.
Leading the team with 10 goals this season, Oduro has been a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold.
JC: The Crew have little margin for error in remaining matches if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. With backs against the wall, what is the mood and spirit like going into Saturday’s game vs. the Fire?
CS: The locker room has been positive, especially since the win at Montreal. The Crew knows it needs help from other results, but also realizes it most likely needs to win-out to ensure a playoff spot. With four of the five remaining matches coming against Eastern Conference opponents, the points are there for the taking.
Cody Sharrett: The Fire sit in playoff position for the first time in 2013. What’s the atmosphere like in the locker room with six matches left to go in the season?
Jeff Crandall: Having gone 2-7-1 through their first 10 matches, everyone at the Fire will say the team had a pretty bad start to the year. Still, the spirit never faltered and the arrivals of Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare in late May helped stabilize things a great deal.
Despite a few disappointing results to start September, the team still remains one of the hottest in the league since that time but the fact the fact that we’re in mid-September and last Saturday was the first time they’ve reached a playoff position tells just how deep a hole was dug at the beginning of the year.
There are a few reasons for the turnaround this season but it most assuredly wouldn’t have happened if the mood didn’t stay positive through the hard times. Now that they’re in a position to qualify for the playoffs, they’ve noticeably gained even more confidence heading into the close of the season and will go to Crew Stadium looking for a season sweep on Saturday.
CS: New DP Juan Luis Ananganó bagged his first goal for the Fire last week against New England. How has he changed the dynamic of the club’s attack?
JC: Though he is a Designated Player, Anangono was purposely not billed as someone that would come in and be a significant contributor right away. He is a strong target striker that has a lot of work ethic but as we see with many foreign players coming to MLS for the first time, an adjustment period is needed.
He showed flashes in games before but his 30th minute equalizer in Saturday’s win over New England was huge for a Fire team that had once again conceded early in a match. Though he may have been offside on the second equalizer through Mike Magee, his shielding the defender was what gave the Fire’s leading scorer an easy conversion.
Anangono’s transition to the Fire and MLS isn’t complete but his recent performances now give head coach Frank Klopas the most variety he’s had all season up top and allows the manager to be more unpredictable with his lineups at the close of the season.
CS: Since the Fire’s first season in 1998, the rivalry with the Crew has been one of the best in MLS. What is the general feeling of this rivalry among the Chicago supporters compared to other rivalries?
JC: In my view, (and I may be biased because I’m a Wolverine) the rivalry with the Crew is the best the Fire currently have. Last season 600 supporters went to Crew Stadium and the year before about 400 attended. Hands down, the visit(s) to Crew Stadium are one of the first games Fire supporters circle on their calendars when the schedule is released every year.
Games against the Crew mean a lot to Klopas as well as Crew Stadium was the site of his first win as interim head coach back on June 12, 2011 and it was him that scored the Golden Goal winner against Columbus in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final at Soldier Field.
In the locker room, Ohioans Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry especially get up for games vs. “The Massive” but throughout the team, whether players are new or haven't been around too long, its known that matches vs. the Crew are big and usually very intense.
With both teams pushing for the playoffs and former players on both sides of the divide, I expect no less on Saturday.
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
In society we all can't agree on everything, but there is one thing we can all agree on... Everything is better in slow motion.
This week we caught two goals on our "behind the net" cameras. First we have Mike Magee's perfectly timed run to give him his 16th MLS goal on the season. And if that wasn't enough, we also caught Alex's #BRAZILIANT shot from distance to put the game away.
Some of the best tweets from Saturday's 3-2 victory over New England are below... Have the chance to see your tweets in a future gallery, by hashtagging #cf97!
For the first time since we started 2013 Playoff Math, you'll notice the graphic above has changed, meaning teams switched places after the weekend's results. That certainly makes everything more interesting!
Let's do this...
1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 48 (14-9-6)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 41.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI
Rundown: With Sporting KC sitting idle and Montreal losing at home vs. Columbus, Red Bull continued to hold serve with a 2-0 home win over Toronto Saturday. With five games remaining, New York could be on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth with a win vs. FC Dallas this weekend combined with losses for Philadelphia and New England.
2) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-8-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LWDWW (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 37.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC
Rundown: Montreal took a bit of a hit, being upset 2-1 by Columbus on Saturday – their first home loss to an Eastern Conference team this season. They still hold games in hand over both New York and Sporting KC and like Red Bull, can get on the cusp of a playoff berth with a win Saturday at home vs. Vancouver but you wonder how a cross continent trip for Tuesday’s Champions League match at San Jose will effect them?
3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WWLLW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI
Rundown: Sporting KC got rest this weekend ahead of a two-game week. Having won both of their early Champions League matches on the road, they should only need a draw at home against Real Esteli on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout round, before visiting Toronto FC on Saturday in league play. Like the two teams above them, a win in that match combined with dropped points below will push Sporting KC back to the playoffs for the third straight year.
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 40 (11-9-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 36.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.
Rundown: After what was likely their worst stretch of the season, the Houston Dynamo rebounded with a huge 1-0 away win at Philadelphia Saturday night, pushing the side back inside the playoff bubble.
They’ll recharge this weekend before tackling a crucial Champions League match vs. W. Connection and home game vs. Chivas USA in the span of three days next week. Crucial matches at New England, vs. Montreal and Sporting KC follow and will go a long way to determining Houston’s playoff fate and potential positioning.
5) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 39 (11-11-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLDW (8pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-2 / 2-6-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 57
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY
Rundown: The Fire missed a definite opportunity, dropping two points at Toronto FC on Wednesday but regrouped well to earn a key win vs. playoff contenders New England Saturday night, putting the Men in Red in playoff position for the first time this year after starting the season 2-7-1 through 10 games.
Whether the team has a slight advantage or disadvantage vs. the other postseason hopefuls depends on how you look at it. They do have the second easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponents points average but only two of the remaining six matches will be played at Toyota Park. Winning those home games remains key while taking a minimum of six points away from home will be needed if the team hopes to continue its season past October 27.
6) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-10-9)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLD (2pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 34.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC
Rundown: Philadelphia is the team reeling the most this week after falling 1-0 at home to playoff rivals Houston. In terms of form, the Union have taken just two points from their last five and of their five remaining games, have two against Sporting KC (home and away) and one at Montreal.
The Union are tied with the Fire on points but are in a more difficult spot with a tougher schedule and one less game to play…
7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-11-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDWW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Pts: 36.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB
Rundown: There was a point on Saturday (actually two) that New England’s Playoff Math was looking rather good. Then Juan Luis Anangono, Mike Magee and Alex all happened. Soccer.
They get to rebound from their two consecutive losses with a home match vs. D.C. this week before a stretch of three critical matches vs. Houston, at New York and Montreal to close out September and open October. They could easily be out of the playoff race or be making a strong push into the top three by then.
8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 35 (10-14-5)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLWLL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE
Rundown: The Crew pulled off their biggest win of the season, winning away at Montreal 2-1 last Saturday. There’s little doubt that the victory boosted morale for the team but they still sit four points back of the playoff bubble and only have five games left.
The Crew have their backs against the wall with every remaining match, needing to win and hope teams above drop points. They can do both with a victory over the Fire on Saturday but any loss at this point really takes them all but mathematically out of the equation.
The goal for the Crew should be to take at least seven points from the next three matches, to make their season-ending home and home series vs. New England still matter.
So now we have a different sort of perspective. Now suddenly the Fire are sitting in a playoff spot. Now the fight has paid off and the double comeback on Saturday night has everyone high and talking about “attitude” and “mentality” and there’s a different feel. Can you tell? Off-field issues, on field disappointments, coaching decisions, refereeing - it all feels a little irrelevant right now.
Now the approach is different. Now the Fire have in some way reached their goal, they’ve come back and got into a playoff spot. Now the team has a little momentum again, a little confidence, a little faith in this season’s various experiments.
Suddenly the Arevalo Rios/Jeff Larentowicz partnership looks as good as the Alex/Larentowicz partnership, while Alex has excelled as a utility attacker (center/left/right) off the bench or filling in for Rios on international duty.
Juan Luis Anangono finally finished and is beginning to look like a player you would spend transfer dollars on, while some healthy competition between Patrick Nyarko, Dilly Duka, and Joel Lindpere for outside midfield spots will only push them more and mean more service for Anangono.
Suddenly, the Fire look like a deep, experienced, full squad that can bring players like Chris Rolfe and Logan Pause off the bench if need be.
I just mean to say that the feeling after a dramatic and total team victory like Saturday’s is so much different from the panic, terror, and anger that fans felt on and off for most of the season. Toyota Park was more energized after Alex’s goal on Saturday than at any other time all year.
It feels like some fans and commentators have been calling games “must win” for the Fire since the spring, in a way that - deserved or not - everything felt like it was on the edge of a complete and utter disaster. That’s sports, especially in Chicago, but now that a goal’s been reached, there’s a feeling that you could almost call pride, back again.
So forgive us, playoff gods, for looking to the calendar because, as Mike Magee said Larentowicz told the team down 2-1 at halftime on Saturday, “the season gets shorter and shorter now and business has to be done.”
How will the team deal with being in 5th place looking down, instead of the other way around?
The Fire still have to improve on their away form if they’re going to hold their position despite tricky trips to Columbus, RFK, and Dallas, before finishing the season at first place New York. And the Fire still have to take the seemingly easier points against Toronto and DC. But it’s just six games and they hold their own destiny.
We know the playoff spot is the Fire’s to lose, and the fans can sense that this team, with its three different phases this year, and its hot streaks and cold streaks and other hot streaks and other cold streaks - this team might just have found enough consistency to not only make the playoffs but, well, if it was too early to panic about making the playoffs, it’s probably too early for the overly optimistic thoughts too, right?
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.