Blog

MLS Regular Season

16 September 9:38 am

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.

15 September 10:51 am

So what happened there? A sequence of three controversial events stacked up to cause much of the Toyota Park crowd to boo referee Ismail Elfath and crew as they went into the interval.

The First:

With the teams locked at 1-1, Patrick Nyarko broke through the New England backline and was thought to have won a penalty just as the clock hit 44:00 after contact with Revolution defender Jose Goncalves at the top of the box.

Elfath waved play on much to the chagrin of players and fans alike but okay, no big deal...

The Second:

Maybe its conjecture but the play seemed to throw Elfath off his game.

He likely would have signaled the amount of stoppage time or communicated via radio headset to fourth official Silviu Petrescu right after that play but with some jeers raining down and the signal to play on, perhaps he forgot? Perhaps the communication wasn’t received on the sidelilne?

Either way the amount of stoppage time was never put up on the board by Petrescu and as a result, never announced in-stadium. It did however make its way into the broadcast though how, I’m still trying to deduce as no official number was ever given.

In the end, we probably won’t know why it didn’t happen as Elfath was asked via pool reporter post-game why the fourth official didn’t raise the board to signal stoppage time.

The somewhat avoidant response was, “The priority of the fourth official is to keep order in the technical area.”

Which seems to suggest Petrescu was too busy dealing with both team's coaching staffs to raise the board during any point of what ended up being three additional minutes of stoppage time. Without directly answering the question though, Elfath continues to leave the incident open for interpretation.

If it’s safe for me to put my editorial hat on: The Pool Reporter system is a definite step forward for the league and Professional Referees Organization but its only as good as the referees being honest enough to  answer the question being asked.

Though there's nothing specific about the raising of the stoppage time signal in the Laws of the Game, the signal is something universally expected at the international and professional level.

Even if there was chaos for three minutes in the technical area (which would be an overstatement), the job of the fourth official is also to inform the players, coaches and those in attendance what that number is.

That didn't occur unfortunately.  

The Third:

With no stoppage time signaled, you could make a case that the half should have ended right when the clock struck 45:00. It didn’t, and in fact saw New England score their second go-ahead goal of the night when Saer Sene received a pass from Dimitry Imbongo and finished past Johnson to make it 2-1.

Should the goal have stood? Upon further review, absolutely not...

Off the goal kick in which Bobby Shuttleworth found Imbongo, the Congolese forward was aided by the use of his hand to settle the ball before spraying towards goal and laying off for Sene.

There’s the old adage that you should play to hear the whistle but looking back on the series of events, it seems the teams should have gone into halftime locked 1-1.

Where do we go from here?

There’s no sour grapes as the Fire overcame the controversy to take a 3-2 win in dramatic fashion at home over New England. The victory sees the team into a playoff position for the first time this season, something unthinkable following the side's 2-7-1 start to the season.

Just as good, the last two games between these two clubs seem to show a revival in the once heated rivalry between the sides.

On to the next one at Columbus.

15 September 12:06 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution
Toyota Park – Sept. 14, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the players mentality
 
“I thought the mentality and the attitude was incredible for the team. Most important thing is that you have a good locker room. It was one of those games that when you think of the history of the team this is one of the games that’s out there. Coming from behind and never giving up and creating chances. It was an exciting game, not so much for the coaches.”
 
On the players possibly being tired from being on the road
 
“The difference with this is that we played two on the road. The guys were fatigued so we have to make some changes. We had a game plan going in but the last ten minutes we felt like the game was open. Alex obviously gives us a lot in possession, but he is also very good in tight areas. All of the subs and all the players on the field did fantastic tonight.”
 
On being in playoff position
 
“We had a slow start with some of the injuries. I just think that the team never gave up. We fought hard. The changes we made helped on and off the field. The group has the right mentality. You want to be right there in the end and we are right there, so there is a lot to play for. We are very excited to be in the position. The guys have earned it with all the hard work. We are not happy where we are but it is a step to where we want to be.”
 
On changes he would make to the defense
 
“It seems like this ref missed every single call for us. They got a play out of nothing that’s why I was frustrated. It’s never easy giving up a goal in the forty-fifth minute. I told the group that it’s good to play with emotions but you have to keep it under control not to do anything silly now. We just kept playing and came out with a lot of energy.”
 
On changes to the starting lineup
 
“One of the reasons, I said it’s the third game within a week. We monitor the recovery of some of the guys with the technology that we have. The thing with this is that we traveled. Some of the guys were fatigued obviously we can’t make changes for everyone. What you saw tonight is that we have a good group and everyone is ready to contribute to play.”
 
Mike Magee Chicago Fire forward
 
On Alex’s goal
           
“My reaction was at first I was about to go nuts, but then I looked at him and thought it didn’t go in because he didn’t celebrate. I was in extreme disappointment and then went nuts again.  It was amazing.  We’ve been trying to get that type of goal at the end of a game for a while now, and now that it’s finally come at such an important time feels massive.”
 
On the win taking some pressure off
 
“For sure [it takes the pressure off].  This is probably our third chance at trying to get a win and move into the top five, it’s nice to get that weight off of our back after all the work we’ve done just to put ourselves into a top five spot.  To get over the hump is a big step.”
 
On the locker room at the half
 
“I thought it was good. Jeff [Larentowicz] came in and said a few words, but I just got the impression that everyone knew what was at stake and it wasn’t one of those times where we were all disappointed that we gave a goal at the end. We had the mentality that we were going to get it back. It was a good quiet half.”
 
On Juan Luis Anangono’s play
 
“He was involved in a big way. His goal was huge to tie it up the first time and helped on my goal tied it up the second time.  He put his body in front of a defender who was just going to clear, to shield it just so I have a chance.  If he doesn’t do that I’m not scoring a goal.  He was great today.”
 
On scoring his 10th goal with the Fire:
 
“The win means everything.  I’m not going to start goal counting, not just yet.  To get that win, the tying goal and to help the team is better than 10 goals.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On what he said to the team at the half:
 
“I said we’re down a goal and we can’t treat the second half too lightly.  It’s basically 45 minutes to keep ourselves in it.  Every week the season gets shorter, obviously, and the chances to get into the playoffs and make a push become less and less, so I just said to make sure the last 45 minutes to give it their all.”
 
On the frustration at the end of the first half:
 
“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating, they just made a good play.  It’s frustrating to be down 2-1, but the team responded well in front of our fans, in front of our crowd – they kept us going and we pushed until the end. I thought it was a great effort.”
 
Juan Luis Anangono Chicago Fire forward:
 
On his first goal with the Fire:
 
“I’m very, very happy with the goal.  I’m very happy with the consistency of the team and I’m happy with the work that was done on the field to come back and get the win tonight.”
 
On his involvement in the game:
 
“It always takes a little bit of time to get acclimated to a new lifestyle, but I thank everyone here at the Chicago Fire and Section 8 supporters because they’ve been so great to me.  Every day I feel better and more involved with the team and it shows with my performance on the field.”
 
On his role Magee’s goal
 
“I was trying to shield the defender so that pass wouldn’t get blocked and Mike could come in and just tap it in.  Luckily it worked out and Mike could score for the team.”
14 September 11:44 pm

Select shots from Saturday's 3-2 come-back win over New England...

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire

14 September 11:38 am

Mike Magee already has double-digit goals in 2013. 

In Regular Season terms, the six he scored in LA (three of which came against the Fire on Opening Day) combined with the nine he's tallied for the Men in Red since May have him second in the MLS Golden Boot Race with 15.

He's also scored double-digits for the Fire across all competitions, with his nine league goals combining with three in U.S. Open Cup play to give him 12 across all competitions.

Still, that long-hanging statistic of hitting double-digit regular season goals in one season for one club is there for Magee tonight as he looks to become the seventh player in club history to achieve the feat.

PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry

Having appeared in just 15 games, it made me wonder if he could be the quickest to do it in a Fire shirt and then I remembered: Ante Razov...

Razov is of course the club's all-time leading scorer with 76 regular season goals in 155 games. He hit double-digit goals five of his six seasons in Chicago. It stands to reason that he might have Magee beat multiple times in this stat.

Take a look...

Ante Razov's Double Digit Goals
Year Games Needed
1998 27
1999 18
2000 11
2002 14
2003 8

So Magee won't beat him but upon further review, if he bags a goal Saturday vs. New England or in the next two games, he'll be come the second fastest player to hit double-digits for the Fire after Razov. Not bad for a guy who asked for Ante's blessing before he took the #9 shirt with the Men in Red.

Check out the rest of the data below...

Player Games Needed Year(s)
Damani Ralph 19 2003, 2004
Eric Wynalda 19 2001
Josh Wolff 20 1998
Dominic Oduro 27 2011
Dema Kovalenko 28 2000

 

13 September 1:06 pm

For all the talk of the Fire’s possession problems, you wouldn’t have known it in the first 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s game in Toronto. The Alex/Jeff Larentowicz partnership hummed along like it did during the squad’s hottest streak this year, a fresh looking Patrick Nyarko did his havoc-creating thing, and it all culminated with a deserved goal.

Of course, at the final whistle it was obviously a shame they didn’t get one or two more during that period. But that’s what this Fire does. They pull off the tough results and tend to drop the seemingly easier ones. Even on short rest, away from home (where they’ve struggled all year), Toronto was the perfect opponent.

And in the first 20 minutes, the Fire pretty much had their way with the ball and the field, pressing hard to win it up field, running off each other -- it was yummy. It’s hard to pick one sequence but there was one down the right side in the 15th minute I loved. The Fire won the ball and played a couple fast one-touch passes before Nyarko just missed Chris Rolfe, wide open past midfield. It didn’t come off, but just look at the wide open spaces in TFC’s team shape.

TFC started bad. Really bad. They misplaced more balls than a dog with amnesia and the Fire took all the space they wanted. It was a veritable buffet for Rolfe, Dilly Duka, and Mike Magee, enjoying constant service from midfield as well as the enterprising Gonzalo Segares.

TFC’s goal shouldn’t have been the last goal of the game but it was and thankfully other results held up so the Fire are still in perfectly okay position for the playoffs. They need to pick up points down the stretch, yeah, but they’re all of one point out of fifth with seven games to play. I still don’t understand the doomsayers calling the season off already.

If the 14th minute, free-flowing Fire example showed everything this team can be when it flows right, Quincy Amarikwa’s 78th minute chance showed what’s sometimes dispiriting about them. They let points get away from them.

Off a TFC attack, Magee got the ball in his own half and turned through the midfield to play Rolfe, who spotted Amirakwa’s dash inside. It was a great run because he timed it later than Juan Luis Anangono’s, which was a bit too early so his defender could recover before Pause pushed close enough to goal.
 
Amarikwa’s run came directly in front of his defender, giving Pause the angle and target he needed, and Quincy was in. He had the choice of laying off for Anangono, who was beyond the goalie and just a simple touch away from giving the Fire the lead, but he went himself. Against his own team, in on goal, Amarikwa went himself and shot right at TFC keeper Joe Bendik. Anangono (and Fire fans) were furious.

It’s not outrageous for a striker in that position to go himself; actually, it’s probably the right thing to do versus risk an extra pass. But it was a moment the Fire couldn’t quite grasp, the kind of moment they’ll need to in the next seven games if they’re to keep their season going into the playoffs.

13 September 8:59 am

After missing yet another opportunity to jump into the Playoff spots after a disappointing draw in Toronto midweek, the Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday to face the team they are trying to catch, the New England Revolution (LIVE 7pm CT on My50). The Revs occupy the fifth and final Playoff spot and will be looking to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Tracking Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez – monitoring the Revs playmakers movement

Both Rowe and Fagundez are having fantastic seasons for New England despite their young age. For an 18 year old, Fagundez has a real eye for goal and a knack of getting into very good positions in the box. Many of his goals this season have been tap-ins, with the Uruguayan being in the right spot at the right time.

Rowe on the other hand likes to operate outside the box and is excellent at picking up the ball in the space between the midfield and the back line. In New England’s last two matches against Toronto and Montreal, Rowe was allowed too much space to pick up the ball in these positions. From there, he is equally comfortable shooting from distance or running at defenders. He displayed both in the matches against the Impact and TFC.

To stop Rowe, the communication and decision making by the Fire’s midfielders and defenders is very important. Defenders such as Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must come out and close down Rowe as quickly as possible when he picks up the ball in that position. As for Fagundez, tracking his runs into the box will also be crucial.

Concentrating on team defense – cutting out individual errors and defending better as a team

In the Fire’s last few matches, individual errors and lack of concentration have been the team’s downfall. On Wednesday night, a piece of nonchalant defending led to TFC’s tying goal while multiple players were guilty of not tracking their runners in the matches against Seattle and Houston.

Individual errors have plagued Fire defenders this season while the wingers are the culprits responsible for sometimes failing to follow their marks. As a defensive unit, the players must be focused for the entire 90 minutes, especially now because there is little room for error if the Men in Red are to make the Playoffs.  Against a team with such fluid attacking play and movement as New England, lapses in concentration like these will be punished.

Getting in 1v1 situations with A.J. Soares – Fire attack must try and isolate the Revs defender

In New England’s last match against Montreal, something that struck me was the ease in which Impact striker Marco Di Vaio was able to score both of his goals. Both goals were very similar, with the Italian receiving the ball in the box and going 1v1 with Soares before making a cut, losing the Revs defender and finishing with ease.

Don’t get me wrong, Di Vaio is a brilliant striker but his ability to beat players 1v1 is not his strong point, his deadly finishing is. As we have seen this season, Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee are not afraid to run at defenders and Quincy Amarikwa showed on Wednesday in Toronto that his pace coming off the bench can cause any defense problems.

Against New England this weekend, I would like to see the Fire strikers take on Soares if they find themselves in a position to.

Prediction: The Fire take the frustrations of the past few weeks out on the Revs and comfortably win 3-1 with goals from Magee (2) and Patrick Nyarko.

11 September 10:52 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at Toronto FC
BMO Field – Sept. 11, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
Thoughts on your team’s performance in the past two games
 
“I think against Seattle we played well.  It’s unfortunate to drop points.  I thought we started the game really well, we got the goal but a silly play, a mistake, and they got momentum and we allowed them back into the game a little bit and it became difficult.  We were not able to get on the ball and calm the game down a little bit and it became a little bit more of an up and down game.  I thought we had opportunities to dictate the tempo better and hold the ball and then we just forced it.  In the second half it was wide open a little bit.  The last ten minutes I thought, with the changes, we got into the game and had some opportunities, we pushed the game.  We knew that out of the two games that we needed points.  Saturday is going to be a big one – we need to get the three points at home.”
 
How concerned are you with the team’s inability to finish games when you have the lead?
 
“You got to get the second goal in this league – it’s crucial.  That is what we talk about all the time.  I think in Seattle we didn’t have very many chances in the second half. I think tonight we had a couple we just got to find a way to get that second goal because then you can put teams away.  I think we do create chances but we got to find a way to get that second goal and just limit our mistakes late.”
 
Do you still feel like your team’s playoff destiny is in your hands?
 
“Yes, for sure.  With the slow start we had I think we made up a lot of ground.  Right now we are right there.  With this league, we just want to be in a position where we are playing in the post season.  It’s great if you can be in first but we want to put ourselves in a spot where we can play for something and we are right there.  It really is in our hands.  We are just going to have to regroup and get ready for a big game Saturday because then you get three points there and we are right there.”
 
Dilly Duka, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
Thoughts on your goal
 
“Well I received the ball in the midfield, was driving a bit.  I noticed that Mike (Magee) was going to make run at the time so I just tried to chip it in there.  I got it in there I was a little fortunate that it bounced by the keeper and Mike and it went in.  There was nothing to it, we all saw what happened.”
 
On the play of Toronto FC in the second half
 
“I think we put all the pressure in the first twenty, we got a goal, and then we stopped.  If you let a team play they are going to play and they came back and scored a quick one right after and we were on our heels for the rest of the half.  These games matter, especially if we are going to make it into the playoffs.  We are going to need more energy.”
 
Psychologically, how tough are these games?
 
“It’s tough but we’ve got to try and look at the positives in those games and build.  We just got to keep our guys healthy and look for the next one.  It hasn’t been an easy stretch, we’ve played some good teams.  And even though Toronto is at the bottom of the table they still compete with the best of them.  We have a home game against New England, they are a good team and we just got to have energy for 90 minutes and keep it positive.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire Forward
 
Psychologically, how tough are these games?
 
“It’s been frustrating over the last stretch of games.  It feels like every game we have the inability to score two goals and the inability to get a shutout.  Playoff teams get shutouts and playoff teams put teams away so we’re not doing it on either end.  It’s a lot of bad feelings after games to say the least.”
 
How would you assess how you guys played today?
 
“It’s not good enough.  Like I said, we score a goal and we kind of go back into our shell which has been a reoccurring theme with us.  We tend to get up a goal, and we play, well and then we don’t know how to manage it.  We create some chances and don’t put teams away.  Like I said we are in a frustrating stretch right now but at the end of the day we are one point out of a playoff spot so we can’t keep our heads down even though that is the feeling.”
11 September 9:16 am

After dropping points late for the second week in a row, the Fire head north to Toronto to play their game in hand against TFC Wednesday night knowing that a win would springboard the Club into a Playoff position (6:30pm CT on My50). TFC were also beaten in the Pacific Northwest last weekend, 4-0 by Portland. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Controlling possession while being wary of TFC’s high pressure

In recent matches, TFC have focused on pressuring their opponent high up the field in an attempt to turn the ball over and/or force the team to play long ball or go back to the goalkeeper. This tactic can work very well but it also has the result of drawing your players out of position in an attempt to put pressure on the opponent.

Last week New England showed the most effective way of countering that tactic, namely by playing neat, one touch soccer and playing through the pressure. When looking at the possession stats, the Fire aren’t one of the most dominant teams in that category, averaging 43% over their past three games but against a team like Toronto, this can be rectified.

READ: Gonzalo Segares talks how MLS Results can be Razor Thin

The Men in Red certainly possess players comfortable playing a one touch, possession brand of soccer and must not be forced into giving the ball away needlessly or kicking the ball long due to the pressure by the TFC attacking players.

I look for the team not to be wasteful in possession on Wednesday night and to play themselves out of pressure whenever possible.

Changes in the attack? Injuries may force a shakeup on Wednesday night

WATCH: Larentowicz, Nyarko preview TFC

With top goal scorer and talisman Mike Magee subbed off at halftime as an injury precaution and the team playing
two games this week, it remains to be seen whether he will go the full 90 tonight in Toronto. With this in mind, Fire coach Frank Klopas has a number of ways he can tinker the side.

One obvious choice would be to bring in Juan Luis Anangono in attack as a direct replacement for Magee, while Patrick Nyarko and Quincy Amarikwa can also play in the forward role. A second and more likely option would be to see Nyarko come in on the wing and Alex play up front with Chris Rolfe.

As Kevin Egan pointed out in the latest edition of “The Centerback,” the front four of Alex, Rolfe, Magee and Duka combined extremely well against Seattle and bringing another pacey player like Nyarko into the mix makes sense.

Toronto’s defenders are not the fastest, and the movement and speed of the New England and Portland attacking players caused TFC a lot of problems in the last two matches.  If Magee is not deemed fit enough to start, who better to bring on later in the game if the Fire need to bag a winner than the second top goal scorer in MLS this season?

Keeping an eye on Reggie Lambe – a powerful wide player

Though statistically Reggie Lambe isn’t having the best of years for Toronto, he has played well in TFC’s last few matches and will be a threat on Wednesday evening.

In TFC’s recent tie with D.C., Lambe switched wings with Bobby Convey and the move worked, crossing for Convey who finished neatly for TFC's lone goal in that match.

In TFC’s last home game against New England, the Canadians started with only Robert Earnshaw up front, but Lambe often drifted inside to support the striker. Lambe also plays a part in TFC’s high pressure style of play, trying to close down the opposition as quickly as possible when they have the ball.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

It is important that the Fire neutralize Lambe and limit the amount of crosses he is able to send into the box for players like Earnshaw and Andrew Wiedeman.

Prediction: The Fire get what they came to Toronto looking for: 3 points with a 2 nil victory. Goals from Patrick Nyarko and Gonzalo Segares.

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