Blog

MLS Regular Season

24 July 11:23 am

MLS Player of the Week, Goal of the Week nominee, the accolades just keep on coming for Chris Rolfe, but why not? His fourty-fifth minute brace completing goal from Joel Lindpere's perfect placement can only be described with one word... Sick.

That's why MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas breaks it down in this week's Anatomy of a Goal.

23 July 1:41 pm

Join Daniel Paladini, Gonzalo Segares, and Patrick Nyarko next Thursday July 25th from 6-8pm at Molly’s Cupcakes located at 2536 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park.

Come by and see the Men in Red serve up your favorite cupcakes including the “Chicago Fire Velvet Swirl”. For each Fire Swirl cupcake sold, $1 will go back to the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Molly’s will match all tips collected during the evening with proceeds benefiting the Chicago Fire Foundation.

21 July 12:21 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
Toyota Park – Bridgeview, Ill. – July 20, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On what came together tonight and the team’s momentum
 
“The difference tonight was just finishing our chances. We had chances the last game and it was important how we would respond. So I think this was a crucial game we were playing, regardless of where this team is in the standings. They have quality players and you can’t underestimate anyone and I felt that the fast goals helped. We had chances, we put the chances away, and we defended very well as a team. We did very well as a team and I give a lot of credit to my players for the effort, the attitude they put into the game and their commitment over 90 minutes. I think this is a crucial part for us in the season, the next six weeks there are a lot of games we need to pick up points to be in that race and then we also have an opportunity in the semi final Open Cup game to be one step closer to where we can be playing for a championship, to win that trophy. It’s a crucial month, six weeks, and its important now at home to get points and also find a way to get points on the road. It was a great effort by the group today.”
 
On Joel Lindpere’s play tonight
 
“We started him at Columbus and he did the same. It’s about the team, I just felt that everyone had a good performance, they played well, and we won as a team today and that’s what it’s all about. We have talked throughout the season about guys needing to [perform] when the opportunity comes and Joel is an experienced guy. I had no problem. I have 100 percent confidence in Joel when he comes into the game and his work rate and all that stuff he showed tonight. It was a very good performance by the team and I give credit to the team so we need to obviously move forward. It was an important win for us and now we have to regroup and get ready for a top match next week because this game is over. We have to prepare for the game in Houston now.”
 
On Dilly Duka’s leaving the game and Quincy Amarikwa coming in for him
 
“At halftime Dilly [Duka] didn’t really say anything and when I came out they were warming up and preparing for the second half and he said that he had an issue with his hamstring or his groin, we will have to see tomorrow. Quincy [Amarikwa], that decision, we knew scoring the third goal, we knew that they were going to push the game. Both the goals came on a break for us and we felt that with his pace, they were trying to push the game and get back into it. We knew we would have space to play into depth. He is a guy that brings energy, his work rate, and his pace to get behind helps. Moments like that he’s been good and he’s played well, not only the times he’s come in, but also in the reserve matches. I think that is positive for him and also for the rest of the guys.”
 
On if any reserve player is really standing out
 
“We just have to see. Obviously [this week] we don’t have a mid-week game we just have to really see with injuries more than anything and see how guys are feeling through this week.”
 
On the challenges of integrating a player while maintaining team chemistry
 
“I think it’s important when you bring a guy in that he fits in with the group, that he can adapt quickly and it’s all about the team. That player has to realize that he has to sacrifice and do anything he can for the team. For us, that’s the most important thing when we bring a guy in.”
 
On Chris Rolfe’s performance
 
“It was great. I thought Chris [Rolfe] had opportunities last game and I think both goals were great finishes, and I think his movement was very good. The first ball that Joel [Lindpere] played to him, his movement; it was just a fantastic goal. The second one also came on a break through ball and his finish [was great]. Chris has that kind of quality. I think more than anything today, besides his goals, his work rate was fantastic. You can play him out wide he’s willing to do the work. When you have him on top he’s very dangerous, he’s a very technical player. And when you get him around the goal he makes plays like that. I think that the goals and his movement today was fantastic and I was very happy for him to rebound from last week and some of the opportunities he’s had.”
 
Chris Rolfe, Chicago Fire forward
 
On his first goal:
 
“I think our combination play was really good tonight, we had a lot of three men combinations and the timing was on for the most part. I got behind a few times, Mike [Magee] got in once and Dilly [Duka] was beating his guy – it was a good first half in particular.”
 
On converting an early opportunity for a goal:
 
“It helps the whole team.  We have all been talking about how important it was for us to score first, and then we ended up getting the second one in the first 15 minutes – that changes the whole outlook of the game for us.”
 
On Joel Lindpere’s performance:
 
“Joel [Lindpere] had a great game coming in again after not playing in the last couple. He is really stepping up and helping the team, I’m happy for him.”
 
On Lindpere’s off-field contributions:
 
“Like most of the guys in this locker room, he’s had a great team spirit, he’s been very positive and that helps. It shows when he comes in tonight and does a great job.”
 
On the potential of the team bringing in another striker and its affect on his performance:
 
“It doesn’t affect it at all.  If anything it’s exciting.  I hope they do bring in another guy if it’s going to help the team win.  I think it’s important for any team or organization to bring talent in to make us more competitive.”
 
Joel Lindpere, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On his performance tonight
 
"Wednesday, in the reserve game I gave an assist, last game, in Vancouver, I gave an assist, Columbus I gave an assist, so I think I've been doing my job how I like to do it and how I have to do it. I love to play so if you can enjoy playing, then it’s a good thing."
 
On the difficulties of staying ready when he isn't starting
 
"I don’t know when I didn't play three games from the start. But that means I'm doing my job. I think I've been starting most of my career but that’s the way it is. It's a team game. Like I said, I will try to find myself always to do my job and help the team. It doesn't matter if I start next game or I don’t start, I really hope that we take something for the road trip from this game. We have won only one road game and with the season at this point we have to be smart. For next week we need to concentrate because we don't play at home. Home advantage is so big and we have to get a good start for this game.”

Ben Olsen, D.C. United Head Coach
On the positives from the match:
 
“[The goal] is a bright spot, I suppose.  It was a good goal.  It’s good to get him off the mark.  It was just a day where no one on our team had a good day.”
 
On the team playing better in the second half:
 
“Yes, but it was 3-0 at that point.  It’s easy to have momentum and play with nothing to lose when it’s 3-0.  I’m looking for us to play for nothing to lose from the start.  We learned some lessons tonight.  I think some of our young guys learned a lot tonight, so maybe that’s a positive.  Chicago was very good tonight.  I don’t want to make this about us too much because that would take away from the performance of Chicago.  I thought Rolfe and Magee’s relationship is becoming very clever.  They’re both bright players.  They get it.  They play off each other very well right now.  They are tough to deal with.  We just didn’t have an answer for those two.  And then you give up an early goal, and you’re chasing the game the whole time.  It’s a tough team to chase because the weapons they have up top.  All credit to them.  They were very good tonight.”
 
On facing New England:
 
“We’ll regroup.  We’ve had a lot of losses this year.  We will continue to regroup, and continue to try and get better.  Again, I think the positive is for some of our young guys tonight that went into a tough place to play and learned some lessons.  As long as we can learn from that stuff, I think we’ll move forward.”
 
John Thorrington, D.C. United Midfielder and Captain
 
On the match:
 
“The only positive I see is that I hope we remember what this feels like and I hope it never happens again.  [We played] not good enough.  Didn’t carry out our game plan, not enough guys ready to do what it takes to win a game.  It’s not just coincidence that we won two games this year.  It hurts.  It sucks.  It hurts the coaches, it hurts the players, but it’s no good for us to hurt now, the game is done.  We lost 4-1.  I guess you could say there were some moments where we played well, but when you give up four goals, you just have to play like Barcelona and we didn’t.”
 
On playing games now like the team has nothing to lose:
 
“I don’t see why we aren’t already.  Given where we are in the table, a game should matter more to us more than anybody in the league, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing against, they are above us in the table.  We should be fighting and scrapping for every point get can get at this point.  Tonight wasn’t our night.  I’ve been on a lot of teams in the league, I know this isn’t a bad group of players, I know it’s not a bad coaching staff, I know there is something here but for whatever reason it hasn’t been working.  We’ve showed signs in the last month so maybe we can start a bit of a turn around.  Tonight it’s hard to see a silver lining.”
 
Luis Silva, D.C. United Forward
 
On his goal:
 
“I was asking for the ball and Perry saw me in a good hole, right in the middle.  I knew I had time and space, so why not try it.  I decided to take the shot, and it went in.”
 
On breaking the shut out:
 
“Yes, it was [a relief].  We needed a goal and to stay in the game and we got it.  I think we played well in the second half.”
 
On the team’s play in the second half:
 
“I think we came out really slow and they ran at us.  They got their chances and they put them away.  I think in the second half we came out with more energy, and we felt the game was equal.  We had to take our chances.”
 
On facing New England:
 
“We have the right tools; we just have to put them together.  We have to work as a team, defending as a team, and attack as a team as well.  We know it’s 11 versus 11, and if we do our job, if everyone does their job, we’ll be fine.”
20 July 10:26 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 4-1 win over D.C. United.

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire

19 July 9:07 am

The Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday evening after a disappointing display in Vancouver last weekend, giving up three second half goals to the Whitecaps. D.C. come to town (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) after last playing out a 0-0 draw in Colorado on July 7. With D.C. sitting last in the East and the Fire slipping back from the playoff positions in recent weeks, this game is extremely important.

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

Team defense – be wary of quick transitions

In last weekend’s match against Vancouver, individual errors were again to blame for the Fire not coming back with any points but the team’s defending in transition also left something to be desired.

When the Fire turn the ball over, it is up to the team as a whole to defend, obviously not just the back four. D.C. will be looking to catch the Fire on the break as much as possible and when this happens, Fire players, most notably the outside defenders must turn attack into defense.

READ: Pause likely to be back for D.C.

Against Vancouver last weekend, the Whitecaps first goal came from a quick transition from a corner where the Fire were caught with too many players up the field. The Men in Red should be able to create multiple chances against D.C. and while getting forward and coming up with chances is important, the players must not neglect their defensive responsibilities.

DC getting back to full strength – DeLeon and Porter return

Athletico Coaching Corner on D.C. 

Over the past few matches, D.C. United have been without two of their start players, Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter due to injury and international duty respectively. Both look set to return to the team on Saturday night which will be a big boost to the Black and Red.

Though still raw, Porter’s crossing and 1v1 abilities make him one of the best up-and-coming wingers in MLS, while DeLeon’s creativity in the attack is also a major threat. D.C. have only scored eight goals this season but Porter and DeLeon have either scored or assisted in three of those.

That may sound like a small number but when you’ve only scored eight, contributing to three makes you responsible for almost half of the teams goals!  

Because D.C. plays with one recognized striker, the emphasis is on players like DeLeon and Porter to get forward and support the lone striker whenever possible. The more the Fire can isolate both players and not allow them to link with the lone striker and withdrawn forward Chris Pontious, the better.

Targeting the middle two – getting past Kitchen and Thorrington

D.C. plays a system with two recognized defensive midfielders, presumed Saturday night to be John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen. Unlike Vancouver, whose three central midfielders often get forward to support the attacking three, D.C.’s pair are very much holding midfielders.

Both players sit in front of the back four to provide cover which makes D.C. a very difficult team to break down. There are times however when one of the central two is dragged wide, leaving space in the middle to exploit. When this happens, players like Alex must step forward and take advantage.

READ: Johnson keeping tabs on Fire from USMNT camp

Recognizing when these opportunities present themselves and quicker switches of the point of attack from the wing to the middle are things I am looking to see on Saturday night.

After the last home match against Kansas City, Mike Magee criticized his teammates for not getting forward in larger numbers in the second half when the team was down.

If the Fire can get more people forward and force Kitchen and Thorington into 2v1 situations, the team will create chances.

Prediction: 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Nyarko and Alex  

16 July 11:35 am

And here the Fire go into the second half of the season, now suddenly in a losing streak, with as many questions swirling around everybody as there were in March. Last week I wrote about how the Fire have an opportunity to define their season, but it’s games like Sunday’s in Vancouver that show how this Fire team this year, for good or for bad, just refuses to be defined.
 
There are a million ways to look at games like Sunday’s. I mean, the Fire lost. They didn’t score when they had the chances, they gave up three goals, and they didn’t get any points. Those are the facts that count, sure, but games are never completely comprehensible in a quantitative way, and, especially as we all try to figure out the true identity of this team, the mysteries are confounding.
 
Was Sunday’s game as bad as the score line looked? Or did the Fire not get all they deserved? Was the lineup wrong? Or was the lineup fine but certain plays didn’t go the Fire’s way, that’s life, etc.? Let’s look a bit closer…
 
View 1: The Fire died in the second half, gave up three goals in 20 minutes, and couldn’t muster a comeback.
View 2: The Fire stood up against a plastic pitch and hostile atmosphere, dominated the first half and were unlucky not to score, then broke down against Vancouver’s momentum after Camillo’s first goal (which was brilliant and would’ve come off against anyone.)
 
View 1: The Fire’s defense is too exposed and the additions of Soumare and Francis, as well as moving Anibaba out wide, couldn’t keep Vancouver at bay.
View 2: The Fire’s defense has cut down the blatant mistakes we saw earlier this season, Segares was suspended, first choice goalie Sean Johnson is with the USMNT, defenses take time to gel, it’s hardly the end of the world, none of Vancouver’s goals were due to terrible defending or mistakes.
 
View 1: Sunday’s result makes sense because the Fire haven’t been strong away from Toyota Park.
View 2: One of the Fire’s best results this year was a scrappy away draw at RSL in May.
 
View 1: Klopas’ second half subs aren’t making a difference the way they used to.
View 2: The gist of the substitutions - refreshing center midfielders and providing more options up front (see Lindpere, Quincy, and Maicon) - are exactly the same as they were when they changed games in the unbeaten run. Also, without Paladini and Pause in Vancouver, he had fewer options.
 
View 1: Magee’s hot run is over.
View 2: Magee created multiple chances in the first half, just missed the back post twice in the second, had a shot blocked later, and was generally all over the place and annoying for Vancouver.

And so on...
So - was the Fire’s unbeaten run a fluke? Were the losses against KC and Vancouver proof that the Fire can’t convert against the best in MLS? Did the additions of Magee and Soumare, the resurgence of Duka-Rolfe-Nyarko trio, and the presence of Larentowicz all flame out?
 
OR: Did tough-fought results against Portland and RSL prove that the Fire can fight against anyone in the league? Maybe back-to-back losses against KC (the best team in the East) and at Vancouver (one of the hardest places to play in MLS) aren’t totally surprising, even for top teams? Maybe the Fire lost to a brilliant goal and a tough atmosphere/pitch, were unlucky not to score a handful themselves, and should just wash themselves of this game and move on?
 
In other words, there are no answers. I don’t think the Fire were dominated in Vancouver. But they lost. If the Fire had converted one of their first half chances, maybe Vancouver loses some confidence, and the Fire come away with some points. If not for Camillo’s second goal, the ball didn’t manage to squeeze past three Fire players, and the Fire equalize, who knows?
 
The “if” game is tough. One could say that the best way to address is that is to decisively remove all “if”s, convert the chances, not give up goals and be champions -- end of story. Fair, but maybe the best approach this year is to embrace what this team is. Maybe this year’s Fire is defined by a transient identity, a team finding itself through wins, losses, and draws. Maybe that’s what’s best about them?

14 July 10:21 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
BC Place – Vancouver, B.C. – July 14, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“I felt that we had a good start to the game and for 45 minutes we had a lot of good opportunities in the final third that I think we should have taken advantage of but the second half was different. In a game like this it’s disappointing for us with I think the way we played and the chances we had in the first half not to walk away with points from here but the game is 90 minutes and I felt that little things in the second half, just seconds balls and those things that kind of turned the game their way and they were able to put their chances away.”
 
On how the team will respond to losing two successive matches:
 
“It’s important how you respond from situations like this. We have a tough stretch coming up right now, we have away games and we need to find a way to get results and points. It’s a crucial month and a half with a lot of important games coming up so we need to get points or we’re going to fall behind.”
 
On losing two goals in quick succession:
 
“It’s always difficult when you fall behind. The important thing is just getting the next one but three behind makes it a little more difficult. When it’s two you can get that one back; the pressure changes. We let things slip away from us.”
 
Shaun Francis, Chicago Fire Defender
 
On Chicago not taking their chances early on:
 
“It was an away game so we all knew that they were going to come out and put a lot of pressure on us at home. We weathered the storm and we did a good job in the first half and kept it at 0-0. We got a couple of chances and we didn’t make use of our chances.”
 
On his team making mistakes:
 
“The game is all about mistakes and who makes the most mistakes and the other team’s going to capitalize on those chances. They capitalized on their chances and scored.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On his goal:
 
“It came out, we were trying to push at that time, it set up perfectly and I went up to get it.”
 
On recovering from two goals in five minutes:
 
“It’s hard, it was definitely hard. I think we let our foot off the gas a little bit for a couple minutes and they punished us and that decided the game.
 
On outplaying Whitecaps FC in the first half:
 
“Absolutely, I think we deserved a better result. When you play like that and you end up losing like this it hurts but we shot ourselves in the foot but we got to go back to the drawing board and figure out the mistakes we made.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire Forward
 
On why Chicago lost the match:
 
“We were good in spurts today, obviously we weren’t good with our attacking chances and they made the most of theirs. The fans are great, it’s a great atmosphere, the field is definitely not easy to get used to. But yeah, obviously they’re a quality team.”
 
On having several chances either blocked or saved:
 
“It just wasn’t my day, I tried my best and sometimes they don’t go in.”
 
Joel Lindpere, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On his contributions as a substitute:
 
“I tried to play smart, especially when you play away you got to keep the ball and give good passes to your teammates. I think I went in and did good, and did what I’m supposed to do: keep the ball, play good passes to my teammates and got an assist. I had two chances to score myself also, but I was happy I got a chance to play in the middle.”
 
On Vancouver’s home-field advantage:
 
“We played a great first half, but for us it doesn’t matter if we’re playing on turf or grass, I mean we played a very good first half, we had to realize in the second half a lot of our players didn’t have the legs after spending so much time attacking in the first. We should’ve played a little smarter, kept possession for a little while, hold back and play smarter.”
 
On the effects of the midweek friendly versus Club America:
 
“I played 60 minutes in that match and I would love to play 90 minutes normally. We’ve had a couple of practices since then and I’ve been feeling good so hopefully I get more minutes in these upcoming games. I was hoping to play even more today, it’s not my decision but I’m ready to step in each game as necessary. Hopefully we bounce back at home next week, it’s a crucial end of the month, we have a cup semifinal at home coming up, we need to get our confidence back after these two straight losses.”
 
Martin Rennie, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Head Coach
 
Thoughts on the match:
 
“I thought the first half was a little bit slow. The tempo wasn’t too great from us and I didn’t think we kept the ball as well as we have been and we didn’t create as many chances as we have. In the second half I thought we improved a lot, we created quite a lot of good opportunities; hit the post, had a couple of good chances before we scored and then I felt it was fitting that Camilo got the 100th goal for the club. I think that’s his 28th (actually his 29th) out of the 100 so I think that’s fantastic from him and then for him to get another one right after that was fantastic.”
 
On the positives to be taken from the win:
 
“It was a big win for us. I’d have liked to have seen us see the game out just a little bit better at the end but that’s a big win at home. Especially I thought after last week I wondered if it might be a little bit flat and it was but in the second half we really got it going and that’s our seventh win in our last 10 games. We’ve picked up 23 points out of the last 30 on offer. There’s a lot of positives there; we move up the league with that result, we’ve looked at that as almost one of our games in hand and once again we’ve scored a lot of goals for our fans and they’ve backed us all the way again. It was a great afternoon for us and it sets us up for the next game.”
 
On Brad Knighton making some key saves:
 
“He played well again and I felt it was important that we stayed in the game at that point. Sometimes if you’re not playing at your absolute best the most important thing is that you’re still in the game and it was important at halftime that we were tied even though we hadn’t played as well as we’d like to, but we had that belief and that confidence and I think that in the second half we turned it up a gear and it made a big difference.
 
On Camilo’s first goal and overall performance:
 
“For the most part, I think once he got squared up against Soumare he was supremely confident that he was going to score. As soon as he gets squared up in the box he’s really deadly and he gets past people and he set that goal up really well. I thought he’d missed out on the second one but he did well on that; it was a great ball from Kekuta. Camilo’s on a fantastic run, he’s the top scorer in MLS at the moment I believe and it makes a big difference to any team when your strikers are scoring and also when you’ve got players like Mattocks and Kekuta to come off the bench, that’s a luxury that not many teams have and it’s exciting for us to be able to bring those guys on.”
 
On Kektua Manneh’s introduction:
 
“I think at that point we were playing quite well but it just gave us a little more width, he stayed wide a bit more naturally and the main thing is he’s got penetrating pace. He can go past people, he can run behind people and I think at that point we were much more penetrative in the way we were playing and I thought the weight of his pass for Camilo’s goal was fantastic and then his trickery to score the second was excellent so I just think he’s a really talented player, there’s no question about it. We just want to keep introducing him into the team little by little but he’s got so much quickness and talent that he’ll certainly be playing more and more minutes for us.
 
He’s still 18 years old and he’s still young so we don’t want to overdo it but I think we want to give him experience, we want to give him minutes and we gave him I think about 30 minutes today so he got a good run at it and he rewarded us all with his performance.”
 
On conceding a late goal:
 
“I think we should have done more to keep that clean sheet. It’s the last kick of the ball, we’re 3-0 up and I think when we look back on it there are things we could have done more. ‘Keepers absolutely thrive on clean sheets just like strikers thrive on goals and I think I would expect him and others to be disappointed with that goal that we lost, but it doesn’t really take the shine off a fanastic win for us. It was an excellent win and a big three points, a really important three points today and thankfully we had that cushion today to allow us to let up there at the end which is something we need to improve on.”
 
Brad Knighton, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Goalkeeper
 
Thoughts on the result:
 
“Obviously we didn’t start the way we wanted to. It’s my job to keep us in the game and was fortunate to make some saves to keep the game nil - nil for the half. The guys took over in the second half and the result speaks for itself.”
 
Thoughts on the ending of the game:
 
“Yeah, well, to get shutouts. It’s what I’m here for, to keep the ball out of the net and it didn’t happen. It’s not good enough on our part. We’ve got to see the game out. 20 seconds from the last kick of the game and we let a goal in is not good enough. If you want to talk about the playoffs and this and that, that’s going to be the difference, it’s about the little things. We’re fortunate to get the three points and the three goals but defensively we deserved a shutout from the whole team. It’s a letdown.”
 
Camilo Sanvezzo, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Striker
 
On scoring so consistently:
 
“We work hard for the opportunity for every time we score. Today I had a lot of chances. I’m happy that some went in.”
 
Thoughts on 100th goal:
 
“It’s very important for me to be part of club’s history. And I hope it’ll continue like that.”
 
Thoughts on difference on him this year:
 
“I think we played more as a team, we work for each other, we fight for each other We pass the ball for each other. And when the opportunity comes we do our best.”
 
Thoughts on 2nd half:
 
“Martin says it’s not good enough. We know. Martin says we’re not good enough, we’re playing at home. We need to do a better job.”
 
Kekuta Manneh, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Winger
 
Thoughts on his goal:
 
“I don’t know how I got the goal. But when I had the ball I tried to take on the guy and try to force him down the field and try to get the ball back and try it all again. That’s what the coach was telling us, if we get the chance to shoot, give it some power.”
 
Thoughts on his confidence and taking on the defense:
 
“That’s how I play, that’s my style of play and I feel like that’s what they expect from me every single time I play. Every time I play, I score goals if I can and that makes me more confident.”
12 July 10:50 am

 
After a disappointing home loss against Sporting KC last weekend, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday to face a resurgent Vancouver Whitecaps side. The ‘Caps beat arch rivals Seattle last weekend and are unbeaten in five games.
 
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
 
Shaun Francis full debut – a baptism of fire?
 
Shaun Francis only joined the Fire Wednesday and seems likely to make his full debut for the team in Vancouver. The left back should replace suspended stalwart Gonzalo Segares and will need to hit the ground running in an intimidating atmosphere.
 
Luckily for Francis, Vancouver are without their usual wide right player in the 4-3-3 formation, Russell Teibert who is in Canada’s Gold Cup squad. The winger has tallied six assists this season, twice the amount of the leading Fire player (Jeff Larentowicz and Daniel Paladini with three) . Instead of facing the pace of Teibert, Francis will likely be battling Corey Hertzog, who is in his first season with Vancouver.
 
Francis, who likes to get forward, will also have to face another outside back who likes to do the same in Young-Pyo Lee. Despite being 36, Lee is an extremely fit player and though he has lost a step of pace, is still very dangerous in the attack.
 
It will also be interesting to see how well Francis and presumed starting left mid Dilly Duka combine in Vancouver. A strong performance in this away game will not only boost Francis’ confidence but will be necessary if the Fire want to leave Canada with points in the bag.
 
The Fire’s back four – cutting out the individual mistakes
 
Before the game against Kansas City last weekend, ESPN showed a stat that since the arrival of Bakary Soumare, the team’s goals against average per game has dropped. This is certainly true but stats can also be deceiving.
 
In the KC game, the Fire had a shambolic first 10 minutes defensively, giving up two very soft goals. The first came from a poor clearance from a long throw and the second from allowing KC’s best player Graham Zusi too much space to shoot/cross from outside the box.
 
Since the arrival of Bakary Soumare and the switch of Jalil Anibaba to right back, the team’s back four has remained stable and for the most part work well as a unit. Individual errors like those in the SKC game are the issue.
 
These are a hard thing for a coaching staff to work on because the majority are mental mistakes.  It’s been nine games in the league since the Men in Red kept a clean sheet and one would be very welcome on Sunday evening. If the back four and goalkeeper can keep their concentration for 90 minutes and communicate well with one another, a clean sheet can be achieved.
 
Breaking down the Whitecaps – how to defeat the 4-3-3
 
Vancouver coach Marin Rennie favors a 4-3-3 formation with three ball-winning midfielders and three attackers who are very mobile. There are a few weak spots in this formation however that the Fire should look to exploit.
The first is getting balls in behind the three-man midfield, either by playing through balls or looking over the top. In Vancouver’s last loss, a 3-2 defeat by Seattle, the Sounders were able to get behind the three-man wall catching the Whitecaps center backs out of position.
The Sounders capitalized numerous times in that match when gaps opened up between the Whitecaps center backs. In Vancouver’s recent 3-1 win against Chivas USA, the Chivas goal also came from getting behind the central midfielders, this time from a brilliant pass from the center of the park which split the Vancouver mids and resulted in a 1v1 between the Chivas striker and a Whitecaps defender.
Another area where the 4-3-3 can be exploited is on the outside, a strong area for the Fire. Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka’s ability to stretch the three man midfield of Vancouver will be very important, not only because it leaves gaps in the middle to exploit, but it also forces one of the midfielders into a 1v1 battle with one of the Fire wide men. I would bet on our wingers in that fight.
When you add the Fire’s outside defenders to that equation, it makes it difficult for Vancouver to defend. I look for the likes of Alex, Nyarko and Duka to try and exploit the 4-3-3 system whenever possible, for the Fire’s benefit. 
Prediction: 1-1 with a goal from Alex.
09 July 12:35 pm

A mistake is just a mistake, an error, a blip - the definition implies that it’s somehow against what’s expected, it’s notable specifically because it’s not in rhythm with everything else going on. Repeated mistakes, predictable mistakes, they’re no longer mistakes. They’re problems.
 
After yet another game marked by early concessions (and, at last, without the gritty comebacks that defined the Fire’s breathtaking unbeaten streak) The Fire find themselves approaching halfway through the season with an opportunity to define their year.
 
Are all these frustrating early goals, the slow starts, the brief moments of futility - are they mistakes, errors, blips? Are they exceptions to the true Fire? Or will they define the Fire as a problem, and we’ll look back sometime in the fall at a team that cost itself a playoff spot?
 
Pour some out for the exhilarating and dramatic nine-game unbeaten run. After Wednesday’s game against San Jose, everything looked hunky dory. The Fire let in some goals, but they controlled the game, scored wonderfully, and showed just how much of a new team we were seeing compared to the disappointments of the spring. Now, the Fire will have to show whether Magic Mike Magee’s impact is just makeup, MLS cover-all.
 
The best part of soccer seasons is that, eventually, your strengths and weaknesses are laid bare. There are deserved and deserved results, sure, but there’s no such thing as a lucky season because there are enough games to balance out unlucky bounces, bad call, injuries, and so on. The points at the end of the season tell a complete story.
 
So, yes, Sunday was hot and humid. KC is stacked, with maybe the best back line in MLS. The Fire played on short rest. It was, in other words, the worst scenario to let in early goals.
 
But it also exposed the Fire’s tendency to let in these goals that just feel wrong. The only word I can think of to describe the kinds of goals we’ve seen against the Fire is icky. They’re icky. They’re kind of gross. They feel wrong. They’re not well worked, they don’t really break the Fire down or come from great passing or individual brilliance. I’m thinking about Lindpere’s own goal and Gordon’s ridiculous crossbar assist to himself on Wednesday; Feilhaber’s volley off the post and Zusi’s wind-assisted Shross on Sunday. Going back, there are the Austin Berry gifts to Deshorn Brown of Colorado and Dominic Oduro of Columbus. You have to go all the way back to June 8th against Portland to see a really nice goal scored against the Fire in MLS.

That’s a good sign, I think. I think it means that, once the Fire stop letting in these icky goals, Magee and the suddenly more clinical Duka - Nyarko - Rolfe supporting cast will continue to carry the Fire towards a playoff spot. It only seems right.

 

But with big road games in Vancouver and Houston coming up this month and the games starting to wear people down, the Fire are going to have to prove that their ascent is legitimate. They’ll have to prove that June’s run was no lie, that the early goals were a bunch of mistakes, errors, blips - not what defines them.