MLS Regular Season
Saturday was rough. You could almost feel the sucker punch coming, and it still hurt. Bad. There were a few interesting moments in the game but I couldn’t stop thinking about the wind. It’s one of the identifying characteristics of footy that you play in basically any condition, and it affects the way you play, the way you think about playing, and, obviously the results.
For all its stripped down, no pads, anyone-can-play humanity, the NBA is sterile in this regard. Every court is exactly the same and predictable (unless you have a bad shooting night, then you can blame the stadium’s depth perception, or lighting problems). Football has to play in weather, but they ruin the fun by putting Super Bowls in safe weather cities. Baseball has to play in weather too, but they cancel games if anyone gets mud on their shoes.
No, soccer has to deal with the elements in every way, from bee attacks to snow to pitch problems to wind.
Saturday against Philly began as a perfect example. The wind was strong enough to blow the froth off your beer. I saw a garbage can at Toyota Park get blown over and almost tumble down an aisle. Meanwhile, Philly could hardly get the ball in the air, and when they did, the wind held it up like the perfect alley oop. Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba were able to measure the long balls up easily and win them consistently, even over Connor Casey.
But as the game developed, it was interesting because the wind didn’t seem to influence the game as much as it could have. It was irritating for the players (I’ve never seen Gonzalo Segares overhit so many crosses), and definitely a factor (it made Sean Johnson look like superman, I swear he could’ve kicked a goal kick into a bags game on the Party Deck in the first half if he wanted to), but it wasn’t the storyline.
Anibaba and Berry kept winning headers off goal kicks and clearances going both directions, and neither team were obviously playing out of the back on the ground the way teams do when they’re avoiding long balls into the wind. It seemed like a stalemate between the wind and the two sides. If only the wind could’ve pushed Patrick Nyarko's second half chance just an inch or two left, we’d be here sipping champagne joking about the wind, but we got sucker punched.
Let’s take the funny with the tragic, here. The Fire were clearly robbed of three points, and the good news is that there’s plenty of time to recover these lost points. The Rolfe/Nyarko partnership is promising, the weather’s getting better, and at the end of the season we’ll look back at plays like this one from Anibaba and laugh.
Select shots from the Fire's match vs. the Union
Credit: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire
The Fire head into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Union (12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of a much-needed bye week after the tough loss in Montreal the week prior.
Philly tied 2-2 against lowly Seattle last time out and are set to be missing a few defenders due to injury and suspension. Both teams play each other twice over the next seven days. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective.
Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 1
The Union come into this game missing starting right back Sheanon Williams and it appears former Fire player Bakary Soumare will get the start at center back for the first time all season.
WATCH: Match Preview
This major reshuffle combined with the Fire being the home team should mean Frank Klopas’ side will be set up to attack Philly whenever possible. Williams is a loss on the right, not only for his defensive play but also his long throw ability which can be used as an offensive threat.
Filling in for Williams should be usual left back Raymon Gaddis. Gaddis looked particularly uncomfortable against New England in the Union’s last away match in April, with the youngster getting caught out by balls in behind on a few occasions.
He was also exposed when put under pressure. The Revs wingers had luck getting the ball in the box from Gaddis’ side and with this in mind, I expect to see Joel Lindpere and Gonzalo Segares getting forward and attacking Gaddis whenever possible.
Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 2
Ironically, last season’s match against the Union saw Bakary Soumare play his first and only game of the 2012 season for the Union. In that match, the Fire looked to get in 1v1 situations with the rusty defender and it paid off, with MacDonald beating Soumare before crossing for a Chris Rolfe tap in goal. This weekend’s game plan should be no different with Soumare not playing in a match since the game last August.
The Men in Red will also look to force Soumare out of the middle to cover on the outside, something no centerback likes to do. Presumed starting wingers Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere will be relishing 1v1 opportunities with the big defender.
Another area to test Soumare will be in the air. New England was able to win the ball in the aerial battle on numerous crosses into the Philly box, partially because of the hesitancy of goalkeeper Zac MacMath to come and challenge them.
A new center back pairing combined with a sometimes hesitant goalkeeper can lead to defensive errors and one such error could be decisive on Saturday afternoon.
WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner
Stopping the Philly attack - be ready for different combinations
When one looks at the Philly attack this season, it is easy to get distracted by the exploits of 20-year-old Jack McInerney who has notched six goals already for the Union this season.
He picked up April’s Player of the Month award and is playing the best soccer of his young career. Beyond McInerney, the Union have three excellent strikers who bring different playing styles to the table.
Veteran Conor Casey has played up front with McInerney in recent matches and has combined well with the man 11 years his junior. Both strikers are very fluid, dropping deep, moving out to the wing or playing in the advanced striker role and switching at a moment's notice.
It is much easier to prepare for what you presume to be the starting strikers will be. The challenge in Saturday's game will be the adjustments the coaching staff make if and when the Union decide to bring on some attacking substitutions.
Antoine Hoppenot and Sebastian Le Toux have started from the bench in recent matches but both have a tendency to make a big impact once brought on. Le Toux is very good with the ball at his feet and he can easily play in the second striker role, allowing McInerney to permanently move higher up the pitch.
Hoppenot scored four goals off the bench last season and has come off the bench in all but one game this season. If Le Toux does come on, dropping presumed center-mid starter Daniel Paladini a bit deeper to reduce the space Le Toux has to operate in is an option.
In-game adjustments are not often talked about but can often be the difference between three points and one.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Lindpere
Instead of talking to him in 140 characters, why not join him live for a Google+ Hangout Friday afternoon?
Daniel will begin taking your questions at 12:15pm CT but you can begin asking him questions for the chance to win
- 2 FREE Premier tickets to Saturday's match vs. Philadelphia Union
- 2 FREE tickets to next Thursday's Art of Futbol event
- A team-signed Chicago Fire ball.
Select shots from the Fire's match vs. the Montreal Impact
CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images
Our MLSsoccer.com friends Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle give their view on how Saturday's game vs. Montreal will play out...
The Fire head to Canada on Saturday to face the Montreal Impact (3:00pm CT LIVE on NBC Sports Network and La Ley 107.9 FM) on the back of their best performance of the season last weekend against Columbus.
The Impact rested quite a few players in the 2-0 Canadian Cup loss to Toronto at midweek but can jump back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective…
More changes a right back – Pause or Videira to get the start?
Johnson, Anibaba Preview Montreal
With the retrospective ban handed down to Wells Thompson, the Fire will need to make yet another change at right-back for Saturday.
The latter played very well in that position away to Kansas City where the Fire got men behind the ball and held out for a 0-0 draw.
It could be argued that Videira could have held on to the right-back spot based on that KC performance if he didn’t get sidelined with a concussion late in the match.
Logan is certainly the more experienced of the pair but if he is moved to right back it would break up the three-game run the captain has had in central midfield with Jeff Larentowicz which has paid dividends of late.
Many fans were upset at Frank Klopas’ decision to drop Daniel Paladini last week (which turned out to be a stroke of genius) but shifting Logan to right back would make room for Paladini to move back into the starting eleven.
Playing away against a team with excellent wingers will require whoever Klopas chooses on the right to be very disciplined and with players like Pause and Videira, we are spoilt for choice.
Pressuring the Montreal backline – don’t let them play out of the back
Under new coach Marco Schällibaum, Montreal like to play the ball out of the back whenever possible. This can be problematic, especially when the opposing teams pressure the defenders and goalkeeper when they have the ball.
On a number of occasions this season, Montreal has been too casual when playing the ball out of the back which resulted in great opportunities for the other team. In some matches, even goalkeeper Troy Perkins was caught out trying to pass the ball to one of his defenders instead of just clearing it out of danger.
Because the Fire are playing away, they will almost certainly play on the counter attack, but if the attacking players like Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald can hound the Impact defense, it could result in a chance from a turnover.
Stifling Di Vaio – cutting of the supply to the frontman
Athletico Coaching Corner with Mike Matkovich
Montreal play with one striker, namely 36-year-old striker Marco Di Vaio. The Italian is not as mobile as he was in his younger days and he relies on his wide and attacking midfielders to get him the ball.
Montreal’s wealth of attacking midfielders like ex-Fire winger Justin Mapp, MLS veteran Davy Arnaud and the extremely influential Brazilian Filipe are very difficult to control and when you add Di Vaio playing off the shoulder of the last defender to that mix, it makes it even harder to contain.
Though he lacks pace, the Italian gets himself into great positions and makes very smart runs off the ball. Against the Fire, Montreal will try and get the ball wide to players like Arnaud and Mapp because the Klopas’ side will pack the midfield when they are not in possession.
This means the Fire must be wary of Di Vaio’s movement in the box and also the late runs by other midfielders who will also be looking to get on the end of a cross.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with a counter attack goal from Sherjill MacDonald and a goal from a corner by Austin Berry.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Big props go to Austin Berry this week after a sterling performance versus Columbus.
Austin did a great job containing the crew's offensive strength, and he just missed bagging his first goal of the season by about a half an inch.
For his efforts Austin has earned a spot on the MLS Team of the Week. This is his first on the year, and the third of his career. Congrats Austin!
Today we look back on one of the most impressive come back wins in club history which came almost 10 years ago when the Fire visited the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium on April 26, 2003.
While the team was destined for their first and still only MLS Supporter’s Shield that season, they hit early bumps in the road under new head coach Dave Sarachan (photo right), drawing their first two matches of the season (1-1 vs. New England and 0-0 at D.C. United).
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Early in this one, things didn’t seem to get any better as Preki’s free kick found Igor Simutenkov in the 25th minute before the naturalized U.S. international’s corner was headed home at the back post by Jimmy Conrad in the 38th to give KC a 2-0 halftime lead.
"The only [halftime] adjustment we made was to challenge them," Sarachan told the Chicago Tribune. "We asked them if they were going to hang their heads or do something about it."
The challenge was met just after halftime when Orlando Perez sent a blistering left-footed effort from just inside 30 yards out past Tony Meola in the 53rd minute.
Twelve minutes later Andy Williams would bring things level, receiving a pass from Perez on the left before right-footing his effort past Meola from just outside the box.
* Ralph’s match-winner was the first of his Fire career and one of 11 he would go on to score in his MLS Rookie of the Year campaign.
"I'm glad I gave the team the lift it needed and it gave me the confidence I needed too," he said post-game.
* The win was also the first of Dave Sarachan’s tenure as head coach and pushed the side on to that year’s Supporters Shield, still the only time the club has taken the honor.
* This marked just the second time in club history the Fire came back from a two-goal deficit to win in regulation. The club has achieved that feat just three times in a total of 470 regular season matches.
The Others: Chicago Fire 4, Dallas Burn 3 (May 24, 2000), Chicago Fire 3, Colorado Rapids 2 (August 23, 2009)
* The game was just the second of current Fire captain Logan Pause's career. Pause, DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra are the only three active players left out of the 23 that played on the day...
CHI – Zach Thornton; C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Carlos Bocanegra, Orlando Perez; Evan Whitfield, Logan Pause, Chris Armas ©, DaMarcus Beasley; Andy Williams (Kelly Gray 87’), Rodrigo Faria (Damani Ralph 65’)
KC – Tony Meola ©; Diego Gutierrez (Dario Fabbro 71’), Nick Garcia, Jimmy Conrad, Jose Burciaga Jr.; Chris Klein, Preki, Carey Talley; Eric Quill (Kerry Zavagnin 67’), Igor Simutenkov (Chris Brown 62’), Josh Wolff (Bo Oshonyi 82’)
KC – Igor Simutenkov (Jimmy Conrad, Preki) 25’
KC - Jimmy Conrad (Preki) 38’
CHI – Orlando Perez (unassisted) 53’
CHI – Andy Williams (unassisted) 65’
CHI – Damani Ralph (Andy Williams) 70’
CHI - Evan Whitfield (caution) 43'
KC - Carey Talley (caution) 44'
CHI - Carlos Bocanegra (caution) 50'
I took two MLS virgins to the game on Saturday night at Toyota Park. Takeaways the night of: Modelo and Tyskie were a plus, Section 8 is loud, my stadium blanket is missing a button or two.
But when I asked them about the game last night, the takeaways were different. “It’s like they were snakebit,” one of them said.
Snakebit is probably too kind. Cubs-related words start to come to mind when you miss the chances the Fire missed in the second half before Jeff Larentowicz finally scored in the 83rd.
Andy Greunenbaum was on fire, ok, and obviously if the finishes were a wee bit more clinical the Fire could’ve made it a laugher, but in the moment, in the stadium, freezing, it felt like the goal would never come.
Section 8 and the rest of the fans were torn between encouraging the team and letting out some boos (and grunts and groans and other moans) of frustration. In my section, a kind of supporter dichotomy emerged throughout the second half as one fan stood to admonish Chris Rolfe after a second half miss, while a soccer team sized group of young girls cheered Rolfe on, assuring him he’d get the next one.
But Gonzalo Segares had a shot from 10 feet right at the keeper in the 49th minute and Larentowicz badly sliced the follow up, Austin Berry was robbed in the 75th, Patrick Nyarko was blocked in the 51st and 54th, and Rolfe in the 56th and 75th. The crowd was exasperated and freezing and desperate to figure out what to make of the game.
Every good passage seemed to be punished or mercilessly ignored by Greunenbaum, who was scarily springy. Every time Nyarko’s hustle was rewarded with space behind the Crew or the decisive pass (which seemed like every time he was near the ball), nothing. Every time Rolfe turned his man, he booted the finish. That was what was most frustrating - it was like the game was ignoring how well the Fire were playing. It all felt sort of cruel.
And so it makes soccer-perfect sense that the goal didn’t come from a measured through ball or some quick passing, nor did it come from the high pressure that harassed Columbus all game. It came on a basically ugly long throw and an industrial finish from Larentowicz.
The game ran out of ways to keep the Fire from scoring, and the team reacted - erm, celebrated - with as much an exhale, like, “Finally,” as hysterical exuberance. Look at the gif above. After his goal, Larentowicz barely smiles!
But the game doesn’t care. In the end my friends had witnessed a fairly good introduction to Toyota Park. The game was exciting, the Fire won the day, and maybe most important, the cheering dilemma in my section was definitively decided in favor of the encouraging girls.
Between the Lines is a weekly column from Chicago-Fire.com contributor Ben Schuman-Stoler. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.