Blog

MLS Regular Season

27 March 8:17 am

I've spent some time this week on Twitter pondering whether or not New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill would receive any additional suspension for a swing he took on reigning 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee in the waning moments of Sunday's home opener.

The thoughts crossed my mind after seeing the two game suspension that Fire defender Lovel Palmer received the previous week for a foul that didn't look nearly as egregious as the one Cahill committed on Magee. My suspicions were only heightened when the play didn't make it into MLSsoccer.com's weekly "Instant Replay" feature earlier this week.

Watch it again below:

The MLS Disciplinary Committee decided Wednesday that the foul Cahill committed was only deserving of the yellow card that referee Drew Fischer showed to the Australian international and that no further disciplinary action would be necessary.

Admittedly I'm a homer and I'm sure there has at some point in the 19-year history of MLS there have been more egregious plays that have gone unpunished but it was hard not to feel like Lovel Palmer, who will be suspended again for Saturday's game at D.C. United, was the one losing out in this whole situation.

As I learned Wednesday night, clearly I should have just called on the services of young Keira Magee, who with the help of her father, quite plainly put the whole situation in perspective better than multiple tweets from the club's Team Writer ever could:

Anyways, it may be time to get the below hashtag some love on Twitter...

25 March 2:46 pm

On Tuesday I wrote about Fire newbie Greg Cochrane filling in admirably for veteran left back Gonzalo Segares during his club debut in Sunday's 1-1 draw with New York. You can't always fit every good quote into a story so without just throwing them all away, I decided to include them here...  

JC: How has getting time in the CONCACAF Champions League with LA Galaxy so early in your career helped you?

GC: When you’re going down to other countries  you’re playing in hostile environments where the fans throw stuff at you. From that point of view, I also got to see a lot of different styles – Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador – every country has their own flavor and I was able to pick up a lot of different stuff from those games, try to get better and keep improving

JC: When Mike Magee joined the Fire last year, he said playing with the likes of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham everyday gave him a certain confidence. Would you agree?

GC: Definitely. Training with those guys every day, Robbie and Landon and Omar Gonzalez are on national teams. They’re the best in their countries and are top class players. You learn so much from them and so when you come to other teams, it gives you confidence to keep doing what you’re doing.

JC: As a left back, who do you model your game after most?

GC: Right now my two favorites are Leighton Baines for Everton and Jordi Alba for Barcelona. They’re not the biggest of guys and neither am I but when you see guys like that succeeding at the highest level, you know you can do it too. Jordi at Barcelona is busing all over the field and Baines is one of the best left foots in the world serving a ball. I try to emulate both of them.

JC: How difficult would you describe the past few weeks, joining a new team and having to move to a new city all while trying to earn your spot in the team? 

GC: It’s been a fun experience. I try to take eeverything and put it in a good light. It was nice that the Fire were coming out to LA the first week so I didn’t have to rush to put anything into storage. It gave me a couple days to process the fact that I was traded and meet up with the team. Here, you’re in the hotels and you don’t have a permanent residence yet – that’s part is frustrating. It’s fun, I’ve enjoyed it so far – all the guys are real welcoming. It’s good to feel welcomed right away – it makes you feel like you can play like yourself and be yourself. 

24 March 10:36 am

Back by popular demand, the segment that lets you watch your favorite moments of the game in Slo-Mo from different angles, "Slow it Down".

This time, Harry Shipp serves in a great ball and captian Jeff Larentowicz is on the other end of it to head it home... let's slow it down:

23 March 6:48 pm
Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On playing his first game at Toyota Park
 
“Obviously disappointed to not come away with a win, but for the effort, I thought both teams played pretty well on a difficult surface today. What I did like about our guys was that we were probably closer to winning the match than to losing it, so that’s always good. We had a couple of good chances to get that second goal. I think that one chance, I haven’t seen the game on tape, Mike Magee’s chance late with his left foot there. Having said that, we didn’t lose the match; I thought we did some bright stuff, we tried to play the way we want to play, but I guess in the end, a draw is a fair result.”
 
On young guys making their first appearances at home
 
“I thought they did well. It’s never easy for these young guys to come in and play in such a big stage. I think both Harry [Shipp] and Benji [Joya] last week did a good job and played well today again. Victor’s [Pineda] first taste was today; I’ve seen more of Victor than he did today, but having said that, I think it’s always good to give those guys a chance to blossom and play; and I think that from our injury situation right now it’s a chance for a lot of guys to get some minutes and play and see how they get on, so I was pleased with all three of them.”
 
On game plan
 
“Well, I think the difficult part was we wanted to obviously possess the ball better and play better, obviously play our type of game, a possession-based high press; but I think that the field didn’t really suit either team. When we started the press a little bit, they just banged it along and we did the same, so it kind of got you a little bit of a scrappy affair. What I liked about the team was we did create some good chances in those sort of scrappy moments. I was pleased with that, and we had some good moments where I think on a decent surface we might have had a chance at scoring a goal; game plan changed a little bit, once we saw the surface we talked about it, we couldn’t take any chances trying to play out of the back too much with the field.  Having settled that, there was some good play in the final third from both teams, but I thought we had some good looks today, but we didn’t finish them.”
 
On Matt Watson’s play and versatility
 
“I’ve known Matt for a number of years, as I’ve stated before, but I just like those type of players that can slot in anywhere; kind of get what I want out of the player, and he does that, he gives you 100% any position he plays. I thought he played very well last week, I thought he played very well today; maybe some early moments, a little bit he had to get used to that position, but once he did, you saw he sticks to his task, and he does all the things I ask of him so it was a great pickup for us. He’s slotted in well with the injury situation we’ve had, the  suspension as well, so, I thought he played well.”
 
On Mike Magee’s Performance
 
“Mike’s not played a game for maybe 6 weeks, so, not to say it showed, but what I liked about it [was that] we spoke at halftime, he said ‘I’m fine.’ Once he gets through, once he gets into his rhythm, he’ll be fine. But, again, he had that good look, I think he had another chance, I think it was on a cross, I wouldn’t say usually he would probably score, but pretty close to it; but it’s good to get 90 minutes. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, and a big part of the club. He soldiered on, he looked tired obviously at the end; but he soldiered on, and on the break maybe we could’ve used him to get that winning goal, but it wasn’t to be today. But I was pleased with Mike’s performance.”
 
On the defense’s progress
 
“You’re playing against two really, really good players in [Tim] Cahill and [Thierry] Henry. They’re very, very crafty, they’ve played at the highest level, so it’s never an easy day. And I think, especially Thierry Henry, he knows how to find the spaces and he’s difficult to pick up. What I liked about us, especially the second half, we started to stay with runners and figure it out a little bit better than the first half. I thought they had a couple of opportunities in the first half where they carved us up a little bit from late runs, but we talked about it at halftime and I think we adjusted well and snuffed them out a little bit. They did have some situations that they looked dangerous on, but all in all, I was pleased with the back four and the defensive work we did.”
 
Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On the first half:
 
“We definitely had a good start to the game, we had some good chances after to make it 2-0, but unfortunately they pulled a goal back.   Overall, I thought it was a pretty good start heading into the half.”
 
On how comfortable he is:
 
“It’s only my second game professionally.  I’ve played less than 180 minutes total so it’s still a little fast.  I’m still getting a hold of things, in terms of getting comfortable going forward, focusing on defensive responsibilities and keeping things simple. I’m trying to get those balls, playing those passes because that’s what I like to do - I like to set up those guys up top to score some goals. Hopefully it shows in the next couple of games.”
 
On the surface:
 
“It was a little choppy.  We tried to get the ball in their attacking half and not play around with in our own half because you never know; you could slip or play a bad pass because of the field. 
Going forward when the field starts to get better we’ll start to get better possessing in the attacking half and hopefully we’ll score some more goals.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On how he feels:
 
“I’d feel better with a win, but individually I thought the first half I was sloppy and was having a hard time trying to find the ball.  Hats off to them, they came in with a great game plan.”
 
On the result:
 
“I would have preferred a win, but it’s nice to get the first game behind you.”
 
On the field conditions:
 
“It was rough and bumpy.  It was hard and took about two touches to get the ball under control, which was unfortunate for both teams. But considering how bad the weather was, it should have been a lot worse. It was actually a lot better than I was expecting it to be.”
 
On the physical play:
 
“It got chippy at times, I don’t think it was too bad.  As the game when on it was so wide open that both teams were just trying to end the play as quickly as possible.  The pitch was so bumpy that it got to a point that it was even hard to counter or connect passes to the middle, so the whole team was just knocking it forward.”
 
On play of the younger players:
 
“These kids are good – Benji [Joya] and Harry [Shipp] are both good.  That’s the plus to take away from these first three games.  The future with them looks good and they will only get better.”
 
Victor Pineda, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On his first professional appearance:
 
“It’s a lot of fun to be out there.  It’s something that I’ve been working for, for a while now.  It was exciting just to be in a game that was 1-1 knowing that you can score the goal to help your team win the game.”
 
On waiting for the appearance:
 
“I didn’t lose hope, but at times it got frustrating.  I think that helped me to mature in a lot of ways.  Mentally I’m a lot tougher now than I was, not just from when I first signed but from just a year ago or two years ago and I think that’s going to help me a lot in the future.”
 
On what Frank Yallop said to him before he entered the match:
 
“He just said to enjoy it and he asked me if I was ready and just laughed a little bit.  I feel like I’ve been ready for a while.”
22 March 1:12 pm

The vital information on your 2014 Chicago Fire ahead of Sunday's home opener vs. New York Red Bulls...

 Tickets still available for Opening Day, Sunday at 2pm CT vs. New York! Click here!

21 March 11:17 am

The Chicago Fire Mobile App has undergone another makeover with some great new enhancements for Matchday! Check out the Top 5 below and make sure to use them for Sunday's Season Opener!

1)  Ticket Account Manager

Off the pitch, some of the biggest news this season has been the introduction of the Season Ticket Holder card. As Fire Sr. Vice President Mike Ernst best said in the New Season Ticket Card FAQ, “it’s all about providing convenience for our supporters.”

To build on that convenience, the Chicago Fire Mobile App powered by Cricket Wireless now allows fans access to their Ticket Account Manager. Once you enter your username and password, check the box to remember your login and easily manage your tickets, scan them at the gate at Toyota Park, or email them to a friend.

On iOS devices, users can even send their tickets to Passbook.

2)  Updated Stadium Map

This particular feature is not new to the mobile app, but it has been completely overhauled to provide a better in-stadium experience for users. The interactive stadium map of Toyota Park allows fans to quickly view various seat locations around the stadium, concession stands, and more.

3) Concession Information

We believe fans shouldn’t have to miss out on any of the action while they are in their seats. Instead of spending time walking around the concourse trying to find a hot dog (Chicago style, of course) or a domestic draft for $2 beer night, fans can pull up all of Toyota Park’s concession menu’s on their mobile app to quickly locate their choice of food or drink. The app lists out the locations of each concession stand and its full menu with pricing. 

 

4) Supporter Songs Catalog

One of the greatest sights and sounds in soccer is seeing and hearing thousands of supporters chanting songs to cheer on the team on the field. There are plenty of well-known chants that fans are used to hearing every matchday. Check out the Supporter Songs feature to familiarize yourself with both Section 8 and Sector Latino’s catalog of tunes.

 

5) VOTE for Man of the Match

Last, but certainly not least, the Mobile App now allows fans to cast their vote for the Fire’s Man of the Match. Have your say on who you think the team’s top performer was over the course of 90 minutes and stay tuned after the final whistle to see which player is named MOTM. The player with the most votes will be announced as MOTM in-stadium, on My50/TWC, and on Chicago Fire social media.

(Ticket Account Manager and MOTM voting coming soon for Android). Download the Fire mobile app via iTunes and Google Play! 

20 March 8:43 am

After picking up a fantastic point in Portland, the Fire head back to Chicago to face the New York Red Bulls in the team’s home opener Sunday afternoon (1:30pm CT on My50/TWCSWI).

The Men in Red will be looking to avenge the 5-2 season-ending defeat at Red Bull Arena last season - a result that kept the Fire out of the Playoffs. Here are a few things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Possible changes on outside - will Sega be fit to play?

After picking up a knock against Portland, Fire stalwart Gonzalo Segares is currently listed as questionable on the Athletico Injury Report with an ankle sprain for Sunday’s game. In his possible absence, the Fire coaching staff have a big decision to make.

On the one hand, the team could slot Hunter Jumper into a position he played in sparingly last year, famously scoring the winning goal against Kansas City in August and serving up an assist against the Red Bulls early last year. Reading into Frank Yallop’s lineup selections for the first two matches, a more likely scenario would be bringing newly acquired left back Greg Cochrane into the back line.

Cochrane was on the bench for the season opener and brings more experience than Jumper, playing in 12 games for the Galaxy last season. Whoever the starter is on Sunday will have to keep pace with the tricky Lloyd Sam on the Red Bulls right side. New York’s strikers also have a tendency to drift wide, opening up space for midfielders, which can result in 2v1 situations for the outside back to deal with.

As a unit, the Fire defenders had a much more composed match against Portland last week in comparison to the season opener and against a high powered attack like New York's, the coaching staff will be focusing on making this possible change to the back line as smooth a transition as possible.

Continuing the no target striker formation - with a focus on retaining possession in the attack

Last week, the Fire's no target striker formation worked quite well, with the team not letting one player get isolated in the attack. That being said, the team did play many long balls and empathized picking up second balls.

Against New York, a similar target-less striker formation is an attractive option, but the focus must shift from long balls to more possession in the attack. The Fire were able to do this at times against Portland, with Quincy Amarikwa linking well and getting behind the Timbers defense on numerous occasions.

New York relies too much on Dax McCarty to break up opposing team’s attacks and if the Fire can get players in between him and the defense, it can be very beneficial. In the Red Bulls last game, the Rapids were able to play through McCarty a number of times but didn't have enough players in support to take advantage. If the Fire can continue to keep the attacking players narrow and close to each other like they did against Portland, they will certainly create chances.

Being wary of forwards peeling off - not allowing the Red Bulls strikers easy tap-ins

Ball watching can be one of the most frustrating things for coaches and fans to witness on the field. Though exclaiming that a defender should be watching his man and not the ball is easier in theory than practice, too many soft goals are given up each season because of it.

In the games involving both the Fire and the Red Bulls last weekend, cases of ball watching occurred, with much different results for each club. In Portland, Timbers attacker Gaston Fernandez was able to slip into the box unnoticed by a number of Fire defenders who only saw him when it was too late: after Sean Johnson parried the ball into the striker’s path resulting in an easy finish (see below).

In New York, Thierry Henry, the master of slipping away from defenders, did it again against the Rapids and headed home the lone Red Bulls goal (see below).

The Fire must continue to focus on not letting players like Henry peel away on the back post and lurk unmarked.

Prediction: The Fire's good home form from last season continues over to 2014. 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee. (Steve’s record in 2014: 1-1)

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

WATCH: Shipp, Joya preview Sunday's match vs. Red Bull

19 March 11:47 am

One took over the defending continental champions. Despite his 15 trophies as a manager, there were questions about how much better he could make them. Two-thirds through the season, he’s taken the champions to a new level of excellence.

Another replaced a legend in taking over the league champs. His experience and consistency made him a safe choice, but how would he lead the club into a new generation? Today the team sits seven places out of first.

The third assumed leadership of a historically successful club dealing with a few tough years. Fans wondered what would come next as contracts turned over and a new crop of youngsters presented themselves. With five coaching trophies, he’s highly knowledgeable with regards to the competition and what works in the league, but fans eagerly wait to see how he’ll plot the path forwards.

Which of the above new coaches came to the Fire? If you separated Frank Yallop from Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and David Moyes at Manchester United, good for you.

Coaching changes are so commonplace that they’re not in and of themselves particularly remarkable. In the Barclay’s Premier League so far in the 2013-2014 season, already five managers have been fired; that’s on top of the six managers who left clubs before the season already started. That means more than half the teams changed managers this year.

And in general with sports, personnel changeover is as much a part of the grind as winning and losing. It’s as much if not more common in the current adolescent stage of MLS, where parity dominates, new teams are forthcoming, and personnel rules and financial regulation necessitate almost constant player movement.

But what do the changes mean for the Fire?

This year is a new beginning. Even though the ownership and front office maintain a steadfast commitment to the club’s history and traditions, the technical staff was overhauled leading into the 2014 season. MLS legend Frank Yallop replaced Fire legend Frank Klopas. He brought C.J. Brown, another Fire legend, along with, and added assistant coach Clint Mathis on top.

And the change touched the players as well. Some consistent starters from seasons past, like Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba, are gone. Led by Harry Shipp and Benji Joya, a new crop of youngsters are fighting veterans for their places. Meanwhile, except for Sean Johnson in goal, Jeff Larentowicz in the middle, and the reigning MVP Mike Magee (whenever he’s back fit) up top, every place in the side is up for grabs.

Things change, okay, but this is now a totally different Fire team than the one we’ve seen the past few years. New players and new management means a new culture, new approaches both on and off the field. A 4-1-4-1 formation is in the works. But the gutsy 10-man point in Portland and loss at Chivas showed that old habits take time to correct.
 
Even though the Fire were frustrated to miss the playoffs a few times in recent years, they have the league MVP and enough player talent on paper to threaten the top teams in MLS. Yet by overhauling the technical staff, the Fire signaled a loftier statement: Being mediocre is not good enough, no matter how much successful history the club has.

Without going into huge detail about the strategic plans, the Fire players have said that this preseason felt different, that Yallop was fostering a different environment than Klopas’s. 

It’s important because whether we like it or not, this season will be defined by the changes the Fire made this offseason. Change is here.

The questions though: How much do you change, and how much do you keep? What is actually new? How exactly do you convey and impose a plan without sacrificing whatever was working before? What effect can a plan even have if there are many unpredictable and external issues?

It doesn’t look like Yallop is going to blow everyone away with some avant garde tactical system. Although the lineups have changed, in the first two games we saw tactical variations of familiar set ups, even if the advertised 4-1-4-1 was never totally deployed. We saw a cautious balance between MLS veterans and excited young guns.

In the media, we’ve seen a focus on working hard and coming together as a team - like the tactics and team selection, it’s a communications strategy that isn’t going to draw too much attention.

But don’t let the low key approach fool you. Yallop’s project with the Fire is massive. Whether he ends up tearing through the league like Guardiola, or taking a few steps back, like Moyes, certainly Yallop’s plan must be taken seriously for the long term. Change might be part of the game, but plans in this game only work when they’re given time to come to.

17 March 2:39 pm

How is it that Quincy Amarikwa doesn’t have a neutral gear? What super power would he like to possess? Also, what exactly is #QuincyTime?

Answers to all these questions in Both Sides of the Badge, presented by Quaker: