Blog

MLS Regular Season

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.

07 July 6:32 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toyota Park – July 7, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On how the team performed today
 
“It was all in the start. We needed to have a good start to the game. It’s very difficult when you fall behind that early 2-0 because on a hot day like this you have to put in a lot of energy to come back. We got the one goal, which was important, but then in the second half we got some good chances and we weren’t able to come back, so obviously the start wasn’t what we wanted and falling behind 2-0 made it very difficult to come back. The guys put a lot into the game but we just have to move on now and just focus on the next game, regroup, see where the guys are, and get ready to go on the road.”
 
On if the loss was due to an inexperienced keeper
 
“He wasn’t inexperienced last year when he stepped in and played so I don’t look at it like that. I think it’s a position where you need games and rhythm to play and things that that will happen. We just have to move on.”
 
On the first half of the season and where the team is expected to go
 
“The start [of the season] wasn’t what we wanted, but I think you can see we are right in the mix of things. The team has been playing really well and the results have showed that. Even in a game like today I think we fell behind and sometimes it’s difficult, especially on a hot day like this [to come back]. There are a lot of games left to play and you can see when you put two three games together when you can have some success, and get points, then you are right there in the mix of things and I feel it’s going to come all the way to the end. There’s a lot of games left to play. Obviously this was tough, being at home with a great crowd behind us, but we weren’t going to go undefeated the whole season so we just have to regroup and go on another run like we did.”
 
On giving up goals on second balls and set pieces
 
“I think before the ball goes out we have opportunities to stop plays. [We could] maybe make better decisions with the ball, but when you do give it up everybody has to focus and concentrate and just stick with their assignments. Sometimes in a game, [mistakes] happen, Zusi tries to cross the ball and it goes upper 90. For sure that is an area as a team [we can work on]. It’s always difficult coming back. We talk about it, but now we have to make sure that we do have better starts to games where we don’t fall behind. That’s something we have to keep working on and  talking about. Also [we need to start] going out there with the mentality to start the game from the beginning.”
 
Austin Berry, Chicago Fire defender
 
On allowing set piece goals:
 
“We need to have the mentality of being the first to challenge for the ball and not let it bounce and sticking with your marks – that’s just not for the first ball, but the second ball, too, and clearing it out.  The older guys and leaders need to make sure everyone is ready to go, and I think we were.  We just weren’t tight enough, just not sharp enough for the first 10 minutes.”
 
Paolo Tornaghi, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On why the team has started games so poorly:
 
“That’s the million dollar question, I don’t know.  That’s a tough question to answer.  We come out hoping for a good start and a good result.  In recent games we’re giving up too much in the beginning and trying to comeback.  Last game we did, but of course today it was a lot harder.”
 
On the benefits of playing more:
 
“Today I felt a lot better than I did in the game before.  The game in the beginning I was a little nervous because it had been several games since the last time I played, but now I’m rolling and it will get better game after game.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On lack time of possession:
 
“I wish I knew why [the Fire had such a small time of possession].  I think we felt the game was tied or we were winning, we were just going to sit back and be content.  Unfortunately we were down 2-1, so it wasn’t a very good game plan.”
 
On coming back from being down two goals:
 
“It’s déjà vu.  We’ve been saying it after every game that eventually it was going to catch up to us.  Obviously tonight it did.”
 
On his All-Star selection:
 
“I’m still fuming over the game today.  Yesterday I really wanted it, but today all I’m thinking about is how badly this loss feels at home in front of our biggest crowd that we’ve had since I’ve been here.  We literally laid down.”
 
Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes
 
Thoughts on the match:
 
“I thought the first half for both teams was really difficult.  There was limited air flow in the stadium.  In the second half the wind picked up and I think it helped both teams a little bit.  The good thing is we scored a goal off a set piece we’ve been working on.  That’s a good thing.  I’m not sure if he was crossing it or shooting it, but it went into the back of the net and we need to get those sometimes.  We shouldn’t have given one up like we did in the 38th minute, but I think it gave them a little life.  I really thought we managed the game in the second half really well.  We were unlucky not to get a third one.”
 
On taking points away from a conference rival:
 
“I think we’re been really good this year in conference so these conference games we realize how important they are to us.  We have to continue to keep doing well against our conference teams.  I don’t know if it’s anything added.  We go about our business with a lot of consistency.  Sometimes you fall out of form a little bit and it all depends on how fast you get back into form.  I think the good thing is the guys are committed to working towards that.”
 
Sporting KC Midfielder Graham Zusi
 
On his goal-whether it was a shot or a cross:
 
“No, it was a cross.  [Jokes that] Benny’s was a cross though.”
 
On the slower pace of the game:
 
“It was tough conditions.  Very humid, very hot.  I think it took us until the second half to catch our wind and get going.  Luckily we got a couple early goals and it makes it a bit easier on yourself.”
 
Sporting KC Midfielder Benny Feilhaber
 
On coming away with a win:
 
“We did well to get a two-goal win early in the game.  Our tactics were a little different, playing away from home against a team like Chicago who has been playing really well the last month or two.  We wanted to draw them out and get the chances on the break.  I think we did well, and we stuck to the game plan.  We were able to hold the result because we were able to play a really good second half as well.”
 
On keeping the Fire off the scoreboard in the second half:
 
“I think we were really good in the second half.  I thought there were a couple moments early in the second half or maybe late in the first half, especially in the first half where we gave up the goal, we sort of turned off for a second and that goal definitely should not have happened.  I thought we played well in the second half, kept the ball.  I think we were the smarter of the two teams in the second half and we deserved three points today.”
 
On getting a win away from home:
 
“It feels good.  Especially against a team that’s been playing so well, probably one of the hottest teams in the league and coming away from home and getting three points is huge for us.”
06 July 9:58 am

The Fire will host Sporting KC on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park attempting to extend their unbeaten run to double digits after a dramatic five-goal thriller against San Jose midweek while KC comes to Chicago after a disappointing home draw against Vancouver.

Both teams are not on friendly terms and this looks set to be a thriller. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Limiting the set pieces – Don’t allow Zusi to work his magic

Sporting KC have a double threat on set pieces with a number of players who are very good in the air and they have Graham Zusi, one of the best strikers of a dead ball in MLS.

At the back, Frenchman Aurelien Collin is not only strong but always makes a nuisance of himself in the box. Up front, they’ve benefited from the return of striker Kei Kamara who spent some time with Norwich in the Premier League.

Dan and Kevin talk Sporting KC

TICKETS: Fire vs. Sporting KC

In KC’s last match against Vancouver, Kamara came very close to scoring from headers on multiple occasions not by outmuscling his opponent like Collin does but simply by out jumping them.

Like quite a few teams in MLS, Kansas City also possesses a modified set play – the long throw. Just as Jalil Anibaba deploys the it almost whenever possible for the Fire, SKC center back Matt Besler does the same.

The Fire gave away a silly goal from a set piece last week and better defending will be needed against a team that is well known for their set piece prowess.

Keeping SKC’s attacking wide players at bay – neutralizing Saad and Kamara

Kansas City starts in a 4-3-3 formation with striker Claudio Bieler in the middle with Kei Kamara and Soony Saad supporting him wide. Many teams are so focused (and I don’t blame them) on Bieler and attacking mid Graham Zusi that sometimes Saad and Kamara are overlooked and both players are good at finding space.

Coach Peter Vermes constantly orders the players to switch sides during play which makes picking them up even harder. In Kansas City’s last win against Columbus, Kamara chipped in with two goals, the first coming from a fantastic switch of the field which found Kamara in space that he was able to control and finish.

The attacking nature of Sporting’s outside defenders also gives Kamara and Saad an excuse to get into the middle and support Bieler. There will be some 1v1 battles between Saad and the Fire outside defenders but it will certainly take a team effort to keep the wide men at bay on Sunday afternoon.

Letting the Fire wingers create – creating room for Nyarko and Duka change the game

Anyone who has watched the Fire closely this season will tell you that winger Patrick Nyarko is playing the best the best soccer of his career and if he can overcome the tight hamstring that brought him out early against San Jose and start against KC the Fire have a great chance of winning. 

Athletico Coaching Corner with Mike Matkovich

Nyarko has done it all for the team this year, be it tracking back to win the ball from his opponent, beating a man in a 1v1 situation or combining well with his teammates.

In the midweek win against San Jose, Nyarko did something many critics of the Fire often call out for more of,  getting into the box to support the strikers. Nyarko not only got in but made a great near post run and finished superbly.

The cross provided for the Nyarko goal came from Dilly Duka who is starting to show his true potential. Duka had a goal and an assist in the win against San Jose and could’ve had a few more if not for narrowly missing a few rockets from outside the box.

READ: Will Nyarko be good to go Sunday?

In the past few weeks, Dilly has been a major threat from the wide positions, beating players at will and putting in numerous dangerous crosses. Duka has also got into the box to great effect, scoring two goals in as many matches.

The dual threat of attacking from wide areas as well as providing support in the box should cause the SKC back line some major issues on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: Fire critics have claimed the club has yet to beat an elite team during the side’s nine-game unbeaten streak but I think those critics will be silenced on Sunday afternoon. 2-1 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

05 July 11:33 am

Soccer in America is still constructing its infrastructure, and we need engineers. People to build the institutions that will support the weight. One of those engineers is here, with us. If you’ve watched a game in a bar in Chicago you probably already know him.

Tall, beer in hand, iconic rockabilly hat - that’s the ubiquitous German Cowboy. His name is Mike Knueppel, and he’s been in Chicago since 2005. You’ll find him often at the far side of the bar in Cleo’s on Chicago, sometimes in the back room, rarely on the patio, but you can always pick him out by his trademark collection of kits, dozens and dozens of them, all with COWBOY 57 on the back.

We were driving to Toyota Park on Wednesday night talking about all those jerseys. I once saw him change from a German kit to an American one at halftime of their friendly in June. How can one support ALL the teams? What happened to loyalty?

“I wear the shirt of who’s playing,” he said. “But mostly if they have a German player.”

This was hard to take. Aren’t we supposed to live and die for a club? That means hating other clubs, wishing harm on strangers in other colors, “You ain’t got no history,” all of that.

But he was saying something different. You watch because, first of all, you want to watch the game. The game is primary. Then, you have your local allegiance. His is German and Hamburger SV (He founded Hamburger SV Supporters Chicago with a few others.) He cares most of all about the German national team and he’s willing to wear shirts of teams he “can live nicely without,” as he says, like Bayern Munich, because of some of their players.

“I even bought a Bayern Munich shirt recently,” he told me. “I mean I really shocked their supporters, they know I don’t like that team, but as a fellow German I support them internationally.”

I said, “This is troubling. You support players as they come and go? They’re moving around constantly. It’s like rooting for mercenaries.”

“I don’t support only the players. That’s why I have COWBOY (or VAQUERO for Real Madrid) on my shirts with my birth year. At least I know that won’t change. But first you support your local club.”

That’s fine too, but the logic breaks down again because what about the organizations with detestable front offices or ownership groups? (I’m thinking about even some of our Chicago teams’ history.) You can’t just support a team willy-nilly.

“It’s true,” he said. “But you have to support your location.”

And Americans supporting European teams in places they may have never even seen in person?

These to me are the tough questions of support and fandom. What exactly are we doing supporting these teams, all over the world? Thankfully, seated in Toyota Park to watch our shared, indisputable, actual home team, we could lay the question aside for 90 minutes or so.

Fun game, too, right? Nice how the rain broke and the night warmed up. Dilly Duka more than deserved the standing ovation he got as he came off in the 87th. The Cowboy and I enjoyed watching him absolutely terrorize Quakes right back Steven Beitashour.

The night was beautiful. Leaving the stadium, I was mumbling about how we fans deserve these nights. Those cold, grinding results early in the season were tough. You could feel the fans’ relief at the result. No disappointment this time. Wednesday night was even better because of the challenge and drama; San Jose wouldn’t die, but the Fire earned the three points with three beautifully worked goals. “They won, that’s all that matters,” the Cowboy said. “Fans love the win.”

There’s a long story for how the Cowboy got to Chicago, a story including four weeks at the Presidential towers in 1987, karaoke, his wife Sharon, the city of Seattle, software programming - it’s a story that he might tell you if you see him at Cleo’s. He’s not afraid to share.

And in some ways, it’s fitting that he’s around. The Cowboy embodies the 21st century globalized soccer paradigm. He can watch his Bundesliga, follow die Mannschaft, and participate in the growth of soccer in America, all from a comfortable neighborhood bar in Chicago. His work developing Cleo’s website and social presence has made it one of the primary soccer locations in Chicago and turned heads nationally. Maybe most importantly, his unofficial freelance soccer ambassadorship has brought people from all over the world together.

You’ll see him meeting with local supporter clubs (some of which he founded himself) like those of Dortmund and Hamburg, as well as Section 8, the Fire, ESPN, and just last week, in the beer garden, you would’ve seen him watching Uruguay and Italy in the Confederations Cup with Hamburg’s senator of the interior and highest ranking police officer.

Ever since he convinced Cleo’s to let him fix up their site and control their Facebook page, and with the blessing and help of Stephen behind the bar, the Cowboy has been our handyman, fixing up games and posting schedules so we can watch American and European soccer at our ease. “I wanted a bar where I know them and they know me and I get there they put the drink on the bar,” he said. “Where I can watch all the games and they’ll open early.”

In other words, it’s not really about the fanaticism of watching games. Going back to our conversation about supporting clubs, it became clear to me that the whole “it’s what’s on the front of the jersey, not the back of the jersey” thing is cheesy and doesn’t apply - just having a jersey is what matters. In this way, the Cowboy is critical in experience-making. He’s not an owner of the bar, or even an employee - he’s one of us. His work setting up games and events at Cleo’s, with just watching the game as the goal, means that there’s less pressure to know esoteric European stadium statistics, or to spew hatred for teams thousands of miles away.

Maybe that’s the answer about why we support who and how. Maybe we just support the game. Watch the game for the game’s sake. Love the game. Talk to people. Drink beer. Amen.

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

04 July 5:27 pm

Part of Fire forward Mike Magee's incredible run of form since joining the Men in Red back on May 25 will be featured in Friday's episode of "MLS Insider" LIVE at 6:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network.

Check out the trailer below:

03 July 11:48 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Toyota Park – July 3, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On how the team performed today
 
“I thought we played an excellent game. Regardless of the early goal, sometimes you get a little bit unlucky but that’s part of the game. I thought we played good soccer. Tactically the guys followed the plan that we discussed and we talked about. We created chances, we were dangerous…It was an exciting game and again we found a way to create chances and score some goals. It was an exciting game from both sides. They left everything on the field. It was an important game for us, being at home again. It’s been a tough stretch that we have to take one game at a time but starting with this one it is important to continue to play well and obviously getting the three points was big.”
 
On the team’s tactical initiative
 
“Zonally, the way San Jose defends, the one thing we talked about was looking to attack more out wide. Just looking to switch play all the time with movement from behind and if we could get moments on the switch where we could isolate Dilly [Duka] and Patrick [Nyarko] and have movement from behind to create numerical superiority, that’s what we were looking to do. I thought we moved the ball well, we switched, we were dangerous, and the guys put everything on the field and worked hard. All the ideas we talked about were enforced and I give credit to the guys. They left it all on the field and played good soccer. It was exciting for the fans and the three points is huge.”
 
On what the Fire does to prevent teams like San Jose from coming back
 
“San Jose did last year. They came back. They were up 1-0 and they came back. This is this year. The strikers that they have are a handful, they are very good in the air and you have to be very organized in the back. A lot of times, late in the game, they are a team that doesn’t give up. They are very good in the air, they are very good at winning second balls, and they just seem to have that belief. They don’t give up. We respect it and we talked about it, but it is never easy dealing with it in a game. Last year we gave up a late goal when they came back and scored in the 97th minute or something, but this time the team defended well all the way until the end.”
 
On the way San Jose’s late personnel changes effected his planning
 
“It was just two guys, pretty much [that we found out about late]. We knew the guys that were missing with their national teams so we knew that. Obviously with [Shea] Salinas being suspended, we found out today, so it was just basically two positions. [The plans] really didn’t change. Whether you start Lenhart or Jahn or Gordon I think they are pretty similar with their ability to be very good in the air and the direct play that they like to play. Some of the personnel was different but their approach to the game wasn’t going to change. So it was just one or two positions we weren’t really sure of until we got the game sheet.”
 
On Dilly Duka’s impressive performances in the last few games
 
“Players need time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Dilly has a lot of qualities and ability. You have seen some of the qualities that he has but right now he is doing so well. Not only his ability to make good decisions, hold the ball, and be dangerous. He is a great one-on-one player where he can beat defenders but now his ability, like the goal he scored, on the weak side making those runs, getting in position and following the play…but he’s only going to get better. I think it’s a matter of time to get his confidence, to get acquainted with the players, and all that cohesion that you develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have seen the qualities that he has and now we need to keep pushing his consistency. I expect a lot bigger things from him.”
 
On Patrick leaving the game because of his hamstring
 
“His hamstring was tight and he wanted to go a little more but we pulled him out. He didn’t tweak it or anything like that but we will have a better idea in the next couple of days. When he walked off and I talked to him he seemed to feel like he didn’t tweak anything but he was really tight to the point where maybe another sprint [could have made it worse]. You can see the second half he wasn’t really himself when he was sprinting or with his ability to recover back. It was bothering him and I think we took him out in time. I think we will see in the next couple days.”
 
On Paolo Tornaghi’s play tonight
 
“That position is never easy, especially when you need rhythm, you need games. I thought Paolo did well. It’s difficult when you don’t play in a long time to step in. I thought his ability to communicate and talk to the guys and stuff [was good]. He made some good saves. I thought he was good. He’s going to get better, obviously, with more minutes played. It’s a difficult position when you don’t have rhythm to go in and play. He’s an experienced guy even with his young age and I thought he did very well. He does communicate very well with the guys in the back and I think that helps.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On the result:
 
“Our soccer hasn’t been great at times, obviously we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot, but we continue to get points since I’ve gotten here.”
 
On his player of the month award:
 
“I’m so excited that we got this win tonight, that’s all that matters.  We’re two points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand.  I know it’s too early to be counting points, but I feel like we are in control of our own destiny, so a win tonight is massive.”
 
On preparing to face Kansas City on a short rest:
 
“We need to get our rest.  Tomorrow we have off, we’ll enjoy our Fourth and hit it hard preparing on Friday.”
 
Dilly Duka, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On his recent play:
 
“I feel like everything is just going well right now. In a sports career it’s all about moments, it’s a marathon so you have to stay positive and keep going.  I feel like we’re just in a good situation right now and playing confidently.”
 
On his goal and assist in tonight’s game:
 
“I think it was a goal we needed and a goal that was coming.  We put a lot of pressure on them, it finally came and it was a huge relief.”
 
Chris Rolfe, Chicago Fire forward
 
On his confidence scoring in back-to-back games:
 
“Scoring goals is always good for an attacking player.  The game against Orlando was huge for all of us.  I think Dilly [Duka] had great game then also, which translated into his play tonight.  He had a great game, I think Jeff [Larentowicz] played a solid game and overall I think it was probably our most complete game so far this year.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On another comeback performance:
 
“It makes it exciting for our fans but we don’t need to put ourselves in that position to have to try and comeback.  We didn’t mean for it to happen again, it was a broken play right in to their hands.  We need to find consistency in not giving up the first goal.”
 
On Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka’s recent play:
 
“It opens up everything for everyone because they have to worry about everyone.  They can’t double team because it leaves a guy open.  We got a lot of chances out wide today because they’re focused on everyone.  If they sensed the outside was crowded they’d double team the outside, then Chris [Rolfe] and Mike [Magee] got open.  We played a beautiful game today from the stand point of executing our game plan and breaking down the opponent.  We just hope to keep that confidence going for everyone.” 
 
San Jose Interim Head Coach Mark Watson

On the defensive performance:
 
“Well, first of all I thought overall the performance was pretty good.  We did a lot of good things tonight for a game on the road against a good Chicago team.  We created a lot of chances but we had a few lapses of concentration in the back and that is something you cannot do on the road and expect to get a result. “
 
On possible changes to the defense:
 
“It’s a work in progress.  We have had a lot of different line ups so we’ve been working with the players that we have in the time that we have.  We try to work on all the parts of defending-working as a unit, getting that understanding, making smart decisions on the ball.  It’s not something that happens over night and we will continue to work hard at it.”
 
On perhaps sacrificing the outside backs for a more defensive minded player:
 
“I think Justin [Morrow] and Steve [Beitashour] do go forward well.  We talk a lot about who should go and when and who should stay and when.  It’s something we work on a lot in terms of sending the right numbers forward and keeping the right numbers back to defend.  So we look at that all the time.  One thing I don’t think you can do is sit back and not send anyone forward.  That’s not a way to win a game either.  It’s about finding the right balance and we need to work on that. 
 
On the quality of the goals scored against the Earthquakes versus previous matches:
 
“Well, we are disappointed we lost the game.  We are going to look at the video and try to correct our mistakes looking forward.  But I thought the group was new, there were a lot of changes from the last game so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the team.  But we are disappointed with the result and we will keep working.”
 
On Brad Ring’s performance:
 
“I thought Brad did well tonight.  Brad’s a big part of this team.  I know he doesn’t play a lot of minutes but he’s already ready when we need him.  I thought he had a good performance tonight.  What we will do, as a coach, I never really want to speak what happened on the goals, I sit in a spot that has the worst perspective in the stadium on what happened.  I’m going to look at the video before I make any specific comments about the goals.”
 
San Jose Earthquakes Goalkeeper Jon Busch
 
On not coming away with points tonight even after missing so many players:
 
“We are obviously frustrated.  We worked so hard tonight on both sides of the ball.  It’s unfortunate not to come out of here two-two.  Magee miss hits a ball and Rolfe gets on the end of it.  Rolfe is a great goal poacher.  He does that quite a bit.  It’s just frustrating that you think you should get out of there two-two.”
On the defense conceding goals:
 
“I think without looking at the replay the first goal was very fortunate, he scuffs a ball and it somehow gets through two or three guys who are trying to block it and it goes into the corner.  And obviously the game winner-their second goal, Patrick Nyarko makes a good goal, I will give him that.  But the other ones are fortunate for them and unfortunate for us.  What can you say?  That’s the way the ball is bouncing right now.”
 
On working on being a team that is harder to break down defensively:
 
“We just need to keep working.  We weren’t as organized as we would like to be.  We got broken down.  Tomorrow we will look at the tape and makes some adjustments for the weekend.  We have to keep battling and keep organized.  When we are hard to break down we are in every game.  The guys worked their tails off tonight-blocking shots and doing the dirty work.  They are a dynamic team with Rolfe and Magee up top, they test you, they spread you out and for the most part we did very well dealing with them.  There are just a couple plays we could do better on.”
On looking forward against New England and getting some reinforcements:
 
“We’ve got enough talent on this team no matter who is in the lineup to get results on the road, no matter who is missing or suspended.  We’ve got enough talent, that is why the built this team deep.  And the end of the day, we have to get results on the field.”
 
San Jose Earthquakes Defender Jason Hernandez
 
On whether giving up three goals is a fair indicating of their performance tonight:
 
“Um, yes and no.  I think we put in a great effort and did a lot of good things but at the same time, we made mistakes that we got punished for.  I think their first goal was a bit of a muff shot and their third goal was another duff shot that went right to one of their players who was running into its path.  You can call it unlucky but the bottom line is, these are plays that decide a game and we are coming on the wrong side of it more times than not.”
 
On whether he thinks San Jose is getting tougher to break down:
 
“To be honest, I think a lot of games this year we haven’t been completely exposed and look like a flustered or weak defensive team.  I think through the course of a match, I think there are a handful of mistakes that are made and you either get punished for them or not.  I think last year we didn’t get punished for them, and this year we are getting punished for them every single there is a break down.  Unfortunately we are doing a lot of the right things, but we can’t keep the ball out of the net.  That’s the game.”
 
On missing 5 starters:
 
“Any time we set off on a road trip and are missing 5 starters from the match before, you are behind the eight ball already.  We are lucky we have a good team that has guys that can fill those holes.  But it’s a battle.  It’s going to take another strong effort mentally and physically in Boston and we’re going to have to keep grinding and push for a win because time is running short.”
02 July 2:05 pm

It was May 25 and I sat at Section 8 Chicago’s watch party at A.J. Hudsons, slightly distraught.

Despite seeing the Fire put in a fantastic effort in the always difficult climes of Rio Tinto Stadium I sat there in disbelief, surrounded by Fire supporters far more vocal in their dismay after witnessing Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio put the home side ahead 1-0 in the 78th minute.

The feeling was one I remembered -- the same aching pit in the stomach I’d felt nearly the entire game a week earlier in Philadelphia and then a week before that when the Fire had dominated but still found a way to lose at home to the Union.

I sat there for six minutes telling myself “Hey, we just pulled of a trade coup in acquiring Mike Magee” and “Bakary Soumare is going to help improve our back line immensely.”

Thankfully it took just six minutes before I felt good again and it was all down to an unlikely hero and an even less likely play as Quincy Amarikwa came flying through to volley home an improbable equalizer in the 84th minute.

Hudson’s erupted and though the game would only finish as a draw, it certainly felt like a win.

Fast forward five weeks and the Fire find themselves in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, just five points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand and on an eight-game unbeaten run that began that night on the Wasatch Front.

Four days after escaping Rio Tinto with a point, Magee would tally his first goal in a Fire shirt just 11 minutes into his club debut. All but about 1,500 people in Rock Hill, S.C. nearly missed it as my laptop carrying the YouTube stream crashed right at kickoff of the match.

As I sweat buckets there was something about the way my computer rebooted itself that told me things were going to be okay. Yes it took 11 minutes to get the feed back up but it returned just in time for anyone that held out hope to see Magee nod home his first Fire goal.

Every night since first suiting up that night in front of a small crowd in South Carolina, Magee has tallied for the Fire. Soumare has brought stability to a back line that has given up less than a goal a game in its last eight outings.

No doubt their acquisitions have helped the turnaround but it’d be wrong to say that the team didn’t already have a decent setup in place.

Along with their play, offseason acquisitions Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka have all contributed in a big way over the last month, complimenting the consistent performances of Patrick Nyarko, Gonzalo Segares, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini.

Having never previously tallied in the U.S. Open Cup before 2013, Chris Rolfe has found a bit of a goal-scoring touch in the tournament, scoring three goals in as many games so far in this year’s competition.

This isn’t to say the eight-game unbeaten run has all been pretty. There have certainly been moments (see the first half against Portland) where we’d like to see more from the Fire and many times where goalkeeper Sean Johnson has had to come up huge to ensure the positive run.

But just as it seemed the Fire couldn’t get any bounces to go their way at the start of 2013, the karma, minutia, or maybe just the soccer gods seem to be smiling down on a team that wasn’t quite punching their weight at the beginning.

Now that I've suffiently set a jinx, yes the Fire are still 5-7-3 and yes, whether in the league or the Open Cup, plenty of work remains to be done to dig out of the hole from which they started the season. Depth needs to be built in the back and up front but it's still worth saying again, what a difference five weeks can make.