MLS Regular Season
After a disappointing September, the Fire head to the Capitol to face a D.C. United squad still on cloud nine after their shock upset of Real Salt Lake in the 100th U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday evening (LIVE 7pm CT on NBCSN). D.C.’s win combined with the Fire’s erratic away form means this game is very difficult to predict.
Here are some things to look out for a tactical perspective…
Forcing disruptions in the D.C. backline – not allowing them to act as a unit
In many games this season, D.C.’s opponents have stretched their backline, causing a number of errors. One example of this is forcing a central defender out of the middle and out wide. Another is forcing the defenders deep into their own half.
In D.C.’s recent match against New England, the Revs’ attack forced United to drop deeper and deeper, allowing players like Kelyn Rowe free shots from outside the box because defenders didn’t step up to challenge them.
In the Fire’s last MLS match against D.C., Joel Lindepere played some brilliant balls over the top of the United defense to the Fire strikers who were onside due to a combination of good runs and poor organization by the D.C. backline.
With the titanic effort put in on Tuesday night in Salt Lake, D.C. will almost certainly be making changes in defense but no matter who gets the start, the Fire players must be prepared to hound United’s backline from the first whistle and force them into making mistakes.
Changes to the Fire team – a more attacking starting eleven needed
In the first half of last weekend’s match against Montreal, the Fire set up too cautiously for my liking, most notably in the middle of the field where Logan Pause and Arevalo Rios played their first game together. Both players excel at breaking up the play but without Larentowicz or a more attacking player in the middle, the Fire were lacking in the attack.
Coach Frank Klopas recognized this and made two changes at halftime which completely turned the game around. The introduction of Alex and Chris Rolfe sparked the Men in Red into life offensively and but for some better luck, the team would have walked away with three points.
Bakary Soumare should return to the backline after his suspension, allowing Larentowicz to slot back into the midfield. Alex made big impact from the bench last week and starting him in front of Dilly Duka would give the Fire another dimension in the attack with his linkup play with Magee and Anangonó excellent in recent matches.
Duka has looked a little weary of late which isn’t a surprise considering he has started seven more matches this season than he did for the Crew throughout the whole of last season, already playing almost 500 more minutes with four games and potential playoff games to come.
A focus on Luis Silva – the former TFC man should start after being a sub in Salt Lake
Luis Silva came on for veteran Dwayne DeRosario with 15 minutes left to play in Tuesday’s Open Cup final and according to Washington Post journalist Steven Goff, Silva should get the start tonight.
Silva is comfortable playing as the lone striker or in the number 10 role, just behind the advanced forward.
As I mentioned in my tactical preview for the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, Silva and DeRo rely on their wide players to support the attack which allows Silva to get into the box and feed on crosses instead of having to drop deep and try and creature from there.
That being said, Silva is not afraid to take a shot from distance as Fire fans will remember, he scored a stunning 25 yard curler into the top corner against the Men in Red in July. The next week he also struck from distance, hitting a low bullet into the bottom corner against New England at RFK Stadium.
D.C. have scored a league low 20 goals this season and if the Fire can keep Silva under wraps tonight it will help keep the Red and Black off the score sheet.
Prediction: I have no idea what D.C. team we are going to see tonight but for all the talk of playing playoff spoiler, I think their minds will still be at Rio Tinto Stadium. 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Anangonó, and Berry.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek give the key things to look for in Friday night's game vs. D.C. United (LIVE 7pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
As Chris Rolfe himself pointed out to Anthony Zilis recently, 2013 has been his worst year statistically with just four goals and one assist over 28 games this season. Still, teammates have backed him, with his contribution as a midfield sub in last Saturday's 2-2 draw specifically sticking out.
The mention of this being a poor statistical season combined with Mike Magee calling Rolfe a "great finisher" had me go back and nerd out on his body of work over the years. With 48 goals, Rolfe continues to be the club's second all-time scoring leader behind Ante Razov at 76.
The fact that Rolfe has now equaled the number of seasons Razov played made their shots to goal percentage an interesting and worthy comparison.
See the tables below...
|Years||GP||Goals||Shots||SOG||Goals/Shots %||Goals/SOG %|
|Years||GP||Goals||Shots||SOG||Goals/Shots %||Goals/SOG %|
- Despite playing 18 matches more, Razov took 251 more shots and 153 more shots on goal than Rolfe. That might have to do with the fact that...
- Rolfe has played a significant amount of his Fire career out on the wing -and-
- Razov was arguably surrounded by a stronger cast of attacking players (the league never had more than 12 teams when he was in Chicago) -and-
- Ante just shot a heck of a lot more than Chris
- To Magee's point, Rolfe is a stronger finisher over the course of his Fire career. Only once did Razov go above 15% conversion on his goals/shot ratio while Rolfe did it three times. Between 2006-08, the current Fire attacker also went above 31% on his Goals/SOG ratio and has never dipped below 20% in his career.
- While there isn't much difference in the pair's career goals/shots ratio (less than one percentage point), Rolfe's Goals/SOG ratio is noticeably higher, coming in at just over 30%.
In terms of my soccer writing heroes, The Washington Post's Steven Goff is the epitome for me.
Long before covering the game was trendy and social media made everyone an expert, Goff was there giving incredible coverage to the U.S. Men's and Women's national teams as well as D.C. United through his Soccer Insider blog on washingtonpost.com. He's kept up in the social media age as well, with nearly 100,000 people following his @SoccerInsider account on Twitter.
So naturally we here at Chicago-Fire.com are honored to have him answer three questions relating to D.C. United as the Men in Red prepare for a crucial clash with the newly crowned U.S. Open Cup champions Friday night at RFK Stadium (LIVE 7pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
Jeff Crandall: Where does Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup victory rank in terms of the club's other trophy wins?
Steven Goff: The four MLS Cup trophies rank higher than this championship, but among the three Open Cup titles, this one was the most satisfying -- on the road against a high-quality opponent during an otherwise terrible year.
It's hard to compare domestic tournament titles with international trophies (CONCACAF Champions Cup and Interamerican Cup many years ago). The Supporters' Shield is different because it involves a season-long effort. All in all, I haven't seen so many happy DCU faces in a very long time.
JC: With the playoffs long out of sight and the Open Cup match the last meaningful one for D.C. this season, what type of lineup do you expect United to run out Friday vs. the Fire?
SG: United played Tuesday night and traveled all day Wednesday, so I would expect a mix of regulars and reserves Friday. I would guess Jared Jeffrey, Kyle Porter, Luis Silva, Daniel Woolard, among others, will enter the starting lineup. Maybe Dennis Iapichino and Conor Doyle as well.
JC: Having won a trophy, is Ben Olsen's job safe for 2014 despite the possibility of finishing with the league's worst-ever regular season record?
SG: Olsen has a guaranteed contract in 2014, so even without winning the Open Cup title, I expected to see him back. The trophy certainly helps his cause. The players play hard for him and management loves him.
He's been involved with the club as a player, assistant coach and head coach for 15 years -- deep ties that are hard to break. I do think ownership sees a bright future with Olsen in charge.
Get out to A.J. Hudsons (3801 N. Ashland) for Section 8 Chicago's viewing party for Friday night's crucial match vs. D.C. United (LIVE 7pm CT on NBC Sports Network)!
Turn around Saturday morning and get out to Fado's Irish Pub (100 W. Grand Ave.) for Chicago Fire Rec Soccer's English Premier League Viewing Party.
We'll be holding a raffle to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation, with prizes including...
- Team autographed Chicago Fire jersey
- Team autographed Chicago Fire ball
- Fire Fan MLPD Experience - The winner will receive five (5) MLPD tickets ($175 value)
- Bus-On-Us Experience - Two winners will receive four (4) round-trip bus rides to the and general admission tickets. (2x $120 value)
- Fado's happy hour party for up to 25 guests ($360 value)
- Wine tasting outing for group of 10
- Gift Certificate(s)
- Fire Fan Packs
Raffle Ticket Prices: 1 for $3, 2 for $5, 7 for $10
DRINK SPECIALS on Mimosas and Black Velvets. Also, 20% of all money spent on food will go toward the Foundation.
7am - Everton vs Manchester City
9am - Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
11:30am - Sunderland vs Manchester United
After Saturday’s difficult to swallow 2-2 draw vs. Montreal, you may not want to read this week’s Playoff Math. Though sitting eighth currently, it’s important to remember the Fire are just two points out of the final playoff place, with four games left.
With that, let’s continue the Playoff Math…
1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 52 (15-9-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWWW (13pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-3 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 41.7
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI
Rundown: New York did a great job to get a point away to Seattle Sunday night and though they may not get the Supporters Shield, are still in good position for the top spot in the East. Red Bull can clinch a playoff place with a draw Saturday vs. New England.
Fire fans should hope for New York to win that game as well as October 20 at Houston, not only because it takes max points off teams Chicago can still catch but it could make their season finale vs. the Fire less meaningful, with the Fire almost certainly needing a result in that match to make the postseason.
2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 48 (14-10-6)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 6-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 35.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI
Rundown: Fortress Sporting Park? Maybe not so much, as KC dropped their fifth home match of the season vs. Philadelphia Friday night. They didn’t lose their second place positioning but they took a definite hit in keeping up with Red Bull at the top of the East. With three of their remaining four matches away, KC also has the distinction of the best road record in the East at 6-5-3.
A win away to Columbus combined with a Fire and New England losses would see Sporting KC earn a playoff spot this weekend.
3) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-9-7)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home/ 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DLLWD (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 40.3
Remaining Schedule: @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC
Rundown: After a missed penalty, a hit off the post, a goal line clearance and hopeful header, Montreal no doubt felt lucky to leave Toyota Park with a point Saturday night.
- Between the Lines: The Playoff Measurement
Now done with Champions League play, the Impact can concentrate solely on their playoff position and hold a game in hand on the rest of the field. Three of their remaining five matches come against teams directly below them so they can either solidify their place inside the top three, win out and potentially get the top spot from Red Bull or still tank with tough visits to Houston and LA in the offing.
It's Montreal in 2013… You don’t really know what to expect from them but a win this week over the Dynamo combined with Crew, Fire and Revolution losses would see the Impact needing just a point next week vs. New England to earn their first-ever MLS playoff berth.
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 44 (12-10-8)
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLDL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.8
Remaining Schedule: 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.
Rundown: Houston managed their last week quite well, winning in Champions League at midweek before getting enough out of a 1-1 draw at New England. The result keeps them four points ahead of the Revs and with their next two matches against Montreal and Sporting KC, they could legitimately be in second place by October 10.
Losses to both sides however could just as easily push them back out of the playoff bubble but no team outside the top three controls their own destiny in positioning like the Dynamo down the stretch.
5) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 42 (11-10-9)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLLDL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 5-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 33.8
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC
Rundown: After two weeks below the red line, the Union were the biggest winners this past weekend, coming away with a huge win at Sporting KC. Philly now has the potential to stake a serious claim for a playoff berth if they can get wins vs. Toronto and at D.C. the next two weeks. Six points in those two matches will be a must with the Union visiting Montreal and hosting Sporting to close the season out.
6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-14-5)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLW (12pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-5-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 42.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE
Rundown: Wow. The Crew continued their incredible push for a postseason berth with a 4-2 road win at FC Dallas on Sunday. They’ve now taken four wins from five matches under interim head man Brian Bliss and jumped from eighth to sixth place over the weekend, just one point out of playoff position.
Having played one more game than the rest of the pack, the Crew still have no room for error, with any loss in their final three matches doing serious damage to their playoff hopes. Their backs have been against the wall for a month and they’ve responded well.
7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 41 (11-11-8)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DWLLD (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 53
Average Opponents Pts: 40.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB
Rundown: New England missed a definite opportunity in Saturday’s 1-1 home draw vs. Houston. A win would have seen the Revs pull level on points with the Dynamo but instead things stayed the same. New England will now have to try and gain points in difficult road matches at New York and Montreal the next two weeks, a daunting task as the two sides also hold the best home records in the Eastern Conference this year.
Taking points from those two games though will at the very least keep the Revs in the equation for their end-of-season home and home series with Columbus.
8) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 40 (11-12-7)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DLWDL (5pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 2-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 33.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY
Rundown: After coming away disappointed from Saturday’s game and other results pushing the Fire down to eighth, why even bother at this point right? Well because it’s Playoff Math and they're only two points out of playoff position. They also have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the East.
Perspective: Friday’s game is away to a D.C. United side which will play their final meaningful match of the season in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final at Real Salt Lake. Along with three points, the Fire will certainly be looking for revenge for August’s semifinal defeat and will be doing so against a D.C. team that will have played two time zones away, three days earlier.
A win in that match combined with New England and Columbus losses at New York and vs. Sporting KC respectively (possibilities) would see the Fire jump at the very least back to sixth place. A Philadelphia draw home vs. Toronto (maybe less likely) would also see the Fire move back into fifth place (on the wins tiebreaker). A lot that needs to happen for that this weekend but a win will keep the Fire in position regardless.
Then take into account a game at an FC Dallas side that is all but out of the Western Conference playoff picture and the home finale vs. Toronto on October 19.
Dropping five points in three matches the last month leaves the Fire with little room for error anymore but nine points are far from out of the question over the next three games.
A quick word about points before some Juan Luis Anangono gifs from Saturday.
In all the European leagues this week, fans and onlookers, for the first time this season, started looking at the table in earnest. Suddenly those campaigns feel far enough along to warrant real despair or optimism. From highs at Napoli and Arsenal to the crises at United and Madrid, people spent the weekend frantically counting points, looking up past point totals, tracking average points per match stats, and worrying or gloating about their projected finishes.
That panic and fervor is why I don’t look at the table until at least halfway through a season. It’s too stressful and too small a dataset. But also, you can get a much better idea of a team’s title chances by watching them play a lot of games and watching other teams play a lot of games. Even though the table is king, there’s more to a game than its points.
I swear I’m coming back to the Fire but two quick things about points in general. First, they have a strange way of accumulating over time. You can only get zero, one, or three points, and yet they often feel like they’re coming or going in heaping clumps, like Salvation Army donations. They don’t feel like they grow calmly the way points per match stats indicate. (Anyway those stats are a little ridiculous. What do we really learn from a two-point-something line?) Points feel at once impossible to gain, then coming down in sheets.
But this is why the collection of points feels so good in soccer leagues all over the world, so much better than a regular season NBA win, to name the obvious example. You “steal a point” or “earn three points,” week in and week out. You figure a point saved is a point earned and the point savings account will pay off at the end of the season. You figure.
Points, despite their bewitching growth patterns, don’t lie when schedules are balanced and you know everyone’s playing everyone. At the end of the season the team with the most points is deservedly top. End of story. With the same points available over so long a time, it’s impossible to hide under a quick run of wins the way a team can in a playoff.
In MLS, it's a bit strange because most teams in the East play each other three times over the course of the season so qualifying for the playoffs will show who did the best against each other in the conference, not necessarily the best teams overall. Still, those teams deserve the chance to extend their season because they earned it from March to October. It's a huge dataset. No matter what happens between the Eastern Conference teams vying for the final playoff spots (Houston, Philadelphia, New England, and Chicago), I think that even with the imbalanced schedule, the points will have proven that over the long haul they were one of the top five teams.
Unless it’s the 2013 Fire. The 2013 Fire are doing their best to undermine the cold faultlessness of the point system, driving fans crazy with their fluctuating quality from half to half and game to game. Forget the table, at this point I’m convinced we won’t know if the Fire have made the playoffs until the final whistle of the final game in New York. They will continue to tease out points here and there until then. The others will slip, there’s nothing invincible about any of them, and the Fire either will or will not take advantage.
What I mean is that even though at this stage of the season it’s natural to whip out the calculators and do your Playoff Math and all that, it’s possible that even with just twelve points up for grabs, it’s still too early to talk conclusively about points. We should still be talking quality. If the Fire play the way they’ve shown they’re capable of, and as they did during parts of the second half on Saturday night, the points will come and they’ll make the playoffs. You don’t need a calculator to see that. Despite the despair of some fans and one player who called Saturday night’s game “heartbreaking,” I like Mike Magee’s comment: “We have four games left and we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Not a single one of the (what, eight or nine?) media and Twitter-hyped “MUST WIN” games have really been must-anythings so far. They’ve been opportunities to tweak and grow and get some points. The Fire now need points everywhere, but except perhaps for their ugly away record, the 12 points are actually quite feasible. DC will be coming off an emotional Cup Final, Dallas like the Fire has 40 points and all but out of the Western playoff race, Toronto is beatable, and NYRB may have clinched and have little to play for.
Of course, the Fire could also lose all four games. Who knows? The only sure thing is that there are twelve points for four teams to fight for, and the 2013 Fire has to earn it this year, conclusively, finally, or not. And that will be the measure of this team.
Saturday. I loved Frank Klopas’s adjustments at half. I loved the second half in general. But the first half was rough. In the first 15 seconds we have Juan Luis Anangono not quite focused yet:
Cut to the second half though, and Anangono, again symbolizing the entire team, was everywhere. He reacted quickly and had a point blank shot blocked before the ref whistled for that ill-fated PK. He was running at people (not always successfully, but still) and creating space for Chris Rolfe, Alex, and Magee to connect. But my favorite was in the 82nd minute: His super well-worked though unlucky chance that Rolfe created and Troy Perkins saved off the post. Anangono didn’t give up, he got the rebound and set up Magee, whose shot was cleared off the line:
More of that please, and with more of that we won’t even have to look at the table to know the Fire have extended their season.
Select shots from the Fire's 2-2 draw with the Impact.
After a disappointing loss in Columbus last weekend, the Fire come back to Toyota Park to face the Montreal Impact in the second to last home game of the season (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports 32). Montreal have dropped their last three of their fo MLS matches and are stalling at the wrong time. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Replacing Bakary Soumare at center back – a new partnership in the middle?
Since the return of Bakary Soumare to the Fire at mid-season, the Malian and Austin Berry have essentially played every match together in the middle. Though Baky has made a number of individual errors this season, his suspension comes at a bad time.
This opening provides a conundrum for coach Frank Klopas.
We could see the return of Hunter Jumper in the middle after his goal scoring exploits against SKC last month. Jalil Anibaba could also slot over to his natural position of center back with one of Wells Thompson, Mike Videira or Logan Pause filling in at right back.
In last weekend’s loss to the Crew, Jeff Larentowicz moved back into central defense after the Soumare red card. Starting Larentowicz in this position seems the most likely option but it would mean breaking up the midfield tandem of the former Revs player and Arevalo Rios, which has made the Men in Red an extremely difficult team to break down.
Whoever replaces Soumare will be tasked with stifling a Montreal team that has scored the third highest amount of goals in MLS this season.
Matching up against Marco Di Vaio – attempting to slow down MLS’s top goal scorer
There isn’t much to say about Marco Di Vaio that hasn’t been covered already. At 36 and in his first season in the league, he has made it look easy, scoring 18 goals to date.
An even scarier stat is that none of his goals have come from the penalty spot with Canadian Patrice Bernier continuing as the Impact’s regular PK taker.
Similar to Robbie Keane, Di Vaio’s finishing is a step above most MLS strikers. He also puts himself in excellent positions, with many of his goals coming from tap-ins. His header from two yards out against Columbus was a prime example of this.
Fortunately for the Fire, one of Di Vaio’s favorite set up men, Felipe, will be missing due to suspension. The absence of the Brazilian is a blow for the Impact but with Patrice Bernier and Justin Mapp having excellent seasons, Di Vaio will have ample opportunities Saturday night.
In a tactical preview for the Fire’s game against Montreal back in April I talked about cutting the supply line to the Italian but he still managed to bag the second goal in the Impact’s 2-0 win.
With the plethora of creative midfielders on the field for Montreal, the Fire players must not neglect Di Vaio because one lapse in concentration can be fatal.
Isolating the Impact’s aging Italian defenders – getting in 1v1 situations with Ferrari and Nesta
For allof Montreal’s attacking prowess, the Impact have given up the most goals of any team currently holding playoff positions. Both Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari are excellent and experienced defenders, often making up for a lack of pace with brilliant positioning.
Both players have shown to be uncomfortable however when they are in 1v1 situations against a player with a lot of pace. This does not happen often but if the opportunity arises, most likely from a counter attack, the Fire must capitalize.
The movement from the Fire’s attacking players has dragged center backs out of position on numerous occasions this season and I look for Mike Magee and Co. to do the same on Saturday night, especially against players who have lost more than a step of pace.
Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Magic Mike Magee