MLS Regular Season
After picking up a point in the home opener against Supporter’s Shield winners New York last week, the Fire head to D.C. looking to steal all three points for the first time this season (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
D.C. are in transition and are also in search of their first win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Continuing to attack with pace - utilizing Alex
Against New York last week, the Fire looked very dangerous on the counter attack when Alex was given space to run at the Red Bulls defense. Not only was the Brazilian able to beat players 1v1 but he drew defenders out of position, opening up space for players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa to move into.
In D.C.'s last match away in Toronto, Ben Olsen's team was also incapable of defending against the quick counter attack. Michael Bradley and Co. found it much too easy to bypass the lone United defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who received little help from his fellow midfielders.
I expect D.C. to deploy another central midfielder to help out Kitchen against the Fire, but if the Men in Red can continue to break with that much pace and the interplay between Alex, Magee and Amarikwa continues to improve, the Fire should fare well on Saturday.
More attacking play from wide - taking advantage of D.C. team not fully settled
Against New York last weekend the Fire were forced into making changes at both outside back positions due to injury and suspension respectively.
Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane have had barely any time to work with their new teammates since their recent moves and it showed at times in last week’s game. Against D.C., where there is a good chance both will start again, I look for an improvement in the attacking play from both players.
It will also be interesting to see how Watson/Shipp and Cochrane/Joya combine down each flank after another week’s worth of training together. While there is certainly a weakness in the D.C. midfield, a balance between attacking down the middle and from the wings is necessary.
With so many new players on the field for D.C., positioning, especially defensive positioning, is a major problem. This was quite obvious in the Toronto match, with D.C. players often gesturing to one another in an attempt to determine who to mark.
If the Fire can get Watson and Cochrane forward to support the attack, it will pin D.C. back and could benefit the away team.
Keeping Eddie Johnson isolated and limiting set pieces - making it harder for D.C. to find the net
D.C.'s most notable offseason acquisition was striker Eddie Johnson, who on his day is one of the league’s best strikers. In his first two games however, Johnson was an isolated figure up front, managing only 1.5 shots according to the website Who Scored.
The Fire’s defense did a fine job shutting down Thierry Henry last week and will be looking to do the same against Johnson and perhaps register a first shutout of the season. D.C. have yet to score this year but are a major threat from set pieces with players like Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola looking to get on the end of quality deliveries from Luis Silva.
D.C. got men in the box at any opportunity against both Toronto and Columbus and I expect it to be no different on Saturday. After giving up yet another goal from a set piece last week, the Fire coaching staff will no doubt be encouraging the players to keep their concentration, especially against a team desperate to pick up its first points and goal of the season.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Alex and Quincy Amarikwa.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: Sean Johnson, Matt Watson preview D.C. United
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:
— Mike Magee (@magee9) March 26, 2014
Anyways, it may be time to get the below hashtag some love on Twitter...
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.
On playing his first game at Toyota Park
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!
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!
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
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.