New York Red Bulls
What is it going to take for Frank Yallop to get his first regular season victory as head coach of the Chicago Fire?
Following Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 tie at home to the New England Revolution, the Fire are now without a win in seven MLS games after an opening day defeat at Chivas USA and six subsequent ties as their season has yet to fully take off.
However, four of those seven games were on the road, so if the Fire can pick up all three points at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, May 3 after a bye week, the complexion of the season, and more importantly the table, will suddenly look a whole lot better.
Thankfully for Yallop and his coaching staff, the Chicago fan-base have shown remarkable patience and understanding as he tries to impart his philosophies and footballing ideals on to this new group of players.
Yallop came to the Fire with a proven track record in the MLS following a lengthy professional career in England and on the international stage with Canada.
His vast experience in England and early MLS successes as a coach with San Jose Earthquakes has given Yallop, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the confidence to remain calm despite the relatively disappointing start to the campaign.
When speaking about the team, their attitude, their effort in training and their prospects for the season, Yallop hasn’t changed in his thinking since his arrival at Toyota Park last October. If anything, he is more optimistic now than before the season began.
He sees a group of players that have shown significant signs of progress in the short time he has been with them and he believes that their first win is about to come. Yes, he believed it would come at home to the Red Bulls. Away to DC.
His confidence in himself and his team still intact, he insisted the win would come with the visit of the Union to Toyota Park. And again, a week later, there was an assured statement that the win would arrive on the road in Montreal.
Looking back, it is possible to see where and how three points may have been won in any of these games, with a little luck or a hint of good fortune. Mike Magee’s late penalty miss against Philadelphia. Late saves by the Impact’s Troy Perkins from Patrick Nyarko and Magee that would have earned the Fire their first win.
Juan Luis Anangono’s penalty miss against New England last time out was another glaring example of a missed opportunity and another occasion where the Fire should have sealed the three points their efforts over the previous 90 minutes deserved.
The reason no one has pushed the panic button just yet, is largely down to the quality of play produced each week, the vast amount of chances being created and the overall level of entertainment served up by Yallop and his attack-minded tactics.
No other team has had more shots this campaign at 101, while only the Montreal Impact have hit the target more often, 38 times to the Fire’s 35 (which they tie with the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City).
They are the fourth highest scorers after seven games with 10 goals, while Quincy Amarikwa is tied for second on the goalscoring list with four.
There are significant signs of improvement since the side’s defeat at Chivas, with Yallop’s influence gaining momentum with each and every game.
Having struggled to assert themselves in the possession stakes in the opening three games, the Fire have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents in their last three games.
This has translated itself into more goalscoring opportunities, with the Fire amassing an impressive 54 shots to their opponents’ 17 over the last three games.
Which suggests to me that they are doing well defensively, restricting other teams to an average of six shots per game, while also creating enough themselves to comfortably win games.
That has not happened thus far, but surely it is only a matter of time.
There have been several other positive features to Yallop’s tenure, most notably his willingness to give youth a chance. Earlier in the year, he insisted that he would select players on merit rather than reputation, and he has stood by that assertion with the likes of Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Greg Cochrane and Victor Pineda all getting a chance to impress.
Add to that the blossoming central defensive partnership of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare, which has impressed in recent games despite the concession of 11 goals, and it is clear to see that the Fire have a solid base upon which to build.
His faith in the wing play of Nyarko and Shipp has also reaped reward with both players contributing to the fluent, incisive build-up play down both flanks that has been a feature of the Fire’s games thus far.
And with reigning MLS MVP Magee improving with every game following his early season injury problems, and his effective link up play with Amarikwa showing real signs of promise, surely that first win will come sooner rather than later.
Stats at a glance (the Fire read first):
|Opponent||Shots||Possession %||Pass Accuracy||Passes|
|Chivas USA||7/14||44.7% / 55.3%||77%||303/369|
|Portland Timbers||14/21||38.5% / 61.5%||64%||243/398|
|New York Red Bulls||13/10||42.6% / 57.4%||72%||340/449|
|D.C. United||13/17||49% / 51%||72%||372 / 383|
|Philadelphia Union||20/7||53.2% / 46.8%||74%||349/304|
|Montreal Impact||17/6||56.2% / 43.8%||79%||420/333|
|New England Revolution||17/4||51.9% / 48.1%||76%||338/321|
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.
Select shots from Monday's reserve game vs. the New York Red Bulls
On playing his first game at Toyota Park
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
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Red Bulls
Sunday's regular season finale at Red Bull New York will be shown in A LOT of countries around the world... Check out the list below and for our international fans, check your local television listings.
Kickoff is 4:00pm CT in the United States.
Albavision (Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá)
Al Jazeera (Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen)
Antel (Uruguay - highlights only)
Arena Sport (Former Yugoslavia - except Slovenia)
Astro Supersport (Malaysia, Brunei)
beIN Sports (Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan)
Benfica TV (Portugal, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique)
BT Sports (United Kigdom)
C More (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden)
Canal + (France)
DirecTV (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela plus the following territories in and around the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadaloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Eustatius, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Martin, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos.)
GSP TV (Romania)
Ma Chaine Sport (Sub-Saharan Africa, Israel)
Prisa TV (Spain)
Rightster (Clips WorldWide - highlights only)
Setanta Africa (Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros Islands, Congo Brazzaville, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, St. Helena, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe)
Šport TV (Slovenia)
Sportdigital.tv (Germany, Austria)
Sport Klub (Hungary)
Sportradar (Worldwide excluding USA, Canada, Mexico, MENA & Japan)
SportsMax (Aruba, Bermuda, The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Curacao, The Leeward Islands (including Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts/Nevis, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands), The Windward Islands (including St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Dominica and Grenada), Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos)
Super Sport (South Africa)
Ten Sports (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)
With three wins on the bounce, the Fire are on the brink of a playoff spot with only one game to go. The Men in Red could be in before the start of play on Sunday but the earliest they’ll know is a little over an hour from kickoff of their match vs. New York Red Bulls (LIVE 3:30pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports WI; 4pm on UniMas).
Still, there is plenty to play for, including a possible third place finish thus avoiding the play-in game. For New York no incentive is bigger than knowing a win against the Fire will guarantee the team’s first ever trophy. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Patrick Nyarko and Jalil Anibaba vs New York’s left back – taking advantage of a Red Bulls weak spot
Left back has been a problem position for the Red Bulls this season and with the two natural left backs nursing injuries, the Red Bulls may have to resort to playing right-back Brandon Barklage out of position as cover. Red Bulls coach Mike Petke admitted that he is wary of Patrick Nyarko and hinted that it could be Barklage that gets the start due to his strong 1v1 defending.
WATCH: Segares, Nyarko preview NYRB
With that in mind, I feel the Fire coaching staff will be encouraging Nyarko to get the ball and take the left back on as much as possible. Left midfielder Johnny Steele is not the best at tracking back and helping in the defensive third and this could also allow Jalil Anibaba to get forward and support Nyarko on the Fire’s right.
Anibaba’s crossing ability has improved dramatically this year and regardless of who New York starts on the left, I expect the majority of the Fire’s attacks to come down that side.
Logan Pause vs Alex – who will partner Rios in the middle?
The toughest decision for the Fire’s coaching staff this week is who will replace the suspended Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the midfield alongside Arevalo Rios. One of Logan Pause, Alex or Daniel Paladini will be half of the tandem that will have to compete against one of the strongest midfield pairings in MLS: Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill.
On the one hand, the Fire know that the Red Bulls will be playing for the win and the Supporters Shield crown that comes with the points. On the other, the Fire will also be going for the win, knowing what they will have to do to finish in either fifth, fourth or even third.
With this in mind, Alex would be a more logical pick to start alongside Rios due to his attacking creativity and willingness to get forward and support the strikers. To those who argue that starting Alex over Logan would mean the team loses some defensive clout, coach Frank Klopas would argue that Alex’s defensive play has been excellent this season.
Tactically, I think starting Logan Pause would be the wiser choice, especially when you take into account the fluidity of the New York attack. The center midfielders and strikers for the Red Bulls are never static, with players like Henry often drifting wide and Cahill moving forward to play as the target striker.
With Pause alongside Rios, the Fire would form a very solid block of four, similar to the formation that the Republic of Ireland played under Giovanni Trapattoni. This formation would make the Fire very difficult to break down but would put a lot more emphasis on the wide players to create. This coaching decision has the potential to have huge impact on the match.
Shutting down Fabian Espindola – a player easily lost in the shadows of Henry and Cahill
In the Red Bulls last home match against New England, Mike Petke started with Henry and Fabian Espindola up front and in the first half in particular, Espindola was unstoppable. The New England defense could not keep up with the Argentine striker, who dropped deep and wide in search of the ball, dragging defenders out of position along the way.
Espindola is a player that any coach would love to have due to his tireless work rate. He also hounds opposition defenders when they are in possession, always looking to force a turnover or mistake and does not give up possession easily.
His low center of gravity can be very difficult for defenders to contain and he will certainly pose a challenge for the Fire’s backline on Sunday afternoon. The Fire defenders must not allow Espindola to get behind the backline.
Individually the defenders must not allow him to drag them out of position and create space for players like Cahill and McCarty to move into.
Prediction: With both teams knowing a win would be massively rewarding, I expect an end to end thriller, especially if there is an early goal. 2-2 with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.