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12 August 9:56 am

In the 87th minute on Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Fire were holding on to a 2-1 lead against Montreal, who were seven points and two playoff positions ahead in the table. Daniel Paladini, who had come on for Alex 25 minutes earlier, set up to take a corner, but there were just two Fire players forward against six or so in blue. Jeff Larentowicz and Quincy Amarikwa were moving around, doing their best to make space, but this was all about the chance to have the ball deep in Montreal’s half and relieve some pressure.

BTL: The Production

Paladini saw Amarikwa a half yard away from his marker at the penalty spot and floated a ball in towards him. Judging from how the ball arrived to Amarikwa at about the height of Montreal center back Hassoun Camara, and considering Camara’s listed at 6-2 and Amarikwa at 5-9, the Fire forward’s insanely acrobatic bicycle attempt got his feet up to a half-foot above his own head.

Even though Amarikwa whiffed, it was one of those athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic moments that can define a soccer game because generally, the team that comes out the most athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic is going to win the games. (Also, Amarikwa made up for the whiff by converting an equally impressive bike in the reserve match on Sunday morning.) It said more, too, that it was a substitute that was making this sort of tone-setting play.

Amarikwa has impressed Fire fans in his cameos this season because of his work rate, willingness to take defenders on, and his creative spontaneity on the ball (even if that means sometimes he holds onto it for a bit too long). Those were exactly the traits the Fire needed to get maximum points at home on Saturday, a critical result that leaves the team now just two points out of a playoff spot. Even though he didn’t have the impact on the game, Amarikwa's work was symbolic of that of the whole team.

In the third game in eight days, with Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe day-to-day, Patrick Nyarko out, Dilly Duka picking up a new knock every game, new DP Juan Luis Anangono acclimating to MLS, Logan Pause coming back from injury, and the pressure for points greater than it’s been all season following Wednesday’s Open Cup exit, the Fire came out on Saturday with a new look to them.

BTL: Fire 2.0 earns key point in Houston

As two deeper lying midfielders, Pause and Larentowicz haven’t found their rhythm together this season, but this time Frank Klopas put them out with Alex (who took the spot when Pause got injured) pushed forward with Anangono. The wide players were the same (Joel Lindpere and Duka), but the seemingly minor adjustment of adding Pause and pushing Alex farther forward actually provided the Fire the first fresh tactical look seen since the spring.

And it was a solid system, too, because it morphed from a 4-5-1 with Alex dropping deeper during periods of Montreal possession, into the usual Fire 4-4-2 when the Fire won the ball, with Alex pushing on into space with Anangono. They worked well together on certain fast breaks; Anangono showed that he’s not afraid to make lung-busting runs to clear out space for others. But as much as the system provided some necessary defensive support without sacrificing the slingshot counterattacking Klopas loves, the game was always going to be decided by the players stepping up into the spaces left by Nyarko, Magee, and Rolfe.

Klopas couldn't have asked for a better response from Lindpere and Duka, the two creative wide players who have fought for their playing time all season, and who scored the two goals. They took their chances (and a bit of luck), but they also held the ball, moved the team forward, tracked back, and generally kept the pace of the game far above the revolting one we saw on Wednesday night.

Saturday night showed the Fire’s depth and flexibility in personnel, tactics, and mindset, and it was Amarikwa’s bike that showed the Fire’s potential for style and spontaneity. If this team is going to complete this massive comeback into playoff contention, it’s as much the creativity as it is the grit that’s going to take them there and it’ll have to come not just from the superstars and leaders, but from everyone on the team. 

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

10 August 11:54 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact
Toyota Park – August 10, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the win today
 
“All the credit to my players. I think everybody had written us off for the start but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Early on things didn’t go our way, obviously we had some injuries but this team has never given up on our goal, on our focus. This was just a massive game. We’ve been in this spot before and obviously we didn’t take advantage of it to be .500 and now you’re running out of games and they’re massive games, we need points, we are right there and I give all the credit and commitment of the group that in the difficult moments, which are always important because those are the moments that you learn not when things are going your way. It was a massive, important, huge win. Credit to my players that have never given up and that never will until the end. Now we just have to move ahead, it’s a good feeling but the commitment has to be even more from everyone in order to reach our goal.”
 
On the importance of the early goals, even with the top Fire players out
 
“If you look at the statistics, when we score first we are a difficult team. Not just us, but on the road. We are playing against a very difficult team especially defensively and I think we scored some very good goals early on but I think if we were a little bit better with the ball, because we did get in good spots, I think we could have been a little bit more dangerous. I think that in transition opportunities we needed to look to play forward. We addressed that at halftime and look, third game in 8 days. You saw the guys that a little bit maybe second half there were moments when they were running a little bit out of gas but it was their will that got them through and stuck together and being at home with our great fans obviously that was a huge help. The two goals did help for sure. Our goal was to get a clean sheet and it didn’t happen but Sean made some big saves in the end and we defended well.”
 
On the forward combo of Anangono and Alex
 
“They were very good. That’s where Alex is more comfortable playing a little bit higher up the field. Juan brought something different. I think physically he’s suited for the league. He has pace, he looks to run behind, we did a lot of stuff in the final third with him and Alex as far as the movement we needed from the forwards. We had a little bit of trouble in the midfield, they were dropping [Hernan] Bernardello deep, we had to address that issue but I thought it was good. They created chances, they were dangerous, and it’s the first game, it’s only going to get better. We have some depth there and that’s good when you miss some key players. Its’ about the team coming in and winning a massive game.”
 
On if the Fire are peaking at the right time
 
“We definitely have the quality and the depth in the team. I think last year, when you look at the playoff game it came down to little things and I think now all these game and the experience we got last year in those playoff games those little things really matter. Now everything gets a little bit tighter. With the addition of, Juan is going to help, but also a guy like Rios. He’s an unbelievable quality player and it speaks volumes of the commitment. Everybody can talk shit and everything about the commitment of our owner, excuse my language, to bring a guy like that at this point because this is a world class player and I can guarantee you a lot of teams, a lot of teams, would not have made that commitment but it’s all about winning. He’s been there, we haven’t always gotten it right. This guy’s a world-class player. We made the commitment we said ‘this is the guy, bring him’ and he brings depth, leadership, and all that stuff so that’s what it’s all about. We’ll see, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we definitely have the quality right now and the depth to make a strong push. I know the group is committed and they are going to leave everything on the field, and that’s what it’s all about. At the end of it it’s a game and we have to enjoy it too.”
 
On Dilly Duka’s injury and how it affects the team out wide
 
“I think with him and Patrick [Nyarko] obviously the pace and our ability to go one-on-one just create so many opportunities because when you look at the game its basically you’re one-on-one duos. Can you create advantage? I think those guys with the ball at their feet can a lot of times create those advantages because they’re so good one-on-one, they have pace, but it’s about the depth. Joel, again, when he’s called to step in he’s done great. He scored a big goal, worked hard defensively. Look, we have to rely on everyone but the good thing everybody is healthy and is ready. I mean, not everyone is healthy and ready, but I am going and keeping my fingers crossed.”
 
On what happened to Duka’s leg
 
“It’s his ankle, we will see better tomorrow. I think he rolled it, he was icing and stuff. I don’t think it’s serious, but with the stretch of games you’ve got guys with tired legs and it is what it is. Massive win and we will deal with the injuries.”
 
On what Magee’s status is
 
“Day by day.  Day to day. I think he has a calf strain and we will see how that feels. So we will see, its day to day with him.”
 
Gonzalo Segares, Chicago Fire defender
 
On Anangono’s start:
           
“I think he was excellent today - he was putting pressure on Alessandro Nesta and [Matteo] Ferrari causing trouble and winning a lot of balls in the air, holding the ball and creating space to move the lineup.  For being his first start, I thought he was great.”
 
On all the new players coming in:
 
“Our team’s gotten a lot of new players and we need to get them acclimated to the team as soon as possible. They are quality players and they are going to help us to improve now that we are coming down the last stretch of games. We need to make a great push and it’s going to be important to take advantage of the experience that they bring.  They will be great for our team.”
 
On the defense’s performance:
 
“I think that even though we didn’t get the shutout that we wanted, the last couple of games the defense has really been holding – we bend, but we haven’t been breaking.”
 
On hitting .500:
 
“We’ve talked about that.  The main focus is putting pressure on the teams ahead of us like Houston, New England and Philadelphia.  With the win tonight we are right there and stepping on their toes.  We’re putting pressure on them but there’s still a lot of games left, but the motivation is still high and we need to keep pushing and fighting for a playoff spot.”
 
Chris Rolfe, Chicago Fire forward
 
On the result:
 
“This was a big game for us.  We were excited about the game and looking forward to getting a victory after the Open Cup memory and I think we did that.”
 
Dilly Duka, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On his goal:
 
“I’m not sure who I received the ball from, but I was driving down the field, I was surrounded a bit and then it opened up in front of the keeper and I just slid it in.  I was a little fortunate, but it was a big play and it ended up being the game winner.”
 
On his injury:
 
“I tweaked my ankle.  I planted and he got my planted foot.  It’s just tweaked a little bit.  I normally tweak my ankles so it’s just a couple days and I’ll be back.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper:
 
On the result:
 
“This is one where I was just trying to keep us in the game.  I thought we did well pushing the ball out wide and I was able to close the angle and make the plays.”
 
On the defense:
 
“The defense was fantastic tonight limiting chances; not only the back line but Rolfe [Chris] clearing on the line was huge, Austin [Berry] making a play sliding in closing out the ball, Baky [Soumare] biking the ball out.  I think everyone contributed tonight and that’s why we came away with three points.”
 
On being fouled by Paponi:
 
“I think it was an extremely dirty play by Paponi.  I made a good read on his touch, I got to the ball and he just went two feet into me – into my knees.  I wasn’t very happy about it, but I was able to come away and finish the play.”
 
Logan Pause, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
Thoughts on getting his first start since June 22…
 
“It feels great to be back and on the field but most importantly getting three points tonight at home, getting to .500 and continuing to climb up the ladder is the most important thing.”
 
On the work of the team missing Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko…
 
“I think what tonight shows is the depth and quality we have in this locker room and on our roster. The guys stepped up. When guys have been called upon, you see it time and time again and they continue to step up. I’m just proud of the guys and the guys that are shifted around and maybe in different roles. We’re all in it to continue to move things forward and get wins to climb up the ladder.”
 
On coming back from his back injury…
 
“My back – there’s no issue there. Towards the end of the game of course I was a little tired. That’s to be expected and I got through it and I think it’ll just continue to build the more minutes I play.”
 
On the amount of depth the Fire currently have on their roster…
 
“It’s one of the advantages that we have with a deep roster. We sometimes joke we have two starting teams. You look around the locker room at guys that aren’t playing and there are a lot of guys that would be playing on other teams. I think it’s a good thing, it’s a good problem to have for the staff and down the road as we’re going to make a push it’s going to be important.”
 
Montreal Impact Head Coach Marco Schallibaum
 
On putting more pressure on the Fire in the second half:
 
“Yes, but the result is the most important, and we lost the game.  I think the first half wasn’t too bad but we weren’t good in the offensive part.  We played good second half ball.  We needed to get the ball in their box.  The second half was good, we scored and we had a lot of chances.  The second half was very good, but we left with zero points, and that’s disappointing.”
 
On why Di Vaio didn’t get the start:
 
“No, he played Saturday, Wednesday, and I spoke to him yesterday and this morning and he was tired.  He’s not the youngest player.  It’s better than this because I don’t want to lose him because he has a problem.  He was just out because he was tired.”
 
On being frustrated only having one win in 8 games:
 
“It’s not easy to win away.  Chicago is a good team.  But we believe we can win until the end and at every game that we can come away with points to make the playoffs.  We have a good position but we needed more points today.  That’s a good thing; we have enough games to make this game up.”
 
Montreal Impact Goalkeeper Troy Perkins

On the match:
 
“A tale of two halves, really.  Almost with two teams.  We came out in the first half a little flat.  They came out and pressed us and got two goals, a little bit fortunate for them.  We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.  The second half was the way we should have come out to begin with.”
 
On the impact of Di Vaio and Martins in the second half:
 
“We definitely went more attacking in the second half.  We have to.  You’re down 2-0 on the road, and you throw caution to the wind a little bit.  It definitely changed the game for us and we were much more effective I think.”
 
On what was said at halftime:
 
“That it just wasn’t good enough for us.  We know it wasn’t good enough for us.  That’s basically what was said.  We had to come out and we had 45 minutes to make up for it.”
 
On feeling like the team could have equalized in the second half:
 
“I think we deserve a point from it.  I think we are a little unfortunate not to as well.  That’s the way this league is.  In five minutes, it makes a game.”
 
Montreal Impact Midfielder Justin Mapp
 
On the differences between the first and second halves:
 
“We came out a little flat, I think.  We gave up two kind of soft goals.  We were behind the eight ball.  I still thought we have some decent possession in the first half.  But in second half we had the possession [of the match].  Plus we were dangerous.  We pulled a goal closer, but we couldn’t quite get the second one to tie it up.  The guys battled.  I thought we were the better team.  Unfortunately points wise, it didn’t indicate that.”
 
On Montreal controlling the possession of the game:
 
“Yeah, sometimes possession doesn’t necessarily get you goals, which is ultimately what you need.  On the score sheet, they scored two and whether or not we had possession, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
 
On feeling like they deserve to get a point:
 
“I think we definitely deserved it.  Like I said, I thought we were the better team on the night.  But on the score sheet, they scored two and we only got one, so it’s frustrating and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  The guys played hard and I thought we played some good soccer at times.”
10 August 11:25 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire

09 August 9:42 am

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The #cf97 hashtag exploded on Twitter Thursday night with news that Uruguayan international midfielder Arévalo Rios was headed to the Chicago Fire.

Though no official annoucement has been made, Rios arrived to Toyota Park for training Friday morning and is expected to officially be added to the team once the Fire clear an international roster spot.

Where would the international spot come from? 

Fire President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon has been public about the club seeking a loan for Dutch forward Sherjill MacDonald.

Italian back-up goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi is reportedly close to securing a green card

Should those two moves occur, the Fire would free up two of their six current international spots, making way for the veteran of Uruguay's 2010 World Cup squad to be added to the roster.

More to come on Rios' Windy City arrival later on Chicago-Fire.com.

 

09 August 8:38 am

After a lackluster performance in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss earlier this week, the Fire must pick themselves up for Saturday’s crucial Eastern Conference match against Montreal on Saturday evening at Toyota Park (LIVE 7pm CT on My50). The Impact are still sitting pretty in third place in the East and also played at midweek, beating San Jose 1-0 in CONCACAF Champions League play.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Starting stronger – better tempo from the Fire

Jeff Larentowicz summed up the game against D.C. well when asked how it compared to the 4-1 loss against the same opponent just weeks ago. He astutely observed, “The difference between this game and the last time we played them is that we scored early.”

This might sound overly simplistic, but an early goal and a good start is extremely important.

In Wednesday’s match, the team were positive in the opening exchanges but then allowed D.C. to set the tempo. Against Montreal this weekend, the Fire must come out of the gates quickly and play a very high-tempo game.

READ: NYARKO UNAVAILABLE FOR SATURDAY'S MATCH VS. MONTREAL

In Montreal’s last game against D.C., the Red and Black had a very good opening 30 minutes and created a lot of chances. D.C.’s high-tempo start clearly caught Montreal off guard and it took the Canadian team a while to find their rhythm.

The Fire had a great start against Philly last weekend, scoring in the ninth minute. A repeat of that could put the Fire on course to picking up three more precious points Saturday night.

Attacking Montreal on the outside – wide play important

Against D.C. last weekend, Montreal looked vulnerable in the wide areas, especially when United got their wingbacks forward.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

The Fire are very good at allowing Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba to get forward and help in the attack, especially at home. I look for this to happen as often as possible against the Impact.

The advancement of the wing-backs also allows the Fire wingers to come into the middle and provide support to the strikers.

With the potential absence to Patrick Nyarko after Wednesday’s head injury, the team will be relying on Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka to have big games Saturday night.

Keeping an eye on Justin Mapp – former Fire player finding his groove in Canada

Like Dominic Oduro, many Chicago Fire fans are torn over former winger Justin Mapp. He is certainly one of the most frustrating players to ever wear the badge but his skill and talent was there for all to see.

After leaving the Fire, Mapp had two quiet years in Philly but has flourished in Montreal’s 4-3-3 system, playing in one of the advanced wide positions, tallying two goals and four assists for the Impact this season.

Mapp is comfortable on both wings and is a very good crosser of the ball. He also likes to cut inside from the wing and combine with Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud and Felipe.  

BUY TICKETS FOR SATURDAY'S MATCH VS. MONTREAL

Though he might not be the fastest player on the field, Mapp is also very dangerous in the open field, often starting counter attacks for the Impact or looking for through balls to Marco Di Vaio.

Fire fans will also remember that the 28-year-old is very good in 1v1 situations and it will be up to players like Alex and Larentowicz to support the outside defenders and double team him whenever possible.

Mapp is not a physical player and can sometimes be “kicked” out of a game. Limiting the amount of time he has on the ball will be important for the Fire and a physical approach might be the answer.

Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Joel Lindpere.

07 August 8:36 am

The Fire head back to Toyota Park Wednesday night for the biggest game of the season to date, a U.S. Open Cup semifinal against D.C. United. Both teams enter the game on the back of wins and knowing they are only 180 minutes away from a CONCACAF Champions League place.

BUY: $12 TICKETS FOR U.S. OPEN CUP SEMIFINAL

With that in mind, league form goes out the window. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Slowing down D.C.’s new attack – avoiding the Silva/DeRo red herring

United Coach Ben Olsen has used the 4-4-1-1 formation for most of this season but due to a number of factors, namely not scoring many goals and a numerous injuries, he is constantly changing his front two.

In last week’s match against Montreal, D.C. started Dwayne DeRosario and Luis Silva to great effect with both players’ movement caused Montreal problems, especially in the first 30 minutes.

Both took turns holding the line while the other dropped deep, making it difficult for the Impact to track. With Silva scoring three goals in his last three matches, it is easy to claim that both he and DeRo are the major threats to the Fire tonight, but that argument is too simplistic.

INFOGRAPHIC: WHY THE FIRE ARE #KINGSOFTHECUP

In reality, both strikers have benefited greatly from some fantastic play from both the wide men and outside defenders in recent matches. Montreal’s lack of high pressure allowed D.C.’s outside defenders to act as auxiliary wingers at times, putting dangerous crosses into the Impact’s box.

With the defenders pushing up high, the wide midfielders were able to tuck inside and support the strikers in the box or pick up great positions just outside it.

For the Fire to be successful tonight, the team must not allow D.C.’s outside defenders to get forward as often as Montreal did. To do this requires a combination of high pressure from forwards such as Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe as well as positive attacking play from the outside mids, which will force D.C.’s defenders to stay back.

Minimizing set pieces – not allowing DC any unearned opportunities

In a cup semifinal, one mistake, or one brilliant piece of skill, can define the outcome. Countless knockout matches have been decided this way and it always leaves the losing team asking why they allowed an avoidable goal to be scored against them.
 

 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Playing as the away team and knowing the Fire’s strengths on the counter attack, D.C. will not be flooding players forward needlessly in tonight’s match. When set pieces present themselves however, the Black and Red will be looking to profit.

In the Fire’s last match against Philly, the team played very well defensively but again failed to keep a clean sheet. The Union goal came from a needlessly given up free kick resulting in the ball being bundled over the line.

Fire players must not rush into tackles and need to try and avoid giving up corners whenever possible. D.C. may be lacking in goals this season but giving up a set piece when DeRo is on the field could decide the match in D.C.’s favor.

Quick transitions to the attack – by any means possible

In recent tactical previews, I have lauded Patrick Nyarko for consistently pressuring defenders in the Fire’s offensive third of the pitch and forcing turnovers.

In last weekend’s match against Philly, Paddy did it again, winning the ball and bursting forward before dishing to Mike Magee who smashed in the winner.

Last weekend’s match also demonstrated how quick transitions can come from all areas of the pitch.

READ: 5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ON WEDNESDAY'S U.S. OPEN CUP SEMIFINAL VS. D.C.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson constantly looked to distribute the ball quickly and launch an attack through his kicking. Whenever Johnson collected the ball from a cross or shot, he looked for outlet runs and was able to pick out those of Rolfe, Magee and co. with his long kicks.

Supersub Quincy Amarikwa also demonstrated how pressuring defenders on long balls can result in turnovers. Late in the game, he challenged Amobi Okugo in the air before stalking the center back and forcing a turnover just outside the Philly box.

But for some better finishing, the Fire would’ve scored a third goal and effectively ended the match. A quick turnover from a player like Nyarko or an accurate kick out from Johnson could open up the DC defense tonight.

Prediction: I have seen the Fire win and lose U.S. Open Cup semifinals and know that games like this are almost always very tight and tense.  1-0 Fire with the goal coming from Patrick Nyarko.

06 August 9:28 am

At Toyota Park in May, Philly sat back, let the Fire run circles around them like some mean, old dog, then got a seemingly innocuous free kick and suddenly Jack McInerney, in on goal, kicked the team straight in the gut. That game felt like a one-act play, where the characters on stage build to an obvious conclusion, some grotesque act that you know is coming but still shocks and hurts when you see it live.

This Saturday, the Fire went to Philly to continue their climb back into the playoff picture and battled in a Three Act work of considerable drama. Each was punctuated by a goal. Here’s the liner notes, starring Philly and Chicago, two mysterious characters.

Act One, The Set-Up (0-45’)

Kick off. Philly comes out first, Chicago wakes up slowly, stretches arms to the sky, makes coffee, realizes it’s in the middle of a game, and immediately pops into action. Philly, who tried to come out with high and tight pressure, find themselves being passed around in sequences of quick one-twos and flicks, like those that lead to a beautiful first goal, with not even 10 minutes gone.

Philly broadcasters (the chorus), clamor for more “intensity” from the home team. The Fire look comfortable but ominously cannot extend their lead. They start to slow down a bit and Philly enjoy a few minutes of confidence-boosting possession at the end of the half, including a couple of dangerous free kicks. The plot thickens.

Halftime.

Act Two, The Montage (45’-54’)

This short intervening act provides the backbone of the drama. A little character development. Fresh off their orange slices, Philly and Chicago come out ready to party again.

Like Act One, Philly threaten first (Conor Casey flashes a shot just wide of goal two minutes in), but Chicago recovers and takes the upper hand. How predictable is this? Chicago finds space everywhere and kick off a few minutes of possession in the opponent’s half like we haven’t seen all season.

Cue montage and “Danger Zone.” A few not particularly interesting forays forward foreshadow something for Philly, but Chicago cruises.

What can go wrong?

Act Three, The Climax (54-90)

The Montage ends. The motorcycle crashes. Le Toux gets in on Chicago’s right and Sean Johnson makes a kick save. Chicago attacks and Rolfe finds enough space to squeeze a shot off - but Zac MacMath tips it over the bar. Go time. Philly go forward and get their goal with 30 minutes left - so much time for both to fight out the end.

Suddenly Philly is everywhere. Sean Johnson makes an impossible save off a corner. Another is cleared off the line. Chicago is wavering badly, Philly is matching Chicago’s dominance from Act Two.

There is no music. Chicago fights with their inner identity battle between the disappointments early in the year and their confidence to close games. (Mike Magee said after the game, “I think there was a point in the 65th minute where we had been getting pummeled the whole half and we all kind of looked at each other and said this game is there for us to win.”)

Two subs come on in the 67th, as Klopas tries to overturn Philly’s momentum.

And then it happens, the climax. Chicago confronts Philly. They continue pressing. The spirit of fight and persistence embodied in Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko combine with harrowing pressure. Nyarko fights the ball loose from a Philly midfielder and plays in Magee. Magee finishes calmly.

Your girlfriend is crying, but there’s still twenty minutes time! The drama carries over but the game is rarely in doubt. A penalty shout scares the audience, so nobody leaves their seats. Then the violin music. A stoppage time kiss at the sunset. Chicago steals the points.

Curtain.

02 August 8:23 am

The Fire head east to Philly on Saturday night to take on the Union in a critical Eastern Conference clash (LIVE 6:30pm CT on My50). After earning a credible come-from-behind draw in Houston last weekend, the Men in Red will be confident of picking up all three points (and extracting some revenge) at PPL Park.

Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Isolating Jeff Parke – getting behind and in 1v1 situations with the Union defender

Similar to the Fire, individual errors have cost the Union in recent matches and veteran defender Jeff Parke has been the weak link in the Union defense over the past few MLS games.

Though excellent in the air, his positioning errors or slack marking led to numerous chances created for the opposing team. In both matches against Chivas and Houston, Parke was either forced or strayed out of position, leaving room behind him to be exploited.

READ: Duka, Alex look healthy for Philadelphia clash

With the ability of Magee and Rolfe to drop into deeper positions to pick up the ball and thus drag defenders like Parke out of position, the other Fire players must recognize these opportunities when they arise and try and take advantage of them.

Staying with the runners – trying to limit giving up preventable goals

In soccer, there is a major difference between giving up a 30 yard screamer and giving up a tap in because a defender decided to switch off and not follow his runner.

 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

All too often for the Fire this season giving up easy goals and frequently going a goal behind has been the teams M.O.  Fire center back Bakary Soumare has made more than one costly error over the past month, most recently on the Dynamo goal last weekend and the center-back will be looking for a solid performance against his old club on Saturday.

With that being said, the defense as a whole has been guilty of individual errors which has meant that the team’s last clean sheet in league play was nine games ago, twelve if you count all matches. As I have mentioned in previous previews, a clean sheet, especially in an away game, would be a major positive for the Fire.

Against a team with such attacking threats as Philly, a clean sheet would also give the back line confidence heading into the biggest game of the season to date, the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against D.C. on Wednesday (TICKETS).

Taking advantage of the diamond system – pressuring Philly in their defensive third

The Union usually use a system similar in some ways to the Fire, deploying only one recognized defensive midfielder. In Philly’s case this is stalwart Brian Carroll.

Carroll plays in the “Makelele role,” sitting in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and rarely venturing into the opposing team’s attacking third. In this system, the assumption is that Carroll will not give up possession or be ahead of the ball in his defensive third.

READ: Mike Magee is the cover boy in the latest edition of MLS Overlap

One way to counter this system is to pressure Carroll and the Philly defenders when they have the ball and try and force turnovers in their defensive third.

We all saw how effective this tactic can be on the Fire’s goal last weekend. Patrick Nyarko stole the ball from a Dynamo defender before bursting into the box and crossing to Mike Magee for a tap in finish. A similar turnover on Saturday night could lead to the winning goal for the Fire.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

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

30 July 9:24 am

Fire forward Mike Magee is soaking in this week's MLS All-Star festivities in Kansas City and really why shouldn't he?

After 11 seasons in MLS, the league's joint-leading goal scorer is the longest tenured player on this year's All-Star roster to be making his first appearance in the mid-summer classic. 

On Monday, Magic Mike joined fellow MLS All-Stars Will Johnson of Portland and Patrice Bernier of Montreal and host Nick Firchau on ExtraTime Radio to have a frank discussion about how they see the league in 2013, the dumbest questions they receive from reporters, Mike's sincere avoidance of Twitter and the honor of taking part in this year's game.

Listen here.

28 July 1:07 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo
BBVA Compass Stadium – Houston, Texas – July 27, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“We talked about our ability now in this stretch and to be able to get points on the road. You’re playing against a very good team, difficult place, it’s not easy here, but in the second half I felt that both teams, we had some chances, but I felt also late in the game both teams had some quality looks. The goalkeepers came out big. For us, I think, on the road, we showed a lot of character, but also, from our keeper Paolo [Tornaghi], he needed those saves to come up big and he did, but also I though Tally did too with some of the chances we had.”
 
What has sparked the change within the team
 
“Definitely different confidence within the team. I think the mentality is different, the start was definitely tough for us. Losing Arne Friedrich right before our first game wasn’t easy, so I needed a guy to replace. I feel that with additions of Mike Magee and [Bakary Soumaré] and the results we’ve gotten, it’s a different mentality within the group. There is a lot of confidence, so it’s a tough stretch for us right now, I mean second half of the season, you’re playing a lot of teams within your own conference and it’s going to be tight. There is so much parity within the league, I think what we didn’t do in the first half of the season we have to do much better the second half on the road, pick up points and win at home. This was a good start and we have to regroup now. We have a tough away game against Philadelphia next week, so it doesn’t get any easier.”
 
On the impact of Mike Magee
 
“He’s got a lot of quality and he’s a smart player, but he does a lot of little things also besides scoring that help the team out. He’s been fantastic for us, so has [Bakary Soumaré]. I just think as a team we’re in a different place right now and we have a lot to play for. Both of those additions have been big, but I think everyone else has stepped up and I think we have everyone healthy right now and I think that is a positive thing for the team.”
 
Update on the injury to Alex
 
“He got a knock, it happened in the game on the ankle, he came out. He was having a good game in the middle, but listen it’s all about the team and things like that happen and guys have to be able to get in the game and help and that’s what a team is for. You have to rely on everyone and the guys that came in Danny [Paladini] and Logan [Pause] came in and I felt left it all on the field, and that’s what you want and ask for.”
 
Paolo Tornaghi, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“It’s good for us coming here. I think the environment here is very difficult to play [in], so we are happy.  All the statistics say that [Houston] is tough and we did our best and we are going home with a point.”
 
Game plan coming into the match
 
“Well we knew that this team is very strong in statistics and putting [the ball in] the box and try to win the first, the second, the third ball. I think to challenge, to fight, and it’s what we tried to do and I think we did well, so that’s why we had the goal and a good game.”
 
Importance of this match in the standings
 
“It’s a crucial moment of the season. We have to come back from another positive position in the standings, so we have to keep going and maybe in one month, be in the right spot that we have to be in the playoffs.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire Forward
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“It’s huge, especially playing in Houston, which is close to impossible to get any points in and in the fashion that we did it, I thought was pretty good. We obviously give up a goal again, but to fight back and even get a chance or two to get the win, that is a great point.”
 
Getting the equalizer so quickly
 
“It is always important to get the equalizer. It is good to get it quick because they’re a team that tends to, you know, once they get one, they start pounding on you. They’re not a team that scores one and sits back, so it had the potential to be a very long end of the game, so to get the one back quick is massive.”
 
Importance of the result going forward
 
“It’s just we’re hard to beat. No matter what happens it’s a big step for us. We have been kind of looking for a result like this. We have beaten some teams that aren’t in the playoff hunt and we lost to Kansas City, we barely tie Portland, so to come into Houston and get a point like this is definitely a statement.”
 
Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“A little bit of a frustrating night. Scored a great goal then gave up a softie and then we had some chances to go back ahead and it didn’t happen. [We were] looking at three [points], we get one, but I can’t fault the guys’ effort.”
 
The importance of this match
 
“This game was important. I say this time and time again, but maybe people don’t take me seriously: every game for me is a big game. I don’t have to say ‘well this is a big game because of this, because of that.’ All these underlying themes and goals; the main goal will always be to win the game. I know what New England did tonight, I know what the other teams did, I know where we’re at we have game in hand, et cetera. You want to win three points no matter if it’s home, if it’s Columbus, or New England or even tonight against Chicago. The aim is always to get three [points]. We want to be higher than where we are in the conference and we know it’s going to take wins to do that.”
 
On Cam Weaver’s performance
 
“I thought he was good. I thought he was due for a goal. He’s had his chances along the way, and I’m sure he’s frustrated at times but he was a big part of what we were trying to do tonight. We were trying to get some balls wide, get balls in the box, and I think he had clear off the line in a corner kick. He had a kick in the first half….held the ball well for us, put himself in the right spot for his goal. Happy for him. He works hard everyday. I think he works on his finishing. He wants to be on the field. He wants to make a positive impact, and tonight I’m happy for him.”
 
On the physicality of the match
 
“I just think there was a lot of stoppages. I mean they never really got a good flow in the first-half. Obviously as the game got tied, there was time wasting as we’ve seen before and it slows the game down. But, what can you do? I didn’t think it was overly physical, I thought. I think every game is physical. I don’t think any game in MLS is over the top. I don’t think any team comes out and is dirty. I think teams try and play the right way, try to play physical. It was just two teams tonight. So, just pretty much a standard game for me.”
 
Houston Dynamo forward Cam Weaver
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“Disappointed with only getting one point, I think we the amount of chances we had we definitely should be getting three points. That’s the way I feel right now.”
 
On getting the goal
“I think it’s been a while, so I’m definitely happy to get that goal. I had a few chances tonight, and I happened to get one. It would’ve been a lot nicer in a victory, but hopefully that’s one of more to come.”
 
Houston Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“It was frustrating. You work so hard to get a goal and then you kind of give up a softie. We just didn’t finish a lot of our other chances. We had one called back that probably shouldn’t have been, but sometimes that’s how your night goes. I mean nothing really goes your way, so good for Cam, happy for him, he’s worked so hard to get to where he is and for him to score hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”
 
On their place in the standings
 
“We were aware coming into the game what was going on. We always kind of look at it throughout the year. I’ve said it from the beginning, last year was just a matter of one point, I think. So, we understand that. It just went against us last night. From the game Wednesday, to the field, to the refs on one call, to us shooting ourselves in the foot, so a lot to be learned, a lot from ourselves on the field and some of our guys off the field too you know. But, like I said it comes down to the guys on the field getting the job done. I mentioned all those other things, but at the end of the day it comes down to the eleven guys that are out there playing. We had our chances. A tie is not the worst thing, but obviously we wanted a win. But, we can’t really harp on it too much. We’re going to look at what we did on the goal and talk about some communication issues, but we’ve got to get ready for Columbus now.”
 
Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall
 
Thoughts on the match
 
“Obviously fairly disappointed. It’s a game we should win. It’s a game we can win. Obviously to give up a goal right after you score one, I think it comes down to a mental lapse, and we need to do a better job defensively of holding onto the lead. And it starts once they kick the ball off and it didn’t take them long to get an equalizer. So, it’s very disappointing to us.
 
I don’t think anything was going against us that doesn’t happen in any other game. Fouls go both ways and maybe it’s offside, maybe it’s onside, it doesn’t matter. Those things happen every single game.”