It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.
In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.
After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”
It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.
You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.
The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.
And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”
That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.
Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.
This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.
It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.
What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
With the goal, Amarikwa has already equaled his total for the whole of 2013 just six matches into this season and has been involved in a goal in five of those games. Just to take it one further, Amarikwa has five goals and one assist in his last eight Fire appearances dating back to October 4 last season.
He started only five of those games.
So while the Fire are still winless in six matches (but unbeaten in five), Amarikwa seems to be the revelation early on this season. With the Fire having given up seven goals from dead ball sequences before Saturday, it was nice to see Amarikwa bury a set piece second ball for the Fire for a change.
One more look…
And for the second time this season, Quincy brought out the #cf97NaeNae to celebrate…
An MLS journeyman who's calling card has been coming off the bench, Amarikwa scored just four goals in his first 67 MLS matches but with six goals in the last year, he's already doubled his career goal total in 20 games with the Fire. As he continues to show efficiency on the field, I posed this question on Twitter Saturday…
— Jeff Crandall (@jefecrandall) April 12, 2014
What do you think are the reasons for Amarikwa’s turnaround with the Fire? Will he become the eighth Fire player to hit double-digit goals by year’s end? Give me your thoughts below!
After a heartbreaking draw against the Union last weekend, the Fire travel north to Montreal to face another side looking for a first win of the season Saturday (2:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The game has added spice with former coach Frank Klopas facing the Men in Red for the first time as opposition coach.
Here are a few tactical observations to keep in mind on Saturday.
Continued focus on the wing play - taking advantage of Shipp's positioning
In last Saturday’s match, Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup and impressed. On the other side of the field, Harry Shipp looks much more comfortable when he cuts inside, as opposed to hugging the touchline and taking on players.
Shipp's set piece play alone is worth a place in the starting eleven, but his ability to pick a pass is also a dangerous weapon. Shipp's tendency to drift inside also benefits the Fire for other reasons.
First, in the absence of a creative central midfielder, it’s not felt as much when the rookie comes central and occupies those positions. Against a team like Montreal that boasts an impressive attack, the use of two defensive-minded midfielders can be necessary (as I will explain in more detail later) but with Shipp filling the gap, the Fire don't lose much in an attacking sense.
Shipp's positioning also opens the door for Greg Cochrane to show his attacking talents from the left back position. Cochrane has fit seamlessly into the Fire back line and his excellent crossing ability has been on show in recent matches.
With the Impact's wide players like Mapp reluctant to track back on a consistent basis, the Fire could again benefit from attacking in the wide areas.
Continuing to win the ball high up the field - catching Montreal in transition
In the first half last week against New York, the Impact sliced through the Red Bull midfield as if they had three extra players on the pitch. Klopas emphasized transitioning the ball from defense to attack as quickly as possible and for most of the first half, that worked to devastating effect.
Montreal should've been well ahead at halftime but actually went into the break behind 2-1. The reason for this was because the Canadian team was caught trying to force the ball forward too quickly, resulting in turnovers, which the Red Bulls capitalized on twice in three minutes. I expect the Impact to try this tactic again on Saturday.
- INFOGRAPHIC: Where Fire and Impact are scoring, conceding from
Players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa both like to hound the opposing team when they are in possession in their defensive third. The Fire's first goal last week was a perfect example of this, with Amarikwa nicking the ball from a defender before setting up Magee for an easy tap in.
If the Fire can force the Impact into turnovers high up the pitch, it could prove costly for the Canadian team.
Attempting to contain Montreal's fearsome attack - staying compact and limiting mental mistakes
Just when we thought an attack featuring Marco Di Vaio, an in-form Justin Mapp and Felipe was going to be a challenge, the Impact went out and acquired promising American youngster Jack McInerney.
This move could see the Impact change formation to a two striker statute with Di Vaio and Jack Mac up front or see McInerney play in one of the wide attacking roles behind the target striker. In any case, the fluidity of the Impact's attack will be a major challenge for the Fire to contend with on Saturday.
None of the Montreal attacking players stay static for long, with Felipe essentially having a free role in the hole, Di Vaio often pushing wide, and Mapp cutting inside with the ball at his feet on a regular basis. With this in mind, the Fire defense needs to stay organized and compact and not allow Montreal to drag players out of position.
This has not been a problem for the Fire this season, with most of the team’s nine goals against coming from lapses from set pieces. A clean sheet Saturday afternoon would be a massive achievement.
Prediction: The Fire score early and finish the game off late 2-0 with goals from Magee and Hurtado.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Mike Magee (a great dancer) can redirect a cross like it's nobody's business.
In this edition of slow it down, Quincy Amarikwa (also a great dancer), picks Amobi Okugo's pocket with flying colors, runs the ball down the field and crosses to Magee... you know the rest.
Voice of the Fire Dan Kelly put it best by describing Magee's play on the goal as being like, "A shifty little feline after a seven hour nap." You may be confused after reading this, but I promise after you watch the video below, it should all make sense. (unlike the duo's dance moves)
Let's slow it down!
Mike Magee will tell you he should have had at least two goals on Saturday.
Whether it was finishing on that awkward back and forth play that saw him with an open look at goal while Sheanon Williams was down in the box in the 88th minute or the game-ending penalty and rebound save from Zach MacMath at the death, the fans and he himself feel like he should have had another.
And it's not necessarily easy to point that out about Magee but thankfully, he tweeted this yesterday:
1st tweet after last nights game was always gonna be awkward so let's get it over with. I will make up for that! Mind if I move on? #cf97
— Mike Magee (@magee9) April 6, 2014
So now that that's out of the way, it's worth noting something else: Mike Magee did open his 2014 Fire account off a great feed from Quincy Amarikwa in the 16th minute Saturday. That goal was a small milestone as it pushed Magee inside the Top 15 (actually tied for 14th place) on the club's all-time goal scoring list with Lubos Kubik and Cuauhtemoc Blanco at 16 (MLS Regular Season) and 19 (All Competitions) goals respectively.
You took a pause real quick right there and realized that the Fire have only had 16 players hit those numbers over the course of 17 years. Now you realize that the club hasn't really had a consistent goal scorer over multiple seasons since the likes of Ante Razov, Josh Wolff and Damani Ralph came through.
There's no doubt that Magee got to those odd milestones quicker than Blanco or Kubik but he also beats Razov, Wolff and Ralph to those numbers by a considerable margin...
MLS Regular Season Goals - Fastest to 16
|Player||Years||GP to 16 Goals||Total Fire Goals|
|Mike Magee||2013-present||25 GP||16|
|Ante Razov||1998-04||33 GP||76|
|Josh Wolff||1998-02||35 GP||32|
|Damani Ralph||2003-04||35 GP||22|
|Brian McBride||2008-10||42 GP||18|
|Dominic Oduro||2011-12||42 GP||18|
|Hristo Stoitchkov||2000-02||44 GP||17|
|Dema Kovalenko||1999-02||49 GP||22|
|Chris Rolfe||2005-09; 2012-14||53 GP||48|
|Cuauhtemoc Blanco||2007-09||58 GP||16|
|Lubos Kubik||1998-00||68 GP||16|
|Nate Jaqua||2003-06||73 GP||21|
|Chad Barrett||2005-08||75 GP||18|
|Piotr Nowak||1998-02||77 GP||26|
|Marco Pappa||2008-12||87 GP||26|
|Jesse Marsch||1998-05||183 GP||19|
Fire All Competitions Goals - Fastest to 19
|Players||Years||GP to 19 Goals||All Competitions Goals|
|Mike Magee||2013-present||29 GP||19|
|Josh Wolff||1998-2002||47 GP||39|
|Ante Razov||1998-2004||53 GP||95|
|Damani Ralph||2003-04||55 GP||28|
|Dema Kovalenko||1999-00||56 GP||34|
So while you could probably go back in Magee's short Fire tenure (he hasn't even been here a calendar year) and point to a few more opportunities that would see his goal total even higher, he's still on a record scoring clip for the Fire.
And Mike, keep your head up after that penalty kick save. We expect to see lots more of these celebrations this season:
If he had a super power what would it be? Which teammate would win American Idol? Who would play him in a movie?
It's all in this episode of Both Sides of the Badge with Chris Ritter presented by Quaker.
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
Select shots from Monday's reserve game vs. the New York Red Bulls