TACTICAL: Rebuilt Fire defense gets first real test against Chivas USA's Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales
The Fire are in Los Angeles for the first game of the season looking to start off on a good note unlike this time last year when the team fell to the other team in LA, 4-0. As per usual, Chivas USA’s offseason was filled with turmoil, but there is a new air of optimism around the club after it was bought by MLS. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Fire’s new look back line – how will teams offseason acquisitions work as a unit?
New Fire head coach Frank Yallop was very upfront about his desire for the team to improve defensively this season after the team gave up a whopping 52 goals last year. It is likely that two new additions to the defense will start on Sunday afternoon, with former RSL utility player Lovel Palmer slotting in a right back and former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado set to start in the middle.
Hurtado’s partnership with Bakary Soumare at the heart of the Fire’s defense is crucial to the team’s success and both players will be looking to continue their good preseason form. In the air, both players are clearly dominant but it will be important that they do not get stretched by the Chivas USA attack especially with a player like Mauro Rosales looking to play balls behind the defense for Erick Torres and co.
Frank Yallop likes to have his fullbacks get forward and support the attack and Palmer certainly fits that style of play. The Fire’s distribution out of the back last season was not a strong point and Palmer’s good technical ability will mean the team will not be giving the ball needlessly back to the opposition as much this season.
It will certainly take time for the new look defense to gel, but a good start and perhaps a clean sheet would build confidence before the tougher tests ahead in the form of Portland and New York.
A new back line for Chivas USA – opportunities for the Fire to take?
Chivas USA overhauled the squad again this offseason but the team that gave up the most goals in the league last year don’t look like they’ve improved in that department, at least not on paper.
The team went undefeated in preseason but it remains to be seen whether this unit can be effective during league play. It is unclear who Fire legend Carlos Bocanegra will be paired with -- Bobby Burling or newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste but in either case, if the Fire creative players like Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Alex can get in 1v1 situations, I like this team’s chances.
The Fire could have more luck on the outsides, especially down the right where Eric Avila has a habit of straying too far forward from his full back position. The combination of little help defensively from Mauro Rosales and the attacking threats of Dilly Duka and Gonzalo Segares could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
A switch in philosophy – high pressure replaces the counter attack
For much of last season, the Fire tended to sit deep and try to hit teams on the counter attack but with the change in head coach comes a change in philosophy. Instead of the counter attack game, Yallop has emphasized a high pressure philosophy, with the Fire’s attackers putting pressure on the opponents’ defense when they are in possession.
This tactic was apparent in the team’s final match of the Diamond Desert Cup in Tucson last week where Juan Luis Anangono, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka all put the Chivas Guadalajara youth team defense under constant pressure and forced a number of mistakes from the Mexican squad.
If the team can push the issue against the new look Chivas USA back four and force the team into giving up possession, it will only help the Fire’s chances. Though possession is not always an important factor, especially in an away match, the team will certainly be looking to control the tempo and increase the possession statistics this season and this change in philosophy should help that.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: C.J. Brown says, "The first game we get to focus on ourselves"
Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa proved rather effective in what time he got on the field last year (he scored three goals in 299 minutes). In his time off of it, he also proved to be perhaps the top MLS player in the league's Fantasy Manager game.
Sign-up for Quincy's League using code: 17933-3213
(Photo courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps)
When asked about finalizing his roster before the start of the 2014 season Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop said on a conference call last week that he and his staff were "looking at other possibilities with other teams about maybe trading. We’re forever on the lookout.”
The options have become clearer as Yallop and his staff have pulled the trigger on two trades in three days.
Neither player is brought in with a view of starting but it seems likely Yallop and his staff will look to both to provide depth. Cochrane played 12 matches for LA during his rookie season in 2013, filling in mostly for veteran Todd Dunivant.
Watson, who's known for a high work ethic and steady, consistent performances, played a more regular role with the Whitecaps over the past two seasons, appearing in 21 matches in 2013.
The acquisitions mean that the team roster sits at 29 players four days out from the season opener vs. Chivas USA. While MLS rosters can accomodate 30 players, Yallop has said he expects to start the season with 28, likely using the open two spots to earn allocation money from the league to help with the team's tight salary situation.
With the team admitting they're working towards a loan deal with Tottenham Hotspur's Grant Ward, it seems likely more moves could be imminent.
Select shots from this afternoon's Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon and Primary Kit Unveiling
Today’s Numbers Game features a switch as second-year Fire midfielder Dilly Duka will now wear the #11. Acquired from Columbus this time last year in exchange for Dominic Oduro, the pair took each other’s numbers when they got to their new clubs (Duka taking 8, Oduro taking 11 in Columbus).
This year, with the Crew’s #8 shirt vacant, Oduro has switched back to his regular number while Duka completes the swap. Coincidentally, #11 became available at the Fire when the team traded Daniel Paladini to Columbus back in December.
“Number 11 is what I’ve worn going back to youth soccer,” Duka said. “It’s what I’m familiar with, it’s part of me as a player.”
Meanwhile, fresh off scoring the game-winner in Sunday’s friendly vs. Florida Gulf Coast Univesity, Giuseppe Gentile becomes the first player in Fire history to wear #92.
The dual Swiss-American citizen, who also happens to speak four languages and also shares a name with an Olympic triple jumper, went the Kellen Gulley route in choosing his number according to the year he was born, 1992.
So with that, we have two trivia questions for today…
1) Dilly Duka becomes the eighth player in Fire history to wear the #11 shirt, name the other seven.
2) What four languages to Giuseppe Gentile speak? We’ll give you a freebie: English.
(SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWERS)
1) Roman Kosecki (1998-1999), Diego Gutierrez (2000-2001), Billy Sleeth (2002), Nate Jaqua (2003-2006), Thiago (2007), John Thorrington (2008-2010), Daniel Paladini (2011-2013).
2) English, Spanish, Italian and German
The Numbers Game rolls on Tuesday with the latest contestants being the center back duo of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, who were recently acquired from the Seattle Sounders in a trade that sent Jalil Anibaba the other way.
Let’s start with the Hurtado. The 29-year-old center back will continue to don the same #34 he wore for five seasons in Cascadia. Asked why he’s chosen a somewhat “off the beaten path” soccer number, Hurtado explained 34 was the number he was given when trialing with AC Milan in early 2009.
“The opportunity was a special one and it’s stayed with me ever since,” he told Chicago-Fire.com last week.
Though 34 isn’t the most common soccer number, two Fire players have worn it before. Former Trinidad & Tobago international Osei Telesford was the club’s #34 in 2007 while Austin Washington wore it from 2008-2009.
Meanwhile, Ianni has chosen to suit up wearing the #6 for the Fire this season. Interestingly, Ianni and Anibaba weren’t just in part swapped for each other but they’ve also taken one another’s number at their new club as the former Fire defender will suit up as Seattle’s #4 this season.
Asked about the choice of #6, Ianni said, “I just wanted a lower, defender’s number,” but the only two digits that fit the criteria for the Fire were #2 and #6.
Althought the #2 is free for anyone to choose, Ianni says he took into account the legacy of assistant coach C.J. Brown’s 13 years wearing #2 for the Men in Red and the fact that it’s only been worn one other time for 27 minutes by another Fire player (Wells Thompson in 2012).
In the end, the choice was simple.
“I have a ton of respect for what C.J. did here wearing that number and what that means to Fire supporters. The six shirt suits me just fine.”
QUESTION: Ianni becomes the ninth player in Fire history to wear #6 for the Men in Red. How many of the other eight can you name? (SCROLL BELOW FOR THE ANSWER).
ANSWER: Brian Bates (1998), Tom Soehn (1998-2000), Sergi Daniv (2001), Kelly Gray (2002-2005), Brandon Prideaux (2008-2009), Julio Martinez (2010), Peter Lowry (2010), Jalil Anibaba (2011-2013).
After nearly a month of training camp and an early January trip to Brazil, Fire forward Mike Magee and goalkeeper Sean Johnson are set for Saturday afternoon's U.S. friendly vs. South Korea at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
For Johnson, January camp has become part of his preseason routine, while Magee's only been to one previous camp, way back in 2005. The 2013 MLS MVP spoke to ESPNFC's Doug McIntyre about his hopes of finally receiving his first U.S. cap at the age of 29 on Saturday and goal of making the U.S. team for this summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Catch the U.S. take on South Korea Saturday at 4:00pm CT on ESPN2, Watch ESPN and Unimas.
UPDATE: U.S. Soccer has announced Magee will not dress for today's friendly due to food poisoning. I don't even know what to say. We love you Mike, feel better.
As Sunday's first preseason friendly vs. Florida Gulf Coast University approaches, more number choices are being made.
Today's "Numbers Game" features the club's two new Homegrown players Chris Ritter and Harry Shipp who have chosen #21 and #19 respectively. Asked if their was any significance behind their number choice, both said, "No, not really."
The #19 shirt has been worn by nine players previously and was actually worn by six different player's in the club's first five years. Those were Josh Keller, Jeff Zaun, Yuri Lavrinenko, Chad Prince and David Vaudreuil before Craig Capano donned the shirt from 2002-2004. Jim Curtin's little brother Jeff wore #19 in 2007 while Corben Bone was the most recent #19 from 2010-2013.
Most notably, Chad Barrett (pictured above) switched to the #19 shirt in 2008 when the club acquired Tomasz Frankowski who moved into the #9 shirt. Barrett wore #19 for half a season before being dealt to Toronto FC in the Brian McBride trade that August. So in closing, Harry has the chance to really make #19 his own.
Conversely, Ritter is just the fourth player in club history to wear the #21 shirt. Michael Videira most recently wore it the past three seasons but before him, two of the club's top offensive leaders wore #21.
Dema Kovalenko (1999-2002)
Justin Mapp (2003-2010)
Coincidentally, the Fire acquired Mapp from D.C. United for Dema Kovalenko prior to the start of the 2003 MLS campaign. Kovalenko sits fourth on the club's All Competitions goal scoring list with 26, while Mapp sits fourth on the All Competitions assists list with 35.
Miss Friday's "pre-preseason" press conference with Frank Yallop, Brian Bliss and C.J. Brown?
Catch the whole thing in its entirety below, and see their individual remarks broken up further down:
Frank Yallop's Remarks:
C.J. Brown's Remarks:
Brian Bliss's Remarks: