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TACTICAL: Watch the ball watching vs. New York

20 March 7:43 am

TACTICAL: Watch the ball watching vs. New York

By Stephen Piggott

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