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Sporting Kansas City

03 September 9:48 am

After an interesting weekend of results, no teams actually changed spots in the Eastern Conference standings, though the group at the top all sit tied on points. Down below, Philadelphia and New England each held serve in spots four and five with weekend draws while the Fire missed a chance to leapfrog Houston with their home tie on Sunday.

The breakdown:

1) Montreal Impact

Current Points: 42 (12-7-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home/ 5 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 69
Average Opponents Pts: 35.1
Remaining Schedule:  9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Despite their top spot in the conference, Montreal has had an abysmal road record vs. the East (1-6-2) so while they could have taken a big step over the weekend, perhaps a 0-0 draw at Philadelphia was them punching above their weight. September will be make or break time for the Impact as the team will play six competitive matches in a span of 20 days. If they hope to advance out of their Champions League group, they’ll likely need to win one of their two remaining games. meaning squad rotation will be prudent through the end of the month.

The Impact will hope to improve their Eastern Conference road record with another away trip to New England on Sunday.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 42 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 35
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Red Bull did exactly what they had to do, downing MLS bottom dwellers D.C. United 2-1 at home Saturday night. With four of their remaining seven matches at home and no Champions League to worry about, if they win their games at Red Bull Arena, they should have no issue making their way to a postseason appearance. What they do with their away games should determine their positioning.

New York faces a six-pointer away to Houston on Sunday. Win and potentially distance yourself from the pack, lose and things will begin to get interesting.

3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WLLWL (6pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 29.9
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Like New York, Sporting KC did the business with a 2-1 win over Colorado Saturday. Already with six points in their two Champions League matches, Sporting likely needs just two points from their remaining matches to win the group and have a lighter league schedule than fell CCLers Montreal and Houston. Two matches with Columbus and one each vs. Toronto and D.C. should see Sporting easily clinch and could help push them towards the top spot by the end of October.

This weekend, Sporting face a Columbus side that lost at home to 10-man Seattle on Saturday, fired their coach Monday and will face Houston at home Wednesday. If the Crew lose to the Dynamo, they’ll be all but eliminated from playoff contention, making KC’s home encounter even easier.

4) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-8-9)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home  / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLDWL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-5 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 33.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: Three points at home Saturday would have seen Philly move to within one of first in the East but a draw against Montreal keeps them all on their lonesome in fourth place. With seven games remaining, the Union have a mixed type of schedule, facing Toronto FC and D.C. in back-to-back weeks in October but also with a games against Houston and Montreal and two matches against Sporting.

A west coast trip to San Jose, where the Earthquakes have dropped just one game this season (8-1-4) looms large this week, with a loss likely pushing the Union back down to the East bubble.

5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-9-7)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 33.75
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: Perhaps no team controls their own destiny like the Revolution. With eight games left, the Revs has an even split of four home and four away but perhaps more interesting is that five of their next six matches are against Eastern Conference foes that sit in the Top 7 positions. Should they be able to navigate well through those matches, their home and home with Columbus to end the season could be all about positioning.

New England needs to take advantage of Montreal’s poor road form Saturday to climb up the table.

6) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 37 (10-8-7)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLWLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21, 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Much like New England, Houston faces a number of teams they’re battling for playoff positioning with over the next month and like Montreal and Sporting KC, also need to balance Champions League play. The Dynamo will be favorites to take three points on the road at Columbus Wednesday but will close out a seven game/22-day stretch at home Saturday to New York. Houston holds fate in their own hands but balancing Champions League with games against conference foes will be the key to their postseason push.

Simple enough: Win at home, draw on the road, they should be in.

7) Chicago Fire

Current Points: 35 (10-10-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (3 home / 6 away)
Last 5 Games: DWLWW (10pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-2 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 31.7
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: Sunday’s late 1-1 draw at home to Houston was no doubt a gut punch but the Fire are far from out of the playoff race.

The Good News: The team continues to have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the East with two games against Toronto and one each against Columbus and D.C.

The Bad News: Only three of nine remaining matches are at home and the Fire’s road record is towards the bottom in the conference.

And even though the Fire have never beaten Seattle and failed to win on turf since 2010, they have a real chance to take three points away to the Sounders with the home side missing Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, Leo Gonzalez on Saturday night.

Four to six points in the team’s next two away matches (remember Toronto FC on September 11) will set them up well for a return home vs. New England on September 14. Twice this season the Fire have had the chance to leap into fifth place and failed, mid-September should be a target date for them to AT LEAST be there.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-13-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LLWWL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-5-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 53
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: If Sunday’s draw to Houston was a gut punch for the Fire, I’m not sure what to call the Crew’s 1-0 home defeat to 10-man Seattle on Saturday.

Still, Columbus have a small shot at the playoffs and their coaching change Monday makes things a bit more interesting. Keep in mind that seven of their eight remaining matches come against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture but should they lose midweek to Houston, the weekend trip to Sporting KC could kill whatever hope they have left.

28 August 3:39 pm

With the Eastern Conference playoff race so tight between seven teams, some called me crazy for starting Playoff Math so early this year. I shunned the criticism because I feel strongly that Eastern Conference nerds need their fix the remaining two months of the season.

In an attempt to keep this piece at readable length, I chose not to use a points per game basis as fellow stat nerd Tweed Thornton at Hot Time in Old Town uses. His analysis is equally interesting and I suggest you check it out.

So, with that, I breakdown the playoff outlook for the eight teams that still have a reasonable shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot…

Montreal Impact
Current Points: 41 (12-7-5)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home/ 6 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-2
Maximum Possible Pts: 71
Average Opponents Pts: 34.4
Remaining Schedule:  8/31 @ PHI, 9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Though they had a small dip in form, Montreal is back at the top of the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s 5-0 shellacking of Houston. Much of Montreal’s success can be chalked up to their dominant home record (they’ve lost just one game at Stade Saputo this season) but the team also has the toughest remaining schedule and has away matches against playoff contenders, Philadelphia, New England, the Fire and Houston before season’s end. Add to that the fact that Montreal is also competing in CONCACAF Champions League play on September 17 at San Jose and September 24 at Heredia and the top spot is far from secure.

New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining:  8 (5 home / 3 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.3
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. D.C., 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Despite a 3-2 defeat to Chivas USA at the weekend, Red Bull still sits in pretty good shape, two points back of the lead. New York holds a strong home record and of their eight remaining matches, five will be played at Red Bull Arena. Also unlike fellow playoff contenders Montreal, Sporting KC and Houston, New York only needs to focus on MLS Regular Season play the rest of the way.

Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. COL, 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC holds an identical record to New York and has to juggle two more Champions League games but has one of the easiest remaining schedules among the eight playoff contenders. Though their home record isn’t as stellar as you’d think, with the strong atmosphere Sporting Park provides, its unlikely KC is the team currently inside the bubble that falls down the stretch.

Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 38 (10-8-8)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home  / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-4 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 33.1
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. MTL, 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: With eight games left, the Union sit just three points out of first place thanks to the 4-5-4 record on the road (second best in the East) while holding serve at home (6-3-4). Things just got pretty interesting for Philly after New England’s 5-1 weekend thrashing of the Union pulled the playoff race much tighter. From a Fire perspective, their grounded out, back-to-back wins over the Men in Red in May could easily be pointed to as the difference between being in and outside the playoff bubble. If the Fire take three points in either of the 1-0 losses, the two teams are swapped in the Eastern Conference table…

New England Revolution
Current Points: 36 (10-9-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-3
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/30 @ TFC, 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England has been the surprise entrant into the race this season. The Revs have certainly found ways to punch way above their weight. Even after a six-game winless run in July and August, New England still find themselves inside the bubble with seven of their nine remaining games all against relevant Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 36 (10-8-6)
Games Remaining: 10 (5 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 33
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 @ CHI, 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21 vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Though not quite as great as 2012, Houston has kept up pretty good form at BBVA Compass Stadium so far in 2013. The Dynamo sit sixth only by the Goals For tiebreaker and currently hold at least a game in hand on everyone in front of them except for Montreal. At the same time, a loss to the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park would see the Men in Red leapfrog the Dynamo into sixth place with nine matches remaining.

Chicago Fire
Current Points: 34 (10-10-4)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home / 6 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-1 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 31.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: After failing to win a game in the month of March, the Fire’s 8-3-3 record since the arrivals of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee in late May is nothing short of fantastic. Having said that, the team still finds itself two points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Much of the team’s success is due to holding the second best home record in the Eastern Conference (8-4-1) though the side’s away record is also the second worst (2-6-3). Perhaps worse though is that after Sunday’s game vs. Houston, the team will play just three more home matches in 2013 vs. six away games.

The key to any team making the playoffs is doing the business at home and the Fire should still aim for the maximum 12 points available there. However, in order to make the postseason again in 2013, the team needs to find ways to pick up more points on the road. Luckily they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference and visit both Toronto FC and D.C. in two of their remaining six away games.

Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-12-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-4-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 33.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. SEA, 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Crew are here because though it doesn’t seem likely, they’re still in the playoff race. In my opinion, the key for Columbus is how they do in their next two matches, both of which are at home. A win over Western Conference foes Seattle won’t be considered a “six pointer” but it will keep the Crew alive for another important midweek home date vs. Houston.

26 August 12:28 pm

If there was ever a game for our schizophrenic 2013 Fire to overcome on what in any other week might have been a highly appealing Friday night home game - this was it.

Squad issues: Hunter Jumper had to replace suspended Bakary Soumare and his calming presence, while new arrivals Arevalo Rios and Juan Luis Anangono are still working to fit neatly into the side.

Opponent: KC, the only team to beat the Fire at Toyota Park in the Mike Magee era, coming to town with Graham Zusi and Teal Bunbury back fit, the team with the most headed goals in MLS against the Fire’s makeshift center back pairing.

Off the field: Coach Frank Klopas was suspended, national headlines off the field, time running out on the playoff race.

And then, like they’ve done time and again this year, the Fire rebounded from a disappointing loss to play up to their potential and not only take all three points, but also show the fans that there’s real quality on this team.

Whereas Rios and Jeff Larentowicz seemed out of rhythm in New England, they matched each other swimmingly on Friday, stepping and dropping, playing each other in tight spaces, and frustrating Benny Feilhaber and the rest.

Whereas wide players created next to nothing in New England, Dilly Duka was a force on the right on Friday. Meanwhile, Alex, who seemed out of place as a substitute deployed wide in New England, picked his runs to the middle of the field with considerable vision on Friday, providing support for Magee and Chris Rolfe up top, pushing counter attacks forward, and getting back to help prevent Zusi’s service on KC’s right side.

So let’s give credit to the squad for playing up to their potential in yet another massive game for the Fire. Let’s also look briefly at the magic of the 4-4-2 formation, that often-mocked old school set up the Fire rely on because Arrigo Sacchi and (occasionally) Sir Alex Ferguson aside, it’s not exactly the formation of kings.

The 4-4-2 is the everyman’s formation, the formation you play in your rec league, the most logical way to cover the field and balance attack with defense. Yet at the top level, it’s fallen out of fashion in the past decade or so thanks to the emergence of the three man midfield, Vicente Del Bosque’s 7-midfielder thing, and the desire to free up superstar players in attacking positions.

But the Fire proved that the 4-4-2 is still a viable formation in the right setting. Unlike complicated, imbalanced, shifting formations, the 4-4-2 is less about creating specific advantages in areas of the field than it is about creating 1v1 situations everywhere. That means it’s about winning individual battles, endeavoring for second balls off 50/50s, and that extra 10-yard sprint.

Of course it has its subtler points: overlapping outside backs, the way Magee dropped deeper once Anangono came on to make it more of a 4-4-1-1, etc. But what we saw on Friday night was a team focused on working hard on and off the ball for the entire game. In that way, Hunter Jumper’s scrappy goal was a perfect game-winner, because all game the Fire were on the ground, reaching balls just an inch before KC player’s could.

The commitment seemed to shoot out from Rios and Larentowicz’s eyes. They were everywhere, covering far more space than two men ought to, sliding around, starting counter attacks, holding the ball, and annoying KC all game.

You could say it’s a weakness of the 4-4-2, that it takes complete self-sacrifice. But you have only to look at the reaction of Rios at the final whistle to see that the pride in exhaustion is always worth it. 

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

24 August 12:32 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toyota Park – August 23, 2013
 
Mike Matkovich, Chicago Fire Assistant Coach
 
On the atmosphere
 
“How about those guys tonight? How about the Fire? They played good, good for them. I’m so happy for the guys. They came out here tonight in a playoff atmosphere.”
 
Patrick Nyarko returned after missing two matches with injury but took a few hard hits. What does the team have to do to protect one of its best players?
 
“The most important thing is we went through the protocol. The league does a very good job, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s point 1, 2, 3, 4 all these steps they have to take, so the training staff felt he could give us 30 minutes. We knew that going in, and that was the game plan going in there. It’s a game of contact sometimes guys get hit. He will just get better as we go. He took a tough hit at the DC game.”
 
On Hunter Jumper scoring his first career MLS goal
 
“I am just so happy for Hunter, this is his chance. We talked before the game about giving guys opportunities. He played like a veteran tonight. He was focused and we kept things simple for him. What can you say? He has got to be the man of the match in my eyes.”
 
On the shutout
 
“We kept things tight, obviously they hit a crossbar and we had a brick. You know how it is in this game, you take your chances. For the most part we were pretty strong defensively. We kept things simple early in the game and played in their half. There were times where I thought we could’ve played a bit more. It’s hard to find those moments to play. Overall defensively I thought the guys rolled their sleeves up tonight. At halftime we said you know it’s 45 minutes and you have another 45 minutes of the fight.”
 
On overcoming this week’s distractions
 
“Those things happen in this sport. Professionally the guys are focused and that stuff happens off the field. More importantly we are a group and we are focused on the field. We knew what was at stake. Every point is valuable, so we can’t let that stuff distract us right now that we are in the middle of a playoff race. Most important thing is what happens on the field.”
 
On the play of Arevalo Rios
 
“I think he is just going to get better. It is going to take some time for them to figure him out. The guy has played in two World Cups obviously he gives you everything he has. He has leadership, I know he doesn’t speak English but he leads by example and he is such a great guy to have. He is a true professional and comes in here every day and works hard. It’s just a pleasure to have him on the team.”
 
On Anangono being an impact player
 
“Any time a guy comes to a new country and a new environment it’s going to take some time. He had a great shot, but we just have to give him time. The nice thing about the guy is that he didn’t start and came in played his role and helped us win and that’s the most important thing. Sometimes guys come in and are not team guys, but this guy is clearly a team guy. I think he’s going to get better as we go along. There are so many players throughout the world that have changes. Sometimes it takes up to six months. We will be patient, we like what we saw tonight, his goal is coming.
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On Hunter Jumper tallying a  goal and assist in only two appearances:
           
“I didn’t see the first game he played in, but you can throw away the goal and defensively tonight he was amazing.  To shutout a team like K.C. is as difficult as it gets and he was fabulous.”
 
On the team playing with a chip on their shoulder:
 
“We’re trying to make the playoffs; we have a big chip on our shoulder right now.  I think that playing at home we need points.  Last week we had a terrible result and this week we are trying to make up for it.”
 
Hunter Jumper, Chicago Fire defender
 
On his goal:
 
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but it feels pretty good just because we got the three points.  Going into it we knew it was a really big game.  We looked at it and we were eight points back behind first place and had two games in hand, so three points is huge.”
 
On the shutout and defensive performance:
 
“It was easy out there tonight because communication between the back four and Rios and Larentowicz was unbelievable.  Guys were talking, and when everyone is talking and helping each other out it was easy for me to step in.  Obviously we were going for it and wanted to be better on the ball, but defensively I thought we were sound and weathered the storm.  I thought they had a couple of good chances, but I think we had a couple of good chances as well, especially when Juan [Anangono] came in.  The guy can head the ball, he’s a special player.”
 
On his position change from left back to center back:
 
“I’ve been playing there in practice lately and it’s not the biggest transition, like it would be playing forward to defender.  I definitely appreciate the position a lot more because you don’t realize how much communication you have to have out there.  Last year I thought our defense was incredible – when you have guys like Arne [Friedrich], Austin [Berry] and Baky [Soumare] back there they are natural leaders.  For someone like me, you just have to be open, grow and learn the position.  I just pushed myself and hopefully it won’t be too much of a transition.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On the shutout:
 
“It shows a lot about our team’s character and will.  I think we’ve been okay defensively for the past 11 games or so, but to get a shutout shows and reflects all the hard work we’ve been putting in week in and week out.  I think we deserved it tonight – we fought, we battled and we made plays when we had to and came away with a result.”Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes
 
On the match:
 
“We gave up a very amateur goal early in the first half.  It gave them some life.  We were chasing ever since.  I thought we created more than enough chances to get back in it.  We actually really had some good chances and the frustrating thing is we didn’t score.  That’s really on us.  At the end, you have to score.  That’s what the game is about.  When you don’t score, you’re not going to win.  You’re not going to get back into the game.  Unfortunately, we really needed to put the pressure on and I think we would have scored.  It would have changed the game a little bit for them as well.  They were content with just bunkering down and countering, bunkering, and countering.  They never really built the ball out of the back at all.  They played every ball long from the very get go.  It’s obviously is a much different game.  Anyway, I think we should have scored.”
 
On the upcoming game in Honduras:
 
“We got to do it, right?  After winning the Open Cup last year, that’s the world we are in.  We want to be in the competitions.  It’s exciting for us to be involved in that.  We need to continue to stay in form for the league as well, not just the Champions League.  Good thing is, we have a lot of games left and we have to get back on it quick.”
 
Sporting KC Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen
 
On the having more opportunities to score in the second half:
 
“Yea, I think we did.  I think we started extremely poorly.  We gave up a couple of chances, we gave up a goal.  We were struggling for the first twenty, twenty-five minutes, the last piece of the first half and second half, we did everything we could.  You don’t win games when you don’t score goals.  We created some good chances but we weren’t sharp enough to score with them.”
 
On needing three points to pull ahead of New York:
 
“We should probably not focus on winning our division now and we should focus on making the playoffs now.  Focus on the next point.  The last five points we’ve got five points and we are still in it, which is impressive but the train is going and if you want to be on it, it’s now.”
 
Sporting KC Forward Teal Bunbury
 
On the differences between the first half and the second half:
 
“I felt like we played well in the first half, we were creating a lot of chances but we weren’t putting them in the back of the net.  We had a little mishap and the Fire were able to put it in the back of the net and that’s how they got their goal.  But besides that, I felt like we put them under a lot of pressure and they didn’t have too many chances other than the one they put away.  We had a decent amount and could have done better.  Overall, I felt like we had a really good game, despite not putting goals in the back of the net.”
 
On feeling frustrated not getting the equalizer:
 
“Not really, our mentality is we don’t give up and we just continue.  There’s not a point in the game where we really got frustrated.  Obviously after losing, no one is happy but throughout the whole game I feel like we kept it even keel, didn’t get frustrated, and didn’t show too much emotion.  We were unfortunate not to get a result.”
 
On working towards keeping the team at the top of the conference:
 
“We have a great squad, great team unity.  We have a lot of games coming up, so we are going to forget this game and just move on from it.”
23 August 8:09 am

 

After a morale sapping 2-0 loss in New England last week, the Fire need to pick themselves up for the visit of Eastern Conference table toppers Sporting KC Friday night. There has been no love lost between the sides over the past few seasons and this one promises to be no different. Here are few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Changes to the Fire defense – who will replace Bakary Soumare

Since the return of Bakary Soumare, the Fire’s starting back four has remained virtually unchanged despite some less than stellar performances. Soumare’s suspension forces Frank Klopas into making a tough decision.

The two most likely options are moving Jalil Anibaba into the middle and replacing him with Logan Pause/Wells Thompson/Mike Videra or keeping Jalil at right back and drafting Hunter Jumper into the middle.

The latter seems the more likely choice, especially considering Jumper’s height and the coaching staff’s desire to play big men against Sporting KC in the past. Jumper has had limited playing time this season (just one appearance so far) and will need to adjust to a SKC team who started off so well at Toyota Park last time out.

A strong start and scoring first will be a huge boost to the Fire psychologically.

How to break SKC down – target the outside defenders

Kansas City have the second best defensive record in the East thanks in part to a brilliant goalkeeper and rock solid central defense pairing but it’s on the outside of the defensive four that some cracks appear.

In SKC’s recent loss against New York, more than one of the goals scored by the Red Bulls came from getting in behind the defense. With players like Mike Magee, who is so good at making runs, the Fire need to be trying to play through balls as much as possible Friday night.

Getting into 1v1 situations with the SKC outside backs is another good tactic. Joel Lindpere has made no secret of his desire to play in the middle and not on the wing, where he feels that his lack of place and ability to take a man on are on show.

With that in mind, switching Alex to the wing is a good option. With Alex and Dilly Duka on the wings, the SKC outside defenders would certainly be on the back foot for most of the night.

SKC wing play – don’t allow easy crosses

Just as the Fire should be looking to attack down the wings, the Men in Red must also be wary of SKC’s wide play. Normally, SKC rely on U.S. international Graham Zusi to create from midfield but in his absence, more emphasis has been put on getting the ball wide and putting crosses into the box for Bieler, Kamara and Saad.

In Sporting’s last match against New England, this tactic worked to perfection, with the first two goals of the night coming from crosses. New England allowed the SKC players far too much room to pick people out with crosses.

The Fire must be quicker to close Kansas City down, especially when they get the ball into the wide areas. It is expected that Zusi will be back in the starting lineup tonight but his presence should not distract the Fire from concentrating, not allowing Sporting players time on the ball.

Prediction: It’s a must win for the Fire and I expect them to come out on top: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee.

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

07 July 6:32 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toyota Park – July 7, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On how the team performed today
 
“It was all in the start. We needed to have a good start to the game. It’s very difficult when you fall behind that early 2-0 because on a hot day like this you have to put in a lot of energy to come back. We got the one goal, which was important, but then in the second half we got some good chances and we weren’t able to come back, so obviously the start wasn’t what we wanted and falling behind 2-0 made it very difficult to come back. The guys put a lot into the game but we just have to move on now and just focus on the next game, regroup, see where the guys are, and get ready to go on the road.”
 
On if the loss was due to an inexperienced keeper
 
“He wasn’t inexperienced last year when he stepped in and played so I don’t look at it like that. I think it’s a position where you need games and rhythm to play and things that that will happen. We just have to move on.”
 
On the first half of the season and where the team is expected to go
 
“The start [of the season] wasn’t what we wanted, but I think you can see we are right in the mix of things. The team has been playing really well and the results have showed that. Even in a game like today I think we fell behind and sometimes it’s difficult, especially on a hot day like this [to come back]. There are a lot of games left to play and you can see when you put two three games together when you can have some success, and get points, then you are right there in the mix of things and I feel it’s going to come all the way to the end. There’s a lot of games left to play. Obviously this was tough, being at home with a great crowd behind us, but we weren’t going to go undefeated the whole season so we just have to regroup and go on another run like we did.”
 
On giving up goals on second balls and set pieces
 
“I think before the ball goes out we have opportunities to stop plays. [We could] maybe make better decisions with the ball, but when you do give it up everybody has to focus and concentrate and just stick with their assignments. Sometimes in a game, [mistakes] happen, Zusi tries to cross the ball and it goes upper 90. For sure that is an area as a team [we can work on]. It’s always difficult coming back. We talk about it, but now we have to make sure that we do have better starts to games where we don’t fall behind. That’s something we have to keep working on and  talking about. Also [we need to start] going out there with the mentality to start the game from the beginning.”
 
Austin Berry, Chicago Fire defender
 
On allowing set piece goals:
 
“We need to have the mentality of being the first to challenge for the ball and not let it bounce and sticking with your marks – that’s just not for the first ball, but the second ball, too, and clearing it out.  The older guys and leaders need to make sure everyone is ready to go, and I think we were.  We just weren’t tight enough, just not sharp enough for the first 10 minutes.”
 
Paolo Tornaghi, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On why the team has started games so poorly:
 
“That’s the million dollar question, I don’t know.  That’s a tough question to answer.  We come out hoping for a good start and a good result.  In recent games we’re giving up too much in the beginning and trying to comeback.  Last game we did, but of course today it was a lot harder.”
 
On the benefits of playing more:
 
“Today I felt a lot better than I did in the game before.  The game in the beginning I was a little nervous because it had been several games since the last time I played, but now I’m rolling and it will get better game after game.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On lack time of possession:
 
“I wish I knew why [the Fire had such a small time of possession].  I think we felt the game was tied or we were winning, we were just going to sit back and be content.  Unfortunately we were down 2-1, so it wasn’t a very good game plan.”
 
On coming back from being down two goals:
 
“It’s déjà vu.  We’ve been saying it after every game that eventually it was going to catch up to us.  Obviously tonight it did.”
 
On his All-Star selection:
 
“I’m still fuming over the game today.  Yesterday I really wanted it, but today all I’m thinking about is how badly this loss feels at home in front of our biggest crowd that we’ve had since I’ve been here.  We literally laid down.”
 
Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes
 
Thoughts on the match:
 
“I thought the first half for both teams was really difficult.  There was limited air flow in the stadium.  In the second half the wind picked up and I think it helped both teams a little bit.  The good thing is we scored a goal off a set piece we’ve been working on.  That’s a good thing.  I’m not sure if he was crossing it or shooting it, but it went into the back of the net and we need to get those sometimes.  We shouldn’t have given one up like we did in the 38th minute, but I think it gave them a little life.  I really thought we managed the game in the second half really well.  We were unlucky not to get a third one.”
 
On taking points away from a conference rival:
 
“I think we’re been really good this year in conference so these conference games we realize how important they are to us.  We have to continue to keep doing well against our conference teams.  I don’t know if it’s anything added.  We go about our business with a lot of consistency.  Sometimes you fall out of form a little bit and it all depends on how fast you get back into form.  I think the good thing is the guys are committed to working towards that.”
 
Sporting KC Midfielder Graham Zusi
 
On his goal-whether it was a shot or a cross:
 
“No, it was a cross.  [Jokes that] Benny’s was a cross though.”
 
On the slower pace of the game:
 
“It was tough conditions.  Very humid, very hot.  I think it took us until the second half to catch our wind and get going.  Luckily we got a couple early goals and it makes it a bit easier on yourself.”
 
Sporting KC Midfielder Benny Feilhaber
 
On coming away with a win:
 
“We did well to get a two-goal win early in the game.  Our tactics were a little different, playing away from home against a team like Chicago who has been playing really well the last month or two.  We wanted to draw them out and get the chances on the break.  I think we did well, and we stuck to the game plan.  We were able to hold the result because we were able to play a really good second half as well.”
 
On keeping the Fire off the scoreboard in the second half:
 
“I think we were really good in the second half.  I thought there were a couple moments early in the second half or maybe late in the first half, especially in the first half where we gave up the goal, we sort of turned off for a second and that goal definitely should not have happened.  I thought we played well in the second half, kept the ball.  I think we were the smarter of the two teams in the second half and we deserved three points today.”
 
On getting a win away from home:
 
“It feels good.  Especially against a team that’s been playing so well, probably one of the hottest teams in the league and coming away from home and getting three points is huge for us.”
06 July 9:58 am

The Fire will host Sporting KC on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park attempting to extend their unbeaten run to double digits after a dramatic five-goal thriller against San Jose midweek while KC comes to Chicago after a disappointing home draw against Vancouver.

Both teams are not on friendly terms and this looks set to be a thriller. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Limiting the set pieces – Don’t allow Zusi to work his magic

Sporting KC have a double threat on set pieces with a number of players who are very good in the air and they have Graham Zusi, one of the best strikers of a dead ball in MLS.

At the back, Frenchman Aurelien Collin is not only strong but always makes a nuisance of himself in the box. Up front, they’ve benefited from the return of striker Kei Kamara who spent some time with Norwich in the Premier League.

Dan and Kevin talk Sporting KC

TICKETS: Fire vs. Sporting KC

In KC’s last match against Vancouver, Kamara came very close to scoring from headers on multiple occasions not by outmuscling his opponent like Collin does but simply by out jumping them.

Like quite a few teams in MLS, Kansas City also possesses a modified set play – the long throw. Just as Jalil Anibaba deploys the it almost whenever possible for the Fire, SKC center back Matt Besler does the same.

The Fire gave away a silly goal from a set piece last week and better defending will be needed against a team that is well known for their set piece prowess.

Keeping SKC’s attacking wide players at bay – neutralizing Saad and Kamara

Kansas City starts in a 4-3-3 formation with striker Claudio Bieler in the middle with Kei Kamara and Soony Saad supporting him wide. Many teams are so focused (and I don’t blame them) on Bieler and attacking mid Graham Zusi that sometimes Saad and Kamara are overlooked and both players are good at finding space.

Coach Peter Vermes constantly orders the players to switch sides during play which makes picking them up even harder. In Kansas City’s last win against Columbus, Kamara chipped in with two goals, the first coming from a fantastic switch of the field which found Kamara in space that he was able to control and finish.

The attacking nature of Sporting’s outside defenders also gives Kamara and Saad an excuse to get into the middle and support Bieler. There will be some 1v1 battles between Saad and the Fire outside defenders but it will certainly take a team effort to keep the wide men at bay on Sunday afternoon.

Letting the Fire wingers create – creating room for Nyarko and Duka change the game

Anyone who has watched the Fire closely this season will tell you that winger Patrick Nyarko is playing the best the best soccer of his career and if he can overcome the tight hamstring that brought him out early against San Jose and start against KC the Fire have a great chance of winning. 

Athletico Coaching Corner with Mike Matkovich

Nyarko has done it all for the team this year, be it tracking back to win the ball from his opponent, beating a man in a 1v1 situation or combining well with his teammates.

In the midweek win against San Jose, Nyarko did something many critics of the Fire often call out for more of,  getting into the box to support the strikers. Nyarko not only got in but made a great near post run and finished superbly.

The cross provided for the Nyarko goal came from Dilly Duka who is starting to show his true potential. Duka had a goal and an assist in the win against San Jose and could’ve had a few more if not for narrowly missing a few rockets from outside the box.

READ: Will Nyarko be good to go Sunday?

In the past few weeks, Dilly has been a major threat from the wide positions, beating players at will and putting in numerous dangerous crosses. Duka has also got into the box to great effect, scoring two goals in as many matches.

The dual threat of attacking from wide areas as well as providing support in the box should cause the SKC back line some major issues on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: Fire critics have claimed the club has yet to beat an elite team during the side’s nine-game unbeaten streak but I think those critics will be silenced on Sunday afternoon. 2-1 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

05 June 1:15 pm

The potential quarterfinal pairings for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup set to be played Wednesday, June 26:

1) Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew winner hosts Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City winner

2) D.C. United/Philadelphia Union winner hosts New England Revolution/New York Red Bulls winner

3) FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo winner hosts Portland Timbers/Tampa Bay Rowdies winner

4) Real Salt Lake/Charleston Battery winner hosts Carolina RailHawks/Chivas USA winner

Click Here to buy tickets for the Fire's Fourth Round USOC match vs. the Columbus Crew (Wednesday June 12th, 7:30pm Toyota Park)