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Tactical Preview

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

26 July 10:09 am

After a confidence boosting 4-1 win over D.C. United at Toyota Park last weekend, the Fire fly south to take on the Houston Dynamo at the fortress that is BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday night (LIVE 8pm CT on NBC Sports / La Ley 107.9 FM). Houston beat Premier League side Stoke City 2-0 at midweek and currently occupy the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a position the Fire is fighting for.

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

Shadowing Andrew Driver – A threat both inside and out

Englishman Andrew Driver has had a stellar debut season in MLS for the Dynamo and his versatility has made him one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS this season.

WATCH: Match Preview: Fire vs. Dynamo

Though naturally left footed, Driver is comfortable playing on either wing and is most dangerous when playing on the right, where he can cut in onto his left foot.

Though not on the level of Brad Davis, Driver’s crossing ability and dead ball prowess gives Houston another dimension and makes the Texas team even more threatening on set pieces.

READ: Fire winger Duka a no-go for Houston

When the ball is on the other side of the field, Driver gets into the box to support the forwards and has chipped in with three goals this season.

He’s also not afraid to come inside and switch positions with withdrawn striker Giles Barnes who played primarily on the wing in England before being converted by Houston coach Dom Kinnear.

Driver’s most recent goal came against D.C. United in May where he won the ball and played it wide to Will Bruin before bursting into the box and receiving a return pass before finishing.

Tracking Driver’s runs when he does cut inside will be key on Saturday night.

How to beat the Houston backline – 1v1s and runs off the ball

In last week’s match against D.C., the Fire forwards, most notably Chris Rolfe, made some brilliant runs off the ball and were found by great penetrating passes from midfield. Both of Rolfe’s goals came from off the ball runs and more of the same will be needed on Saturday.

A weakness of the Houston defense is paying too much attention to the person with the ball and neglecting to pick up the runs from other forwards or midfielders.

In the Dynamo’s last league match against New England, they allowed Diego Fagundez to pass the ball to Chad Barrett at the top of the box and pick up a return pass unmarked in the box. But for some better finishing, the Dynamo would’ve been a goal down.

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In the Dynamo’s last league loss against the Red Bulls, the killer second goal came when the Houston defense fixated on Thierry Henry, allowing Johnny Steele to make a run into the box unmarked and the Irishman scored after a simple through ball from Henry.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Off the ball runs from Rolfe and Mike Magee can open up the Houston defense and it will be up to players like Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere to find the strikers as they did so well last Saturday.

The center midfield battle – who starts for the Fire

In recent weeks, Fire coach Frank Klopas has stuck with the midfield duo of Jeff Larentowicz and Alex to great effect but there are others knocking on the door for a starting spot and Saturday’s match could be the perfect time to make a change.

Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are back from injury and suspension respectively and I believe one could come into the starting lineup in place of Alex.

Houston are a team that have high-energy midfielders such as Adam Moffatt, Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. All three are not afraid to get forward and this will force the Fire’s two center midfielders to protect the back line.

With the fluidity of players like Giles Barnes, Driver and Garcia to deal with, a player like Pause or Paladini who are more defensive minded than Alex, may be more suited to deal with the flooded midfield.

Against a team like Houston, you must watch for through balls in behind the defense. A player like Logan Pause, who reads the game so well defensively and is constantly intercepting opposition passes, could be a better fit tactically.

Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Chris Rolfe.

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

19 July 9:07 am

The Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday evening after a disappointing display in Vancouver last weekend, giving up three second half goals to the Whitecaps. D.C. come to town (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) after last playing out a 0-0 draw in Colorado on July 7. With D.C. sitting last in the East and the Fire slipping back from the playoff positions in recent weeks, this game is extremely important.

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

Team defense – be wary of quick transitions

In last weekend’s match against Vancouver, individual errors were again to blame for the Fire not coming back with any points but the team’s defending in transition also left something to be desired.

When the Fire turn the ball over, it is up to the team as a whole to defend, obviously not just the back four. D.C. will be looking to catch the Fire on the break as much as possible and when this happens, Fire players, most notably the outside defenders must turn attack into defense.

READ: Pause likely to be back for D.C.

Against Vancouver last weekend, the Whitecaps first goal came from a quick transition from a corner where the Fire were caught with too many players up the field. The Men in Red should be able to create multiple chances against D.C. and while getting forward and coming up with chances is important, the players must not neglect their defensive responsibilities.

DC getting back to full strength – DeLeon and Porter return

Athletico Coaching Corner on D.C. 

Over the past few matches, D.C. United have been without two of their start players, Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter due to injury and international duty respectively. Both look set to return to the team on Saturday night which will be a big boost to the Black and Red.

Though still raw, Porter’s crossing and 1v1 abilities make him one of the best up-and-coming wingers in MLS, while DeLeon’s creativity in the attack is also a major threat. D.C. have only scored eight goals this season but Porter and DeLeon have either scored or assisted in three of those.

That may sound like a small number but when you’ve only scored eight, contributing to three makes you responsible for almost half of the teams goals!  

Because D.C. plays with one recognized striker, the emphasis is on players like DeLeon and Porter to get forward and support the lone striker whenever possible. The more the Fire can isolate both players and not allow them to link with the lone striker and withdrawn forward Chris Pontious, the better.

Targeting the middle two – getting past Kitchen and Thorrington

D.C. plays a system with two recognized defensive midfielders, presumed Saturday night to be John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen. Unlike Vancouver, whose three central midfielders often get forward to support the attacking three, D.C.’s pair are very much holding midfielders.

Both players sit in front of the back four to provide cover which makes D.C. a very difficult team to break down. There are times however when one of the central two is dragged wide, leaving space in the middle to exploit. When this happens, players like Alex must step forward and take advantage.

READ: Johnson keeping tabs on Fire from USMNT camp

Recognizing when these opportunities present themselves and quicker switches of the point of attack from the wing to the middle are things I am looking to see on Saturday night.

After the last home match against Kansas City, Mike Magee criticized his teammates for not getting forward in larger numbers in the second half when the team was down.

If the Fire can get more people forward and force Kitchen and Thorington into 2v1 situations, the team will create chances.

Prediction: 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Nyarko and Alex  

12 July 10:50 am

 
After a disappointing home loss against Sporting KC last weekend, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday to face a resurgent Vancouver Whitecaps side. The ‘Caps beat arch rivals Seattle last weekend and are unbeaten in five games.
 
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
 
Shaun Francis full debut – a baptism of fire?
 
Shaun Francis only joined the Fire Wednesday and seems likely to make his full debut for the team in Vancouver. The left back should replace suspended stalwart Gonzalo Segares and will need to hit the ground running in an intimidating atmosphere.
 
Luckily for Francis, Vancouver are without their usual wide right player in the 4-3-3 formation, Russell Teibert who is in Canada’s Gold Cup squad. The winger has tallied six assists this season, twice the amount of the leading Fire player (Jeff Larentowicz and Daniel Paladini with three) . Instead of facing the pace of Teibert, Francis will likely be battling Corey Hertzog, who is in his first season with Vancouver.
 
Francis, who likes to get forward, will also have to face another outside back who likes to do the same in Young-Pyo Lee. Despite being 36, Lee is an extremely fit player and though he has lost a step of pace, is still very dangerous in the attack.
 
It will also be interesting to see how well Francis and presumed starting left mid Dilly Duka combine in Vancouver. A strong performance in this away game will not only boost Francis’ confidence but will be necessary if the Fire want to leave Canada with points in the bag.
 
The Fire’s back four – cutting out the individual mistakes
 
Before the game against Kansas City last weekend, ESPN showed a stat that since the arrival of Bakary Soumare, the team’s goals against average per game has dropped. This is certainly true but stats can also be deceiving.
 
In the KC game, the Fire had a shambolic first 10 minutes defensively, giving up two very soft goals. The first came from a poor clearance from a long throw and the second from allowing KC’s best player Graham Zusi too much space to shoot/cross from outside the box.
 
Since the arrival of Bakary Soumare and the switch of Jalil Anibaba to right back, the team’s back four has remained stable and for the most part work well as a unit. Individual errors like those in the SKC game are the issue.
 
These are a hard thing for a coaching staff to work on because the majority are mental mistakes.  It’s been nine games in the league since the Men in Red kept a clean sheet and one would be very welcome on Sunday evening. If the back four and goalkeeper can keep their concentration for 90 minutes and communicate well with one another, a clean sheet can be achieved.
 
Breaking down the Whitecaps – how to defeat the 4-3-3
 
Vancouver coach Marin Rennie favors a 4-3-3 formation with three ball-winning midfielders and three attackers who are very mobile. There are a few weak spots in this formation however that the Fire should look to exploit.
The first is getting balls in behind the three-man midfield, either by playing through balls or looking over the top. In Vancouver’s last loss, a 3-2 defeat by Seattle, the Sounders were able to get behind the three-man wall catching the Whitecaps center backs out of position.
The Sounders capitalized numerous times in that match when gaps opened up between the Whitecaps center backs. In Vancouver’s recent 3-1 win against Chivas USA, the Chivas goal also came from getting behind the central midfielders, this time from a brilliant pass from the center of the park which split the Vancouver mids and resulted in a 1v1 between the Chivas striker and a Whitecaps defender.
Another area where the 4-3-3 can be exploited is on the outside, a strong area for the Fire. Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka’s ability to stretch the three man midfield of Vancouver will be very important, not only because it leaves gaps in the middle to exploit, but it also forces one of the midfielders into a 1v1 battle with one of the Fire wide men. I would bet on our wingers in that fight.
When you add the Fire’s outside defenders to that equation, it makes it difficult for Vancouver to defend. I look for the likes of Alex, Nyarko and Duka to try and exploit the 4-3-3 system whenever possible, for the Fire’s benefit. 
Prediction: 1-1 with a goal from Alex.
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.

02 July 10:06 am

After the weekend off, the Fire head back on the field Wednesday night against the San Jose Earthquakes with the team looking to extend its eight-game unbeaten streak to nine (LIVE 7:00pm CT on My50).

San Jose played late Saturday night against LA and came from two goals and a man down to win 3-2. Both teams are still on the outside of the playoff spots looking in but are moving in the right direction. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective Wednesday night.

Gold Cup changes – Both San Jose and the Fire missing players – who will it affect more?

Both the Earthquakes and the Fire will be missing players due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments but in terms of sheer numbers, San Jose is certainly hit harder. The California club is sending four players to compete while goalkeeper Sean Johnson is the Fire’s only representative.

The Earthquakes will also be without center back Victor Bernardez who picked up a red card against LA.

READ: "July is my moment" says Paolo Tornaghi

The losses of last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and dynamic midfielder Marvin Chavez are especially tough and San Jose will certainly be relying even more on strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon Wednesday.

Paolo Tornaghi is no stranger to the Fire net but will be looking to put in a better performance than his last MLS outing, giving up four goals at home to Chivas USA back in March.

Still, Tornaghi is an excellent goalkeeper and could easily be starting for another team in MLS. With Sean Johnson missing for the better part of a month, this is a chance for the former Inter Milan ‘keeper to really step up and force coach Frank Klopas into making a tough decision on the starting job once Johnson returns.

Keeping an eye on the outsides – Morrow and Beitashour are attacking threats

When you have strikers who are good in the air like San Jose has with the likes of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon you want your wide players to be able to put a good cross in. The Earthquake’s wing backs can certainly do that.

Rolfe, Tornaghi Preview San Jose

Both Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour enjoy getting forward and their crossing ability is outstanding. Thankfully Gonzalo Segares did not get called into Costa Rica’s Gold Cup squad and his battle against Beitashour will be one to watch on Wednesday.

Beitashour’s numbers are certainly down from last season where he recorded six assists but he is still a player the Fire cannot allow space to cross the ball into the box.

In the ‘Quakes last away match against D.C. United last month, Morrow got forward a lot more than this past weekend’s match against LA. The outside backs attempted a combined 13 crosses in that match compared to only seven in the LA match.

Limiting the number of crosses should be a goal for the Men in Red on Wednesday night.

Tightening up at the back – important for Berry and Soumare to get their positioning right

With the possibility of both Lenhart and Alan Gordon starting for San Jose, both Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must be prepared for some bruising physical battles.

Another thing the central defenders must keep an eye on is their positioning. An overlooked aspect of the Fire’s 5-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal last week was the amount of good chances Orlando had, especially on 1v1 duels with Sean Johnson.

READ: Could Victor Pineda's first team debut be in sight?

The Orlando strikers were able to get as many chances as they did due to some positioning errors by the Fire’s central defenders. Better communication between the pair, the back line and goalkeeper as a whole should correct this problem.

This will also be Tornaghi’s first match playing with Soumare so it will be interesting to see how good the players’ communication with one another is.

At times Berry and Soumare make it hard for themselves with some lackluster positioning which resulted in them having to make up ground and make some last ditch tackles, something we saw against Orlando on more than one occasion.

Though Gordon and Lenhart are more about physicality than movement, I look for the Fire center backs to tighten up a bit on Wednesday and continue to improve on their less than one goal a game against average during this current eight-game unbeaten streak.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Patrick Nyarko and “Magic” Mike Magee

21 June 8:54 am

The Men in Red extended their unbeaten streak to six games across all competitions on Wednesday night (4-0-2), coming behind to defeat the Colorado Rapids 2-1. Columbus notched a big win against Montreal last time out and face difficult trips to Kansas City and LA after the Saturday’s home game against the Fire.

Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective in this big match for both teams (LIVE Saturday 6:30pm CT on My50).

The turnover game - both teams will look to pressure each other’s back line

In the Crew’s most recent loss to the Union earlier this month, the Ohio team had major problems retaining possession when put under pressure. The Union forwards, especially Jack McInerny, did not allow Columbus time on the ball and the pressure led to Philly getting on the score sheet.

Johnson, Rolfe Preview Columbus

As we know, players like Mike Magee, Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko are excellent at putting pressure on the opponent’s defense and this will be important on Saturday night.

On the other side of the coin, the Crew like to deploy the high pressure tactic too, with former Fire player Dominic Oduro often hunting down defenders and not allowing them time on the ball.

READ: Berry recovers from blunder with winning goal vs. Rapids

In the Crew's 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact last weekend, Oduro stole the ball from a Montreal defender before slotting home the Crew's second goal in the 22nd minute.

Fire defender Austin Berry had an unfortunate incident in Wednesday's match against Colorado where he was stripped of the ball allowing rookie Deshorn Brown to give Colorado the lead.

In a game that is expected to be very tight, the team making the least mental mistakes could end up on top.

The battle on the left side - Duka/Lindpere vs Anor

Columbus winger Bernardo Anor won many plaudits for his performance against Montreal last week on his first start back from a horrible ACL injury.

The left-footed Venezuelan started on the right against the Impact and will be looking to build on that performance against the Fire Saturday night.

On the same side of the field, coach Frank Klopas will be choosing between former Crew winger Dilly Duka and veteran Joel Lindpere for the start.

Dan and Kevin Talk Crew

Duka played his best game for the Men in Red against Colorado on Wednesday night as he was able to get in 1v1 situations on numerous occasions and earned the penalty that equalized the match.

Lindpere has yet to fully live up to the high expectations put on him by Fire fans after his move from New York this offseason.

With the team in the middle of a 4 games in 11 day stretch, a start for Lindpere seems plausible.

Getting back into the stating XI in a huge Eastern Conference showdown could be the perfect motivation for Lindpere to put in a man of the match performance on Saturday night.

Dominic Oduro - A striker with a point to prove

With seven goals to his name this season, Dominic Oduro has landed on his feet in Columbus after his trade away from the Windy City. Oduro also seems to have developed into a more complete striker since his move.

The speedy Ghanaian’s patience on the ball has resulted in him making better decisions and linking with his midfielders more instead of going alone and trying to score.

What has impressed me about Oduro since the trade is his move away from a reliance on his right foot to a player that is comfortable shooting with both.

READ: The Influence of Jeff Larentowicz

Fire fans will remember Oduro's hot and cold finishing but on his day, he can be unstoppable. The Fire have held Oduro scoreless in two matches already this season but at home, the Ghanaian will be aiming to prove a point and it is up to the Fire defenders to keep him quiet on Saturday night.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with a brace from midfielder Alex

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

18 June 12:44 pm

After a rousing comeback against Portland last time out in the league, the Fire start a busy period Wednesday night against a tricky Colorado Rapids team (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) who just their six-game unbeaten streak snapped at the weekend by San Jose Earthquakes. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Exposing the Rapids center backs: targeting Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne

Colorado's usual starting pair at the center of the defense is Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor but with the Irish-born youngster in Turkey with the US U-20 team, right back Marvell Wynne has slotted into the middle.

FIRE vs. RAPIDS: Tickets Still Available

Against San Jose last week, this pairing had a lot of trouble, especially when the Quakes attacking players separated and isolated the center backs.

The movement of Rolfe and Magee, both very mobile strikers, could open up the Colorado defense. If the Fire’s attacking pair can draw Moor/Wynne out, it can lead to space being created behind them, something San Jose did well last weekend.

Keeping an eye on Deshorn Brown - the rookie has 4 assists this season

Similar to my thoughts a few weeks ago about D.C. rookie Kyle Porter, Deshorn Brown has caught my eye for Colorado this season.

Playing on the left of a front three he’s dangerous and a good supplier of the ball for striker Edson Buddle. Much of Colorado's chances in the past few matches have come from Brown’s side.

Larentowicz, Duka Preview Colorado

The Rapids will be without Atiba Harris after his red against San Jose last week which puts even more emphasis on Brown to step up in the Kittitian’s absence.

Right-sided players Jalil Anibaba and Patrick Nyarko will need to be very wary of the rookie on Wednesday night.

Fire squad rotation - my case in for it

The Men in Red have a tough stretch of 4 games in 11 days and it would be very demanding on the players to try and stick with the same starting XI for all four because of a risk of burnout.

A more likely approach would be one of steady and not drastic rotation meaning making a few changes each match and not starting a completely different team. This is of course assuming the team doesn't pick up any injuries or suspensions during this stretch.

READ: Nyarko says next eight day stretch is "crunch time"

Giving a few players a break Wednesday night with one eye on the tough away Eastern Conference match against Columbus on Saturday might be a worthwhile policy for head coach Frank Klopas.

Fire squad rotation - my case against

Something fans have criticized coach Klopas for is sticking to a regular starting XI and not making too many changes from game to game.

That being said, the team is currently unbeaten in four games and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The last 20 minutes against Portland last weekend was the team’s best spell all season and if they can continue that form the next few weeks could see us in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and moving closer to the MLS Cup playoff positions in the East.

With the back line finally stable and the Mike Magee/Chris Rolfe partnership starting to really gel, there is a strong case for coach Klopas to stick with the same XI during this run of games.

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

07 June 8:40 am

After a week of very positive results on the field, the Fire team will be full of confidence as they welcome the Portland Timbers to Toyota Park on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/La Ley 107.9FM) .

Portland are not short of confidence themselves, riding into town on an 11 game unbeaten streak. Both teams are missing players due to international duty. Here are some tactical things to keep an eye on...

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #1 – keep the diamond for the Portland game

In the Fire’s most recent MLS game against D.C. United, the team tweaked the formation and started with a 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. Jeff Larentowicz played just in front of the back four while Alex got the start at the point of the diamond.

Against D.C., this tactic worked very well as Alex was given license to stay forward and almost act as a third forward at times while helping Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe put pressure on the United back four.

Frank Klopas echoed this in a recent interview, stating “He’s had two good games, he brings that ability onto the field – when he gets the ball he can make good passes and connect plays together, another guy that supports the forwards.”

Like Magee and Rolfe, Alex is just as good without the ball at his feet, constantly making runs wide and connecting with Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere on the wings. Though the Fire didn’t have as much possession as D.C., Alex was involved in a number of counter attacks which caught United off guard.

Every fan wants to see attacking soccer from their team, especially at home, and starting Alex at the top of the diamond would certainly signal that the Fire don’t intend to sit back and allow Portland to come at them, but rather the opposite.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #2 – revert to two more defensive minded players in the middle

Even without starting striker Ryan Johnson (gone for international duty), Portland boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS. To date, the team has scored 22 goals, only 12 away from what they put up the entirety of last season.

Frenchman Frédéric Piquionne will start as the lone striker in place of Johnson but it is the support behind him that the Fire must be wary of. With players like Diego Valeri (who I will talk about more later) Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson, the team from the Rose City have a wealth of attacking options.

Because Portland plays with a 5 man midfield, a lone holding midfielder might not be enough for the Fire on Saturday night. Jeff Larentowicz did a fantastic job of stifling the D.C. attack last weekend but against a team not afraid to push men forward, a two-man combination of Pause/Paladini/Larentowicz makes more sense tactically.

Two holding midfielders would also put less pressure on wingers Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka to drop back and help out defensively. Coach Klopas also called for the team to dominate more in possession against the Timbers and playing the two central midfielders close to one another would suit this strategy.

What will be interesting is which option the Fire start the game with, knowing that the team can revert to either option simply by making a substitution and either bringing Alex on the field or off.

Stopping Diego Valeri – taking a physical approach

Over the past two seasons teams have used a number of strategies to stop Fire playmakers such as Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sebastian Grazzini. One tactic that is used very often is to be physical (and in some cases overly physical) in an attempt to keep the player from making an impact. One way to try and contain Timbers creative midfielder Diego Valeri is to take this very approach.

Back in 2011, Paladini employed this tactic against RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and after 11 minutes, Beckerman snapped, head-butting Paladini and getting sent off with the Fire ending the game as 3-0 winners.

There is certainly a fine line between kicking lumps out of a player and just being physical with him. Thankfully, the Men in Red are blessed with veteran players such as Pause and Larentowicz and players like Paladini who are well versed in the “dark arts.” 

Because Valeri is so mobile, another option would be to man-mark him but that essentially eliminates one of the Fire players’ ability to contribute to the attack. The physical approach is certainly a more practical tactic than the man marking one and if the Fire can contain Valeri and prevent him from pulling the strings in midfield, it will be very detrimental to a Portland team who rely heavily on his creativity.

Prediction: The Fire will continue to turn the corner and hand the Timbers their first defeat in 11 games. 1-0 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.

01 June 9:40 am

The Fire entertain lowly D.C. United this Sunday at Toyota Park (LIVE 4pm CT on My50/UniMas) after a week of very positive results in MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The Men in Red got a credible draw at RSL before traveling to South Carolina to take on the Charlotte Eagles, winning 2-0 and advancing to the fourth round of the Cup.

D.C. dropped a 2-0 result to Portland at RFK Stadium last weekend and squeezed by the Richmond Kickers on penalties in the Cup at midweek. Here are some tactical things to look out for during Sunday afternoon’s game.

Magee and Rolfe – a budding partnership to continue up front?

Fire newbie Mike Magee made his debut against the Eagles on Tuesday and combined well with Chris Rolfe up front with both players tallying in the win.

Rolfe and Magee looked to get each other involved in the attack and tried to play as close to one another as possible.

Coach Frank Klopas indicated after signing Magee that he feels his best position is playing up front and because both he and Rolfe are so mobile, it makes sense to continue to start the pair against a D.C. team
that has struggled on the defensive end this season.

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Soumare, Rolfe preview D.C. United

Magee showed on Tuesday how much of a threat he is in the air and his inclusion in front of Maicon Santos and Sherjill MacDonald will not hurt the Fire in terms of having an aerial threat up front.

Magee’s move up front also allows Patrick Nyarko to slot back into a wide position which allows him to be more creative and take players on.

This new partnership has the potential to blossom into a very successful one and the more time both players get to spend on the field together, the better.

Exposing the Kitchen/DeLeon partnership – taking advantage when one gets forward

In D.C.’s last game against Portland the team played Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen together in the middle of the field, similar to how the Fire play with Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause.

When D.C. attacked, either DeLeon or Kitchen would get forward to support Chris Pontius and Carlos Ruiz.

This left the team with only one holding midfielder and Portland took full advantage of this, breaking at every opportunity and opening D.C. up with either a long ball into space or attacking through the middle where they only faced one holding player.

Portland’s stretching of the field during the counter attacks opened up huge pockets of space in the middle and players like Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe were able to get forward and put real pressure on the United defense. 

Kitchen is a more disciplined player than the sophomore DeLeon and the Fire must look to try and take advantage of this when D.C. turn the ball over in an advanced position.

Keeping an eye on Kyle Porter – DC’s tricky winger

I admit that the Portland/DC game was the first time I had seen Kyle Porter play and he impressed me a lot. Porter reminded me of a young Justin Mapp, a player with great promise but who can also be very frustrating at times.

Porter is very good in 1v1 situations but sometimes tries to do too much with the ball and not make the simple pass. Porter’s crossing ability is also very impressive and he put numerous free kicks into dangerous positions.

Porter combined well with veteran James Riley on the right wing and Fire left back Gonzalo Segares will be tested on Sunday night. That being said, Porter can also be a bit naive on the defensive side of the ball and the Fire should look to exploit the space behind him if he is slow to track back.

Prediction: Statistically, D.C. is the weakest team in MLS and with the Fire playing at home, three points is a must. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.