Blog

Tactical Preview

24 May 9:54 am

The Fire head west to Utah on Saturday night after dropping two games against the Union both at home and in Philadelphia. The team is without a goal in three games and face a daunting task against \ in-form Real Salt Lake (7:30pm CT on My50). RSL swept Chivas aside last weekend, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The return of Soumare – more changes for the Fire back line?

On Thursday, the Fire acquired former player Bakary Soumare from the Union. Soumare will provide some much-needed depth at the center back position with the long-term future of Arne Friedrich in doubt.

Soumare’s return comes at a good time for the Fire who are without a number of players due to injury and suspension. With Wells Thompson suspended, Frank Klopas could choose to move Jalil Anibaba to the right side of defense and slot Soumare in alongside Austin Berry.

Athletico Coaching Corner: Real Salt Lake

The injury to Friedrich has meant a longer than expected spell in the middle for Anibaba and in his absence, the right-back position has changed hands on numerous occasions this season.

READ: Soumare ready to start vs. RSL

Though right-back isn’t Anibaba’s natural position, the defender has played there for a lot of his Fire career and is comfortable in it.

Against a team like Salt Lake who are known for their aerial prowess, another big body on the back line like Soumare’s in addition to Anibaba and Berry would be very useful.

Getting some consistency in defense is very important from here on out and a starting four of Anibaba, Soumare, Berry and Segares would appear to have the right blend of youth and experience.

The Fire’s attack – pace vs possession

In both games vs. the Union, coach Frank Klopas started Patrick Nyarko up front with Chris Rolfe in an attempt to bring some speed to the forward line.

Against Salt Lake however, a more logical tactic would be to use a bigger body who can hold the ball up and can be used as an outlet to relieve pressure.

Sherjill MacDonald is fit again after an illness and could start up front as the target forward. This would allow the Fire to move Patrick Nyarko back to the wing, possibly in place of Joel Lindpere who has logged a lot of minutes this season.

READ: Nyarko keeps ticking despite reckless tackles

Though Nyarko’s creativity and pace in the attack worked well against Philly, his desire to track back and help the defense could prove very important, especially against a team with a wealth of attacking options  who are so offensive minded at home.

The problem with starting MacDonald up front is that he can oftentimes be left devoid of support and it will be up to players like Rolfe, and Duka to get forward and support the Dutchman.

If he does get the nod, the battle between him and the RSL center backs such as Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be very interesting to watch.

RSL’s midfielders – tracking runs into the box

RSL plays with a diamond midfield system with Kyle Beckerman anchoring and Javier Morales playing at the top of the diamond. Morales is the team’s playmaker and oftentimes acts as a third striker, getting forward to support the front two.

Duka, Larentowicz preview Real Salt Lake

Though Morales is an obvious target, players like Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil who play on the flanks cut inside on a regular basis, making runs into the middle when joining in the attack.

With this many players getting forward, the Fire must be aware not only of who is marking who but must prevent RSL from getting second ball opportunities.

Similar to the Fire for most of the season, RSL likes to play with at least one mobile striker while the other tends to play higher up the field.

The mobile striker, oftentimes Joao Plata, drifts into wide positions, usually on the right hand side. His moves out wide open up more space for players like Morales, Grabavoy and Gil to move into.

Plata has four assists this season and is a good crosser of the ball. His crossing ability was displayed earlier this month against Vancouver where he put in a perfect ball Gil to head home the winner.

Staying tight with runners from midfield and not allowing second ball opportunities will improve the Fire’s chances of getting a result on the road dramatically.

Prediction: Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the hardest places in MLS to get a result in. The Fire has had no luck this season and perhaps Saturday night will be the night. 1-1 with Chris Rolfe scoring the Fire’s goal from the penalty spot.

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

17 May 8:09 am

The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week

In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.

Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.

WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly

This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.

In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.

When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.

Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.

Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian

In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.

Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.

In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.

Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.

Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson

I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.

On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.

On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.

Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.

Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere

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

10 May 9:47 am

The Fire head into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Union (12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of a much-needed bye week after the tough loss in Montreal the week prior.

Philly tied 2-2 against lowly Seattle last time out and are set to be missing a few defenders due to injury and suspension. Both teams play each other twice over the next seven days. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective.

Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 1

The Union come into this game missing starting right back Sheanon Williams and it appears former Fire player Bakary Soumare will get the start at center back for the first time all season.

WATCH: Match Preview

This major reshuffle combined with the Fire being the home team should mean Frank Klopas’ side will be set up to attack Philly whenever possible. Williams is a loss on the right, not only for his defensive play but also his long throw ability which can be used as an offensive threat.

Filling in for Williams should be usual left back Raymon Gaddis. Gaddis looked particularly uncomfortable against New England in the Union’s last away match in April, with the youngster getting caught out by balls in behind on a few occasions.

He was also exposed when put under pressure. The Revs wingers had luck getting the ball in the box from Gaddis’ side and with this in mind, I expect to see Joel Lindpere and Gonzalo Segares getting forward and attacking Gaddis whenever possible.

Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 2

Ironically, last season’s match against the Union saw Bakary Soumare play his first and only game of the 2012 season for the Union. In that match, the Fire looked to get in 1v1 situations with the rusty defender and it paid off, with MacDonald beating Soumare before crossing for a Chris Rolfe tap in goal. This weekend’s game plan should be no different with Soumare not playing in a match since the game last August.

The Men in Red will also look to force Soumare out of the middle to cover on the outside, something no centerback likes to do. Presumed starting wingers Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere will be relishing 1v1 opportunities with the big defender.

Another area to test Soumare will be in the air. New England was able to win the ball in the aerial battle on numerous crosses into the Philly box, partially because of the hesitancy of goalkeeper Zac MacMath to come and challenge them.

A new center back pairing combined with a sometimes hesitant goalkeeper can lead to defensive errors and one such error could be decisive on Saturday afternoon.
 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Stopping the Philly attack - be ready for different combinations

When one looks at the Philly attack this season, it is easy to get distracted by the exploits of 20-year-old Jack McInerney who has notched six goals already for the Union this season.

He picked up April’s Player of the Month award and is playing the best soccer of his young career. Beyond McInerney, the Union have three excellent strikers who bring different playing styles to the table.

Veteran Conor Casey has played up front with McInerney in recent matches and has combined well with the man 11 years his junior. Both strikers are very fluid, dropping deep, moving out to the wing or playing in the advanced striker role and switching at a moment's notice.

It is much easier to prepare for what you presume to be the starting strikers will be. The challenge in Saturday's game will be the adjustments the coaching staff make if and when the Union decide to bring on some attacking substitutions.

Antoine Hoppenot and Sebastian Le Toux have started from the bench in recent matches but both have a tendency to make a big impact once brought on. Le Toux is very good with the ball at his feet and he can easily play in the second striker role, allowing McInerney to permanently move higher up the pitch.

Hoppenot scored four goals off the bench last season and has come off the bench in all but one game this season. If Le Toux does come on, dropping presumed center-mid starter Daniel Paladini a bit deeper to reduce the space Le Toux has to operate in is an option.

In-game adjustments are not often talked about but can often be the difference between three points and one.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Lindpere
 

 

26 April 9:25 am

The Fire head to Canada on Saturday to face the Montreal Impact (3:00pm CT LIVE on NBC Sports Network and La Ley 107.9 FM) on the back of their best performance of the season last weekend against Columbus.

The Impact rested quite a few players in the 2-0 Canadian Cup loss to Toronto at midweek but can jump back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective…

More changes a right back – Pause or Videira to get the start?

Johnson, Anibaba Preview Montreal

With the retrospective ban handed down to Wells Thompson, the Fire will need to make yet another change at right-back for Saturday.

Arne Friedrich’s continued absence means Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry will continue at center back, so the battle for the open spot is between Logan Pause and Mike Videira.

The latter played very well in that position away to Kansas City where the Fire got men behind the ball and held out for a 0-0 draw.

It could be argued that Videira could have held on to the right-back spot based on that KC performance if he didn’t get sidelined with a concussion late in the match.

READ: Thompson "disappointed" but accepts suspension vs. Montreal

Logan is certainly the more experienced of the pair but if he is moved to right back it would break up the three-game run the captain has had in central midfield with Jeff Larentowicz which has paid dividends of late.

Many fans were upset at Frank Klopas’ decision to drop Daniel Paladini last week (which turned out to be a stroke of genius) but shifting Logan to right back would make room for Paladini to move back into the starting eleven.

Playing away against a team with excellent wingers will require whoever Klopas chooses on the right to be very disciplined and with players like Pause and Videira, we are spoilt for choice.

Pressuring the Montreal backline – don’t let them play out of the back

Under new coach Marco Schällibaum, Montreal like to play the ball out of the back whenever possible. This can be problematic, especially when the opposing teams pressure the defenders and goalkeeper when they have the ball.

On a number of occasions this season, Montreal has been too casual when playing the ball out of the back which resulted in great opportunities for the other team. In some matches, even goalkeeper Troy Perkins was caught out trying to pass the ball to one of his defenders instead of just clearing it out of danger.

Because the Fire are playing away, they will almost certainly play on the counter attack, but if the attacking players like Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald can hound the Impact defense, it could result in a chance from a turnover.

Stifling Di Vaio – cutting of the supply to the frontman

Athletico Coaching Corner with Mike Matkovich

Montreal play with one striker, namely 36-year-old striker Marco Di Vaio. The Italian is not as mobile as he was in his younger days and he relies on his wide and attacking midfielders to get him the ball.

Montreal’s wealth of attacking midfielders like ex-Fire winger Justin Mapp, MLS veteran Davy Arnaud and the extremely influential Brazilian Filipe are very difficult to control and when you add Di Vaio playing off the shoulder of the last defender to that mix, it makes it even harder to contain.

Though he lacks pace, the Italian gets himself into great positions and makes very smart runs off the ball. Against the Fire, Montreal will try and get the ball wide to players like Arnaud and Mapp because the Klopas’ side will pack the midfield when they are not in possession.

This means the Fire must be wary of Di Vaio’s movement in the box and also the late runs by other midfielders who will also be looking to get on the end of a cross.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with a counter attack goal from Sherjill MacDonald and a goal from a corner by Austin Berry.

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

19 April 9:30 am

The Fire return to Toyota Park to take on the Columbus Crew Saturday (LIVE 7:30pm CT on MLSsoccer.com) with no points to show after an encouraging performance last weekend against the Dynamo. But for a few mistakes, the result could have been a lot better for the Fire, but the team is certainly improving. 

Columbus come to Chicago on a four-game unbeaten streak and have picked up two wins on their travels this season. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Getting the ball wide – creating 1v1 situations with the Columbus outside backs

Looking at the Columbus defense, Chad Marshall has been a rock for 10 years in the middle and the addition of the Brazilian Glauber means the Crew has one of the strongest center back pairings in the league.

On the outside however, there are some weaknesses, particularly on the left. Against Montreal last week, the Crew stuffed the middle of the field when the Impact had the ball in an attempt to prevent Felipe from creating. This meant there was a lot of space on the wings and when the Impact actually got the ball to the outside, they created chances.

WATCH: CHIvCLB Match Preview

If the Fire are going to try and single out Tyson Wahl and try and get in 1v1 situations with him, Patrick Nyarko might be the best player for the Fire to deploy on the right hand side. Bringing in Nyarko would mean either dropping or shifting Daniel Paladini, the Fire’s standout player so far this season.

Another issue to deal with on the left hand side for the Crew is the presence of Eddie Gaven. Though Gaven has left his left back Wahl exposed on more than a few occasions this season, his attacking play makes up for it.

In any case, I expect to see a lot of activity on that side of the field and those battles should be fascinating to watch.

Dominic Oduro – not letting the former Fire player get in behind

The Fire traded Dominic Oduro to the Crew in the offseason for Dilly Duka and the Ghanaian has notched three goals for his new club this season. The Fire defenders will know all about the pace of their old teammate and the runs he tends to make, but they still need to be very cautious and the back line must work as a unit.

The danger of playing a high line against Oduro is that he can make runs in behind, whereas if the defense drops too deep, it allows the Crew to pile on the pressure and keep the Fire pinned back in their own half. Another, less reported danger from Oduro’s runs in behind is the second ball opportunities they create.

When balls are being played through to Dom, oftentimes defenders are stretching to cut them out, or just turning and blindly kicking the ball away, resulting in second ball opportunities. Columbus are very good at getting men forward to pick up on these second balls, with players like Higuain and Viana looking to do so whenever possible.

This tactic worked well for Columbus against the Impact last week. The emphasis will be on the Fire midfielders to track their runners and not allow Columbus to create chances from the second balls on Saturday night.

Defending set pieces – beating a dead horse but a noteworthy point

Watching the Crew’s last few matches reminded me again of how good Federico Higuain’s deliveries from dead balls are. His corners and free kicks, from any distance, cause havoc in the box.

Against Houston last week, the winning goal came off a badly defended set piece all around for the Fire. Brad Davis was allowed to put the ball in under no pressure after playing the free kick short and then the Fire’s back line and goalkeeper all froze, allowing the ball to bounce straight into the net.

It’s difficult to blame one person for the goal, but it was a very soft one to give up. That being said, I would like to see goalkeeper Sean Johnson start to come and claim more corners and crosses, especially with his size, but doing that brings about the risk of not getting to the ball and allowing easy goals to be scored.

In any case, allowing free headers against Columbus is unacceptable and picking up a clean sheet for only the second time this season would be welcomed by fans and technical staff alike.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Joel Lindpere.

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

12 April 8:51 am

After picking up their first win of the season last week, the Fire travel to Houston for Sunday’s match (4pm CT on UniMas/La Ley 107.9FM) brimming with confidence. The Dynamo lost again on the road last week against Portland but are returning to BBBV Compass Stadium, a place where they have never lost. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Giles Barnes – excelling in the role of second striker and deceptively good in the air

Giles Barnes has had an excellent start to 2013, playing in an almost free role just behind the target striker. Barnes is dangerous in a number of areas: he can drop deep or wide with the ball, taking on defenders, he can also win flicks on to his strike partner and he has come up with two headed goals already this season.

AthletiCo Coaching Corner

Against Portland last week and San Jose the week before, Barnes linked up well with central midfielders Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, taking the ball from them before turning and running at defenders from deep or around the box.

In the air, Barnes won many dangerous flick-ons against San Jose in Houston’s last home match. Barnes’ ability to win balls in the air seemed to baffle San Jose, who were clearly anticipating him to be running onto the flicks by Will Bruin.

In the matches against San Jose and the week before against Vancouver, Barnes chipped in with two headed goals. When teams play Houston, it is easy to get distracted by players such as Brad Davis or Boniek Garcia but Barnes has been their most dangerous player this season.

The Fire cannot give him space on the ground and players like Austin Berry need to match Barnes in the air.

 The possible return of Arne – if he returns, who moves to the bench?

Much of the talk this week in the Fire camp is the potential return of Arne Friedrich to a Fire back line that has been decimated by injuries at the beginning of the season.

Though everyone is looking forward to Arne’s return, it brings up a very tough tactical decision for head coach Frank Klopas, namely who plays at right back.

Wells Thompson has done a very solid job over the past two matches in that position, improving from a shaky first half against Chivas to having a standout game in last week’s win against NYRB.

Wells stated this week that he would like to “lock the down the spot and become a regular starter" and he certainly has put forth a good case to the coaches.

Thompson’s distribution out of the back is excellent and as the away team this week, the Fire will be looking to hold onto the ball for as long as possible and not be wasteful in possession.

Paladini, Thompson Preview Houston

The other realistic candidate for the starting right back spot should Friedrich return is Jalil Anibaba, last season’s starter. Against a physical and big team like Houston, Jalil’s strength could be needed.

Anibaba is also excellent in the air and with players like Barnes and Bruin to contend with, Klopas may turn to the third-year defender.

Houston’s knack for scoring goals from set pieces is also well-known and Anibaba’s presence in the box could be all-important on Sunday afternoon.

The Dynamo's frequency of scoring from corners is such that the home fans get to their feet for every corner, expecting a goal or good chance to be created from each one.

Though there was a lot of talk about Logan Pause moving to right-back at the beginning of this season, I don’t see the Fire changing too much the in the midfield after last week’s performance.

A start for Jalil at right back would be tough on Wells Thompson after two great performances, but tactically, starting Anibaba would make the most sense.  

Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Sherjill MacDonald

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

05 April 8:54 am

After another tough loss two weeks ago against Chivas USA, the Fire look to pick up their first win of the season against the Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon (4pm CT on ESPN2/La Ley 107.9FM). New York relied on a bit of Henry magic to pick up three points against Philly last week. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective:

Targeting Holgersson – get him in 1v1 situations

Anyone who has watched MLS over the past few seasons knows that Jamison Olave is one of the league’s great defenders. One of Olave’s great strengths is his recovery speed, something his partner Markus Holgersson doesn’t possess. While Holgersson is very adept in the air, if the Fire can get him separated from Olave, it may open the Red Bulls up. The more times the Fire can get players like Chris Rolfe in 1v1 situations with the Swede, the better.

TICKETS: Fire vs. Red Bulls Sunday at 4pm CT

Pause, Lindpere Preview Red Bull

Holgersson also has a tendency to switch off at times, as was seen in the goals Red Bull gave up against Philly last week and against Montreal in a 1-0 loss earlier in the season. As is the case with Arne Friedrich for the Fire, Jamison Olave makes everyone around him better, but if the Fire manage to separate him from Holgersson, they must take advantage.

Stopping Juninho – stifling the deep lying playmaker  

The 38-year-old Brazilian Juninho has excelled in the deep lying playmaker role for the Red Bulls so far this season. Juninho plays ahead of the back four and receives the ball from the defenders before starting the attacks from a very deep position.  

His exceptional passing range means he can easily look to play the ball up to Dax McCarty through the middle, play it out to the wing, or look for a long ball up to Tim Cahill who is excellent in the air.

The Fire must try and make it difficult for Juninho to start the attacks, and the prime candidate for this role is the second striker, namely Rolfe or Alex (if he’s available). In the second leg of the recent Champions League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid, United forward Danny Welbeck did a great job of stifling Madrid’s deep lying playmaker Xabi Alonso and I look for Rolfe or Alex to try and emulate that on Sunday.

When the Fire lose the ball in the attacking third, someone must immediately look to pick up Juninho and try and make it difficult for the Red Bulls to play through him.

Athletico Coaching Corner with Matko

Helping out on the right – don’t isolate the right back

Last game, Wells Thompson did a solid job filling in a right back, a position with little player consistency for the Fire due to injuries this season. Chivas USA did look dangerous however when the managed to get Wells in 1v1 situations, especially in the first half.

READ: Stopping Thierry Henry

With Logan Pause nearing fitness it may be the case that Pause slots in on the right with Wells moving ahead of him but in either case, the right midfielder must track back and help. The Red Bulls love to have Henry drift wide and the Fire must try and prevent him from getting in 1v1 situations at all costs.

Though many would argue the Red Bulls’ weakest players are the wingers, outside defenders like Heath Pearce are not afraid to get forward and support in the attack. Red Bull’s movement off the ball from players like McCarty and Henry make them a hard team to defend against.

Though the Fire are the home team, head coach Frank Klopas said that the number one goal for Sunday’s match is keeping a clean sheet. With that in mind, a solid defensive effort from front to back is essential.

Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Sherjill MacDonald who looked to be almost back to his old self last weekend.   

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

22 March 8:57 am

The Fire head back home Sunday afternoon after picking up a hard fought point in Kansas last weekend. Though the team didn't score for the third game in a row, the solid performance despite missing key players was encouraging. Sunday’s opposition Chivas USA come to Bridgeview full of confidence after picking up four points in their last two games. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective on Sunday (Coverage at 3:30pm CT on My50)

High pressure - Chivas players will not stop running

El Chelís, the new Chivas coach, has his team playing a 3-4-3 system with an emphasis on pressuring the opposing team very high up the field. Anyone who has watched Barcelona under Pep Guardiola/Tito Vilanova or Athletic Club under Marcelo Bielsa knows that the high pressure tactic can be very effective, especially against an opponent who is not prepared for it.

Get Tickets for Sunday's game vs. Chivas USA

Chivas’ three attacking players hound their opponents' defense and try to not allow them to play out of the back. This tactic will put a lot of pressure on suspected midfield starters Daniel Paladini and Jeff Larentowicz to drop deep and collect the ball from the defenders. The goal of the 3-4-3 with the high pressure is to try and win the ball back from your opponent as high up the pitch as possible.

A recent example of this tactic working to perfection was in Chivas' only win to date in week two against FC Dallas. The winning goal came from forcing the Dallas defensive midfielder into playing a suicide ball back to center back George John whose lax first touch allowed Oswaldo Minda to waltz in and score. With this tactic in mind, concentration and communication between the defense and the central midfielders will be very important Sunday.

Balls over the top/in behind - how to beat the 3-4-3

Previewing Chivas USA

 

The downside of Chivas 3-4-3 tactic is that it leaves a lot of space on the outside for the Fire to exploit. In Chivas’ last two games against LA and Dallas, the wingers got caught too far up the field on multiple occasions, especially when the opposition was able to force a turnover and transition quickly into attack.

In recent games for the Fire, wingers Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko have been required to help out the defense but against Chivas they will find that space will be a lot easier to come by and should be looking to make forward runs into space whenever possible. The Fire must look for the long ball into space constantly because getting a ball in behind can really open Chivas up.

UPDATE: Duka listed as 'Questionable' for Sunday

When the Fire inevitably get a ball in behind, they must get more players into the box, especially against a three man back line. In Chivas' opening games, often times it was a defender who had to drift wide to pick up the runner, leaving less numbers and more space in the middle for the opposing team to exploit.

Fouls fouls and more fouls - Fire must stay calm and focused

In Chivas' last two games, they have committed a whopping 40 fouls, something that clearly frustrated their opponents. Part of the reason for that many fouls is the high pressure tactic, trying so frantically to win the ball back, leading oftentimes to a foul.

That being said, another key aspect of Chelís' tactics is to try and stop the other team from getting in any sort of rhythm. How do you do that? By fouling your opponent and slowing the game down, of course.

READ: Can Pause go at right back Sunday?

When a Chivas player is beaten by his man, the natural response is to foul the player. The LA/Dallas players and coaching staff were constantly yelling at the officials for the amount of fouls Chivas committed, but this frustration played right into Chivas' hands.

On the other side of the ball, when Chivas attack, they often look to pick up set pieces in their opponents half. Their players hit the deck when they feel the slightest bit of contact, another aspect of their game plan that can really get under the skin of the opponent. The Fire players and coaching staff must keep their cool, especially if the score line isn't to their liking, because despite their coaches claims to the contrary, Chivas would gladly leave Bridgeview with a point.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.

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

15 March 9:17 am

The Fire head to Kansas City Saturday afternoon (2:00pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of two losses to start the season. The team has yet to score a goal or secure point but face a KC team smarting after a loss in Toronto last week. Both will be looking to kick start their season with a big win. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Right back – three games, three different starters?

With injuries to both Logan Pause and Steven Kinney, it is likely the Fire will have to start a third different right back already this season. Jalil Anibaba started on the right against LA and had a difficult time of things but looked much more comfortable in his natural position at center back last week against New England.

With Kinney out, its almost assured that Anibaba will partner with Austin Berry in the middle which means we will likely see Mike Videra or Wells Thompson on the right. Both played there for a bit of preseason and Videra played at right back for the Men in Red during the 2011 season.

READ: Videira or Thompson at right back?

Previewing Sporting KC

Wells is the more experienced player and like Pause, has played in numerous positions during his MLS career. In a hostile atmosphere away from home, communication between the defenders will be key.

KC are particularly dangerous down the wings and Patrick Nyarko will need to be on hand to help out either Thompson or Videra who will face constant overlapping by the KC wing-backs.

Pressuring KC – copy the Toronto model

Sporting KC lost 2-1 in Toronto last week falling behind 2-0 after only twenty minutes. TFC pressured Sporting from the first whistle and it worked extremely well, with SKC constantly giving the ball away.

TFC’s first goal of the game came from pressuring and ganging up on the Sporting KC players. Folks will remember the goal stemming from a bad pass between Matt Besler and Aurelian Collin, but the reason the center backs had the ball at all was because TFC forced Sporting all the way back to their defenders.

TFC clearly flustered Sporting and the pressure prevented SKC from being able to get the ball to their danger men Claudio Bieler and Graham Zusi. Toronto was unable to keep up the pressure for more than the first half and in the second, KC was able to impose their game.

If the Fire can start in a similar fashion to TFC last week and sustain the pressure throughout the game (a tough ask, I know) it would go a long way towards allowing SKC to dictate the tempo, something they will look to do as the home team.

Testing Jimmy Neilson – difference between chances and half chances

A lot of the talk after the first two games of the season was that the Fire created many chances, but were unable to finish them. If we examine the amount of genuine saves Carlo Cudicini and Matt Reis actually had to make though, the numbers are very small, both have to overexert themselves on only one occasion, with the rest of the shots being hit right at them.

Both times the Fire forced the opposition ‘keeper into making a fine save was from shots outside the box. When the Fire do get the ball in the box, the team as a whole needs to start showing a bit of composure instead of rushing shots.

Muzzling Zusi – double teaming and picking him up when he comes inside

For the past few seasons, Graham Zusi has been Sporting’s best player by some margin. Zusi is dangerous because he can hurt you in so many different ways.

He’s comfortable playing outside on the wing and is just as effective when he switches wings as he did against TFC in the second half last week. Zusi also links very well with SKC’s outside backs, especially Chance Meyers who overlaps Zusi on a regular basis and picked up a lot of assists doing so last season.

Coach's Take: Sporting KC

 

READ: A look back on the 2012 win at Sporting

 Zusi also likes to cut inside, opening up more space on the outside for the wing-backs to move into. For the most part, TFC did a good job stifling Zusi last week and they did so mainly by double teaming him when he had the ball.

As I said in my Week One preview, a lot of emphasis will be on the Fire wingers, Dilly Duka and Nyarko to track back and help out Gonzalo Segares and whoever the team starts on the right.

 Zusi’s crossing is arguably his most dangerous weapon and with targets such as Bieler and Sapong lurking in the box, the less crosses the Fire allow, the better.

Prediction:  The games in KC have been tight affairs recently, and I don’t see this one being any different. 1-1 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.

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

08 March 9:50 am

The Fire suffered a heavy defeat last weekend in Los Angles and are looking to rebound in the best possible way in the team’s home opener against New England on Saturday evening. The Revs have yet to play a game and will hope to shake off the rust and try and spoil the Fire’s first game at home in 2013. Here are some tactical things to look out for:

Handling Bengtson – how will the Fire’s defense contain the target striker?

In last weekend’s loss to LA, the Fire’s defense couldn’t contain Robbie Keane whose movement led to all sorts of problems for the team. Against New England, the defense will face a much different type of striker in Jerry Bengtson, a giant target forward who will likely play up front on his own.

New England have a host of attacking midfielders/wingers that will be looking for layoffs and knockdowns from Bengtson and the Fire’s defense will need to try and stop the Honduran from linking with his teammates.

LA were able to stop Maicon Santos and Shejill MacDonald from holding the ball up at the Home Depot Center last week and if the Fire’s defense can mimic LA’s, the Rev’s could be in a for a long night.

Who plays behind Bengtson? A wealth of attacking options for the Revs

Because New England did not play last week, the Fire will have less of an idea about who will be playing in the attacking positions behind Bengtson on Saturday night.

Though the Rev’s have lost Benny Feilhaber, they still have many options for the second striker/wide midfield roles.  Any combination of Chad Barrett, Andy Dorman, Juan Toja, Ryan Guy and Lee Nguyen could play against the Fire and all five offer something different.

The defense as a unit will be looking for a much improved performance and with Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich’s return unlikely, Saturday gives the back four a chance to redeem themselves against New England.

On the outside, Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba were caught out a few times with balls in behind them last Sunday and must be aware of players like Nguyen and Toja who look to do that on a regular basis.

Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko did a good job tracking back and helping the outside defenders but the emphasis will be on Sega and Anibaba to get forward and put in crosses as every opportunity.

Creating more chances – possession and set pieces

The Fire showed some rust last Sunday, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and completing over 100 less passes than LA with the Men in Red’s pass accuracy at only 74%. Large improvements in that department are certainly needed but the team will also be looking to get more set pieces in the attacking third.

The Fire’s first (of only two) corner kicks didn’t occur until the 60th minute in LA and it almost resulted in a goal for Anibaba after a brilliant cross by Lindpere.

As I mentioned last week, Lindpere’s excellent deliveries from corners and free kicks will create many changes for the team this season. Last week LA started a new goalkeeper and this week, New England may start a new acquisition in the defense Jose Goncalves. The Portuguese newcomer is an experienced defender but as we saw last week, putting balls into a place where it forces the goalkeeper and defender to communicate and make a decision can lead to a mistake and a Fire opportunity.  

The Fire only had one shot on target last week but also had some other excellent chances to score, most notably Rolfe’s scuffed shot after the Cudicini mistake and Maicon’s header just wide of the post. Klopas and co. will be looking for the Fire attackers to test Matt Reis as much as possible.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from MacDonald and Lindpere

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