After picking up a point in the home opener against Supporter’s Shield winners New York last week, the Fire head to D.C. looking to steal all three points for the first time this season (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
D.C. are in transition and are also in search of their first win. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Continuing to attack with pace - utilizing Alex
Against New York last week, the Fire looked very dangerous on the counter attack when Alex was given space to run at the Red Bulls defense. Not only was the Brazilian able to beat players 1v1 but he drew defenders out of position, opening up space for players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa to move into.
In D.C.'s last match away in Toronto, Ben Olsen's team was also incapable of defending against the quick counter attack. Michael Bradley and Co. found it much too easy to bypass the lone United defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who received little help from his fellow midfielders.
I expect D.C. to deploy another central midfielder to help out Kitchen against the Fire, but if the Men in Red can continue to break with that much pace and the interplay between Alex, Magee and Amarikwa continues to improve, the Fire should fare well on Saturday.
More attacking play from wide - taking advantage of D.C. team not fully settled
Against New York last weekend the Fire were forced into making changes at both outside back positions due to injury and suspension respectively.
Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane have had barely any time to work with their new teammates since their recent moves and it showed at times in last week’s game. Against D.C., where there is a good chance both will start again, I look for an improvement in the attacking play from both players.
It will also be interesting to see how Watson/Shipp and Cochrane/Joya combine down each flank after another week’s worth of training together. While there is certainly a weakness in the D.C. midfield, a balance between attacking down the middle and from the wings is necessary.
With so many new players on the field for D.C., positioning, especially defensive positioning, is a major problem. This was quite obvious in the Toronto match, with D.C. players often gesturing to one another in an attempt to determine who to mark.
If the Fire can get Watson and Cochrane forward to support the attack, it will pin D.C. back and could benefit the away team.
Keeping Eddie Johnson isolated and limiting set pieces - making it harder for D.C. to find the net
D.C.'s most notable offseason acquisition was striker Eddie Johnson, who on his day is one of the league’s best strikers. In his first two games however, Johnson was an isolated figure up front, managing only 1.5 shots according to the website Who Scored.
The Fire’s defense did a fine job shutting down Thierry Henry last week and will be looking to do the same against Johnson and perhaps register a first shutout of the season. D.C. have yet to score this year but are a major threat from set pieces with players like Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola looking to get on the end of quality deliveries from Luis Silva.
D.C. got men in the box at any opportunity against both Toronto and Columbus and I expect it to be no different on Saturday. After giving up yet another goal from a set piece last week, the Fire coaching staff will no doubt be encouraging the players to keep their concentration, especially against a team desperate to pick up its first points and goal of the season.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Alex and Quincy Amarikwa.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: Sean Johnson, Matt Watson preview D.C. United
The Chicago Fire Soccer Club welcomed community partner, City Year Chicago at Sunday’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls. City Year, an education-focused non-profit organization that combats the nation’s dropout epidemic by uniting young people of all backgrounds for a full year of full-time service in high-need schools. Because of the Fire’s support and the support of all of our team sponsors, City Year Chicago is able to place 206 corps members in 20 schools, impacting 5,000 5th through 9th grade students through academic supports, mentoring programs, after school activities and parent engagement initiatives.
As the partnership continues in 2014, the Club extended an invitation to all 200 members of City Year Chicago to attend the Fire’s first home game at Toyota Park. Those who were able to attend joined Fire owner Andrew Hauptman on the field prior to the match for photo op and recognition.
The Club will also have presence at City Year’s Family Engagement Night Tuesday evening as members of the Chicago Fire Foundation and Community Relations Department will be in attendance.
Select shots from Monday's reserve game vs. the New York Red Bulls
On playing his first game at Toyota Park
Select shots from this afternoon's Giordano's Pizza Partnership Kickoff.
One took over the defending continental champions. Despite his 15 trophies as a manager, there were questions about how much better he could make them. Two-thirds through the season, he’s taken the champions to a new level of excellence.
Another replaced a legend in taking over the league champs. His experience and consistency made him a safe choice, but how would he lead the club into a new generation? Today the team sits seven places out of first.
The third assumed leadership of a historically successful club dealing with a few tough years. Fans wondered what would come next as contracts turned over and a new crop of youngsters presented themselves. With five coaching trophies, he’s highly knowledgeable with regards to the competition and what works in the league, but fans eagerly wait to see how he’ll plot the path forwards.
Which of the above new coaches came to the Fire? If you separated Frank Yallop from Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and David Moyes at Manchester United, good for you.
Coaching changes are so commonplace that they’re not in and of themselves particularly remarkable. In the Barclay’s Premier League so far in the 2013-2014 season, already five managers have been fired; that’s on top of the six managers who left clubs before the season already started. That means more than half the teams changed managers this year.
And in general with sports, personnel changeover is as much a part of the grind as winning and losing. It’s as much if not more common in the current adolescent stage of MLS, where parity dominates, new teams are forthcoming, and personnel rules and financial regulation necessitate almost constant player movement.
But what do the changes mean for the Fire?
This year is a new beginning. Even though the ownership and front office maintain a steadfast commitment to the club’s history and traditions, the technical staff was overhauled leading into the 2014 season. MLS legend Frank Yallop replaced Fire legend Frank Klopas. He brought C.J. Brown, another Fire legend, along with, and added assistant coach Clint Mathis on top.
And the change touched the players as well. Some consistent starters from seasons past, like Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba, are gone. Led by Harry Shipp and Benji Joya, a new crop of youngsters are fighting veterans for their places. Meanwhile, except for Sean Johnson in goal, Jeff Larentowicz in the middle, and the reigning MVP Mike Magee (whenever he’s back fit) up top, every place in the side is up for grabs.
Things change, okay, but this is now a totally different Fire team than the one we’ve seen the past few years. New players and new management means a new culture, new approaches both on and off the field. A 4-1-4-1 formation is in the works. But the gutsy 10-man point in Portland and loss at Chivas showed that old habits take time to correct.
Even though the Fire were frustrated to miss the playoffs a few times in recent years, they have the league MVP and enough player talent on paper to threaten the top teams in MLS. Yet by overhauling the technical staff, the Fire signaled a loftier statement: Being mediocre is not good enough, no matter how much successful history the club has.
Without going into huge detail about the strategic plans, the Fire players have said that this preseason felt different, that Yallop was fostering a different environment than Klopas’s.
It’s important because whether we like it or not, this season will be defined by the changes the Fire made this offseason. Change is here.
The questions though: How much do you change, and how much do you keep? What is actually new? How exactly do you convey and impose a plan without sacrificing whatever was working before? What effect can a plan even have if there are many unpredictable and external issues?
It doesn’t look like Yallop is going to blow everyone away with some avant garde tactical system. Although the lineups have changed, in the first two games we saw tactical variations of familiar set ups, even if the advertised 4-1-4-1 was never totally deployed. We saw a cautious balance between MLS veterans and excited young guns.
In the media, we’ve seen a focus on working hard and coming together as a team - like the tactics and team selection, it’s a communications strategy that isn’t going to draw too much attention.
But don’t let the low key approach fool you. Yallop’s project with the Fire is massive. Whether he ends up tearing through the league like Guardiola, or taking a few steps back, like Moyes, certainly Yallop’s plan must be taken seriously for the long term. Change might be part of the game, but plans in this game only work when they’re given time to come to.