The Fire play the Supporters Shield leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical standpoint…
COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Quakes
With six more goals scored than any other team in the league this season and two in-form strikers, San Jose just can’t stop scoring. That being said, the team’s 44 goals eclipse the fact that they have given up 27. Of the teams currently in playoff positions, only New York and the Galaxy have given up more.
Last week’s loss to Vancouver exposed one of San Jose’s biggest weaknesses which also happens to be one of Fire’s greatest strengths: speed. Though Morrow had a good game on the attacking side, he was punished time after time by Dane Richards whose goal came directly from a Morrow error.
On the right hand side, San Jose will be without Beitashour for the first time all season which could pay dividends for the Men in Red. The pace of the Fire’s Ghanaian duo of Nyarko and Oduro could cause San Jose some major problems on the outside. Because the outside backs push up so much, there is plenty of room behind them for Oduro to run into. When he does go wide however, it requires the other attack-minded players Rolfe, Alex and Nyarko to get into the box in support.
Wondo and Gordon: Stay Tight
A major reason San Jose is sitting at the top of MLS this season are the goals from Wondolowski (17), Gordon (9) and Lenhart (6). The Quakes don’t set up their strikes the traditional way, with one on the shoulder off the last defender looking for flick-ons from the target man. Wondolowski and Gordon/Lenhart are constantly switching positions; dropping back into midfield and drifting wide. The interchanging of positions causes major problems for defenders and is one reason why you see Wondolowski score so many simple goals (think Fire vs. San Jose last season) - even though he is the obvious danger man, his movement makes him so difficult to pick up.
The other reason is that San Jose attack in such great numbers that it allows Wondo to go undetected. It sounds simple to say “stay with your man” or “keep your eye on the man and not the ball” but that’s exactly what the Fire need to do.
Using last week’s game as an example again, Jay DeMerit didn't let him out of his sight for almost the entire match to great effect. The Fire's defensive performances have been stellar this season we and should expect nothing less from Austin Berry and co on Saturday night.
Sometime shortly before kick-off when the Fire host Aston Villa this Saturday evening, the captains from the two sides will meet at midfield, shake hands, and exchange small pennants with each other. It's a routine we've seen countless times before when two teams from different nations meet in competition. But does anyone actually know what happens to the banners after their two seconds of fame?
Charlie Raycroft does.
Raycroft, the team's equipment manager since 2003, is also the Fire's unofficial keeper of the pennants. In his office (which doubles as the team's equipment room) hang dozens of club banners, ranging from England's Manchester United (from last year's friendly) to Mexico's Tigres UANL (2009 Superliga).
“Any international match we play, we usually do a captain’s banner for it,” said Raycroft, who also created the design for the Fire's banner. He added that it is similar for domestic Cup matches like the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and the exchange has been appearing more often even in regular season MLS matches, as more teams adopt the tradition.
However, Raycroft admitted that more work typically goes into the international ones, to “mark the occasion, have a little bit of history [and] make them more special.”
"It’s basically the same design for each match," he said. "[But] for matches like the Aston Villa match, or the Manchester United match, or the Open Cup we try to put the date, the location, the opponent. For MLS matches we have just a generic one with no date on it."
Another interesting note is that it's not always just one banner -- often times, teams will create duplicates for the same match. So in addition to those hanging in the equipment room, Raycroft said there are extras that are displayed around the club, or given to the team president or owner if they request one.
"[But if there are no duplicates] and if they come in and want any of these, I guess they can take them," he added with a laugh.
There is just one more part of the banner's story that is undisclosed: how does it get from the the captain to the equipment room? Surely it must be an epic journey, right?
Alas, Raycroft says it's pretty simple in reality.
“He just walks over, and I try to meet him part of the way, get it and just put it in the bag until they come inside.”
On Tuesday we began encouraging Fire fans to use the hashtag #VoteFIRE in tweets to spread awareness for the Twitter MLS All-Star vote that begins Thursday as well as have a little friendly competition with our rival and Saturday's opponent Columbus.
As of our last tally, there have been over 1,100 tweets mentioning #VoteFIRE in the past 24 hours. Before kickoff Saturday, we will calculate the results between the two teams to determine a winner.
We certainly wish to thank the fans for their support, but the election season has just begun. Tomorrow will mark a shift in our campaign focus as we push you to the Twitter polls to vote Pappa, Pardo, Oduro, Johnson, Segares and Grazzini.
To make it easier, we wanted to make sure everyone knew how a Twitter vote was counted.
1) Your Twitter account must be unlocked
2) You must follow @MLS
3a) You must mention the player's full name, "Marco Pappa", "Pavel Pardo", "Dominic Oduro", "Sean Johnson", "Gonzalo Segares", "Sebastian Grazzini"
4) You must include the #MLSAllStar hashtag
5) You don't need to use #VoteFire but you should as we continue our Twitter battle with Columbus!
To push your drive to the polls on Thursday, here are some of our favorite #VoteFire tweets from the past 24 hours, via Storify.
If it seems like it’s been ages since one of these, that’s because it’s been 15 days since the last time the Fire played. A 2-0 loss in New England combined with a two-week break from action left the team as well as yours truly antsy. Lucky for us, the Fire are back this afternoon as they welcome the New York Red Bulls to Toyota Park at 4pm CT (LIVE on NBC Sports Network).
With that, five things to know about today’s match vs. Energy Drink FC.
1) LACKING IN THE STARS… Excitement at having the Fire back is one thing but if you were hoping to see the stars come out of the woodwork for Red Bull this afternoon, you’ll be sorely disappointed as both Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez didn’t make the trip due to injury.
On the Fire side, the long-term projection was to have Arne Friedrich back from a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of the team’s past four league matches. It appears the decision on whether or not he'll play will be of the gametime variety.
2) NO HENRY, FORMATION SHAKEUP… The strike partnership of Henry and forward Kenny Cooper has been deadly for Red Bull this season with the two combining for 20 goals in 22 joint appearances so far. When Henry has been out, Red Bull has moved to a 4-5-1 with Cooper alone up top and the likes of Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards providing support.
Still, it will be Cooper that is the focal point of Red Bull’s attack Sunday. The former FC Dallas striker is tied with San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski in the MLS Golden Boot Race at 11 and has tallied in each of the team’s last four matches.
3) COOPER, LINDPERE: GOAL SCORING HISTORY… Both players have histories of scoring against the Fire, with Cooper tallying six goals (all with Dallas) in nine career matches against the Men in Red while Lindpere has bagged three goals in four appearances since joining Red Bull in 2010.
Conversely, Fire forward Chris Rolfe, who looks set to make his first appearance at Toyota Park since re-joining the club in April has tallied six of his 36 career MLS goals against Red Bull.
4) LAST TIME PAPPA RETURNED IN SUMMER… Fire midfielder Marco Pappa returned to the team on Thursday after being away with the Guatemalan national side for friendlies and two FIFA World Cup qualifiers, culminating in his 82nd minute free kick to earn a 1-1 draw with the United States on Tuesday.
It reminded me of last year when Pappa returned from competitive June matches with Guatemala at the CONCACAF Gold Cup…In his first game back, he hit a bouncing 58th minute effort to draw a Sunday afternoon affair level at 1-1. The day, June 26, 2011. The opponent, Red Bull New York.
5) A RUBBER MATCH… Since a 2-0 win in the the Grand Opening match at Toyota Park on June 25, 2006, the Fire have never lost to Red Bull at the team’s soccer-specific stadium, going 5-0-3 in eight regular season matches.
On the flip, Red Bull comes into the game riding a six match unbeaten run, going 5-0-1 since dropping a 4-1 defeat at Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United on April 22…
6) HAPPY FATHER'S (and Mother's) DAY... Both my parents are awesome. I didn't have a Five Things to write on Mother's Day last month so I'll use this opportunity to wish my Dad Happy Father's Day and my Mom a Happy belated online Mother's Day wish. Both of my parents didn't always understand the obsession I had with soccer but they were always supportive and have been there for me throughout. Thank you both, sorry I can't be home today!
PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls