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.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
We got some great news today that Saturday's match vs. Columbus will be carried LIVE and for FREE on MLSsoccer.com as the el Jimador Tequila MLS Stream of the Week.
A few notes in order to watch on Saturday...
* The stream is available only at MLSsoccer.com and fans must use a device with Adobe Flash player.
* The stream is available to fans inside the U.S., Canada, and Mexico
* An MLS Network account is required. Register at MLSsoccer.com or at the top left of Chicago-Fire.com
Saturday's game will be carried on television in Chicago with a carrier announcement to come on Thursday.
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Dynamo
Need one last look at Sunday's 3-1 win over Red Bull?
Our web guru Nick Sintich put Sunday's highlights to the music of the uber-popular song "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.
Well done, YouTube music licensing is a great thing!
Last month we asked you to help us pick who our Quaker Bobblehead giveaway should be for our July 7 game against Sporting KC.
After two weeks of voting, it was clear that one player campaigned much harder than the rest of his teammates for the right to be immortalized on a Quaker Bobblehead.
The first 5,000 supporters into Toyota Park that day will receive one. Get your tickets here!
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.
Two games for the price of one? Why not?
Following Sunday's first team match between the Fire and Red Bulls, the club is inviting supporters to stick around to catch the an MLS Reserve League match between the two sides.
Some things to know if you stay at Toyota Park following the first game:
- The reserve game begins 30 minutes after the end of first team game.
- Stadium re-entry will not be allowed.
- Fans that stay will be asked to move to the east side of the Toyota Park stands.
- The Stadium Club, Second Star Club and suites will close at normal times following the first game.
- As usual, alcohol sales will end at the 75th minute of the first game. There will be no sale of alcohol during the reserve match.
- Concessions behind Section 126 will remain open for the reserve game.
Don't have your tickets for Sunday? Get them here.