After a lackluster performance last weekend out in LA, the Fire are in Portland for what should be a much sterner test against a Timbers team unbeaten in home regular season play for over a year (1:30pm CT on My50 / TWCWI). The Timbers will also be looking to avenge the 2-2 draw in the team's only meeting last season where a brilliant Fire comeback left Caleb Porter seething. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
A tweak in formation option A: Packing the midfield
Against a Portland team playing their usual 4-3-3 formation, a safer option for the Fire, especially away from home, is to play another holding midfielder alongside Jeff Larentowicz in an attempt to pack the midfield. Portland rely on late runs from players like Will Johnson and another holding midfielder would ensure the Fire would be able to track these runs more effectively.
Logan Pause would be the prime candidate to partner Larentowicz in the engine room. Portland always look to get playmaker Diego Valeri on the ball and rely on his through balls to create many of the team's chances. Pause and Larentowicz read the game extremely well and are masters at intercepting the kind of balls Valeri will be looking to play.
This option requires that the Fire drop one of its attacking players, which in this case could be Chris Rolfe who is battling an injury. The approach could be seen as a negative one, but playing against a team unbeaten at home for over a year and one that scored the third highest amount of goals in the league last season, the Men in Red also need be realistic.
A tweak in formation option B: Eliminating the target striker
A more progressive option for the Fire this weekend would be eliminating the target striker completely in favor of a smaller and quicker attack. This move would see Juan Luis Anangono, a player isolated during large stretches of last weekend's match, drop to the bench in favor of a quicker, more dynamic player such as Quincy Amarikwa, a player on the cusp of a starting eleven place.
In last weekend's match against the Union, Portland were undone on more than a few occasions by some neat and quick interplay by the Philly midfielders and strikers. With this smaller formation, the Fire will have more opportunities to play this type of game.
The interplay between players such as Duka, Rolfe, Joya, Amarikwa, Alex and Nyarko could certainly cause the Timbers problems with Benji Joya's goal last week serving as a classic example of this: Amarikwa playing a brilliant through ball to Alex who in turn found Joya at the back post for a tap in finish.
While this formation would certainly make the Fire quicker, it should also provide the Men in Red with an opportunity to have more possession and even slow the game down at times, especially if the away team manages to take the lead. With possession below 45% in last week's loss, an emphasis on keeping more of the ball is also necessary.
Set pieces: a weakness for both teams
Both the Fire and Timbers have had problems defending set pieces in the past and that was apparent again during the first match of the season for both teams. Fire defender Bakary Soumare admitted fault after his mark was able to head home the winner for Chivas while Portland also gave up a goal from a corner against the Union.
The Fire's defensive play from crosses and set pieces was certainly suspect last weekend and coach Frank Yallop made no secret of his disappointment at how his team gave up goals in this manner.
Though Portland are not a very big team, players like Diego Valeri and Gaston Fernandez are some of the best set piece takers in the league and a more cohesive performance by the Fire back four is needed on Sunday afternoon. On the other side of the ball, with the Timbers also looking frail on set pieces, I expect the Fire to load the box when the dead ball opportunities arise.
Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Alex
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve
WATCH: Clint Mathis on what it will take to earn a result in Portland
TACTICAL: Rebuilt Fire defense gets first real test against Chivas USA's Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales
The Fire are in Los Angeles for the first game of the season looking to start off on a good note unlike this time last year when the team fell to the other team in LA, 4-0. As per usual, Chivas USA’s offseason was filled with turmoil, but there is a new air of optimism around the club after it was bought by MLS. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Fire’s new look back line – how will teams offseason acquisitions work as a unit?
New Fire head coach Frank Yallop was very upfront about his desire for the team to improve defensively this season after the team gave up a whopping 52 goals last year. It is likely that two new additions to the defense will start on Sunday afternoon, with former RSL utility player Lovel Palmer slotting in a right back and former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado set to start in the middle.
Hurtado’s partnership with Bakary Soumare at the heart of the Fire’s defense is crucial to the team’s success and both players will be looking to continue their good preseason form. In the air, both players are clearly dominant but it will be important that they do not get stretched by the Chivas USA attack especially with a player like Mauro Rosales looking to play balls behind the defense for Erick Torres and co.
Frank Yallop likes to have his fullbacks get forward and support the attack and Palmer certainly fits that style of play. The Fire’s distribution out of the back last season was not a strong point and Palmer’s good technical ability will mean the team will not be giving the ball needlessly back to the opposition as much this season.
It will certainly take time for the new look defense to gel, but a good start and perhaps a clean sheet would build confidence before the tougher tests ahead in the form of Portland and New York.
A new back line for Chivas USA – opportunities for the Fire to take?
Chivas USA overhauled the squad again this offseason but the team that gave up the most goals in the league last year don’t look like they’ve improved in that department, at least not on paper.
The team went undefeated in preseason but it remains to be seen whether this unit can be effective during league play. It is unclear who Fire legend Carlos Bocanegra will be paired with -- Bobby Burling or newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste but in either case, if the Fire creative players like Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Alex can get in 1v1 situations, I like this team’s chances.
The Fire could have more luck on the outsides, especially down the right where Eric Avila has a habit of straying too far forward from his full back position. The combination of little help defensively from Mauro Rosales and the attacking threats of Dilly Duka and Gonzalo Segares could pay dividends for the Men in Red.
A switch in philosophy – high pressure replaces the counter attack
For much of last season, the Fire tended to sit deep and try to hit teams on the counter attack but with the change in head coach comes a change in philosophy. Instead of the counter attack game, Yallop has emphasized a high pressure philosophy, with the Fire’s attackers putting pressure on the opponents’ defense when they are in possession.
This tactic was apparent in the team’s final match of the Diamond Desert Cup in Tucson last week where Juan Luis Anangono, Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka all put the Chivas Guadalajara youth team defense under constant pressure and forced a number of mistakes from the Mexican squad.
If the team can push the issue against the new look Chivas USA back four and force the team into giving up possession, it will only help the Fire’s chances. Though possession is not always an important factor, especially in an away match, the team will certainly be looking to control the tempo and increase the possession statistics this season and this change in philosophy should help that.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Dilly Duka.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
WATCH: C.J. Brown says, "The first game we get to focus on ourselves"
Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa proved rather effective in what time he got on the field last year (he scored three goals in 299 minutes). In his time off of it, he also proved to be perhaps the top MLS player in the league's Fantasy Manager game.
Sign-up for Quincy's League using code: 17933-3213
Select shots from this afternoon's Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon and Primary Kit Unveiling
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over FC Tucson.
The Numbers Game rolls on Tuesday with the latest contestants being the center back duo of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, who were recently acquired from the Seattle Sounders in a trade that sent Jalil Anibaba the other way.
Let’s start with the Hurtado. The 29-year-old center back will continue to don the same #34 he wore for five seasons in Cascadia. Asked why he’s chosen a somewhat “off the beaten path” soccer number, Hurtado explained 34 was the number he was given when trialing with AC Milan in early 2009.
“The opportunity was a special one and it’s stayed with me ever since,” he told Chicago-Fire.com last week.
Though 34 isn’t the most common soccer number, two Fire players have worn it before. Former Trinidad & Tobago international Osei Telesford was the club’s #34 in 2007 while Austin Washington wore it from 2008-2009.
Meanwhile, Ianni has chosen to suit up wearing the #6 for the Fire this season. Interestingly, Ianni and Anibaba weren’t just in part swapped for each other but they’ve also taken one another’s number at their new club as the former Fire defender will suit up as Seattle’s #4 this season.
Asked about the choice of #6, Ianni said, “I just wanted a lower, defender’s number,” but the only two digits that fit the criteria for the Fire were #2 and #6.
Althought the #2 is free for anyone to choose, Ianni says he took into account the legacy of assistant coach C.J. Brown’s 13 years wearing #2 for the Men in Red and the fact that it’s only been worn one other time for 27 minutes by another Fire player (Wells Thompson in 2012).
In the end, the choice was simple.
“I have a ton of respect for what C.J. did here wearing that number and what that means to Fire supporters. The six shirt suits me just fine.”
QUESTION: Ianni becomes the ninth player in Fire history to wear #6 for the Men in Red. How many of the other eight can you name? (SCROLL BELOW FOR THE ANSWER).
ANSWER: Brian Bates (1998), Tom Soehn (1998-2000), Sergi Daniv (2001), Kelly Gray (2002-2005), Brandon Prideaux (2008-2009), Julio Martinez (2010), Peter Lowry (2010), Jalil Anibaba (2011-2013).
On the first day of full training in Ave Maria last week, we mic'd up head coach Frank Yallop for a forthcoming preseason documentary.
What he hadn't planned on was the Ave Maria groundskeeper doing us a solid by mis-timing the sprinklers...
Watch Frank's reaction below and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos throughout 2014 preseason
Select shots from Wednesday morning's training session in Ave Maria, Fla.