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15 October 12:06 pm

The Fire won back-to-back away games and scored six goals. They sit in a playoff position and control their own fate with two games remaining. Juan Luis Anangono is heating up. Mike Magee is so hot he’s scoring goals by accident. Sean Johnson is playing like, and being recognized as, one of the four or five best American goalies. Jeff Larentowicz is owning midfields. Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry are two of only three MLS players who’ve played every single minute so far this season and their defensive relationship is finally solidifying. There’s real depth on the outside and through the middle (where captain Logan Pause and summer standout Daniel Paladini are working to get past Alex and Arevalo Rios).

That’s the general view right now. The squad is playing up to their potential and the depth is supporting them. The competition for spots is pushing everyone harder, and the depth is allowing Frank Klopas to cover for injuries, international duty (Rios, Lindpere), or to go with the hotter player (Anangono over Chris Rolfe).

In other words, things are shaping up nicely. The general feeling is a good one, momentum is building, the Twitter trolls have returned to their caves, and it’s hard to fend off enticing thoughts like, you know those lower-seeded teams that barrel into the playoffs and scare everyone because they’re playing with momentum and confidence? What if the Fire can be that team?

All season long, the Fire’s major problem was consistency. They were infuriatingly inconsistent from game to game and, indeed, from half to half. Maybe it was a focus thing, maybe it was a changing personnel thing, who knows. But now the Fire are managing games better. They’re attacking straight from the beginning. They’re pressuring the ball all over the field. They’re getting crucial two-goal advantages and defending well enough to hold on to them.

We saw all that last week in D.C., where a super high defensive line pushed the Fire team way up the field to pressure United players into mistakes that led to chances and goals. We saw the same thing in Dallas on Saturday night. Alex, especially, was way up the field in the first half, never letting the Dallas players play the ball comfortable in their own half. (Magee, Anangono, Patrick Nyarko, and Dilly Duka deserve credit too.) How many shots did the Fire have at the top of the Dallas box in the first 30 minutes? It was harassment.

So just like in DC, a high defensive line and concentrated pressure led to a 2-0 first half lead. But just like in DC, we saw where it could be dangerous. We saw the team pay the price of so much early pressure, with Nyarko tweaking a hamstring and the rest of the team almost running out of gas late in the second half. We also saw how pushing too eagerly can be scary:

But I like this high pressure because it fits the moment, with the Fire desperately needing these results to make the playoffs. There are just two games left and the Fire have to prove their potentially newfound consistency beyond the past two away wins. They have to show the urgency and the commitment and the work rate into the next two games, too. Klopas's high risk and high pressure tactic fits. 

It's a great moment: After all the work and all the struggle, suddenly the players’ quality shines through. Suddenly everybody trusts each other. Goals and points happen. Anibaba scores a stunner. Other teams hit the posts. 

I don't know about predicting anything against Toronto and New York. But if we keep seeing the Fire play as they have these past two games, they'll get to play a few more.

13 October 12:45 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at FC Dallas
Toyota Stadium – Frisco, Texas
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
 
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas
 
General thoughts on the match…
 
“With games running out, we knew that this was a game that we needed to get three points.  It’s a good team with a lot of quality players, so we knew we had to play a very good game, stay compact, and defend well without the ball because of the team speed that they have.
 
At this point in the season, you want to be playing for something and we have to focus on looking at it one game at a time, but this was for sure a massive win against a very good team.”
 
On the goals the Fire gave up…
 
“I have to look again but there was two bad goals that went in. The first goal looked like offside to me and the second, Gonzalo Segares got the ball and the referee calls a PK. On the other end, Juan [Luis Anangono] beats the goalkeeper and goes down and the referee doesn’t call anything. The referees need to be consistent… Very consistent in games like this.”
 
On going into a defensive mode in the second half…
 
“Patrick Nyarko had an issue with the hamstring and we were forced to take Dilly Duka out. Patrick would have been our first sub had Dilly not gotten hurt. We were thinking 65 minutes would be good to bring Patrick out. We didn’t want to push him any more than that. Then Dilly gets hurt and now we end up losing Patrick for a longer amount of time… at a crucial time.
 
As the game went, it really dictated the subs that we had to make. We needed to strengthen the middle. The changes that FC Dallas made strengthened the middle and we needed to match that. We put guys in that were a little more defensive-minded and they were able to finish the game off.”
 
On the importance of Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire this season…
 
“His numbers are fantastic. We were having problems scoring when we got him and now we’re playing for something. It’s a really good time to be playing well.”
 
Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee
 
On his goal…
 
“I wasn’t even surprised. I didn’t see anything at all. I tried making a run to get in-behind and Alex hit a shot that was coming right at my face. I tried to protect myself and not get hit in the face. I felt it hit me, I want to say in the ribcage and when I looked up it was heading into the goal. I didn’t have any time to be surprised. It was the strangest goal I’ve scored.”
 
On Juan Luis Anangono’s goal…
 
“Juan is great in the air. He gets up well and his timing is great. We actually have begun to start looking for him more on set pieces. He did all he needed to do, which was just glance it towards goal. It was perfect. More importantly, he had a fabulous game tonight.”
 
On Jalil Anibaba’s goal…
 
“Not a knock on Jalil, but I don’t think anyone in Chicago was expecting him to do that tonight. He is a great defender, a great kid. If we have to have a guy in that spot… If we have a guy trying to bend one in to the far upper-90 it’s normally not going to be him. But thankfully, tonight it was him. I am glad it was because I don’t think anyone else would have been able to do it.”
 
On making a run towards playoffs…
 
“For the last two months, we’ve been hovering right around that red line. The big issue for us was getting over that hump. Now, we’ve put ourselves into a position with two matches left in the season that we control our own destiny. If anyone else outside of this locker room would have said that this is where were going to be at this point in the season, I think everyone would have called BS on them. We have always believed in ourselves. We’ve had some lows and some great performances and tonight was obviously one of the great ones.”
 
Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba
 
On his goal…
 
“At the time, I didn’t know how important it was going to be but I tried to get into a good spot and I tried to put the ball to the far post. I put it in a good spot and it went in.”
 
Talk about how the defense was able to tighten up in the final 10 minutes of the match to get the win…
 
“If you go back and watch the video, the way we closed out the game was not just a defensive effort. We had a lot of help from players higher up the field that killed off minutes and took a lot of time off the clock. That was what we needed. It is our job as a defensive unit to keep balls out of the back of the net but I thought the attackers did a very good job to help us finish off the game.
12 October 10:46 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 3-2 win over FC Dallas, presented by MiAllstate.

CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images

09 October 10:23 am

Select shots from the club's 16th anniversary party and #cf97ThirdKit unveiling.

CREDIT: Nick Sintich, Chicago Fire

08 October 1:54 pm

 

The big stories of Friday night’s win at DC United have to be the Fire staying in the playoff hunt (now two points behind Philly for the East’s fifth and final spot) and Sean Johnson’s saves that helped procure an invaluable clean sheet. But a closer look finds a Fire team with an ignominious away record finally succeeding away from Toyota Park with the help of a new approach that could propel them into the playoffs: a high defensive line.
 
To get the qualifiers out of the way, yes, DCU was playing a little hungover after their incredible U.S. Open Cup win at Salt Lake on Tuesday night, and yes, they were playing some young guns. But these are professionals playing for their jobs and for their pride. With some better finishing they could have made this night super awkward.
But that said, the Fire managed to not only keep a clean sheet en route to a comfortable seeming 3-0 win, they did so with a super high defensive line. It had some hiccups but, like the Fire coaches have been clamoring for the past few weeks, they finally found themselves with an advantage of at least two goals. It gave them a little bit of emotional space to play in, a little bit of confidence, and those are the things that the Fire need to succeed away from home.
 
It’s important to acknowledge that the Fire’s three goals came for the most part against the run of play. DCU held a lot of possession, something the Fire are OK with, but they soaked up the pressure and hit DCU back efficiently, repeatedly, and without mercy, exactly what Frank Klopas envisioned for a tricky away game.
 
They did so by pushing Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry way up the field. Along with Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios scrambling in midfield, that scrunched the amount of space DCU’s midfielders had to play in. With less room to play, they were more likely to lose the ball gifted the Fire playmakers with chances here and there throughout the game. It was Patrick Nyarko stepping up in the sixth minute which led to Mike Magee’s shot that was saved by Joe Willis. The foul that led to the Fire’s second goal came after another giveaway gave the Fire possession in the 25th
 
With two more away games left, it’s enticing to think that this high line and high pressure approach is the Fire’s ticket to the playoffs, but we saw on Friday how the high line invites its own risks. Leaving so much space behind the defense means that balls between or around the defenders can pose serious threats to a backpedaling line. The best way to counter that is to constantly pressure the ball so that whoever’s on it never has the time to look up and find the pass behind the defenders. There was a 10 minute period after the Fire’s first two goals when DCU was creating chances and Klopas appeared on the bottom of the TV feed, screaming at his midfielders to apply more pressure on the ball.
 
 
It’s reassuring to see Klopas continually tweaking the tactics, even so late in the season, because we’ve seen that this team needs those sort of adjustments to continue gelling into this final phase. But considering his allegiance to the traditional 4-4-2, it’s also interesting to see Klopas take on the trendy defensive high line. It’s the high line that Pep Guardiola has rode at Barcelona and now Bayern Munich, and the Fire share with Guardiola’s teams the characteristic of being most dangerous on the counterattack, right after the high line wins the ball.
But with so much space behind the defenders, any mistake can be costly. A quick jaunt through tactics guru Michael Cox’s articles shows exactly how scary it can be. It’s a high risk sort of approach, one that requires the entire team defending as one unit, always pressuring the ball, always keeping neat straight lines in the back, and always having faith that your teammates are pressuring as hard as you are.
 
 
The Fire came out needing three points to stay in the playoff race and they managed to put a solid game together that was marked more by game management and efficiency than halftime adjustments and inconsistent focus. With just nine regular season points left to play for, it was refreshing, and much needed. The Fire will take those risks in the next three games. The only question is whether when Philly slip up, they can keep the focus and confidence and squeeze into the playoffs.

 

04 October 11:43 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at D.C. United
RFK Stadium – Washington, D.C.
Friday, October 4, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the team’s approach to facing D.C. United and the home side’s high-energy display:
 
“For sure, that was to be expected. Winning the Open Cup is a great achievement and it doesn’t matter what their record is. They have a lot of quality players on their team and obviously coming off that, being at home, we knew it was going to be a difficult match. We had some chances early on. I think they did also, but we were able to finish out chances. I think that was the key in the game. I think, obviously, in the second half Sean made some big saves for us and I think we were smart towards the end to close the game off. We kept our shape really well, we were smart in possession, and we knew, as they were pushing, that there would be opportunities on the break. But we didn’t have to go every time. I think we needed to be on the ball a little bit more, but then again the third goal, obviously, it was great, but I just wanted to keep the ball. We were smart, we kept our shape, we didn’t get stretched out knowing that they had to push. I think when you keep a clean sheet and you put your chances away, you put yourself in a good position to win. We knew it was going to be a difficult match. It’s a quality team regardless of their record, plus coming off that final, you know? They put their emotions into it, and really, they were playing loose.”
 
On what he saw on Jeff Larentowicz’s goal
 
“Just some good ball movement, and obviously, the movement off the ball was the key. You get those chances and you put them away. But yeah, there was some good ball movement and some good off-the-ball movement, and I think the field was fantastic tonight. It made for a good game. You could move the ball quickly and stuff like that. It was a good combination, and guys were rewarded for their movement off the ball.”
 
On Mike Magee’s role on the night:
 
“I think that you need to find other guys. I think Mike, as a striker, I think one of his roles is to score. You give him two or three chances, you know he’s going to do that. But he’s also the guy where it really doesn’t matter. For him, he’d give up the 18 goals if that would mean we have four more wins for the team. That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s good because then, when you, with Juan and Quincy coming in with their ability and attitude, the movement off the ball creates a lot of space for our midfield players. And Mike is smart to find those guys. I think Jeff did a very good job joining in late and making late runs. A lot of times goals follow goals. When you’re on the road and get chances, you got to put them away and you need to be able to defend well and we did, and Sean came up with some big saves.”
 
On Sean Johnson’s performance:
 
“He played well. He made some key saves. We talked about our ability to close games out in the end and how we do it. We didn’t do a good job last week against Montreal. We had the lead up into the final ten minutes and we were pushing the game a little bit and we didn’t keep our shape as we were moving forward, it was almost like we were down 2-1. I thought we were smarter about this, the way we went about this game. We had the lead, and I think we pushed at the right moments, we took the risks at the right moments, but I always know that we kept numbers up in the back. It’s great when you win. D.C. United, like I said, has a lot of quality and it’s never easy for the players to come and play here.”
 
On the team’s mentality entering the final games of the regular season:
 
“We knew we had to win tonight. I saw that Montreal and Houston played tonight and Houston won that game, and there are a lot of matches tomorrow. We knew that this was a big game for us. We needed to get points. We’re playing four games—three on the road—and we need to find points to be there. It’s never easy. But it’s great that we got the three points here and you can watch the games a little bit more relaxed tomorrow.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On the team’s performance:
 
“We’re in the playoff race and we want to stay alive. I think last week we gave some points away. Every time we’ve gone on the road and had an opportunity to push ourselves further in the playoff race we haven’t done it but tonight we did it. D.C.’s a team coming off a big win and we wanted to make sure we came in and beat them.”
 
On his goal:
 
“Juan had the ball wide and took a couple guys on. I know that my job is to get in the box when I see a play develop. The ball came to me and I was able to finish it. Juan did all the work and I just kind of cleaned it up at the end.”
 
On the win affecting the team’s confidence in the playoff push:
 
“Yeah, it keeps us alive. I think we haven’t done well on the road this year. To score three goals is great, and to keep ourselves in it is all we could have asked. We get to play next week again in a game that means something. We all believe we can get into the playoffs but we have to make sure we do it when we have the opportunity.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
 
On his team’s start to the game:
 
“It took us a while to really get settled into the game. There was a very high level of play to the game for the first few minutes. It was tough—I’m not going to say it was an easy time. We definitely had to grind it out.”
 
On the effect of the result in the team’s playoff push:
 
“It’s huge. We got three points, and especially in this time of year when we’re fighting for a playoff spot. It’s massive no matter where you are—home or away. I think every point matters, and to come away with three points is a big task and everyone should be happy. Now we can get better and get ready for next week.”
29 September 12:00 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact
Toyota Park – Sept. 28, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the overall performance
 
“It is so tough because this game is a bit cruel. You get chances and we created a lot of opportunities. It’s been difficult because we’ve been dropping points. We could’ve been in a different situation. It’s crucial because it is towards the end. Every point that we drop we can’t get back. It is an opportunity to be in the final spot. The energy was there, we deserve to win but it doesn't always work out.”
 
On Montreal’s second goal
 
“You give them opportunities and they will score. They bring their energy. It is difficult. I thought the crowd was fantastic. They stood behind the team. You have to move on and learn from it.”
 
On the offense
 
“You have players and you need to use them. You saw the second half and I thought we had a good mentality and attitude. As a team we did enough, but we have to move on.”
 
Mike Magee Chicago Fire forward
 
On the missed penalty kick
           
“It won’t be the last one I miss but I’m confident taking them and I’ll bury the next one. That was a situation where I have to put that one away for the team.”
 
On the slow start and second half
 
“Obviously we needed to come out and press.  Our goal at the beginning of the game was to come out and press, but we didn’t do that.  I think Frank [Klopas] did a great job to make the changes at the half.  We just needed a spark.  Nothing against the guys that came out, we just needed a little something different.  Chris [Rolfe] and Alex both did a great job.  Tonight’s a game we had to win, but we’ll move on and get back to work on Monday.”
 
On giving up another late goal
 
“We need to put them away.  If I bury that PK the game is over.  Tonight’s on me.  I can’t expect the defense to keep bailing me out; we have to find a way to win these games to take some pressure off the defense.”
 
On how tough this result is
 
“It’s not tough at all.  We have to move on, there’s not enough time badger ourselves with what-ifs, we have four games left and tomorrow we move forward. We have four games left and we’re going to make the playoffs.”
 
Gonzalo Segares, Chicago Fire defender
 
On the result:
 
“We’re making mistakes offensively and defensively. We aren’t putting them away offensively and we can’t close it out defensively.  We played our hearts out to come back and to give it away is heartbreaking.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On the result
 
“It’s disappointing what happened at the end of the game, I’m personally very disappointed, but I think there’s a lot of positives that came from this game.  We went down a goal and showed a lot of character to come back in the second half and create a lot of chances to put the game away.  That’s why I’m not giving up on this season.  This team has a lot of character to dig itself out of holes and there are still four games to go and we still have a shot.”
 
On Magee’s performance
 
“He did what he does best, scoring, and got us back in the game.”
 
On winning the penalty
 
“I just saw some space behind the defender and I was actually going for the meg, but I think he closed it and I went past him and thought that I could take it.  The keeper charged me and my first thought was to chip it, but the angle was so tight that I couldn’t do it.  I knew that he committed, so I just needed to touch it by him because I knew he was going to foul me.”
 
21 September 10:46 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew
Crew Stadium – Sept. 21, 2013
 
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas

On whether, with all of the chances and the red card, it still seemed like a 3-0 game:

No, not at all. We give up the red card and then playing shorthanded, and the first goal was soft. We were coming from behind. Really, we pushed the game. We had chances to tie the game and it doesn’t go your way and then they got a PK. For me, it’s all questionable, but regardless, the team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.

On whether, down 1-0 at half, Chicago was trying to tie the game or still get three points:

You just have to be smart. We had our chances. I think if we would have scored, they would have been under pressure, but we hit the post, we had some good opportunities in the final third and sometimes it just isn’t your night.

On trying to beat a team four times in a season:


It isn’t easy to beat a team four times in one season, but it’s very difficult when you’re playing shorthanded also. We played for the majority of the game, almost 60 minutes, shorthanded, and the guys competed and left it all on the field. We pushed the game. We took risks because what’s the point? 1-0 or 2-0 you still lose, for me it doesn’t matter at that point. We had the chances and we didn’t get [the goal]. The second goal really kills us, the PK shorthanded, questionable but whatever. It is what it is. We’ve just got to move on.

Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka

On the loss:

We have played this team four times this year – you can’t win them all. This is MLS. They scored an early goal, they played well, and we were a little unlucky. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed. The guy didn’t even touch the ball, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Can’t look back – got to look forward.

On the second half:

We definitely believed we could come back and tie, maybe even win the game. There was no doubt in that locker room at halftime about coming out of this game with a loss.

On ‘new-look’ Crew under Bliss:

I thought they were a good team with Robert [Warzycha]. I think they have good personnel and players, but it was just their day.


Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

On the loss:

We hit the posts, we hit the crossbar, we got opportunities – overall though we were just not good enough. But in the end we have five more games left and we’re right there. We have been in this spot before. We knew it was going to be a tough road game coming in, but we have games to play and there is going to be more opportunities.

On impact of second goal:

The next goal was going to be big. We knew that if we could keep it at one to nothing we could probably develop opportunities and create chances. The second goal was one that put the game out of reach.

On difficulty of beating teams four times a season:

We knew that coming in, but at the same time we were focused on the end result. This is a tough part of the year. We are a team that knows we can do things on the road, but tonight it wasn’t our best and when you’re not on your best you get beat.