With three wins on the bounce, the Fire are on the brink of a playoff spot with only one game to go. The Men in Red could be in before the start of play on Sunday but the earliest they’ll know is a little over an hour from kickoff of their match vs. New York Red Bulls (LIVE 3:30pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports WI; 4pm on UniMas).
Still, there is plenty to play for, including a possible third place finish thus avoiding the play-in game. For New York no incentive is bigger than knowing a win against the Fire will guarantee the team’s first ever trophy. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Patrick Nyarko and Jalil Anibaba vs New York’s left back – taking advantage of a Red Bulls weak spot
Left back has been a problem position for the Red Bulls this season and with the two natural left backs nursing injuries, the Red Bulls may have to resort to playing right-back Brandon Barklage out of position as cover. Red Bulls coach Mike Petke admitted that he is wary of Patrick Nyarko and hinted that it could be Barklage that gets the start due to his strong 1v1 defending.
WATCH: Segares, Nyarko preview NYRB
With that in mind, I feel the Fire coaching staff will be encouraging Nyarko to get the ball and take the left back on as much as possible. Left midfielder Johnny Steele is not the best at tracking back and helping in the defensive third and this could also allow Jalil Anibaba to get forward and support Nyarko on the Fire’s right.
Anibaba’s crossing ability has improved dramatically this year and regardless of who New York starts on the left, I expect the majority of the Fire’s attacks to come down that side.
Logan Pause vs Alex – who will partner Rios in the middle?
The toughest decision for the Fire’s coaching staff this week is who will replace the suspended Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the midfield alongside Arevalo Rios. One of Logan Pause, Alex or Daniel Paladini will be half of the tandem that will have to compete against one of the strongest midfield pairings in MLS: Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill.
On the one hand, the Fire know that the Red Bulls will be playing for the win and the Supporters Shield crown that comes with the points. On the other, the Fire will also be going for the win, knowing what they will have to do to finish in either fifth, fourth or even third.
With this in mind, Alex would be a more logical pick to start alongside Rios due to his attacking creativity and willingness to get forward and support the strikers. To those who argue that starting Alex over Logan would mean the team loses some defensive clout, coach Frank Klopas would argue that Alex’s defensive play has been excellent this season.
Tactically, I think starting Logan Pause would be the wiser choice, especially when you take into account the fluidity of the New York attack. The center midfielders and strikers for the Red Bulls are never static, with players like Henry often drifting wide and Cahill moving forward to play as the target striker.
With Pause alongside Rios, the Fire would form a very solid block of four, similar to the formation that the Republic of Ireland played under Giovanni Trapattoni. This formation would make the Fire very difficult to break down but would put a lot more emphasis on the wide players to create. This coaching decision has the potential to have huge impact on the match.
Shutting down Fabian Espindola – a player easily lost in the shadows of Henry and Cahill
In the Red Bulls last home match against New England, Mike Petke started with Henry and Fabian Espindola up front and in the first half in particular, Espindola was unstoppable. The New England defense could not keep up with the Argentine striker, who dropped deep and wide in search of the ball, dragging defenders out of position along the way.
Espindola is a player that any coach would love to have due to his tireless work rate. He also hounds opposition defenders when they are in possession, always looking to force a turnover or mistake and does not give up possession easily.
His low center of gravity can be very difficult for defenders to contain and he will certainly pose a challenge for the Fire’s backline on Sunday afternoon. The Fire defenders must not allow Espindola to get behind the backline.
Individually the defenders must not allow him to drag them out of position and create space for players like Cahill and McCarty to move into.
Prediction: With both teams knowing a win would be massively rewarding, I expect an end to end thriller, especially if there is an early goal. 2-2 with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.
The Chicago Fire Twitter Takeover is back Thursday with Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko taking the controls from 1:30-2:15pm CT!
Get Pat's take on how he's feeling heading into the all-important season finale at New York on Sunday, how the team has progressed to this point over the course of the season or just where the best spot to get Peanut Butter Soup is in Chicago...
— Courtney Stigler (@Stigler27) October 23, 2013
His name is Steven... Not Taylor.
— Josue Botello (@JosueBotello) October 23, 2013
WAIT...NO... When did this happen?!?
This @ChicagoFire show is intense...
— Dawn Turner (@_dawniee) October 23, 2013
I like camping in tents too!
THE HELL YOU ARE BENNY @CHICAGOFIRE
— Joe Minoso (@DaMinoshow) October 23, 2013
Our mascot is Sparky, you're thinking of the Bulls mascot.
No @ChicagoFire til Nov 12!!!!!!!!!! Why!!? Now what will i watch on Tuesday nights
— RicardoMontes (@RicardoMontes1) October 23, 2013
I can't think of a sarcastic response for this one, so here's a GIF of resident ninja, Austin Berry
Orlando took one step closer to becoming an MLS club Tuesday night as the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to approve funds for a new multi-purpose, soccer stadium in the town known for mouse ears and making dreams come true.
The club will now enter final negotiations with Major League Soccer to become the league's 21st franchise, with hopes for an official announcement in the next few months.
If it happens that soon, much speculation indicates that Phil Rawlins and Orlando City could enter MLS as early as 2015 along with confirmed expansion New York City FC.
Owned by Stoke City chairman Phil Rawlins, the club has been the cream of the crop in USL-Pro since the franchise to central Florida from Austin in late 2010.
Orlando City won its second USL-Pro championship earlier this year (the first came in 2011) and has also twice won the Commissioner's Cup (USL's form of the Supporter's Shield) in 2011 and 2012.
Of course Chicago Fire fans will remember the Lions best for the two sides meeting in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in June at Toyota Park. An overall media swell surrounded Orlando City's Cinderella run to the final eight, only to see the Fire come out 5-1 winners in the match.
What do you think of Orlando's potential entry into MLS? Tell us below...
When Sasha Chanoff, the founder of RefugePoint, reached out to the Fire’s ownership about hosting a family at Saturday’s Fire game that seemed like the least we could do.
The Lokango family, a Congolese refugee family (whose lives RefugePoint saved) are new arrivals in Chicago. Prior to Chicago, they were living as refugees in Kenya for a number of years. Not only did they suffer unspeakably before escaping the Congo, but the 13-year-old, Emile, was shot in the leg in Nairobi because they were living in a dangerous area where refugees had become targets.
RefugePoint’s Cheryl Hamilton, who escorted the family to Toyota Park, had met them a few months ago in Nairobi and worked with RefugePoint to get them out as soon as possible. They are overjoyed and overwhelmed with relief to finally be in Chicago and safe.
Sasha and Cheryl knew Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and had worked with the Hauptman family as they had hosted a fundraiser for RefugePoint in the past. Additionally, in 2010, RefugePoint's effort in protecting the world’s most vulnerable refugees was awarded with the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize (one of whose founders is Andrew Hauptman). As the boys also love soccer, Cheryl knew that it would be a warm Chicago welcome for them to come and experience a Chicago Fire game. They were seen cheering on the Fire and high-fiving other supporters after Mike Magee’s magical penalty kick.
In the end, it was an honor to host the family and for them to be recognized on field during Saturday’s game against Toronto. Their story touched everyone who met them at Toyota Park on Saturday, and they definitely brought the Men in Red good luck as well.
For more on RefugePoint and the hundreds of families they help (including the Lokango’s) visit http://www.refugepoint.org/.
Move over Jeff Larentowicz, there's a new ninja in town.
Check out Austin Berry's mad skills as he cuts off a great Toronto FC through ball. Hiyah!!
What's more awesome than watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion? Watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion in slow motion, of course!
With the magic of a GoPro camera, a talented videographer (@laflores037), and some editing software, we're able to make it happen.
Check out this sweet video below, and remember to tweet your support of #MikeMageeMVP!
There were shots off the post, a disallowed goal, more Sean Johnson saves, the dramatic contexts of playoff contention and the last regular season home game of the season - Saturday’s win had a handful of talking points, but it had really only one truly interesting scene: Mike Magee’s game winning penalty.
Because despite the atmosphere and everything that was at stake, the game, in fact was pretty flat. Maybe it was the rain-soaked field, maybe it was a bit of nerves but Fire fans had to be uncomfortable when they saw the first 10 minutes with little of the urgency, high pressure, and high defensive line that pushed the team to those two huge away wins in D.C. and Dallas. Toronto was finding gaps all over the field to exploit and if it wasn’t for such bad finishing by Robert Earnshaw, they would’ve been in front.
The Fire grew into the game, however, and were in control when Magee scored the winning penalty. Then, as we’ve seen for the past month or so, the Fire managed the remainder of the and took all the points.
So maybe it’s good that it wasn’t a spectacle of high drama. Maybe it was just a professional victory -- a cold blooded three point snatch.
But then there was Magee’s PK.
Just a few weeks ago, Magee hit the crossbar with what would’ve been a game winning PK against Montreal. It cost the Fire two crucial points. “Tonight's on me,” he said after the game. “It won't be the last one I miss but I'm confident taking them and I'll bury the next one.”
It’s more or less the approach you expect from someone leading the league in goals and there aren’t many better opportunities to pad your stats than from the penalty spot.
And yet, and YET, Saturday’s PK was terrifying. I didn’t like the way Magee looked, I didn’t like his set up. He kept wiping his hands, and he started his run-up exactly at the whistle. You can often tell if a player’s going to score their PK based on their face, their calm, their approach, and their cool. We all know Magee is cool in front of goal, but wouldn’t the Montreal miss be on his mind? There he was, right in front of Section 8, back in his home city, a stadium chanting MVP - it was a moment, just a second or two, where some people might have thought about the whole chaos of the season. All the missed chances, all the posts they hit, all the points they dropped, all the mistakes and antagonism and pressure.
It happened so fast. Magee didn’t let the moment fester. He knew what he was going to do. He knows where the goal is. He wipes his hands, he tugs his shorts down a bit, he looks at the ref waiting for the whistle. When it comes he leaps off the line like a 5k start, skips a bit to the left of the ball, and approaching it that way, executes the deftest of chips right into where the goalie’s chest would’ve been if he hadn’t dove down to his right, where he thought Magee would go.
What I love about the way he took it is that he seemed to beat the rhythm of the game. I wanted a dramatic pause. I wanted to consider the entire season in the moment, and I wanted him to look straight at the keeper with fire in his eyes, like Rivaldo in 2002. But then, that’s what makes him such a good finisher, isn’t it? It’s the way he seems to catch defenders and goalies unaware. For some goals he’s quicker than you think he can be, and for others he seems to wait an eternity before calmly putting it away. The PK on Saturday was a combination of both. It had the quickness to take a few people by surprise (and short circuit any nerves), and the calmness to chip a Pirlo-esque panenka in front of thousands of people, in the most important game of the season.
After the game, Magee admitted he had some nervousness: “Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle.”
Even when admitting nerves, he sounds like the doubt in his mind didn’t really make him fear not scoring, it just pushed him to score differently.
And so now the Fire go to New York with nerves and doubts, but like Magee, they’ll have to use those doubts to push forward. They’ve learned from their mistakes against Montreal (and Columbus, and etc. etc.) but for three games in a row they’ve managed games and have a chance to finish the season the way Magee finished his PK: maybe a little afraid of the posts, maybe not exactly with the suave calmness of a secure playoff spot, but with a chance to kill it off, take the points, and head into the playoffs.
On Sunday, Chicago’s third annual Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) officially came to a close. The Fire were excited to be one of two sports teams in town (the other being the Bulls) to participate. CIW has quickly grown to be Chicago’s premier event for sharing ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world and getting invited to participate is a great honor.
More than 30 students came to Toyota Park on Friday afternoon to join in our Youth Lab. Representatives from each area of the Front Office set aside their time to give the group a behind-the-scenes look at the Fire, from getting ready for game day to what it takes to be a good corporate citizen, to what it really takes if you want to work in sports. The evening wrapped with an all-access tour of Toyota Park.
While we’re sad to see another Chicago Ideas Week come and go, we were definitely happy to play host this year (even late on a Friday afternoon). Check out https://www.chicagoideas.com/ for more great content from this year’s week.
I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.
Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.
First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:
Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...
Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)
Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)
The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.