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06 August 9:28 am

At Toyota Park in May, Philly sat back, let the Fire run circles around them like some mean, old dog, then got a seemingly innocuous free kick and suddenly Jack McInerney, in on goal, kicked the team straight in the gut. That game felt like a one-act play, where the characters on stage build to an obvious conclusion, some grotesque act that you know is coming but still shocks and hurts when you see it live.

This Saturday, the Fire went to Philly to continue their climb back into the playoff picture and battled in a Three Act work of considerable drama. Each was punctuated by a goal. Here’s the liner notes, starring Philly and Chicago, two mysterious characters.

Act One, The Set-Up (0-45’)

Kick off. Philly comes out first, Chicago wakes up slowly, stretches arms to the sky, makes coffee, realizes it’s in the middle of a game, and immediately pops into action. Philly, who tried to come out with high and tight pressure, find themselves being passed around in sequences of quick one-twos and flicks, like those that lead to a beautiful first goal, with not even 10 minutes gone.

Philly broadcasters (the chorus), clamor for more “intensity” from the home team. The Fire look comfortable but ominously cannot extend their lead. They start to slow down a bit and Philly enjoy a few minutes of confidence-boosting possession at the end of the half, including a couple of dangerous free kicks. The plot thickens.

Halftime.

Act Two, The Montage (45’-54’)

This short intervening act provides the backbone of the drama. A little character development. Fresh off their orange slices, Philly and Chicago come out ready to party again.

Like Act One, Philly threaten first (Conor Casey flashes a shot just wide of goal two minutes in), but Chicago recovers and takes the upper hand. How predictable is this? Chicago finds space everywhere and kick off a few minutes of possession in the opponent’s half like we haven’t seen all season.

Cue montage and “Danger Zone.” A few not particularly interesting forays forward foreshadow something for Philly, but Chicago cruises.

What can go wrong?

Act Three, The Climax (54-90)

The Montage ends. The motorcycle crashes. Le Toux gets in on Chicago’s right and Sean Johnson makes a kick save. Chicago attacks and Rolfe finds enough space to squeeze a shot off - but Zac MacMath tips it over the bar. Go time. Philly go forward and get their goal with 30 minutes left - so much time for both to fight out the end.

Suddenly Philly is everywhere. Sean Johnson makes an impossible save off a corner. Another is cleared off the line. Chicago is wavering badly, Philly is matching Chicago’s dominance from Act Two.

There is no music. Chicago fights with their inner identity battle between the disappointments early in the year and their confidence to close games. (Mike Magee said after the game, “I think there was a point in the 65th minute where we had been getting pummeled the whole half and we all kind of looked at each other and said this game is there for us to win.”)

Two subs come on in the 67th, as Klopas tries to overturn Philly’s momentum.

And then it happens, the climax. Chicago confronts Philly. They continue pressing. The spirit of fight and persistence embodied in Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko combine with harrowing pressure. Nyarko fights the ball loose from a Philly midfielder and plays in Magee. Magee finishes calmly.

Your girlfriend is crying, but there’s still twenty minutes time! The drama carries over but the game is rarely in doubt. A penalty shout scares the audience, so nobody leaves their seats. Then the violin music. A stoppage time kiss at the sunset. Chicago steals the points.

Curtain.

04 August 12:20 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union
PPL Park – Chester, Pa. – August 3, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On differences between team now and in May
 
“I mean obviously in the beginning we had a difficult start. I think the slow start did hurt us early on. I think the additions with Baky (Soumare) and Mike (Magee) have helped a lot and I think in time, their ability to gel with the rest of the guys has helped. We knew there were a lot of important games coming up and we dropped a lot of points on the road early on so all these games are massive right now and we felt that we played well last time against Philly at home and they scored the late goal with Jack so it was a difficult match, but I give all the credit to my players, they came out, they competed, everyone left everything on the field and we got three points in a difficult place.”
 
On Mike Magee’s performance since joining the Fire
 
“We knew he was a quality player but you see a night like tonight, and that is what a forward has to do. He gets that opportunity, is very composed, he waits for the keeper to go so it was just a class goal. Patrick (Nyarko) made a great pass, but when you get him in spots in front of the goal it is just very good He has been huge for us, but I think more than anything it has been the whole team that contributes and it is all about the team, the mentality is good, everybody is putting everything forward for the success of the team and I think that is what it is all about.”
 
On the turning point in the game
 
“Yeah we knew their ability to do set pieces with Williams with the long throw, they have scored a lot of goals. It is easy to talk about it, but in a game you have to avoid situations like that. They put a lot of pressure, they had a lot of set pieces late in the game, open field crosses and there was some moments late in the game that were not so easy for us, but we knew that going up they were going to push the game and we would have opportunities in transition. We weren’t as good in certain moments to capitalize on that. We had our chances and in the end it was an exciting game, both teams left it all on the field and I just give a lot of credit again to my players in a difficult place against a very good team to come and get three points, it was huge for us.”
 
On the playoff race
 
“It is exciting. It is going to come down to the end, there is so much parity in the league. I think it is going to be exciting; I think there is going to be a fight all the way until the end and I think you couldn’t ask for anything else. Look at this game, how exciting it was, three goals in a game. Both teams up and down created chances and made very exciting for the fans and the atmosphere was super here tonight.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
Thoughts on the game
 
“We knew it was going to be tough. Their team is a very good team, they are playing very well, their confidence level is through the roof and we knew it was going to take a special effort to get a result here. We made it a point to get a good start and we did that. We sat back a little bit more and made them come at us for a long period of the game. As a home game with how confident they are playing, they got lucky on the goal, but they are always bound to score if we drop off on them and we did that. We wanted to win here so after they got the goal we decided to push on and luckily we got a second goal and we resisted their attack for the last period of the game.”
 
On the magnitude of this win
 
“They are a team we are chasing and we could not let them get away from us. We kicking ourselves in the teeth, we made two errors and they beat us, they took six points out of us. If not for that we are closer to them and we made it a point to get close them in this game.”
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire Forward
 
On what made the difference in the game
 
“It wasn’t our best game we obviously gave away a lot of set pieces, which we didn’t want to do, a lot of throw-ins, but we found a way to battle. Sean had a great game and our back line was good and obviously the difference was scoring more goals than them.”
 
On his mindset for scoring
 
“To be honest my mindset is just to always try to get wins. We are on the outside looking in at the playoffs and that is the only goal. The best part about tonight is getting three points.”
 
On his mindset going into his first game in Philly as a Fire player
 
“I have played here before with LA. My mindset is trying to change the culture and try to get in the habits of trying to win games. I think there was a point in the 65th minute where we had been getting pummeled the whole half and we all kind of looked at each other and said this game is there for us to win. They were sending a lot of guys forward and we pretty fortunate not to give up a goal in the beginning of the second half. I think once we weathered that storm the soccer Gods gave us a chance and luckily I buried it.”
 
Team Manager John Hackworth
On whether this was a missed opportunity for separation in the playoff race…
“Yeah I think this is a huge missed opportunity. We knew Chicago would come and give us a really good game, they’re a pretty good team. It was never going to be easy, but to go down a goal and come back and then lose another goal, we felt like we had out foot on the gas a little bit, but losing the way we did was really unfortunate.”
On Mike Magee
“He’s a good player, he brings heat wherever he goes and it’s something to watch for.”
On what he thought about the four straight corners in the second half…
“There’s an advantage to getting opportunity and capturing it and that’s something we need to capture at home. We’ve had good runs, good service in the box. The night was up and down, but on that sequence it was really important that we put ourselves in that position by pushing them more than we did in the first half and that’s a good sign. Especially with a team that’s extremely dangerous moving forward. We were getting chances on the break, but nothing that could help us.”
On what happened with the first goal…
“We just had a lot of guys chasing the ball and a lot of guys trying to compensate with each other after a couple misses. We tried really hard to get the ball, but one of those things we talked about was not letting them have the first pass.”
On why Jack McInerney isn’t scoring…
“There could be a lot of reasons, but real goal scorers have been coming through and it just didn’t seem like the chances were happening.  He’s a very confident man and knows what he wants in play. He also understands how difficult it is.”
On Gaddis’s injury…
“He rolled his ankle really badly. We tried to tape it up on the sideline and get him back in the last three minutes, but it’s just really unfortunate.”
Zac MacMath
 On the match tonight…
"It's a tough one. I don't think the team came out the way we should have in the first half. In the first 30 minutes, we struggled, and they put a lot of pressure on us. A lot of credit goes to them, but I still think that in the last 15 [minutes] of the first half, and in most of the second half, we had the good part of the match, and we were unfortunate to give up two easy goals like that."
On what John Hackworth told the team at halftime…
 "To go back to what we should have done. Outwork them, play smart, play simple, be patient, and let them open up. They started to open up, and the game was very wide open later on when we were pushing for it. We knew a goal was going to come, and we just had to wait for it, and hopefully find the second one. Unfortunately, we didn't."
 On what happened on Mike Magee's game-winning goal…
 "Obviously, Leo [Fernandes] gets picked off in the middle of the field, and it's an easy counter for them. They find [Mike] Magee wide open, and he finishes well."
 On the wide-open nature of the game and if it contributed to Mike Magee's goal…
"That's the risk you take. At home, you don't want to give up points, so I think that the team was pushing for it, and that makes the game really wide open. They're a team that likes to counter as it is, and they were looking for that."
On what happened on the first Chicago goal…
"I think it was Joel [Lindpere] who put in a really good ball, and they had a bunch of players in the box. Patrick [Nyarko] found himself wide open. He kind of hit it awkwardly, and he bounced it in. It came off of the turf weird."
Jack McInerney
 On if him being away for Gold Cup and Conor Casey serving a suspension has affected their chemistry…
"No, I don't think that has anything to do with it, really. We've been teammates for seven months now, so it's just about getting that lucky break. We're still playing well and creating chances, we're just not getting anything to fall for us."
 On what the All-Star Game experience meant to him…
"It meant a lot. I grew up watching some of those players play. To play alongside of them, and to spend a couple days with them, it kind of opened my eyes to see what it was like to be there."
 On if the Union missed an opportunity to create separation in the standings tonight…
"Yeah, we were hoping to go on a little three-game win streak. It was a good opportunity, but we have to put this game behind us. We have been pretty inconsistent this year with winning. No one expected us to win in Vancouver, and we would have expected to win today. I think we just have to put it behind us and come out hard against D.C. [United]."
On the series of corner kicks the Union had late and if he thought Philadelphia would score…
 "Those are one of the things where you keep pushing and pushing and eventually it will come. I don't know if it came on a free kick, or something, when Sheanon [Williams] scored, but these things build up and wear the other team down. We wanted more of them."
 On his week of travel to the Gold Cup final and then the All-Star Game…
"Yeah, I went for a two day trip and it ended up being seven days long. It was pretty exciting. It was a lot of traveling, but it was a good experience in both cities."
On his rap video at the All-Star Game…
 "(Laughs) I just walked in, and they asked me to do it. They had it written down, and I just gave it a go. I'm from Atlanta, so I have a little bit in me. I'm better than [Chris Wondolowski] (laughs)."
On if his goal drought has left him frustrated…
"Yeah, it's frustrating. I've been saying that I just need one of those easy tap-ins to get my confidence up and get back in the streak that I was going on. It's one of those things I have to fight through, and the team has to help me get through."
On if he finds himself pressing…
"I think I'm pushing a little too much, just because I know I'm on a streak where I haven't been able to do what I would have done at the beginning of the season. I just need to relax, find a goal, and find that rhythm again."
Sheanon Williams
On how he found the Fire different from the first two meetings this season, beyond Mike Magee…
"They had a little bit more heart. The last few times we played them, they settled for losing. Definitely with the new people that they brought in, they're a different team. They're not the same team that we beat twice."
 On what happened to the defense on Patrick Nyarko's goal…
"We [gave] the ball away in a bad spot. I had the whole defense shift, and we didn't do it properly."
On his goal…
"When you put yourself in good spots, good things happen."
On the defense tonight…
"It seems like we [gave] the ball away way too much. It cost us two goals today, and we have to do a better job of keeping it."
 On the Union's back line pushing forward frequently tonight…
"We're just trying to do what we can to help the team win. We obviously wanted three points. We would have settled for one after going down 2-1. We weren't able to get the goal, so we have to settle for zero."
On the late series of corners the Union had…
"The way I was thinking about it was, 'One of these has to go in.' One got cleared off the line, one got saved and put over the crossbar, and then we had another header. I thought that maybe we would sneak one in."
02 August 8:23 am

The Fire head east to Philly on Saturday night to take on the Union in a critical Eastern Conference clash (LIVE 6:30pm CT on My50). After earning a credible come-from-behind draw in Houston last weekend, the Men in Red will be confident of picking up all three points (and extracting some revenge) at PPL Park.

Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Isolating Jeff Parke – getting behind and in 1v1 situations with the Union defender

Similar to the Fire, individual errors have cost the Union in recent matches and veteran defender Jeff Parke has been the weak link in the Union defense over the past few MLS games.

Though excellent in the air, his positioning errors or slack marking led to numerous chances created for the opposing team. In both matches against Chivas and Houston, Parke was either forced or strayed out of position, leaving room behind him to be exploited.

READ: Duka, Alex look healthy for Philadelphia clash

With the ability of Magee and Rolfe to drop into deeper positions to pick up the ball and thus drag defenders like Parke out of position, the other Fire players must recognize these opportunities when they arise and try and take advantage of them.

Staying with the runners – trying to limit giving up preventable goals

In soccer, there is a major difference between giving up a 30 yard screamer and giving up a tap in because a defender decided to switch off and not follow his runner.

 

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

All too often for the Fire this season giving up easy goals and frequently going a goal behind has been the teams M.O.  Fire center back Bakary Soumare has made more than one costly error over the past month, most recently on the Dynamo goal last weekend and the center-back will be looking for a solid performance against his old club on Saturday.

With that being said, the defense as a whole has been guilty of individual errors which has meant that the team’s last clean sheet in league play was nine games ago, twelve if you count all matches. As I have mentioned in previous previews, a clean sheet, especially in an away game, would be a major positive for the Fire.

Against a team with such attacking threats as Philly, a clean sheet would also give the back line confidence heading into the biggest game of the season to date, the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against D.C. on Wednesday (TICKETS).

Taking advantage of the diamond system – pressuring Philly in their defensive third

The Union usually use a system similar in some ways to the Fire, deploying only one recognized defensive midfielder. In Philly’s case this is stalwart Brian Carroll.

Carroll plays in the “Makelele role,” sitting in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and rarely venturing into the opposing team’s attacking third. In this system, the assumption is that Carroll will not give up possession or be ahead of the ball in his defensive third.

READ: Mike Magee is the cover boy in the latest edition of MLS Overlap

One way to counter this system is to pressure Carroll and the Philly defenders when they have the ball and try and force turnovers in their defensive third.

We all saw how effective this tactic can be on the Fire’s goal last weekend. Patrick Nyarko stole the ball from a Dynamo defender before bursting into the box and crossing to Mike Magee for a tap in finish. A similar turnover on Saturday night could lead to the winning goal for the Fire.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve

31 July 11:45 am

A few months ago, a young Chicago filmmaker reached out to the Fire.  His name was Parker Heaps, and he was with a new organization called World FC.

He reached out to the Club because he and his partners had just begun filming a documentary, the basis of which would feature their own road trip from Chicago to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  The goal of the film was not only to document their travels, but more importantly, bring to light how soccer affects communities on a local, national and global level.  They would also be donating gently used soccer equipment to those communities in need along the way. 

On May 31, Parker and the guys came out to Toyota Park to speak with some of players, in particular those with a wide range of global soccer experience. 

They spoke with Alex, a Brazilian, where soccer is king; Wells Thompson, an American who has spent time playing soccer in Africa; as well as Estonian Joel Lindpere, who has played soccer all over the globe, including Bulgaria and Norway. Once the interviews were done, the guys made plans to come back on June 2 for the Fire game against D.C. United, to capture images of the game, as well as with Chicago’s amazing fans.   

When the guys arrived at the park, I was also able to introduce them to Fire owner Andrew Hauptman.  An avid soccer fan, as well as philanthropist and co-founder of City Year Los Angeles, Andrew was interested to learn more about their specific project and decided that he’d like to down with the guys and offer his additional perspective for the film.   

Now, two months later, we’re especially excited to see that the first trailer for the film is available online.  Check it out below and also be sure to follow the guys on Twitter @TheWorldFC.  Wish them luck as they make their way to Brazil as we’re sure they will make Chicago proud.    

31 July 10:30 am

MLSsoccer.com and Howler Magazine have released the second edition of Overlap and look who's on the cover!

It's #MLSALLSTAR and Chicago Fire goal-scorer extraordinaire Mike Magee.

You'll laugh, and you'll cry (not really) as Daniel Libit explores Mike Magee's return back home to Chicago, and how he has provided "the spark" that the Men in Red needed to get back on track.

That's all i'm giving away, now go read it for yourself!

Overlap is available on iPad and Android tablet.

30 July 4:46 pm

Just like the podcast, GifTuesday is also making it's triumphant return. This week Mike Magee reminds us that he had a little help scoring his goal in Houston.

30 July 1:12 pm

I’ve said it before but the Open Cup coin flip gives me the absolute worst pit in my stomach for an unscientific estimate of about 2.76 seconds.

With hosting rights for the 2013 championship match on the line with the final coin flip at Soccer House in Chicago on Tuesday, the sheer terror of it all still wasn’t enough to keep me from filming it.

Having been to everyone of these since the third round, I can say there was a noticeable difference in the amount of folks that came to witness compared to earlier rounds. I’d actually estimate about 25 staff members watching the proceedings. It’s for the final right?

Also of note, though I’d been through four of these before with my team involved in each, I certainly didn’t shake as much as I did today.

Case in point, watch my video of the proceedings to find out who won (if you haven’t already seen it on the Twitter)…

Congrats to the winner of next week’s RSL/Portland semifinal. Should the Timbers advance, the final will be played in Portland on September 24. Should RSL win, the final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium on October 1.

Again, I would like to thank U.S. Soccer for the privilege of viewing all of the U.S. Open Cup draws/flips since the third round this year. While my team didn't come out winning today, I am a strong believer that the current system of coin flips (and envelope slips in the earlier rounds) is the fairest way to decide who should host these very important matches.

There continue to be plenty of ways the Federation can improve this competition (maybe an article for a later date) but I think the steps made over the last two years have been a push in the right direction. Here's to more of that.

Fire Fans! We still have to get there. Get your tickets to next Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinals vs. D.C. United for just $12 when you use offer code “FIRE” by clicking here.

30 July 9:24 am

Fire forward Mike Magee is soaking in this week's MLS All-Star festivities in Kansas City and really why shouldn't he?

After 11 seasons in MLS, the league's joint-leading goal scorer is the longest tenured player on this year's All-Star roster to be making his first appearance in the mid-summer classic. 

On Monday, Magic Mike joined fellow MLS All-Stars Will Johnson of Portland and Patrice Bernier of Montreal and host Nick Firchau on ExtraTime Radio to have a frank discussion about how they see the league in 2013, the dumbest questions they receive from reporters, Mike's sincere avoidance of Twitter and the honor of taking part in this year's game.

Listen here.

29 July 10:49 am

The Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field meant that even though the Fire were in Houston on Saturday, Chicago would not be deprived of live soccer this weekend. Thank goodness. From a Fire point of view, it’s pretty special that Sean Johnson and alum DaMarcus Beasley overlapped on this USMNT squad.

The game itself wasn’t as exciting as you could have hoped from the two best Gold Cup teams. Panama’s tight defense kept the U.S. side from running at them the way they ran at Honduras and El Salvador and they never looked like they would put up the crooked numbers that defined their tournament.

BLOG: Beasley captains USMNT to 5th Gold Cup title

There were even a few times when the game looked like a cagey MLS match, with a challenger in town to try to steal the day, staying taut, and not making mistakes. But the USMNT wore down Panama, took their best (and really only clear cut) chance, held on against a barrage of balls floated into the box in the final minutes and were crowned deserved champions.

How nice would it be to see the Fire handle games like that? On Saturday, we saw the Fire come back from behind yet again. We saw them nearly nick all three points and then nearly lose them all. We saw flashes of dangerous counterattacks and Paolo Tornaghi making some big saves. Most of all, we saw despite obvious improvements over the last trip to Houston, the team is still missing one little bit of finality in both halves.

Back in April, the 2013 Fire v1.0 went to Houston with the goal of slowing the game down, playing calmly and controlling the match. The greenhouse (orange-house?) that is BBVA Compass Stadium dictated that, and we saw players run themselves dead on that afternoon, which also included a vintage Brad Davis garbage goal, Wells Thompson, and a last minute Jeff Larentowicz hit off the crossbar (HIGHLIGHTS from April 14).

On Saturday, the 2013 Fire v2.0 went to Houston with a different mindset. They went to play, to take some initiative. You could see it at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half when Lindpere and Nyarko were pushed way up the field on the outside.

HIGHLIGHTS: Fire earn tough 1-1 draw in Houston

Alas, the result wasn’t much different. Houston, one of the hardest teams to beat away in the history of MLS, controlled the game. The Fire looked absolutely spent at the end of the game, much of which they spent chasing the orange midfielders around and trying to clear their persistent crosses into the box.

But the difference this time around was the way in which the Fire actually looked dangerous at times, stealing into Houston’s half on counter attacks and nearly grabbing the lead on a late Chris Rolfe chance.

In April, we looked at the difficulty of balancing the mindset to calm the game down without sacrificing the risk-taking attitude needed to be offensive, to attack. Now, with Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee (and the Alex/Larentowicz partnership), it seems like 2013 Fire v2.0 are poised to find that balance.

As another new striker and the All-Star break arrive, maybe the Fire will find that teeny bit of difference. If so, next time we play Houston at Toyota Park in September, they’ll be the ones wilting, exhausted after falling to 2013 Fire v3.0

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.