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01 September 5:35 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 1-1 draw with Houston.

 

 

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire

30 August 8:59 am

Following the 1-0 win over Sporting KC last week, the Fire stay at home facing the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on Sunday afternoon. Houston not only lost 5-0 last weekend but also had to play a CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday before traveling to Chicago. With the race for the playoffs getting tighter by the minute, there is little doubt this is another huge game.

Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective…

Getting behind the Houston defense – looking for through balls

In last week’s match against Montreal, the Dynamo’s back four were caught too high up the field on numerous occasions, especially in the second half as they looked to get back into the game, leaving plenty of space for the Impact to exploit. The Fire must try and take a page from Montreal’s book on Sunday afternoon. With this being said, a smaller team in attack would suit this tactic well, meaning continuing with the pairing of Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee up front.

BUY: Limited tickets still available for Fire vs. Dynamo Sunday

As I’ve mentioned numerous times in previous previews, Magee and Rolfe both are comfortable playing off the shoulder of the last defender and often make runs behind opposition defenses.

The Fire’s central midfield pairing of Rios and Larentowicz both excel in intercepting opposition passes and starting Fire attacks. Both players will be looking to try and spring Rolfe or Magee if the opportunity presents itself on Sunday.

Possible return of Patrick Nyarko – Alex or Pat on the wing?

PREVIEW: Magee, Nyarko preview Houston

Patrick Nyarko is still returning to full fitness after being out with concussion symptoms. In his place, Alex and Joel Lindpere have shared time on the wing, with Dilly Duka playing on the other side. It is unclear at this time if Patrick is fit enough to go 90 minutes but if he is, I would expect him to start over the Brazilian on Sunday afternoon.

Nyarko’s tactic of harassing the opposing team when they are in possession and trying to force turnovers will be needed against a team like Houston. Nyarko’s pace would also cause the Houston backline problems and we have often seen him make runs behind the outside defenders this season.

JOIN: #FireFriday at The Globe Pub 6-8pm

If Nyarko is unable to go, Alex is a more than worthy deputy. His direct style of play can keep Houston on the back foot and he is a player capable of playing a killer pass through to Magee or Rolfe. Regardless of who gets the start, the other could have a very important role to play from the bench, especially if the Fire are in need of a goal.

Tracking Garcia and Barnes – not allowing them to operate in the space between defense and midfield

Houston face a tough task of trying to get through the Fire’s new midfield tandem of Rios and Larentowicz. Both players cover a lot of ground and look like they’ve played together much more than the two games they’ve had.

Aside from taking on the Fire on the wings, the Dynamo will look to try and get the ball to Giles Barnes and others in the area between Rios/Larentowicz and the Fire’s back four. This is a lot easier said than done, but if Houston can get possession in this area, it can cause major problems.

LISTEN: Hunter Jumper talks face planting on first career goal

In Houston’s last home match against Seattle, Barnes received the ball in this space and before a defender was able to step up and challenge him, he smacked it into the top corner from 25 yards out.

Boniek Garcia, while not as creative as Barnes, also likes to get forward and is very dangerous with the ball at his feet around the box, constantly looking to find the Houston strikers with little through balls and reverse passes. The Honduran has four assists this season, to go along with Barnes’s six.

It will be very important for Larentowicz and Rios to keep their shape and not get stretched, allowing Houston to play through them. The Fire center backs, assumed to be Berry and Soumare, must anticipate this danger and step up to challenge the Dynamo player in possession and not all him to dictate the play.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Magee and Berry

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

28 August 3:39 pm

With the Eastern Conference playoff race so tight between seven teams, some called me crazy for starting Playoff Math so early this year. I shunned the criticism because I feel strongly that Eastern Conference nerds need their fix the remaining two months of the season.

In an attempt to keep this piece at readable length, I chose not to use a points per game basis as fellow stat nerd Tweed Thornton at Hot Time in Old Town uses. His analysis is equally interesting and I suggest you check it out.

So, with that, I breakdown the playoff outlook for the eight teams that still have a reasonable shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot…

Montreal Impact
Current Points: 41 (12-7-5)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home/ 6 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-2
Maximum Possible Pts: 71
Average Opponents Pts: 34.4
Remaining Schedule:  8/31 @ PHI, 9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Though they had a small dip in form, Montreal is back at the top of the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s 5-0 shellacking of Houston. Much of Montreal’s success can be chalked up to their dominant home record (they’ve lost just one game at Stade Saputo this season) but the team also has the toughest remaining schedule and has away matches against playoff contenders, Philadelphia, New England, the Fire and Houston before season’s end. Add to that the fact that Montreal is also competing in CONCACAF Champions League play on September 17 at San Jose and September 24 at Heredia and the top spot is far from secure.

New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining:  8 (5 home / 3 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.3
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. D.C., 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Despite a 3-2 defeat to Chivas USA at the weekend, Red Bull still sits in pretty good shape, two points back of the lead. New York holds a strong home record and of their eight remaining matches, five will be played at Red Bull Arena. Also unlike fellow playoff contenders Montreal, Sporting KC and Houston, New York only needs to focus on MLS Regular Season play the rest of the way.

Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. COL, 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC holds an identical record to New York and has to juggle two more Champions League games but has one of the easiest remaining schedules among the eight playoff contenders. Though their home record isn’t as stellar as you’d think, with the strong atmosphere Sporting Park provides, its unlikely KC is the team currently inside the bubble that falls down the stretch.

Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 38 (10-8-8)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home  / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-4 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 33.1
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. MTL, 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: With eight games left, the Union sit just three points out of first place thanks to the 4-5-4 record on the road (second best in the East) while holding serve at home (6-3-4). Things just got pretty interesting for Philly after New England’s 5-1 weekend thrashing of the Union pulled the playoff race much tighter. From a Fire perspective, their grounded out, back-to-back wins over the Men in Red in May could easily be pointed to as the difference between being in and outside the playoff bubble. If the Fire take three points in either of the 1-0 losses, the two teams are swapped in the Eastern Conference table…

New England Revolution
Current Points: 36 (10-9-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-3
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/30 @ TFC, 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England has been the surprise entrant into the race this season. The Revs have certainly found ways to punch way above their weight. Even after a six-game winless run in July and August, New England still find themselves inside the bubble with seven of their nine remaining games all against relevant Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 36 (10-8-6)
Games Remaining: 10 (5 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 33
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 @ CHI, 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21 vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Though not quite as great as 2012, Houston has kept up pretty good form at BBVA Compass Stadium so far in 2013. The Dynamo sit sixth only by the Goals For tiebreaker and currently hold at least a game in hand on everyone in front of them except for Montreal. At the same time, a loss to the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park would see the Men in Red leapfrog the Dynamo into sixth place with nine matches remaining.

Chicago Fire
Current Points: 34 (10-10-4)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home / 6 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-1 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 31.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: After failing to win a game in the month of March, the Fire’s 8-3-3 record since the arrivals of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee in late May is nothing short of fantastic. Having said that, the team still finds itself two points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Much of the team’s success is due to holding the second best home record in the Eastern Conference (8-4-1) though the side’s away record is also the second worst (2-6-3). Perhaps worse though is that after Sunday’s game vs. Houston, the team will play just three more home matches in 2013 vs. six away games.

The key to any team making the playoffs is doing the business at home and the Fire should still aim for the maximum 12 points available there. However, in order to make the postseason again in 2013, the team needs to find ways to pick up more points on the road. Luckily they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference and visit both Toronto FC and D.C. in two of their remaining six away games.

Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-12-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-4-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 33.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. SEA, 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Crew are here because though it doesn’t seem likely, they’re still in the playoff race. In my opinion, the key for Columbus is how they do in their next two matches, both of which are at home. A win over Western Conference foes Seattle won’t be considered a “six pointer” but it will keep the Crew alive for another important midweek home date vs. Houston.

28 August 10:43 am

The Chicago Fire will have a heavy presence at this weekend's National Latin American Festival in Riis Park (6100 W. Fullerton Ave.)! 

Specifically, a few things are going on this Saturday, August 31:

  • The club will run a FREE youth clinic open to the first 50 children ages 7-12 from 12:30pm-1:30pm. Registration begins at noon and parents will need to sign a waiver on site. BRING YOUR OWN BALL!
  • Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich will be doing an autograph session from 1:30pm-2:30pm

Additionally the Chicago Fire Street Team will be out all weekend from 12-7pm running the Prize Wheel and Target Shot!

Stop by and say hello! 

27 August 9:44 am
Chicago Fire staff are volunteering their time at the Greater Chicago Food Depository today ahead of Sunday's Food Drive at Toyota Park.

Check out some photos of the helping hands below: 
 
Be sure to take part in our Food Drive this Sunday by bringing shelf-stable food items to any gate at Toyota Park. Suggested items include beans, canned fruit, canned vegetables, cereal, chili, jelly, macaroni and cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, rice, shelf-stable milk, soup, stew and tuna
 
Additional information on the Fire’s partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository can be found here.
 
 
26 August 12:28 pm

If there was ever a game for our schizophrenic 2013 Fire to overcome on what in any other week might have been a highly appealing Friday night home game - this was it.

Squad issues: Hunter Jumper had to replace suspended Bakary Soumare and his calming presence, while new arrivals Arevalo Rios and Juan Luis Anangono are still working to fit neatly into the side.

Opponent: KC, the only team to beat the Fire at Toyota Park in the Mike Magee era, coming to town with Graham Zusi and Teal Bunbury back fit, the team with the most headed goals in MLS against the Fire’s makeshift center back pairing.

Off the field: Coach Frank Klopas was suspended, national headlines off the field, time running out on the playoff race.

And then, like they’ve done time and again this year, the Fire rebounded from a disappointing loss to play up to their potential and not only take all three points, but also show the fans that there’s real quality on this team.

Whereas Rios and Jeff Larentowicz seemed out of rhythm in New England, they matched each other swimmingly on Friday, stepping and dropping, playing each other in tight spaces, and frustrating Benny Feilhaber and the rest.

Whereas wide players created next to nothing in New England, Dilly Duka was a force on the right on Friday. Meanwhile, Alex, who seemed out of place as a substitute deployed wide in New England, picked his runs to the middle of the field with considerable vision on Friday, providing support for Magee and Chris Rolfe up top, pushing counter attacks forward, and getting back to help prevent Zusi’s service on KC’s right side.

So let’s give credit to the squad for playing up to their potential in yet another massive game for the Fire. Let’s also look briefly at the magic of the 4-4-2 formation, that often-mocked old school set up the Fire rely on because Arrigo Sacchi and (occasionally) Sir Alex Ferguson aside, it’s not exactly the formation of kings.

The 4-4-2 is the everyman’s formation, the formation you play in your rec league, the most logical way to cover the field and balance attack with defense. Yet at the top level, it’s fallen out of fashion in the past decade or so thanks to the emergence of the three man midfield, Vicente Del Bosque’s 7-midfielder thing, and the desire to free up superstar players in attacking positions.

But the Fire proved that the 4-4-2 is still a viable formation in the right setting. Unlike complicated, imbalanced, shifting formations, the 4-4-2 is less about creating specific advantages in areas of the field than it is about creating 1v1 situations everywhere. That means it’s about winning individual battles, endeavoring for second balls off 50/50s, and that extra 10-yard sprint.

Of course it has its subtler points: overlapping outside backs, the way Magee dropped deeper once Anangono came on to make it more of a 4-4-1-1, etc. But what we saw on Friday night was a team focused on working hard on and off the ball for the entire game. In that way, Hunter Jumper’s scrappy goal was a perfect game-winner, because all game the Fire were on the ground, reaching balls just an inch before KC player’s could.

The commitment seemed to shoot out from Rios and Larentowicz’s eyes. They were everywhere, covering far more space than two men ought to, sliding around, starting counter attacks, holding the ball, and annoying KC all game.

You could say it’s a weakness of the 4-4-2, that it takes complete self-sacrifice. But you have only to look at the reaction of Rios at the final whistle to see that the pride in exhaustion is always worth it. 

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

26 August 9:04 am

Just in case you missed Friday's MLS Insider, Judah Friedlander documents how former Fire forward Roman Kosecki used inspiration from The Three Stooges to provide one of the top moments of comedy every seen... Check out Storytime Theater below...

 

Catch the full episode of last Friday's MLS Insider here

25 August 9:45 am

Select shots from the Fire's Practice in the Community event.

24 August 12:32 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toyota Park – August 23, 2013
 
Mike Matkovich, Chicago Fire Assistant Coach
 
On the atmosphere
 
“How about those guys tonight? How about the Fire? They played good, good for them. I’m so happy for the guys. They came out here tonight in a playoff atmosphere.”
 
Patrick Nyarko returned after missing two matches with injury but took a few hard hits. What does the team have to do to protect one of its best players?
 
“The most important thing is we went through the protocol. The league does a very good job, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s point 1, 2, 3, 4 all these steps they have to take, so the training staff felt he could give us 30 minutes. We knew that going in, and that was the game plan going in there. It’s a game of contact sometimes guys get hit. He will just get better as we go. He took a tough hit at the DC game.”
 
On Hunter Jumper scoring his first career MLS goal
 
“I am just so happy for Hunter, this is his chance. We talked before the game about giving guys opportunities. He played like a veteran tonight. He was focused and we kept things simple for him. What can you say? He has got to be the man of the match in my eyes.”
 
On the shutout
 
“We kept things tight, obviously they hit a crossbar and we had a brick. You know how it is in this game, you take your chances. For the most part we were pretty strong defensively. We kept things simple early in the game and played in their half. There were times where I thought we could’ve played a bit more. It’s hard to find those moments to play. Overall defensively I thought the guys rolled their sleeves up tonight. At halftime we said you know it’s 45 minutes and you have another 45 minutes of the fight.”
 
On overcoming this week’s distractions
 
“Those things happen in this sport. Professionally the guys are focused and that stuff happens off the field. More importantly we are a group and we are focused on the field. We knew what was at stake. Every point is valuable, so we can’t let that stuff distract us right now that we are in the middle of a playoff race. Most important thing is what happens on the field.”
 
On the play of Arevalo Rios
 
“I think he is just going to get better. It is going to take some time for them to figure him out. The guy has played in two World Cups obviously he gives you everything he has. He has leadership, I know he doesn’t speak English but he leads by example and he is such a great guy to have. He is a true professional and comes in here every day and works hard. It’s just a pleasure to have him on the team.”
 
On Anangono being an impact player
 
“Any time a guy comes to a new country and a new environment it’s going to take some time. He had a great shot, but we just have to give him time. The nice thing about the guy is that he didn’t start and came in played his role and helped us win and that’s the most important thing. Sometimes guys come in and are not team guys, but this guy is clearly a team guy. I think he’s going to get better as we go along. There are so many players throughout the world that have changes. Sometimes it takes up to six months. We will be patient, we like what we saw tonight, his goal is coming.
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On Hunter Jumper tallying a  goal and assist in only two appearances:
           
“I didn’t see the first game he played in, but you can throw away the goal and defensively tonight he was amazing.  To shutout a team like K.C. is as difficult as it gets and he was fabulous.”
 
On the team playing with a chip on their shoulder:
 
“We’re trying to make the playoffs; we have a big chip on our shoulder right now.  I think that playing at home we need points.  Last week we had a terrible result and this week we are trying to make up for it.”
 
Hunter Jumper, Chicago Fire defender
 
On his goal:
 
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but it feels pretty good just because we got the three points.  Going into it we knew it was a really big game.  We looked at it and we were eight points back behind first place and had two games in hand, so three points is huge.”
 
On the shutout and defensive performance:
 
“It was easy out there tonight because communication between the back four and Rios and Larentowicz was unbelievable.  Guys were talking, and when everyone is talking and helping each other out it was easy for me to step in.  Obviously we were going for it and wanted to be better on the ball, but defensively I thought we were sound and weathered the storm.  I thought they had a couple of good chances, but I think we had a couple of good chances as well, especially when Juan [Anangono] came in.  The guy can head the ball, he’s a special player.”
 
On his position change from left back to center back:
 
“I’ve been playing there in practice lately and it’s not the biggest transition, like it would be playing forward to defender.  I definitely appreciate the position a lot more because you don’t realize how much communication you have to have out there.  Last year I thought our defense was incredible – when you have guys like Arne [Friedrich], Austin [Berry] and Baky [Soumare] back there they are natural leaders.  For someone like me, you just have to be open, grow and learn the position.  I just pushed myself and hopefully it won’t be too much of a transition.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On the shutout:
 
“It shows a lot about our team’s character and will.  I think we’ve been okay defensively for the past 11 games or so, but to get a shutout shows and reflects all the hard work we’ve been putting in week in and week out.  I think we deserved it tonight – we fought, we battled and we made plays when we had to and came away with a result.”Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes
 
On the match:
 
“We gave up a very amateur goal early in the first half.  It gave them some life.  We were chasing ever since.  I thought we created more than enough chances to get back in it.  We actually really had some good chances and the frustrating thing is we didn’t score.  That’s really on us.  At the end, you have to score.  That’s what the game is about.  When you don’t score, you’re not going to win.  You’re not going to get back into the game.  Unfortunately, we really needed to put the pressure on and I think we would have scored.  It would have changed the game a little bit for them as well.  They were content with just bunkering down and countering, bunkering, and countering.  They never really built the ball out of the back at all.  They played every ball long from the very get go.  It’s obviously is a much different game.  Anyway, I think we should have scored.”
 
On the upcoming game in Honduras:
 
“We got to do it, right?  After winning the Open Cup last year, that’s the world we are in.  We want to be in the competitions.  It’s exciting for us to be involved in that.  We need to continue to stay in form for the league as well, not just the Champions League.  Good thing is, we have a lot of games left and we have to get back on it quick.”
 
Sporting KC Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen
 
On the having more opportunities to score in the second half:
 
“Yea, I think we did.  I think we started extremely poorly.  We gave up a couple of chances, we gave up a goal.  We were struggling for the first twenty, twenty-five minutes, the last piece of the first half and second half, we did everything we could.  You don’t win games when you don’t score goals.  We created some good chances but we weren’t sharp enough to score with them.”
 
On needing three points to pull ahead of New York:
 
“We should probably not focus on winning our division now and we should focus on making the playoffs now.  Focus on the next point.  The last five points we’ve got five points and we are still in it, which is impressive but the train is going and if you want to be on it, it’s now.”
 
Sporting KC Forward Teal Bunbury
 
On the differences between the first half and the second half:
 
“I felt like we played well in the first half, we were creating a lot of chances but we weren’t putting them in the back of the net.  We had a little mishap and the Fire were able to put it in the back of the net and that’s how they got their goal.  But besides that, I felt like we put them under a lot of pressure and they didn’t have too many chances other than the one they put away.  We had a decent amount and could have done better.  Overall, I felt like we had a really good game, despite not putting goals in the back of the net.”
 
On feeling frustrated not getting the equalizer:
 
“Not really, our mentality is we don’t give up and we just continue.  There’s not a point in the game where we really got frustrated.  Obviously after losing, no one is happy but throughout the whole game I feel like we kept it even keel, didn’t get frustrated, and didn’t show too much emotion.  We were unfortunate not to get a result.”
 
On working towards keeping the team at the top of the conference:
 
“We have a great squad, great team unity.  We have a lot of games coming up, so we are going to forget this game and just move on from it.”