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07 June 11:55 am

Much like the shirt exchange post-match, the scarf exchange between supporters of opposing clubs is held as a sacred tradition.

Seeing as almost all of the live soccer I take in these days comes from a press box view, the scarf exchange is one thing I haven’t had the opportunity to carry out of late.

Take a trip back a few weeks ago when I set off for Philadelphia to cover the Fire’s match against the Union. Sitting near (but not in) the desired exit row on my Southwest Airlines flight, I was diligently working on an article for the next day when I looked up to see one of the flight attendants wearing an apron decked out in Timbers Army patches.

I meandered through how Alaska Airlines might feel about this whole situation before asking the Southwest attendant how much of a Timbers fan he was.

Jason or “A-B” as he’s know in the Southwest world was quick to tell me he was a member of Timbers Army and went to as many matches as his work schedule would allow.

I then went ahead and told him what I did for a living working with the Chicago Fire at which point he got out his phone (on airplane mode of course) and showed me a number of photos from the two side’s previous encounter last May in Portland.

Speaking of the Section 8 Chicago/Timbers Army friendly alliance, he even took some photos with Fire supporters, many of which are friends of mine.

He then had to go back to his duties, serving drinks to the many passengers behind me.

Remembering that I always travel with a Fire scarf, I dug through my carry-on bag and pulled out the very famous Tetris scarf produced last season by Section 8 and as he passed through the cabin again, I stopped and gave it to him, to his great surprise.

He walked to the back of the plane and soon enough, returned with his own Timbers Army scarf, complete with many of the same patches that adorned his apron. I was completely surprised by this gesture as you could see that this scarf had been worn through many a match and held great importance.

I asked him if he was really alright with parting with such an important piece of his Timbers memories and he didn't even think twice. 

And thus, soccer diplomacy occurred once again. Those Timbers Army folk (of which there will be 175 at Toyota Park Saturday night), aren't so bad.

07 June 10:30 am

After an excellent 60 minutes in his first match of 2013 for the US U20’s against DRC last week, Fire homegrown player Victor Pineda went the entire 80 minutes in the U.S. team’s last match of the Toulon Tournament on Wednesday, succumbing to 1-0 loss to South Korea.

The loss meant the US went 1-3-0 in the tournament and did not advance to the final or third place games. Pineda’s performances in the last two matches however were enough to convince coach Tab Ramos to select him for the final squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey later this month.

Here is a breakdown of Victor's performance Thursday against South Korea:

In the first half, Pineda started on the left hand side of the front three in a 4-3-3 formation. In the last game against DRC, he started on the right before moving to the left after 30 minutes.

As I mentioned in the last recap, Victor is not afraid to move inside and he did so on eight minutes picking up a ball all the way on the right hand side of the box before being fouled just on the edge of the area.

On 11 minutes, Victor displayed more of his foot skills, back heeling a ball off a South Korean defender to win a throw in.

Throughout the first half, the U.S. team passed the ball very poorly and Victor was unable to get much of a look in.

On 31 minutes however he did manage to pick up the ball wide, cut inside and shoot low into the corner, only for the keeper to make a routine save.

On 35 minutes, Pineda switched over to the left hand side but the half ended with no more significant action about 5 minutes later.

In the second half, the US team came out a lot stronger and Pineda was heavily involved in a number of chances.

On 46 minutes, he was found in the box but his left footed attempt to curl the ball into the top corner ended up going wide.

On 48 minutes he started and almost finished the US side’s best move of the match.

Victor got the ball on the right wing from a throw before passing the ball inside and making his way into the box. After the ball was sent wide, a cross came in finding Victor with a free header which he snapped downward, only for the keeper to somehow prevent it from crossing the line.

A minute later Victor again found himself with the ball in the box, chesting it down before volleying towards goal only for a defender to deflect it wide.

He again moved to the left hand side after the 50th minute and after this began switching sides constantly. He cut inside and took a shot with his left in the 61st before doing a 1-2 in the middle in the 72nd minute and shooting off target.

Though his final pass or shot was not clinical in either of the games, Victor played well, had a lot of touches and made an impact despite these matches being his only minutes of 2013 for the U-20’s.

His ability to control the ball, especially in tight spaces particularly stood out. That being said, I believe the major reason Tab Ramos picked Pineda in the final squad for the U-20 World Cup is his ability to play a number of positions, be it wide left, wide right or through the middle.

In a tournament, you need players who are able to fill in a in a number of positions and Victor’s versatility could be extremely useful for the U.S. team in Turkey.

Check back on Chicago-Fire.com as Victor and the U20 team start their World Cup campaign in Turkey on Friday, June 21 when the they take on Spain.

07 June 8:40 am

After a week of very positive results on the field, the Fire team will be full of confidence as they welcome the Portland Timbers to Toyota Park on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/La Ley 107.9FM) .

Portland are not short of confidence themselves, riding into town on an 11 game unbeaten streak. Both teams are missing players due to international duty. Here are some tactical things to keep an eye on...

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #1 – keep the diamond for the Portland game

In the Fire’s most recent MLS game against D.C. United, the team tweaked the formation and started with a 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. Jeff Larentowicz played just in front of the back four while Alex got the start at the point of the diamond.

Against D.C., this tactic worked very well as Alex was given license to stay forward and almost act as a third forward at times while helping Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe put pressure on the United back four.

Frank Klopas echoed this in a recent interview, stating “He’s had two good games, he brings that ability onto the field – when he gets the ball he can make good passes and connect plays together, another guy that supports the forwards.”

Like Magee and Rolfe, Alex is just as good without the ball at his feet, constantly making runs wide and connecting with Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere on the wings. Though the Fire didn’t have as much possession as D.C., Alex was involved in a number of counter attacks which caught United off guard.

Every fan wants to see attacking soccer from their team, especially at home, and starting Alex at the top of the diamond would certainly signal that the Fire don’t intend to sit back and allow Portland to come at them, but rather the opposite.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #2 – revert to two more defensive minded players in the middle

Even without starting striker Ryan Johnson (gone for international duty), Portland boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS. To date, the team has scored 22 goals, only 12 away from what they put up the entirety of last season.

Frenchman Frédéric Piquionne will start as the lone striker in place of Johnson but it is the support behind him that the Fire must be wary of. With players like Diego Valeri (who I will talk about more later) Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson, the team from the Rose City have a wealth of attacking options.

Because Portland plays with a 5 man midfield, a lone holding midfielder might not be enough for the Fire on Saturday night. Jeff Larentowicz did a fantastic job of stifling the D.C. attack last weekend but against a team not afraid to push men forward, a two-man combination of Pause/Paladini/Larentowicz makes more sense tactically.

Two holding midfielders would also put less pressure on wingers Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka to drop back and help out defensively. Coach Klopas also called for the team to dominate more in possession against the Timbers and playing the two central midfielders close to one another would suit this strategy.

What will be interesting is which option the Fire start the game with, knowing that the team can revert to either option simply by making a substitution and either bringing Alex on the field or off.

Stopping Diego Valeri – taking a physical approach

Over the past two seasons teams have used a number of strategies to stop Fire playmakers such as Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sebastian Grazzini. One tactic that is used very often is to be physical (and in some cases overly physical) in an attempt to keep the player from making an impact. One way to try and contain Timbers creative midfielder Diego Valeri is to take this very approach.

Back in 2011, Paladini employed this tactic against RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and after 11 minutes, Beckerman snapped, head-butting Paladini and getting sent off with the Fire ending the game as 3-0 winners.

There is certainly a fine line between kicking lumps out of a player and just being physical with him. Thankfully, the Men in Red are blessed with veteran players such as Pause and Larentowicz and players like Paladini who are well versed in the “dark arts.” 

Because Valeri is so mobile, another option would be to man-mark him but that essentially eliminates one of the Fire players’ ability to contribute to the attack. The physical approach is certainly a more practical tactic than the man marking one and if the Fire can contain Valeri and prevent him from pulling the strings in midfield, it will be very detrimental to a Portland team who rely heavily on his creativity.

Prediction: The Fire will continue to turn the corner and hand the Timbers their first defeat in 11 games. 1-0 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.

06 June 8:32 am

The digital age we live in doesn't always allow for some nice, long-form journalism to take place. 

Still, we've decided to buck that trend and are excited to show a sneak peak of the club's first-ever digital magazine, FireSide, set to be released next week on the internet, tablets and your mobile devices.

Check out some of the screenshots below...

05 June 1:15 pm

The potential quarterfinal pairings for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup set to be played Wednesday, June 26:

1) Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew winner hosts Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City winner

2) D.C. United/Philadelphia Union winner hosts New England Revolution/New York Red Bulls winner

3) FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo winner hosts Portland Timbers/Tampa Bay Rowdies winner

4) Real Salt Lake/Charleston Battery winner hosts Carolina RailHawks/Chivas USA winner

Click Here to buy tickets for the Fire's Fourth Round USOC match vs. the Columbus Crew (Wednesday June 12th, 7:30pm Toyota Park)

04 June 2:52 pm

There was little question about what today's GIF was going to be.

Mike Magee made no mistake putting home his first MLS Fire goal, and we made no mistake making it and his celebration a GIF... Enjoy.

04 June 11:58 am

Buzz buzz buzz. Inside the Fire this week, if you put your ear real close, you could catch what you’d swear was a little optimism, a little sunshine, a little buzz. And goals! After breaking their goal drought late at RSL, the Fire added two new starters, cleaned up their first U.S. Open Cup game 2-0, and duplicated that score Sunday at home against DC United.

Last week I said that, like a developing chess game, this season is very much still developing an identity. It was obvious in the last 20 minutes of the RSL game, when the Klopas Gambit succeeded in providing the Fire more attacking options than we’d seen all year.
 
So when captain Logan Pause went down to a groin strain midweek, Klopas had a choice to make with his starting line-up against D.C. Continue with the blocky set up that’s been stable but struggling or take advantage of the modicum of momentum and take a risk. He put an attacking player in for Pause, moved Jeff Larentowicz into Pause’s old spot anchoring the midfield, and suddenly, right away on Sunday, the Fire had five attacking players coming at DC from unexpected directions. Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere popped up centrally and combined with Rolfe and Magee who were moving between United’s midfield and defensive lines, and Alex found himself running through in support.
 
After what was admittedly a fortunate first goal, though, and as the game progressed, Klopas found himself in an unfamiliar position. Here were the Fire, ahead, with five attack-minded players on the field. It didn’t matter that they weren’t exactly bossing the game. Eventually Daniel Paladidni came on to help lock down the result. It worked.
 
What was interesting was the refreshing feeling of closing out a game in the lead. There’s something less stressful about being ahead and having the choice of continuing what’s worked or moving to add structure and keep D.C. at bay. Compare that to the stressful, semi-desperate feeling of being behind and scrambling to find the right balance of attackers that can even the game without giving up any more goals.
 
Klopas balanced his team expertly. They remained dangerous, a feeling confirmed as the game concluded with Magee and Nyarko running into wide open spaces on counterattacks and keeping United pinned back (and eventually grabbing the clinching second goal). Meanwhile, D.C. never put together a few minutes of attack that made them look like they could get back into the game.
 
There’s a lot to fear when you change too much in a team too quickly, especially when part of that change is removing a player like Pause, who for years has been a linchpin for the whole team’s play. And yet the Fire capitalized on the buzz and instituted a change of attitude from the very beginning of the game yesterday, a change that resulted in the super important first goal.

At just five minutes into the game, look at how many Fire players are forward. Look at how central Nyarko is, and how far up Alex is. It’s worth asking if, in the old set-up, either Pause of Larentowicz would ever be this far forward this early in the game. Yes this moment came from a Sean Johnson dead ball, so players were able to push up, but the example holds.
 
And so what if this set-up only led to a botched cross from Lindpere, but just three minutes later, D.C. gave the ball away and the Fire jumped on it. Alex got forward right away, combined with Lindpere out wide, and the winger drew the foul that led to the first goal.
 
The faint buzz you’re starting to hear from Bridgeview isn’t a roar, not yet anyway, but with a clearly different approach, an injection of new players and optimism, we’re getting a lot closer to a Fire squad that will pick up points all over the league.

03 June 8:45 am

Fire Homegrown talent Victor Pineda is away with the US U-20 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France. The tournament is a prep for the FIFA U-20 World Cup taking place in Turkey later this month and could be make or break for players hoping to make that roster.

Coming off a right ankle injury, Pineda did not make the field in the Americans’ first two matches against France and Colombia (both losses) but started and went 60 minutes in the U.S. win over the Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday. Here are my observations of Victor’s performance:

Victor started on the right of a three man attack, wearing the number 7. He spent most of the first half playing almost on the touchline on the right wing.

Around the fifth minute, Pineda controlled a cross-field ball, cut inside and hit a tame shot on target with his left foot. He combined well with FC Dallas right-back Kellyn Acosta with the pair exchanging numerous one-two passes.

Pineda also tucked inside, allowing Acosta space to move into on the wing. The U.S. team applied a lot of high pressure on the DRC back line and at one point Pineda almost blocked a kick by the DRC keeper. 

Coach Tab Ramos switched Pineda to the left wing and it was from this position that he created the U.S.'s best chance of the half. \

On 35 minutes, he got the ball wide and beat a DRC defender with pace before breaking into the box, faking right and cutting back left with a Cruyff turn, beating another defender before shooting with his left and forcing the keeper to make an excellent save. This was the last major action of the first half (40 minutes) for Pineda.

In the second half he continued on the left wing, cutting inside and demanding the ball off his teammates, displaying his strong self belief and confidence. He displayed another neat bit of skill 15 minutes into the second half when he allowed the ball to go in between his legs before turning away from a DRC player who could do nothing except foul him.

On 60 minutes, Victor was substituted, not surprising for a player who is only just coming back from an ankle injury.

In conclusion, Pineda was heavily involved during his time on the field and certainly made the case for a start in the US's last group match against South Korea on Wednesday (9:55am CT on beInSport).

Check back later this week for a recap of Victor’s next match with the U-20s. 

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

02 June 7:46 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over D.C. United

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire