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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

01 June 3:04 pm

The Fire’s Athletico Injury Report has become much shorter with a number of players coming off the list in the last week.

Daniel Paladini (left calf inflammation), Maicon Santos (right shoulder sprain), Hunter Jumper (right groin tightness) and Yazid Atouba (right ankle sprain) all came off the report over the last week and will be available for selection by Frank Klopas in Sunday’s showdown with D.C. United.

The one addition to the list this week is captain Logan Pause who is listed as questionable after suffering a left groin injury just before halftime of Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over the Charlotte Eagles.

Should he be unable to go, Paladini will most likely step back into the Fire midfield in his stead.

Arne Friedrich is back in Germany again receiving treatment for his hip problem while Steven Kinney remains out with a right quad strain. 

01 June 9:40 am

The Fire entertain lowly D.C. United this Sunday at Toyota Park (LIVE 4pm CT on My50/UniMas) after a week of very positive results in MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The Men in Red got a credible draw at RSL before traveling to South Carolina to take on the Charlotte Eagles, winning 2-0 and advancing to the fourth round of the Cup.

D.C. dropped a 2-0 result to Portland at RFK Stadium last weekend and squeezed by the Richmond Kickers on penalties in the Cup at midweek. Here are some tactical things to look out for during Sunday afternoon’s game.

Magee and Rolfe – a budding partnership to continue up front?

Fire newbie Mike Magee made his debut against the Eagles on Tuesday and combined well with Chris Rolfe up front with both players tallying in the win.

Rolfe and Magee looked to get each other involved in the attack and tried to play as close to one another as possible.

Coach Frank Klopas indicated after signing Magee that he feels his best position is playing up front and because both he and Rolfe are so mobile, it makes sense to continue to start the pair against a D.C. team
that has struggled on the defensive end this season.

TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE 

Soumare, Rolfe preview D.C. United

Magee showed on Tuesday how much of a threat he is in the air and his inclusion in front of Maicon Santos and Sherjill MacDonald will not hurt the Fire in terms of having an aerial threat up front.

Magee’s move up front also allows Patrick Nyarko to slot back into a wide position which allows him to be more creative and take players on.

This new partnership has the potential to blossom into a very successful one and the more time both players get to spend on the field together, the better.

Exposing the Kitchen/DeLeon partnership – taking advantage when one gets forward

In D.C.’s last game against Portland the team played Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen together in the middle of the field, similar to how the Fire play with Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause.

When D.C. attacked, either DeLeon or Kitchen would get forward to support Chris Pontius and Carlos Ruiz.

This left the team with only one holding midfielder and Portland took full advantage of this, breaking at every opportunity and opening D.C. up with either a long ball into space or attacking through the middle where they only faced one holding player.

Portland’s stretching of the field during the counter attacks opened up huge pockets of space in the middle and players like Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe were able to get forward and put real pressure on the United defense. 

Kitchen is a more disciplined player than the sophomore DeLeon and the Fire must look to try and take advantage of this when D.C. turn the ball over in an advanced position.

Keeping an eye on Kyle Porter – DC’s tricky winger

I admit that the Portland/DC game was the first time I had seen Kyle Porter play and he impressed me a lot. Porter reminded me of a young Justin Mapp, a player with great promise but who can also be very frustrating at times.

Porter is very good in 1v1 situations but sometimes tries to do too much with the ball and not make the simple pass. Porter’s crossing ability is also very impressive and he put numerous free kicks into dangerous positions.

Porter combined well with veteran James Riley on the right wing and Fire left back Gonzalo Segares will be tested on Sunday night. That being said, Porter can also be a bit naive on the defensive side of the ball and the Fire should look to exploit the space behind him if he is slow to track back.

Prediction: Statistically, D.C. is the weakest team in MLS and with the Fire playing at home, three points is a must. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka.

29 May 9:24 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over the Charlotte Eagles

Credit: USA Today Sports Images