The Fire suffered a heavy defeat last weekend in Los Angles and are looking to rebound in the best possible way in the team’s home opener against New England on Saturday evening. The Revs have yet to play a game and will hope to shake off the rust and try and spoil the Fire’s first game at home in 2013. Here are some tactical things to look out for:
Handling Bengtson – how will the Fire’s defense contain the target striker?
In last weekend’s loss to LA, the Fire’s defense couldn’t contain Robbie Keane whose movement led to all sorts of problems for the team. Against New England, the defense will face a much different type of striker in Jerry Bengtson, a giant target forward who will likely play up front on his own.
New England have a host of attacking midfielders/wingers that will be looking for layoffs and knockdowns from Bengtson and the Fire’s defense will need to try and stop the Honduran from linking with his teammates.
LA were able to stop Maicon Santos and Shejill MacDonald from holding the ball up at the Home Depot Center last week and if the Fire’s defense can mimic LA’s, the Rev’s could be in a for a long night.
Who plays behind Bengtson? A wealth of attacking options for the Revs
Because New England did not play last week, the Fire will have less of an idea about who will be playing in the attacking positions behind Bengtson on Saturday night.
Though the Rev’s have lost Benny Feilhaber, they still have many options for the second striker/wide midfield roles. Any combination of Chad Barrett, Andy Dorman, Juan Toja, Ryan Guy and Lee Nguyen could play against the Fire and all five offer something different.
The defense as a unit will be looking for a much improved performance and with Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich’s return unlikely, Saturday gives the back four a chance to redeem themselves against New England.
On the outside, Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba were caught out a few times with balls in behind them last Sunday and must be aware of players like Nguyen and Toja who look to do that on a regular basis.
Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko did a good job tracking back and helping the outside defenders but the emphasis will be on Sega and Anibaba to get forward and put in crosses as every opportunity.
Creating more chances – possession and set pieces
The Fire showed some rust last Sunday, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and completing over 100 less passes than LA with the Men in Red’s pass accuracy at only 74%. Large improvements in that department are certainly needed but the team will also be looking to get more set pieces in the attacking third.
The Fire’s first (of only two) corner kicks didn’t occur until the 60th minute in LA and it almost resulted in a goal for Anibaba after a brilliant cross by Lindpere.
As I mentioned last week, Lindpere’s excellent deliveries from corners and free kicks will create many changes for the team this season. Last week LA started a new goalkeeper and this week, New England may start a new acquisition in the defense Jose Goncalves. The Portuguese newcomer is an experienced defender but as we saw last week, putting balls into a place where it forces the goalkeeper and defender to communicate and make a decision can lead to a mistake and a Fire opportunity.
The Fire only had one shot on target last week but also had some other excellent chances to score, most notably Rolfe’s scuffed shot after the Cudicini mistake and Maicon’s header just wide of the post. Klopas and co. will be looking for the Fire attackers to test Matt Reis as much as possible.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from MacDonald and Lindpere
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
A little over a year since the Fire/Quaker Oats partnership began and just days before the Chicago Fire challenge the New England Revolution on Opening Night at Toyota Park (Saturday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. CT live on NBC Sports Network), we stopped by the Quaker Oats headquarters to check-in and see how the club’s iconic jersey partner was preparing for the 2013 season.
From the looks of things, the partnership is really starting to make an impact...
As we continue to countdown to kickoff, some facts and figures on the Chicago Fire’s 2013 First Kick Roster…
* The current roster features 26 players with an average age of 24 years, 9 months.
* 19 players return from the Fire team that finished the 2012 season.
* 7 new Fire players have joined the side over the offseason.
* 5 of those players were acquired by in-league movements: Maicon Santos (Re-Entry from D.C.), Joel Lindpere (trade with New York), Jeff Larentowicz (trade with Colorado), Dilly Duka (trade with Columbus), Quincy Amarikwa (trade with Toronto FC).
GAMEDAY Q&A: 8 Questions with Frank Klopas
*1 of the other players, midfielder Yazid Atouba was the Fire’s lone selection in the 2013 SuperDraft.
* 9 countries are represented: USA, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Italy and The Netherlands.
* 8 players have made senior international appearances for their country: Chris Rolfe (10), Logan Pause (6), Larentowicz (4), Sean Johnson (3; USA), Arne Friedrich (82; Germany), Gonzalo Segares (19; Costa Rica), Patrick Nyarko (1; Ghana), Lindpere (84; Estonia).
* 5 players are alumni of the club’s player development setup: Rolfe and Austin Berry, (PDL), Brendan King (Super-20s), Victor Pineda, Kellen Gulley (Fire Juniors, Academy).
* Captain Logan Pause returns for his 11th consecutive season in Chicago – one of the longest consecutive tenures with one team all-time in MLS. Pause sits second on the club’s all competitions appearance list with 304 games played since 2003.
* Entering the 2013 season, Fire players have a combined 86 seasons of MLS experience. Leading the way are Logan Pause (10), Jeff Larentowicz and Gonzalo Segares (8), Chris Rolfe (6) and Wells Thompson (6).
* 3 players on the Fire roster have won MLS Cup. Larentowicz, Thompson and Amarikwa were all part of the Colorado Rapids side that won the 2010 title.
* 7 players on the Fire roster have won a combined 11 domestic titles: Pause (2 U.S. Open Cups, 1 Supporters Shield), Larentowicz and Thompson (1 MLS Cup, 1 U.S. Open Cup each), Segares and Rolfe (1 U.S. Open Cup), Amarikwa (1 MLS Cup), Maicon Santos (1 Canadian Championship).
* This season marks the first time since 2009 that the Fire have had two goalkeepers return. Sean Johnson is back for his fourth season while Paolo Tornaghi backs him up for the second year.
* The current roster has scored 158 goals in regular season play, led by 2012 Fire MVP and Golden Boot winner Chris Rolfe who has 44 career strikes. Three of the Fire’s offseason acquisitions boast double-digit career goal scoring figures: Jeff Larentowicz (23 goals), Joel Lindpere (15 goals) and Maicon Santos (21 goals).
* Frank Klopas returns for his second full season as head coach and third since taking over from Carlos de los Cobos in May 2011.
* Klopas is 25-16-16 all-time in MLS play and is 28-19-16 in competitive matches since 2011.
* Klopas' full coaching staff of Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich (assistants), Aron Hyde(goalkeeping) and Tony Jouaux (fitness) return for 2013.
* All five coaches were born in different countries: Klopas (Greece), Matkovich (USA), Percovich (Uruguay), Hyde (England), Jouaux (France).
The 2013 MLS campaign kicks off today and the All-In Podcast crew has made their picks for the weekend matches... We'll tally these throughout the season and be sure to point out who does the worst every week on the Podcast...
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC
(3/2 4pm CT; MLS Live)
Vancouver vs. Toronto FC
(3/2 5:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Houston vs. D.C. United
(3/2 7:00pm CT; NBCSN)
FC Dallas vs. Colorado
(3/2 7:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Seattle vs. Montreal
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Chivas USA vs. Columbus
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
LA Galaxy vs. Chicago
(3/3 4pm CT; UniMas)
Portland vs. New York
(3/3 6:30pm CT; ESPN2)
San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake
(3/3 9:00pm CT; MLS Live)
While most of MLS kicks off today, we in Fire country have to wait more sleep before we watch the Men in Red take on two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy Sunday at 4pm on UniMas.
Whet the appetite with this video where MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle talk one of the most intriguing matches of Opening Weekend...
It’s always interesting when things come full circle in MLS… Follow me if you will…
Take a ride back to last September when the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado in exchange for a conditional MLS SuperDraft selection.
The condition stated that if Thompson appeared in four of the team’s remaining regular season matches, the Fire would surrender their second round selection at the 2013 SuperDraft to the Rapids. He did and the Fire bid farewell to the pick.
Not so fast…
Then consider the news out of the Denver Post today where Rapids President Tim Hinchey said Larentowicz was nearly traded to the Columbus Crew instead of the Fire.
Flash forward to the night before the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis when the teams did another deal, this time with the Fire acquiring central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as well as the same second round pick they’d surrendered to the Rapids (30th overall) in exchange for their first round selection (11th overall), an international roster spot and allocation money.
Apparently the Rapids had turned down “better offers” from other teams in order to grant Larentowicz his wish of coming to Chicago rather than Columbus.
One of the main pieces at play in that potential deal was the MLS rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers, which the Fire also ended up acquiring in the trade that brought Dilly Duka to Chicago.
Not the Fire or Rapids could have predicted Rogers would retire but beyond that, you almost wonder if the other part of the potential Crew/Rapids deal could have been Duka?
But I’m getting off topic here…
Things officially came full circle today when Yazid Atouba, the player selected with the 30th pick that went back and forth between the Rapids and Fire, officially signed with the Men in Red. Slightly unheralded at the SuperDraft, Atouba gained confidence in every preseason match and dazzled Fire fans towards the end.
Certainly a pleasant surprise at #30 overall...
Take it all in and let me leave you with a few parting shots…
* Let me point out that this type of juicy “after-the-fact” trade possibility is something we just don’t hear about enough in MLS.
* It says something about the culture created internally when an MLS veteran like Jeff Larentowicz chooses to come to your club.
* Kudos to the Rapids for doing well by the player.
* Who knows who the Fire would have selected with the 11th overall pick but my safe money is on the fact that Yazid Atouba wouldn’t have been it.
* No offense whatsoever meant to Wells Thompson, but who’d have thought this all would have come from his slightly under the radar trade last fall?
Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).
The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
The Fire start the 2013 MLS season at the Home Depot Center on Sunday against the two-time defending champions LA Galaxy (LIVE 4pm CT on UniMas). Both teams made some major changes over the off-season and will be looking to start 2013 off on the right step. Here are a few tactical things to keep an eye on...
New central midfield pairing – how will the JL’s play together?
Last season, the Fire paired Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo in central midfield. This season, two new midfielders take their places: MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. Both have played together in preseason but the regular season, against the defending champions at the Home Depot Center is a different animal.
Lindpere is noted for his attacking ability but he will be required to help Larentowicz defensively, especially when the Fire turn the ball over. It will be important for both players to hold their positions and not get caught too far apart.
In an away match, it is vital to hold on to possession when you get it and it will be important for both of the JL’s to link well with each other through the match.
Set pieces – how will LA deal with service from Lindpere?
One thing that really stood out during the preseason was Lindpere’s ability to deliver a good ball into the box, especially from dead ball situations. Time after time, Lindpere put balls into the danger area – the space between the penalty spot and the six yard box. The Fire got some goals from set pieces last year and players like Austin Berry are a major threat from them.
Larentowicz is also good in the air, scoring a header in the Carolina Challenge Cup from a Lindpere corner. The Galaxy will be looking to avoid giving up silly free kicks around the area and will try to limit the number of corners the Fire but with Lindpere’s quality, the Fire can be very dangerous in this department.
LA will be debuting the vastly experienced ‘keeper Carlo Cudincini and the Fire’s set pieces will question whether he and his defense are on the same page.
Dilly Duka vs Sean Franklin – youthful exuberance vs experience
Dilly Duka looks set to make his debut for the Fire on Sunday, starting on the left wing. Duka’s opponent will likely be Sean Franklin, one of the best right backs in the league and a player with well over 100 MLS games under his belt.
This matchup is fascinating because just as Duka loves to get forward and take on his man, Franklin regularly pushes up to support in the attack, contributing with his fair share of assists. Duka will need to find a good balance between trying to keep Franklin pinned back by pushing forward, and helping out Gonzalo Segares when Franklin does advance to support the attack.
Duka is a very creative player and could end up giving Franklin a tough time but on the other side of the coin, if Segares and Duka are not in tandem, Franklin could hurt the Fire.
Robbie Keane – it’s not just all about goals
Robbie Keane’s goals dragged the Gals to their second MLS Cup victory in a row last season but his play is not all about goals. He likes to drop into the hole and link up with the Galaxy’s midfielders. Keane is very good and holding onto the ball in tight spaces and playing through balls to advancing players.
At Euro 2012, Keane played a similar role for the Republic of Ireland but was often crowed out, something the Fire should look to do if and when Keane drops deeper into the hole. Keane will certainly miss Landon Donovan and Mike Magee on Sunday but even without them, he is a major threat and should prove a handful for Berry, Friedrich and co.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Sherjill MacDonald and Arne Friedrich.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.