By way of introduction, hi. I'm Ben. I've been with the Fire since the day they were born, through their first kiss with Stoitchkov, their Toyota Park Bar Mitzvah, up into their pimply stage today. I look at a lot of art and I watch a lot of soccer. I prefer when it works out that both happen at the same time; when they're the same thing.
This space will discuss those moments, those tiny moments that define games. It'll also chronicle what happens when you watch games with people across the art-culture-sports spectrum.
A quick word about Boston. Although it was under horrible circumstances, yesterday showed one of the reasons people come together and sacrifice money and time for something as meaningless as sport. The messages of support from the soccer community were uplifting (all this on top of the day we remember Hillsborough).
The euphoric addiction of following a team is matched in effect perhaps only by the relationships the sport engenders. It’s a terrible point to make, but I can think of few better examples of soccer’s significance as a cultural entity, which anyway will be the point of this column.
On Sunday, the Fire went to Houston to try to turn the momentum from their first win of the season into a win against a team that’s basically unbeatable in their sweltering orange greenhouse of a stadium. Manager Frank Klopas hinted at the strategy going in: “Dealing with the temperature was the one thing we wanted to focus on. We wanted to be better in possession and not make a really high tempo game because that would affect us.”
In other words, Klopas wanted to avoid the kind of game that would tire out his players.
How do you control the pace of a game in soccer? In football you can run the ball. Some basketball sets are built to use up more of the shot clock. But soccer’s different. You can either sit back and try not to chase, or you can hold the ball as much as possible.
Trying not to chase is a dangerous game, and anyway a team that sits but doesn’t want to alienate the world with the worst kind of 0-0 games eventually has to counter attack, which means quick sprints upfield, exposed space behind the sprinters, and a game that can fly open into a reckless track meet.
That actually sounds kind of fun, but it’s not a good strategy away to Houston, so Klopas wanted to hold the ball. It’s a funny thing: Chasing another team around is exhausting, but you don’t get tired when you have the ball even when you’re running to receive the ball, create space, etc. It’s one of the great psychosomatic mysteries of the game.
But another mystery is attacking confidence. How do you slow down pace without affecting the fearlessness necessary to attack without hesitation?
There was a great moment in the first half on Sunday: The Fire defense collects the ball and Logan Pause gestures to the team to take it easy, to slow down (see the GIF below). It was the captain being the coach’s representative on the field (Klopas on Pause’s return against New York two weeks ago: “You can just see today my voice is a lot better than it was in previous games because he does a lot of that.”), but did it work?
The intangible variances of soccer mean that a team visiting a place like Houston has to find the right balance between controlling pace without losing the pace necessary to attack. It’s an extremely delicate use of resources.
Did the anti-fatigue strategy make someone less willing to burst forward to join a counter attack? Or, did it take the kind of attacking risk in the final third that’s necessary to create scoring chances but which can also result in an exhausting recovery sprint (like how Houston’s Andrew Driver came out after a series of runs in the second half)?
Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure there’s enough evidence that Houston’s goals and Fire’s lack thereof had anything to do with fatigue, and it’s not like the Fire lined up defensively or were perceptibly so afraid to go forward. Pause’s gesture was, in the end, a moment in a game that may or may not have made a crucial difference, but it was the kind of moment that gives the game its complexity and its mystery.
There are many words to express what the Trib's Sports Section did today...
To the people of Boston and our friends at the New England Revolution, we're with you.
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Dynamo
As they do every week, MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle give their view on Sunday's clash between the Fire and Dynamo...
Need one last look at Sunday's 3-1 win over Red Bull?
Our web guru Nick Sintich put Sunday's highlights to the music of the uber-popular song "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.
Well done, YouTube music licensing is a great thing!
After picking up their first win of the season last week, the Fire travel to Houston for Sunday’s match (4pm CT on UniMas/La Ley 107.9FM) brimming with confidence. The Dynamo lost again on the road last week against Portland but are returning to BBBV Compass Stadium, a place where they have never lost. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Giles Barnes – excelling in the role of second striker and deceptively good in the air
Giles Barnes has had an excellent start to 2013, playing in an almost free role just behind the target striker. Barnes is dangerous in a number of areas: he can drop deep or wide with the ball, taking on defenders, he can also win flicks on to his strike partner and he has come up with two headed goals already this season.
AthletiCo Coaching Corner
Against Portland last week and San Jose the week before, Barnes linked up well with central midfielders Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, taking the ball from them before turning and running at defenders from deep or around the box.
In the air, Barnes won many dangerous flick-ons against San Jose in Houston’s last home match. Barnes’ ability to win balls in the air seemed to baffle San Jose, who were clearly anticipating him to be running onto the flicks by Will Bruin.
In the matches against San Jose and the week before against Vancouver, Barnes chipped in with two headed goals. When teams play Houston, it is easy to get distracted by players such as Brad Davis or Boniek Garcia but Barnes has been their most dangerous player this season.
The Fire cannot give him space on the ground and players like Austin Berry need to match Barnes in the air.
The possible return of Arne – if he returns, who moves to the bench?
Much of the talk this week in the Fire camp is the potential return of Arne Friedrich to a Fire back line that has been decimated by injuries at the beginning of the season.
Though everyone is looking forward to Arne’s return, it brings up a very tough tactical decision for head coach Frank Klopas, namely who plays at right back.
Wells Thompson has done a very solid job over the past two matches in that position, improving from a shaky first half against Chivas to having a standout game in last week’s win against NYRB.
Wells stated this week that he would like to “lock the down the spot and become a regular starter" and he certainly has put forth a good case to the coaches.
Thompson’s distribution out of the back is excellent and as the away team this week, the Fire will be looking to hold onto the ball for as long as possible and not be wasteful in possession.
Paladini, Thompson Preview Houston
The other realistic candidate for the starting right back spot should Friedrich return is Jalil Anibaba, last season’s starter. Against a physical and big team like Houston, Jalil’s strength could be needed.
Anibaba is also excellent in the air and with players like Barnes and Bruin to contend with, Klopas may turn to the third-year defender.
Houston’s knack for scoring goals from set pieces is also well-known and Anibaba’s presence in the box could be all-important on Sunday afternoon.
The Dynamo's frequency of scoring from corners is such that the home fans get to their feet for every corner, expecting a goal or good chance to be created from each one.
Though there was a lot of talk about Logan Pause moving to right-back at the beginning of this season, I don’t see the Fire changing too much the in the midfield after last week’s performance.
A start for Jalil at right back would be tough on Wells Thompson after two great performances, but tactically, starting Anibaba would make the most sense.
Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Sherjill MacDonald
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
Former Chicago Fire player Jared Montz is Juggling to save lives... and you should too.
The Online Soccer Academy World Juggle-A-Thon will take place on April 25th (World Malaria Day) to raise money for Nothing But Nets, a foundation that provides bed nets for people in Africa to prevent malaria.
Check out the cameos made by some Fire and Red Stars players, as well as some folks from Section 8 Chicago in Jared's #SoccerWalking Chicago video below.
For more information on the Juggle-A-Thon, or to make a donation Click Here.
Maicon Santos’ two-goal substitute performance had me thinking this week, how often have Fire players come off the bench to tally a brace?
The Answer: It’s a very rare thing… Santos’ effort on Sunday was just the fifth time (or .008%) in the club’s 573 all-time competitive matches that a player has scored two goals off the bench. It was just the third time in MLS league play and first since 2006.
Orr Barouch - Chicago Fire 4, New York Red Bulls 0 - U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal (7/12/2011)
In a memorable match that was moved up to 5pm because of a massive power outage at Toyota Park, Barouch came on at halftime for Cristian Nazarit with the Fire already leading 2-0. It took the Israeli youth international just five minutes to make it 3-0 before closing the scoring off a feed from Diego Chaves in the 69th minute (WATCH).
PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry
Barouch led the side with three goals in Open Cup play on the way to the tournament final that year.
Chad Barrett – Chicago Fire 2, Real Salt Lake 1 – MLS Regular Season (6/28/2006)
Throughout much of his first two seasons with the Men in Red, Chad Barrett was an oft-used second half attacking sub. In this match, he repaid Dave Sarachan’s faith in him, entering for captain Chris Armas in the 68th minute before heading home the equalizer off a cross from Justin Mapp in the 80th minute (WATCH).
Five minutes later, Mapp would slot Barrett through the RSL backline before the second-year striker put slid his effort past Scott Garlick and in off the post for the winner (WATCH).
The effort was the first of two braces for Barrett during his time with the Men in Red, the other coming in a 5-1 victory at Red Bull on May 25, 2008.
Dipsy Selolwane – Chicago Fire 4, San Juan Jabloteh 0 – CONCACAF Champions Cup (3/17/2004)
With the team coming off a somewhat shocking 5-2 first leg defeat away to the Trinidadian side, the Men in Red returned to Soldier Field needing four goals in the second leg in order to advance.
Though Damani Ralph took the aggregate score to 5-3 just before halftime, Selolwane entered for current Fire captain Logan Pause to provide more offense after the break. The Botswanan international’s long-range effort in the 51st minute brought the Fire to within a goal before his empty net finish 11 minutes later brought the score level.
Selolwane proved to be Man of the Match when he set up Chris Armas’ 90th minute series winner to push the Fire past Jabloteh 6-5 on aggregate and into the Champions Cup semifinals.
Interestingly, that performance was the only brace of Selolwane's Fire career, though he did come up with back-to-back game-winners in the team's run to the U.S. Open Cup final that season.
Hristo Stoitchkov – Chicago Fire 7, Kansas City Wizards 0 – MLS Regular Season (7/4/2001)
Of course the Mad Bulgarian was the first to do this with the Fire and of course it came in the Fourth of July Massacre.
With the team already leading 4-0, there was little need for Stoitchkov to come on in the 78th. One minute after entering the match, Piotr Nowak scored his second to take the game to 5-0 and then Stoitchkov proceeded to drive the dagger in tallying in the 83rd and 88th minutes to exact revenge for the Fire’s MLS Cup loss to Kansas City the year before (WATCH).
Like Barrett, Stoitchkov tallied two braces while with the Men in Red. The first came in his debut appearance, a 4-2 Opening Day loss to the Dallas Burn on March 18, 2000.