We knew it was too early to get cocky. Although the Fire managed to overcome, at least in a cathartic sort of way, all the season’s travails in the dramatic comeback-into-playoff-spot win last week against New England, we knew there were six games left to hold onto, improve upon, or lose playoff position.
At that point, four of the six remaining games were away from Toyota Park, which was a scary prospect for the Fire. Like the rest of MLS, the Fire are much worse away from home, and one couldn’t shake the feeling that the Fire would play drug smuggler, in and out of safety every week.
Saturday’s thumping in Columbus didn’t make fans feel any better, and still, three of the five remaining games are away from Toyota Park. But why are the Fire playing worse away from home? A quick run through the stats:
- Overall record: 11-12-6
- Away record: 2-8-4
- Home record: 9-4-2
- Overall goal differential: -7 (36 for, 43 against)
- Away goal differential: -14 (10 for, 24 against)
- Home goal differential: 7 (26 for, 19 against)
Not sterling, it’s true. Goal differential in soccer can be a little overblown as a telling statistic but since it could count in playoff contention it's worth paying attention to. And one thing it shows is that all of MLS is struggling away from home this year. Every team except Kansas City (+1) and Real Salt Lake (0) have road goal differences in the negatives. Seventeen teams are shipping goals away from home!
It’s a strange phenomenon in MLS, and seems to go against the general feeling that, with MLS parity so prevalent, there would be less domination, more draws, etc. Not so, at least not anymore. According to some numbers crunched over at SBN, “MLS has become a league were the home team wins about 50 percent of the time and the road team pulls out three points somewhere around 25 percent.”
But why? There are a few explanations in other American leagues. Grueling travel in the NBA, noise in the NFL, explicit rule advantages in MLB and the NHL - but those factors aren’t so relevant in MLS.
There’s the harder to calculate factor of home vs. away referee decisions, or momentum, or what at least one writer calls the “best sports fans in America,” which, I mean, great, but even if there was a way to prove that, it would be hard to connect fans’ performance with players’.
So let’s accept the mystery for a second. Let’s chalk it up to some combination of discomfort or unfamiliarity with playing surfaces (hi Revs), climates (hola Houston), atmosphere (ok Seattle, we see you), various travel and hotel-related distractions and fatigue (seems like a cop out but ok), refereeing decisions (impossible to prove), and the elusive, metaphysical effects of momentum.
The thing is that MLS is not alone in home team dominance. England has it too. Maybe the issue has less to do with American this-or-that than soccer itself. I would love to find data showing that home team dominance comes from the non-physical aspects of the game. I think something about the invisible, spontaneous, and rapid morphic connections between teammates (the connections that translate into the action we see) make them occur in a smoother way at “home.”
At the very least, it's an apt way to think about the Fire’s away form this year, where even after a dominant home game they can leave town and look like they’ve never played with each other before. Saturday night in Columbus, for example, it seems they left whatever elixir Jeff Larentowicz passed around at half time back in the locker room at Toyota Park. But we’ve seen the Fire turn it the other way around too, as in July, when they lost 3-1 in Vancouver only to beat DC 4-1 at home the next week.
Obviously the Fire will be looking to do the same against the suddenly beatable Montreal at TP on Saturday. Here’s to the morphic energy going as smoothly as possible.
The first-ever Soccer & Style event benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation was a great success at ROOF on the Wit last Thursday night.
Fire players Jalil Anibaba, Michael Videira, Hunter Jumper, Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Quincy Amarikwa Daniel Paladini and goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde all did their best jaunt down the runway for a good cause.
True to form, it was Jumper that stole the show. Watch to find out...
On whether, with all of the chances and the red card, it still seemed like a 3-0 game:
No, not at all. We give up the red card and then playing shorthanded, and the first goal was soft. We were coming from behind. Really, we pushed the game. We had chances to tie the game and it doesn’t go your way and then they got a PK. For me, it’s all questionable, but regardless, the team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.
On whether, down 1-0 at half, Chicago was trying to tie the game or still get three points:
You just have to be smart. We had our chances. I think if we would have scored, they would have been under pressure, but we hit the post, we had some good opportunities in the final third and sometimes it just isn’t your night.
On trying to beat a team four times in a season:
It isn’t easy to beat a team four times in one season, but it’s very difficult when you’re playing shorthanded also. We played for the majority of the game, almost 60 minutes, shorthanded, and the guys competed and left it all on the field. We pushed the game. We took risks because what’s the point? 1-0 or 2-0 you still lose, for me it doesn’t matter at that point. We had the chances and we didn’t get [the goal]. The second goal really kills us, the PK shorthanded, questionable but whatever. It is what it is. We’ve just got to move on.
Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka
On the loss:
We have played this team four times this year – you can’t win them all. This is MLS. They scored an early goal, they played well, and we were a little unlucky. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed. The guy didn’t even touch the ball, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Can’t look back – got to look forward.
On the second half:
We definitely believed we could come back and tie, maybe even win the game. There was no doubt in that locker room at halftime about coming out of this game with a loss.
On ‘new-look’ Crew under Bliss:
I thought they were a good team with Robert [Warzycha]. I think they have good personnel and players, but it was just their day.
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
On the loss:
We hit the posts, we hit the crossbar, we got opportunities – overall though we were just not good enough. But in the end we have five more games left and we’re right there. We have been in this spot before. We knew it was going to be a tough road game coming in, but we have games to play and there is going to be more opportunities.
On impact of second goal:
The next goal was going to be big. We knew that if we could keep it at one to nothing we could probably develop opportunities and create chances. The second goal was one that put the game out of reach.
On difficulty of beating teams four times a season:
We knew that coming in, but at the same time we were focused on the end result. This is a tough part of the year. We are a team that knows we can do things on the road, but tonight it wasn’t our best and when you’re not on your best you get beat.
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Crew.
PHOTO CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images
Select photos as Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper, Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Daniel Paladini, Quincy Amarikwa, Gonzalo Segares, Michael Videira, Paolo Tornaghi, and Aron Hyde were all out on the runway at ROOF on theWit strutting their stuff for the Chicago Fire Foundation.
It was a great night, and as you can see below the guys had some fun too.
Photo Credit: Nick Sintich, Chicago Fire
After a dramatic later winner against New England, the Men in Red head to Firehouse East (#FHEAST) Saturday night to face a surging Columbus team (LIVE 6pm CT on My50). Since relieving coach Robert Warzycha of his duties and replacing him with Technical Director Brian Bliss, the Crew have won two of three and remain in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.
The Columbus hierarchy are calling this match a six-pointer and I tend to agree. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Sticking tight to Dominic Oduro – regardless of what position he plays in
In my last preview of a Fire vs. Columbus match, I heaped praise on Oduro and since then, the Ghanaian has continued to put in good performances.
Many in Columbus called for Oduro to be played up top and for the first two games under Brian Bliss this happened but last weekend the ex-Fire man moved to the right wing, making room for Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta to take their places in the middle of the attack.
In truth, Oduro is difficult to contain in either position.
On the wing, his pace forces the outside defenders to be on their guard and not stray too far forward. Hiss crossing is also dangerous -- he looks to get the ball in the box as early as possible, oftentimes playing it low to the ground, bending it around the defenders. These sort of balls are a nightmare to defend and limiting Oduro’s space to cross will be important.
Oduro’s runs also make him a difficult player to mark when he plays up top. In the Crew’s last match against Montreal, he made a brilliant run into the box to get on the end of a sublime through ball from Federico Higuain and score the winner.
It will be an added incentive for the Fire defenders to keep their former teammate off the score sheet on Saturday night.
The midfield battle – Will Trap and Tony Tchani vs Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios
In just a few matches together, Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios have formed quite a formidable partnership in the center of midfield.
In the Crew’s last match against the Impact, Will Trapp continued to start, this time alongside Tony Tchani. This partnership is similar to the Fire’s, with one player advancing to help the attack while the other sits.
Tchani particularly caught the eye, bringing a physical presence that was lacking to the Crew’s midfield. The Cameroonian has surprisingly good foot skills for a burly 6’4’’ midfielder and is equally comfortable playing through balls from deep or driving forward with the ball.
The battle between the two sets of central midfielders will be very interesting to watch, with both trying to catch the other out.
The Fire’s central pair must continue to stay disciplined and not be caught in a situation where both are too far forward. The Fire’s midfield tandem certainly have the edge in experience and I expect them to display that against the younger pair.
Focusing the attacks down the Columbus left – targeting Tyson Wahl and co.
In the first two matches under Brian Bliss, Tyson Wahl returned at left back for the Crew, after sitting out the end of Warzycha’s reign. Wahl didn’t have the best of games in the first two outings of the Bliss era before moving to center back for last week’s match against Montreal.
It remains to be seen what position he starts in on Saturday night but in any case, the left side of defense is certainly a weak link for the Crew and one the Fire should look to exploit.
In the Montreal game, former Fire winger Justin Mapp caused the Crew all sorts of problems from his wide right position. After strong performances for Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in recent weeks, picking two of the four to occupy the wide positions will be a tough decision for Frank Klopas.
I look for Jalil Anibaba to get forward at every opportunity to support the starting right winger and extend the Crew’s defensive woes on the left hand side for another match.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.
Continuing our Three Questions series, I hit up TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett to find out what's been going on with "The Massive's" turnaround in form under interim head coach Brian Bliss ahead of Saturday's visit to Crew Stadium (LIVE 6:00pm CT on My50) I also exchanged answers with him for TheCrew.com, see below
Jeff Crandall: The Crew looked destined to miss the playoffs again this season but the move of Brian Bliss downstairs as interim head coach has seen the team win two of its last three matches. What has changed since he took over the dressing room?
Cody Sharrett: With the coaching change, I think some players felt they had something to prove and re-earn their spots in the lineup. Bliss has brought more accountability to the club with his tell-like-it-is, yet positive approach. Training sessions are definitely more vocal and the players seem to be responding to Bliss’ style.
The change has also helped guys who had maybe fallen out of favor with Robert Warzycha earn new opportunities on the field. Since the coaching change, both Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl have seen their minutes increase. Tchani has brought a physical presence to central midfield and was key in the wins against Houston and Montreal.
Even in the 3-0 loss at Kansas City, Tchani was one of the few bright spots for the Crew. Wahl, on the other hand, brings veteran presence to the backline alongside stalwart Chad Marshall. Aside from one slip up that led to a Marco Di Vaio goal, Wahl paired well with Marshall in his first match of the season at centerback.
JC: The Fire dealt Dominic Oduro to the Crew in a January trade that brought Dilly Duka and eventually Mike Magee to Chicago. Dom just scored his 10th goal of the season for the Crew last weekend, how has he helped the Columbus attack improve this year?
CS: Oduro’s speed has definitely added a different dimension to the Crew attack that just hasn’t been there in the past. Federico Higuaín leads MLS with 44 attempted through balls this season, and with Oduro’s pace, can you blame him? When the two have connected, it’s been a work of art as evidenced by Oduro’s goals in Toronto earlier in the season and last week in Montreal.
A pleasant surprise in Oduro’s game for Crew fans has been his ability to make defenses pay for mistakes, thus coining the term “Grand Theft Oduro.” Teams have been more hesitant playing out of the back due to Oduro’s ability to pounce on miscues.
Leading the team with 10 goals this season, Oduro has been a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold.
JC: The Crew have little margin for error in remaining matches if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. With backs against the wall, what is the mood and spirit like going into Saturday’s game vs. the Fire?
CS: The locker room has been positive, especially since the win at Montreal. The Crew knows it needs help from other results, but also realizes it most likely needs to win-out to ensure a playoff spot. With four of the five remaining matches coming against Eastern Conference opponents, the points are there for the taking.
Cody Sharrett: The Fire sit in playoff position for the first time in 2013. What’s the atmosphere like in the locker room with six matches left to go in the season?
Jeff Crandall: Having gone 2-7-1 through their first 10 matches, everyone at the Fire will say the team had a pretty bad start to the year. Still, the spirit never faltered and the arrivals of Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare in late May helped stabilize things a great deal.
Despite a few disappointing results to start September, the team still remains one of the hottest in the league since that time but the fact the fact that we’re in mid-September and last Saturday was the first time they’ve reached a playoff position tells just how deep a hole was dug at the beginning of the year.
There are a few reasons for the turnaround this season but it most assuredly wouldn’t have happened if the mood didn’t stay positive through the hard times. Now that they’re in a position to qualify for the playoffs, they’ve noticeably gained even more confidence heading into the close of the season and will go to Crew Stadium looking for a season sweep on Saturday.
CS: New DP Juan Luis Ananganó bagged his first goal for the Fire last week against New England. How has he changed the dynamic of the club’s attack?
JC: Though he is a Designated Player, Anangono was purposely not billed as someone that would come in and be a significant contributor right away. He is a strong target striker that has a lot of work ethic but as we see with many foreign players coming to MLS for the first time, an adjustment period is needed.
He showed flashes in games before but his 30th minute equalizer in Saturday’s win over New England was huge for a Fire team that had once again conceded early in a match. Though he may have been offside on the second equalizer through Mike Magee, his shielding the defender was what gave the Fire’s leading scorer an easy conversion.
Anangono’s transition to the Fire and MLS isn’t complete but his recent performances now give head coach Frank Klopas the most variety he’s had all season up top and allows the manager to be more unpredictable with his lineups at the close of the season.
CS: Since the Fire’s first season in 1998, the rivalry with the Crew has been one of the best in MLS. What is the general feeling of this rivalry among the Chicago supporters compared to other rivalries?
JC: In my view, (and I may be biased because I’m a Wolverine) the rivalry with the Crew is the best the Fire currently have. Last season 600 supporters went to Crew Stadium and the year before about 400 attended. Hands down, the visit(s) to Crew Stadium are one of the first games Fire supporters circle on their calendars when the schedule is released every year.
Games against the Crew mean a lot to Klopas as well as Crew Stadium was the site of his first win as interim head coach back on June 12, 2011 and it was him that scored the Golden Goal winner against Columbus in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final at Soldier Field.
In the locker room, Ohioans Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry especially get up for games vs. “The Massive” but throughout the team, whether players are new or haven't been around too long, its known that matches vs. the Crew are big and usually very intense.
With both teams pushing for the playoffs and former players on both sides of the divide, I expect no less on Saturday.
Last night, Marty Allen, the Grand Prize winner in our Mobile App Contest powered by Cricket got to fulfill his prize, going out to dinner with Gonzalo Segares and Daniel Paladini at Vapiano in Lincoln Park!
Check out a couple photos from dinner and be sure to download the club's new and improved mobile app, available on iOS and Droid by visiting www.chicago-fire.com/app.
In advance of Thursday's Soccer & Style runway show, it appears Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper and Paolo Tornaghi have begun channeling their inner Zoolander...
Catch the trio plus a number of other Fire players walk down the runway Thursday night at Roof on the Wit, benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.
Tickets available here.
Gonzalo Segares Yellow Cards
As I was going through my post-game audit of stats (yes I think every Sr. Content Producer does this), I found that Gonzalo Segares is coming up on another career milestone.
About this time last year, Sega had appeared in his 200th competitive match for the Men in Red and a month ago, it was his 200th MLS regular season match but this statistic wasn’t of the appearance variety but rather of the disciplinary.
Segares was shown a 61st minute caution in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New England, getting him to 50 all-time yellow cards in his Fire career (MLS Regular Season) and leaving him just one away of equaling the club’s record holder, C.J. Brown who racked up 51 yellows in 296 MLS appearances.
I of course tweeted about this and never too shy, @SuperSega13 sent this response:
@JefeCrandall what an honor. It has cost me a lot of money. Anything for the team.
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
UPDATE! Upon further review, an inconsistency existed in Elias and Opta's stats. Elias listed Segares with six yellow cards in 2013 but as I looked at the MLS Disciplinary Report this morning, I saw him with seven. After some quick deduction, I realized Elias (and hence myself) failed to count Segares' 86th minute yellow card in the July 3 match vs. San Jose.
This means Segares actually tied Brown's club record on Saturday. Perhaps this tweet from @WhereisHawkins in response to the one above from Gonzalo is even more fitting now...
— Gonzalo Segares (@supersega13) September 17, 2013
Important to note that Gonzalo is on Caution Watch, so breaking the record this season isn't a necessity...
Austin Berry has played every game...
...since his memorable debut in the team's comeback win at Chivas USA on May 4, 2012. You remember that one -- Berry, was plugged into the lineup next to Arne Friedrich after Jalil Anibaba earned a one-game suspension in the previous match.
Berry conceded a penalty kick to Alejandro Moreno in the 23rd minute only to pull it back on his own two minutes later before Marco Pappa's late strike sealed the three points for the Fire in LA.
Well, maybe you already knew this but Austin Berry hasn't missed a competitive game since, playing 62 consecutive matches as of Saturday night. That number includes all five of the team's Open Cup games as well as last year's playoff match vs. Houston.
The only games he has missed? Friendlies against Santos Laguna in 2012 and Club America this past July.
#Fitness #Longevity #NoCardTrouble
Baky and Sean to 100 Appearances?
Maybe its a bit premature but thought this would be interesting as well. Sean Johnson hit 100 competitive appearances for the Fire in his return from Gold Cup duty in the team's 2-1 win at Philadelphia on August 3.
Should they play in the remainder of the Fire's Regular Season matches this season, he and teammate Bakary Soumare will hit another century milestone.
- PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry
For Johnson, the season finale at New York would be his 100th MLS appearance for the Fire while Soumare, who spent three and a half seasons away from the club, would hit his 100th competitive appearance in the match.
Yellow Card Watch and U.S. National Team callups be damned!
The Centerback: Fire find themselves in playoff place ahead of Crew clash