Michael Cox is a writer and the man behind Zonal Marking, the tactics nerd utopia of soccer content. For years, ZM’s straight-to-the-point style has illuminated the tactical sub-matter of important matches and identified the trends dictating soccer set-ups around the world.
We went back and forth on the 4-1-4-1 formation, national trends, and MLS’s best tactical role model.
Ben Schuman-Stoler: The Fire have experimented this year with a 4-1-4-1 formation, which has morphed in certain times into the more familiar 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, and 4-2-3-1 set ups. Can you say a little bit about the 4-1-4-1 in general? What are its weaknesses and strengths? Are there any teams in recent memory you can recall employing it consistently?
Michael Cox: The 4-1-4-1 isn't particularly fashionable, but part of this is because managers will always call it a 4-3-3 - a 4-3-3 is basically a 4-1-4-1 when it's without the ball. But 4-3-3 sounds much more exciting, so you'll rarely get a 4-1-4-1 hailed as a brilliant system.
The major problem is the fact the lone striker can become isolated, although the opportunity to get midfield runners forward means this shouldn't be too much of a problem if he can drop deep, link play and hold up the ball. That said, the importance of the midfield runners getting forward means the holding player has a huge responsibility without the ball, and can often become overrun at defensive transitions, particularly if the opposition get two players either side of him - he doesn't have the comfort of a partner.
BSS: Is there also anything different a back four (in particular the outside backs) have to keep in mind in a 4-1-4-1 compared to a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1?
MC: I think the major difference is that the full-backs have to be able to track the opposition’s winger inside. If you're in a 4-2-3-1 and you're dealing with an opposition 4-2-3-1, your two holding midfielders can deal with (a) the opposition number ten and (b) a David Silva-like character drifting inside. With the 4-1-4-1 he'll become overloaded, so your full-backs have more responsibility to move inside and stop him.
BSS: What are your thoughts regarding national-specific or league-specific tactics? Do they ever develop naturally and therefore uniquely for that country/league? Could the ideas developing in the MLS affect the U.S. National Team, and ever add to their chances of international success? In what way has MLS changed or not changed your understanding or appreciation of American soccer and tactics therein?
MC: This is an interesting question. I think it's generally top-down, to be honest - the national side gets success and influences lots of the domestic sides. The best example is Chile - Bielsa went there before the last World Cup, brought in 3-3-1-3 and heavy pressing, and that trickled down to the domestic sides, particularly Universidad de Chile. Now they all play that way, Chile have an identity, and Uni's old coach Sampoali is now the Chile manager, picking lots of his old players for the national side while simultaneously continuing with the Bielsa approach. I gather something similar has happened in Ghana with 4-2-3-1 and counter-attacking play. Really, I think the best way for the USA to arrive at something similar is for Jurgen Klinsmann to come up with something interesting, which then trickles down. It would be tough for him to accommodate MLS-specific tactics on the world stage against more 'advanced' European approaches.
BSS: I'm curious about the ways in which tactical ideas travel across countries. Recently Manchester City's American project nabbed Jason Kreis from Salt Lake City. He's currently doing 6 months at the Etihad to learn and bring their ideas to the States. What do you think MLS's opportunity is with regards to "market research"? How are tactical ideas developed on their own in certain leagues vs. affected by worldwide trends or coaching lineage?
MC: Hmm, that's such a tough question, you could probably write a whole book about it, to be honest. I think the main thing to consider here is that ideas now travel faster than ever before because of the internet etc, and also because coaches and players travel to different countries more than ever before. The globalization of football in the past 15 years or so means theoretically, there should be less boundaries in this respect.
To me it seems logical for an MLS club to look to the Premier League. American soccer seems quite physical and in a certain sense quite basic tactically, and of the major European leagues the Premier League is probably quite a good fit.
Now into it's second season, the MLS and USL PRO partnership is going well with 11 MLS sides currently affiliated with lower league teams, allowing younger players or those at the ends of MLS benches the ability to gain more playing time in meaningful matches at the USL level.
From the Fire end, we've seen the other side of the USL PRO partnership this past week, as the club's Reserve side played two matches against the Rochester Rhinos and Charlotte Eagles with the games counting in both the MLS Reserve Standings as well as the USL PRO table. With MLS mandating that all clubs either need to have an affiliation or begin a separate team in the USL PRO division by 2015, the Fire and seven other MLS sides will surely have this in the forefront this year.
A look at the current MLS/USL PRO affiliations:
|USL PRO Club||MLS Club|
|Arizona United SC||-|
|Charleston Battery||Vancouver Whitecaps|
|Dayton Dutch Lions||Columbus Crew|
|Harrisburg City Islanders||Philadelphia Union|
|LA Galaxy II||LA Galaxy|
|Oklahoma City Energy||Sporting KC|
|Orange County Blues||-|
|Orlando City SC||Sporting KC**|
|Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Houston Dynamo|
|Richmond Kickers||D.C. United|
|Rochester Rhinos||New England Revolution|
|Sacramento Republic||Portland Timbers & San Jose Earthquakes|
|Wilmington Hammerheads||Toronto FC|
**Sporting KC will have main affiliation with Oklahoma City beginning next season when Orlando City joins MLS
Last month Fire Technical Director Brian Bliss spoke to reporters about the headway the club has made on finding a USL PRO affiliate and specifically mentioned that the club held talks with the owners of Arizona United SC as well as a group in Milwaukee looking to launch a new USL PRO club in the near future and other possible cities in the Midwest.
The Colorado Switchbacks and Tulsa Roughnecks, two other clubs that could fit that "Midwest" mold, are already set to begin play in USL PRO next season while the USL Premier Development League's Michigan Bucks are also making noise about a move up to the professional level.
But what other Midwest cities could make sense for a Chicago Fire affiliation? Where does a soccer hotbed like St. Louis fall in all of this? What about Grand Rapids, Cleveland, Cincinnati or even Des Moines, Iowa?
Where would you most like to see a Fire USL PRO affiliation heading into the 2015 season? Tell us below:
Racist chants and actions are nothing new in the world of soccer.
And while different campaigns and the simple spectre of time have helped a great deal in stampinig out racism in the game, shameful incidents do still occur.
See Barcelona's game this weekend at Villareal. Trailing 2-1 in the 76th minute, defender Dani Alves was set to take a corner kick when a banana was thrown just in front of him. Rather than ignore the act, Alves picked up the banana, ate a piece and took the corner kick... See below:
Barcelona went on to win the match 3-2, with the tying tally coming off an Alves cross that deflected for a Villareal own goal.
Remembering last summer when Ghanaian international Kevin Prince-Boateng faced down racist chants by walking off the field in a friendly for AC Milan, do you think Alves' reponse to racism was more effective?
The beginning road for the 101st edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was set Thursday with the U.S. Soccer Federation releasing the new tournament format, first round and potential second round pairings.
Of note, the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will feature the largest-ever tournament field with 80 teams participating, smashing the previous record of 68 teams set last year. Forty-two of the 80 participating teams are amateur sides, breaking the previous record of 34 (also set in 2013). Also of note, all professional teams at Division I, II and III levels are participating in the competition for the third straight year.
The Chicago Fire will join the Open Cup party in the tournament's fourth round, set to be played June 10-18. In case you need a local Open Cup fix, two Illinois-based amateur sides are in the tournament as RWB Adria returns along with Schwaben AC.
Adria visits NPSL side Detroit City FC in a first round match up on Wednesday, May 7 at Stevenson High School in Livonia, Mich., while Schwaben will enter play in the tournament's second round when they host USL PRO side Dayton Dutch Lions on Wednesday, May 14 at 4:00pm CT at Schwaben Athletic Club in Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Check out the full tournament format and first and second round pairings with U.S. Soccer's official release here. For more in depth coverage on the 101st edition of the Open Cup, visit www.thecup.us and follow @USOpenCup on Twitter!
Hey everyone. I'm still a little sour about my sending off at the weekend but I'm not going to let that get in the way of my latest #BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy Challenge video.
In today's show, I award last week's winner, "Smoke + Mirrors", show off the top prize for the month of March (I'm looking at you Zusi n Me Wynne'n) and then to keep things interesting, take a different direction with the show...
So... I destroyed Jeff Crandall in the first #QuincyTime challenge but let's make it more interesting... Tweet your ideas for the next challenge to me @QuincyAmarikwa using #QuincyTime and we'll sort out the best ones for future episodes!
What is it going to take for Frank Yallop to get his first regular season victory as head coach of the Chicago Fire?
Following Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 tie at home to the New England Revolution, the Fire are now without a win in seven MLS games after an opening day defeat at Chivas USA and six subsequent ties as their season has yet to fully take off.
However, four of those seven games were on the road, so if the Fire can pick up all three points at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, May 3 after a bye week, the complexion of the season, and more importantly the table, will suddenly look a whole lot better.
Thankfully for Yallop and his coaching staff, the Chicago fan-base have shown remarkable patience and understanding as he tries to impart his philosophies and footballing ideals on to this new group of players.
Yallop came to the Fire with a proven track record in the MLS following a lengthy professional career in England and on the international stage with Canada.
His vast experience in England and early MLS successes as a coach with San Jose Earthquakes has given Yallop, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the confidence to remain calm despite the relatively disappointing start to the campaign.
When speaking about the team, their attitude, their effort in training and their prospects for the season, Yallop hasn’t changed in his thinking since his arrival at Toyota Park last October. If anything, he is more optimistic now than before the season began.
He sees a group of players that have shown significant signs of progress in the short time he has been with them and he believes that their first win is about to come. Yes, he believed it would come at home to the Red Bulls. Away to DC.
His confidence in himself and his team still intact, he insisted the win would come with the visit of the Union to Toyota Park. And again, a week later, there was an assured statement that the win would arrive on the road in Montreal.
Looking back, it is possible to see where and how three points may have been won in any of these games, with a little luck or a hint of good fortune. Mike Magee’s late penalty miss against Philadelphia. Late saves by the Impact’s Troy Perkins from Patrick Nyarko and Magee that would have earned the Fire their first win.
Juan Luis Anangono’s penalty miss against New England last time out was another glaring example of a missed opportunity and another occasion where the Fire should have sealed the three points their efforts over the previous 90 minutes deserved.
The reason no one has pushed the panic button just yet, is largely down to the quality of play produced each week, the vast amount of chances being created and the overall level of entertainment served up by Yallop and his attack-minded tactics.
No other team has had more shots this campaign at 101, while only the Montreal Impact have hit the target more often, 38 times to the Fire’s 35 (which they tie with the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City).
They are the fourth highest scorers after seven games with 10 goals, while Quincy Amarikwa is tied for second on the goalscoring list with four.
There are significant signs of improvement since the side’s defeat at Chivas, with Yallop’s influence gaining momentum with each and every game.
Having struggled to assert themselves in the possession stakes in the opening three games, the Fire have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents in their last three games.
This has translated itself into more goalscoring opportunities, with the Fire amassing an impressive 54 shots to their opponents’ 17 over the last three games.
Which suggests to me that they are doing well defensively, restricting other teams to an average of six shots per game, while also creating enough themselves to comfortably win games.
That has not happened thus far, but surely it is only a matter of time.
There have been several other positive features to Yallop’s tenure, most notably his willingness to give youth a chance. Earlier in the year, he insisted that he would select players on merit rather than reputation, and he has stood by that assertion with the likes of Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Greg Cochrane and Victor Pineda all getting a chance to impress.
Add to that the blossoming central defensive partnership of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare, which has impressed in recent games despite the concession of 11 goals, and it is clear to see that the Fire have a solid base upon which to build.
His faith in the wing play of Nyarko and Shipp has also reaped reward with both players contributing to the fluent, incisive build-up play down both flanks that has been a feature of the Fire’s games thus far.
And with reigning MLS MVP Magee improving with every game following his early season injury problems, and his effective link up play with Amarikwa showing real signs of promise, surely that first win will come sooner rather than later.
Stats at a glance (the Fire read first):
|Opponent||Shots||Possession %||Pass Accuracy||Passes|
|Chivas USA||7/14||44.7% / 55.3%||77%||303/369|
|Portland Timbers||14/21||38.5% / 61.5%||64%||243/398|
|New York Red Bulls||13/10||42.6% / 57.4%||72%||340/449|
|D.C. United||13/17||49% / 51%||72%||372 / 383|
|Philadelphia Union||20/7||53.2% / 46.8%||74%||349/304|
|Montreal Impact||17/6||56.2% / 43.8%||79%||420/333|
|New England Revolution||17/4||51.9% / 48.1%||76%||338/321|
An update on Chicago Fire loanee Grant Ward's recovery from surgery to repair broken metatarsal in his foot, from the man himself...
Been out 6 weeks with this injury now and I ran for the first time today, got a bit of ball work in aswell, nearly there!
— Grant Ward (@GrantWard_) April 22, 2014
Seems like we could be seeing Grant Stateside sometime soon... In case you've forgotten, a look back on this golazo he scored for the team in preseason vs. Colorado...
Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
On where the team needs to go from here
“Tough one. Déjà vu from the last home game we had. Should have four more points than we’ve got. The team kept going, fighting and that’s good. It feels empty because of the way we have put a lot of effort into the games we’ve had and you don’t get rewarded for it. I think we’ve played pretty well, created some good chances today, had another chance in the last dying seconds to win it and we didn’t. We deserved to win. We had some good performances today. Overall, I can’t fault the guys for effort.“
On quality of penalty and Mike Magee not taking it
“It wasn’t a good penalty kick. Mike missed his last one. Jeff scored a penalty this season. I’m 50 yards away, I can scream whatever I want, it’s up to them to sort it out and who’s taking it, and they decided Juan is taking it”
On the referee and Quincy Amarikwa’s second yellow card
“Didn’t touch him. It’s maybe a foul on Quincy, he’s not diving. He gets run into and he goes down. I can’t comment on the referee, but he’s wasn’t good. He missed some plays that were important in this match.”
On the morale of the team
“Nope, It’s fine. We know we should have won two more games, maybe three, but we haven’t. It’s not like we have fumbled through the game. I thought we played well today. I thought we played well, we dominated. They had some spells, they’re a good team. But you look at the chances and stuff that we did, it’s just disappointing that we don’t have a win.”
On the missing piece to get over that hump
“The missing piece is ice-cold finishing in the last seconds of a game. Away from home it’s difficult to win matches, but at home you got to win. That’s how you get your points and do well on the year. We’ve had two games, and there is no time left on the clock, and we have a penalty kick. The players know that it is important to score that. It’s just a shame we haven’t gotten the points for the performances we’ve had. It’s a long season, but you can’t keep falling behind the guys ahead of you.”
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire defender
On the result, missing two penalty kicks at the end of games:
“It was bizarre - to see that once is tough, but twice is even worse. It is tough to take.”
On Anangono taking the penalty kick:
“Juan stepped up and grabbed the ball, and that’s just what happened. As the captain and the one who’s made a penalty this year I should have been the one to take the penalty but I didn’t – that’s on me, not on Juan.”
On the second yellow on Amarikwa:
“I’m not going to comment on referee decisions. In the end, it’s a red card and it’s something we’ll have to deal with. Quincy has been outstanding for us. It’s going to be a shame to have to miss him the next game, but we’ll move on.”
On not getting a result:
“The last three games we’ve certainly been the better team – Philadelphia, Montreal and tonight. I don’t think that tonight the other team really wanted to win from the start. They were slowing the game down in the first half and got fortunate on the penalty call. I think it was a penalty because Patrick [Nyarko] clipped him, they got the goal they wanted and they slowed down. In the run of play, outside the last couple of minutes when we were pushing forward, I’m not sure they get a shot on goal from open play. All-in-all it’s more of the same, but if we can get wins going forward it will be ok.”
On the string of draws:
“We feel like we’re playing so well at the start of the year and the build-up of points we feel should have makes the draws tough to take. Again, the way the next game goes – up or down will say a lot. If we win we’re unbeaten with a win. If not, things look a little differently. Everyone needs to stay positive and keep pushing. The good thing is that we’ve been the better team the last three games.”
On the play of Harry Shipp:
“Harry has been outstanding. If I had to say two guys that have pulled us through the first seven games, it’s definitely been Harry and Quincy. As soon I, and I’m sure the coaches, saw him we knew he was going to do something for us this year, and he has, and needs to continue.”
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire forward
On foul that led to his second yellow card:
“Clearly I don’t think it was a foul, but it’s not my decision to make so what can you do?”
On his goal:
“The ball came back to Harry, I had space in the middle, pointed and he put the ball right where I wanted him to. I took my first touch into the box, put a bit of my body on Farrell, saw that the keeper’s legs were open and put the ball between his legs and that was that.”
On the result:
“It’s disappointing to not come away with three points, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to win games. Juan puts that PK in and it’s a different outlook. As long as we’re coming away with points we’re carrying this confidence into future games and it’s just a matter of time before we’re coming away with some wins.”
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire forward
On his performance:
“Since I got suspended, I had a week to reevaluate my game, I was struggling physically and that red card at the game in Portland affected me mentally. I decided to get back to basics and just play my game. I think it’s been ok so far during the past three weeks but I’m still not happy because we’re not getting the wins. I hope to keep playing the same, getting better and that we get the win soon.”
On draws at home:
“It’s been extremely frustrating, especially since we’re dominating teams, we’re out playing teams and creating the best chances and we’re not getting wins – that’s the most frustrating part. I keep telling the guys that if we keep playing like this we’re not going to lose a lot of games and the tide is not always going to go against us like this. We just need to keep pushing and sustain that until the end of the game. We need to buckle down, even though we’re frustrated, and the wins will come.”
On how this year’s start compares to last year’s start:
“It feels differently this year because we are dominating teams. The last three weeks we feel like we deserved victories, judging from the fact that we that we’ve had possession and have created more chances than the other team – that’s been the most frustrating part. We know we can play the soccer, now it’s just how to find the victories – that’s the test for us right now.”
On the bye next week:
“We wish we were still playing just because we need to build momentum. The week off breaks that up, but guys are experienced and we know what we’re doing right and will continued that stride when we play again.”
MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle and break down the Fire's match vs. the Revs.
OK, so we got a little lazy on the first month of the #BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy League, my apologies.
We're making amends with the first of what will be a weekly video series for everyone in the league. In today's episode, I outline how you can win weekly prizes, make up what those prizes might be and give our four winners for the month of March.
If you haven't already joined the league, do so at mlssoccer.com/fantasy using code 17933-3213. Be sure to tweet your MLS Fantasy questions to me @QuincyAmarikwa using hashtag #BeatQuincy and LIKE our new Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/beatquincy!