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17 April 8:47 am

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. 

WATCH:

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!

17 April 8:23 am

The Chicago Fire’s performance in Montreal deserved all three points. Tactically Frank Yallop got it spot on, and Montreal looked like the road team on their own pitch. Yes, the team had an abundance of quality chances, and, not for the first time should have wrapped it up.

Now six matches in, I feel the jigsaw is starting to take shape. The Fire has learned some lessons, grown as a team, and are now poised to claim all three against New England this Saturday (3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).

Personally, I’m excited to jump on the ‘Pub to Pitch’ bus from A.J. Hudson’s and enjoy the match without a headset. It promises to be a very open and exciting match, and here’s what I’d look for from a tactical perspective…

Defender of the Year Injured?

In 2013, the Revs stood tall and kept an MLS best 14 clean sheets. After a dismal start this year, conceding four in Houston, Jay Heaps’ defense is starting to show its strengths once more, allowing just three goals in their last four matches.

New England’s hope of keeping the Fire scoreless will be dealt a huge blow if 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves fails to overcome a right quad injury that he picked up last week. Goncalves was outstanding against the Fire last season. His strength and positional awareness often masks many of the deficiencies in partner A.J. Soares.

Soares tends to ball watch, a trait that won’t bode well against the budding partnership of Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa. The Revs full backs also love to attack, meaning there may be plenty of space for Amarikwa to test Soares’ pace and strength. From where I’m standing, there’s only one winner in that battle. Excuse me, what time is it again? That’s right, it’s #QuincyTime!

Revs attack is riddled with talent, yet predictable

Only three Revs players have hit the back of the net this season, and the team has been held scoreless in four of its six matches. There are many reasons for this lack of production, including injuries to key players and new players gelling. My take is that this Revs 4-1-4-1 formation is too predictable at the moment.

Teal Bunbury is obviously a good player, but he’s been a little too isolated by himself, and if the Fire defense do anything, don’t allow him stretch his legs in behind. Daigo Kobayashi and Lee Nguyen are excellent ball players, with exquisite vision and passing ability and they’ll look for Bunbury through the channels or over the top all afternoon.

The Fire gave up two big chances in Montreal last week, both errors, sending McInerney and Di Vaio racing through on goal. Luckily for the Fire, Di Vaio blazed over in the second half.

Chicago’s defense has been improving every match, and I have no doubt that the Men in Red have the ability to physically brush Bunbury and Co. aside, however, have they learned enough lessons in order to stay mentally strong for 90+ minutes and eliminate any costly errors?

From battle of the Franks, to battle of the Flanks

There's a possibility that Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp will again occupy the flanks for the Fire on Saturday. Offensively, they’ll be given room to express themselves, but defensively they’ve got a tough job on their hands.

New England’s wingers, poster boy Diego Fagundez and Frenchman Saer Sene love to cut inside, leaving space for their full backs (Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney, Kevin Alston etc) to attack. New York’s constant rotation in midfield caused the Fire problems earlier this season, and they’ll face a Revs side that also loves to roam. Discipline, shape and communication will be key when defending.

With that said, New England leave gaps and they can certainly be exposed when they turn the ball over. It’s crucial that when the Fire do win the ball back, they pick a pass and look to hit Amarikwa or Nyarko in transition immediately.

When the Fire plays with pace and direction, it’s a very dangerous team, but when the Fire loses its momentum and tempo, they suddenly start to play on the opposition’s terms. A perfect example of this was the excellent first 20 minutes vs Philadelphia, compared to the shoddy second 25.

PREDICTION:  I don’t see a reason to make any changes to the team. Those 11 deserve to play from the start, but if fit, I think Dilly Duka would be a great guy to bring on against the Revs.

This is a good matchup for the Fire right now. I’ll go with a first clean sheet and a first win of the season. 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.

Editor’s Note: What’s that? Kevin Egan’s doing the Tactical Preview now? Nah, just lending a hand to fellow Irishman Stephen Piggott who is currently in the Republic and unable to do this week’s Tactical Preview.

Thanks for your help Kevin! Follow him on Twitter @Kev_Egan!

16 April 8:37 am

In case you didn't know by now, Saturday's Fire/Red Stars doubleheader at Toyota Park will feature a pair of cousins as Mike Magee and Jackie Santacaterina line up for their squads in front of friends, family and their hometown fans. In case you don't have tickets, click here....

Pick up Wednesday's edition of the Chicago Redeye and get the full scoop on Mike and Jackie's competitive relationship growing up, how each of them did on a soccer-themed quiz and this video where they find out how they did:

15 April 3:07 pm

With the growth in popularity of the game in this country comes the higher knowledge of history, both good and bad, that surrounds the game we love.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, England, claiming the lives of 96 Liverpool FC supporters who attended the ground to see their club’s FA Cup semifinal clash with Nottingham Forest.

As has become standard worldwide, supporters of the two clubs were separated to prevent any incident, with Liverpool supporters being given the Leppings Lane Stand at the west side of the ground. 

Access to the stand was only possible through a few ill-repaired turnstiles and led to serious overcrowding outside of the stadium prior to kickoff of the match. Looking to ease pressure on the entry way, officials ordered an exit gate to be opened, the path through which led to a standing section that was already overcrowded. 

Crushing ensued as too many fans were located in the terraces and were pinned up against a barrier meant to keep fans off the pitch. The game actually didn’t even halt until the sixth minute when fans trying to escape the crush walked on to the field along with police who ordered the match to be postponed.

About an hour north of Sheffield, a 25-year-old Frank Yallop came on as a substitute in Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Bradford City. Having led 2-1 at halftime, the result was a disappointing one for the Tractor Boys who dropped points to a Bradford City club below them in the Second Division table.

With the game kicking off at the same time as the cup semifinal though, Yallop and his teammates didn’t find out about the tragedy until after they’d come off the field at Valley Parade.

 “It was terrible,” Yallop recalled to Chicago-Fire.com. “I just remember the images and panic on everyone’s faces. Seeing it on the news, it was really devastating to watch -- all they showed on TV was carrying people on the advertising boards to get care from the paramedics.”

Perhaps the news hit a bit closer to home for those that had just completed the match at Bradford City’s ground as four years earlier, it was the site of a fire that engulfed one entire stand during the final match of the 1984/85 season. That tragedy took the lives of 56, saw over 200 injured and was started by one lit cigarette discarded underneath the all-wooden stand.

The Bradford City fired occurred just weeks before another stadium crush in a match involving Liverpool occurred at the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. On that day, 39 people, most of which were supporters of Italian side Juventus, lost their lives and resulted in English clubs being banned from European competition indefinitely.

Perhaps in part because of the Heysel incident, many pointed the blame for the crush at Hillsborough on Liverpool supporters. Claims of drunkenness and fans without tickets trying to gain entry into the ground were bothgiven as contributing factors for the incident. In the end, the Taylor Report (published in 1990) found the main factor to Hillsborough to be failure of police control.

More recent inquiries from the Hillsborough Independent Panel exonerated Liverpool supporters of wrong doing in the incident, placing the blame squarely on public safety officials.

“It was sad because people had gotten to the game early to see a semifinal,” Yallop said. “From mistakes made by the police, 96 people lose their lives. It’s a tragic accident.”

The Taylor Report’s main recommendation saw stadiums in the UK made to be all-seater in order to make crowd control easier and safer, which greatly reduced the capacity of many stadiums in the country.

Twenty-five years on from Hillsborough, tributes from clubs and supporters around the world have poured in and tonight ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series tackles the events at Hillsborough (7pm CT on ESPN). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann spoke to Director Daniel Gordon about the film on Monday: 

15 April 8:05 am

It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.

In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.

After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”

It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.

You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.

The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.

And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”

That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.

Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.

This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.

It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.

What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own. 

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

14 April 12:33 pm

#QuincyTime continued to take on a life of its own on this weekend when Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa scored the 54th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Montreal on Saturday.

With the goal, Amarikwa has already equaled his total for the whole of 2013 just six matches into this season and has been involved in a goal in five of those games.  Just to take it one further, Amarikwa has five goals and one assist in his last eight Fire appearances dating back to October 4 last season.

He started only five of those games.

So while the Fire are still winless in six matches (but unbeaten in five), Amarikwa seems to be the revelation early on this season. With the Fire having given up seven goals from dead ball sequences before Saturday, it was nice to see Amarikwa bury a set piece second ball for the Fire for a change.

One more look…

And for the second time this season, Quincy brought out the #cf97NaeNae to celebrate…

An MLS journeyman who's calling card has been coming off the bench, Amarikwa scored just four goals in his first 67 MLS matches but with six goals in the last year, he's already doubled his career goal total in 20 games with the Fire. As he continues to show efficiency on the field, I posed this question on Twitter Saturday…

What do you think are the reasons for Amarikwa’s turnaround with the Fire? Will he become the eighth Fire player to hit double-digit goals by year’s end? Give me your thoughts below!

12 April 7:08 pm

Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
 
On his side’s performance
 
“I thought we played very well the whole game. We really deserved the win, I think, today. Having said that, going a goal down right before halftime is never a good time. My team talk was to keep going. We were going to get chances, get that equalizer and hopefully go on to win the game. I’m very proud of the way we continued playing against a difficult side.”
 
On how to get their first win
 
“If we keep playing like that, the wins will come. For me as a coach, I could only ask for effort, play and to create chances. We’re getting punished for the odd chance the opposition is getting right now. In our last two games we’ve played well enough to win both games, but we haven’t. So we got to keep going and not worry about it.”
 
On the Jack McInerney and Marco Di Vaio partnership
 
“I had a feeling they may do that, with Jack coming into the team and them going for a home win. We were prepared for that. I think both of them run in behind very well. And to be honest, if you look at their goal, they did it well.”
 
Forward Mike Magee
 
On the game’s outcome
 
“Today was a good result. We’ve improved as the season has gone on. Today I felt we had a couple of missed opportunities. We were the better team, and you know it’s just unfortunate.”
 
On his side’s confidence heading into the second half a goal down
 
“Obviously you don’t want to give up a goal at the end of the half. At halftime, we said to keep doing what we were doing, keep plugging away and don’t break our shape. We felt like we were going to get the equalizer and we also felt like we were going to get the winner, but it didn’t come.”
 
Forward Quincy Amarikwa
 
On scoring the equalizer
 
“We were confident to get everyone in the box as much as possible, just force the issue and pressure until something fell our way. I think Montreal was on their heels most of that sequence up until that goal and I felt it was just a matter of time until one of us put it away.”
 
On what is needed to get their first win of the season
 
“A shutout. I mean if we can hold another team to zero goals, we’ll win. We’re scoring goals every game and that’s what you want out of your offense. Collectively as a team, we just need to lock it down and not have any lapses in defense.”

11 April 7:58 am

Whether you like having just a few libations with some of the club’s most ardent supporters, enjoy the beautiful landscapes of rural Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, or just really like seeing the Chicago Fire play away from home, Section 8 On Tour Bus Trips (#S8OT) have something for everyone.

Returning this year, the Independent Supporters Association is offering all Fire supporters an away season ticket, which guarantees round trip bus fare and match tickets for this season’s Fire away games in Columbus (May 24), Kansas City (July 6) and Toronto (August 23) for just $200.

While the execution of an Away Season Ticket isn’t something new to Section 8 Chicago, it does return for the first time in a number of years because of the way the MLS schedule fell for the club’s three closest away trips according to ISA Chairman Jeff Marinacci. 

“The stars aligned for us,” he told Chicago-Fire.com this week. “When we saw the schedule, having Toronto on a summer weekend makes it an easy sell. Though Columbus or Kansas City are good road games, Toronto just offers so much more, the trip is worth doing outside of just going to watch a match.”

Toronto nightlife no doubt has more to offer than Kansas City or Columbus but what Marinacci is referring to is the fact that the past few seasons, the team has played away in Toronto at midweek in September, making it difficult to coordinate a strong contingent of Fire supporters to travel by bus.

 This year the Columbus and Toronto trips both fall on Saturdays, while the Kansas City trip falls on the Sunday of Independence Day weekend making the travel much easier all around.

As they do on all buses, Section 8 Chicago is subsidizing an additional $35 per person on the 2014 Away Season Ticket on top of the $50 subsidy provided for individual bus travel to these matches.

“Our commitment to spending our money is to support the guys on the field home and away,” he said.

A great deal no doubt, not what if someone buying can only make it on one or two of the trips instead of the full complement of three? Marinacci said that while there is no partial away season ticket (and no refunds), the ISA will accommodate ticket transfers as coordinated through communications@s8c.org.

Now through mid-May (when bus tickets for the Columbus trip will cut off), Section 8 Chicago is in a heavy push to sell the Away Season Ticket for the year. As part of that push, the ISA will be raffling one off during Saturday’s Watch Party at A.J. Hudsons

Next Saturday, the ISA will raffle off a second Away Season Ticket, purchased by the Club, at their tailgate in the north lot prior to the Chicago Fire/New England Revolution match.

If you’d rather just support a great initiative to get more Fire fans out on the road this season, go ahead and buy your Away Season Ticket by clicking here.

10 April 3:29 pm

Ahead of Saturday's clash at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, neither Fire head coach Frank Yallop or the Impact's Frank Klopas will be happy with their team's defensive efforts five matches into the season, though they may have varying opinions about the number of goals their teams have produced.

See below the spots on the field both the Fire and Impact have scored and conceded from heading into Saturday's game:

CHICAGO FIRE BREAKDOWN

Goals Scored: 8 Goals Against: 9
Run of Play: 4 Run of Play: 2
Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 4 Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 7
Penalty Kick: 1, Corner Kick 2, Free Kick 1 Penalty Kick : 1, Corner Kick 3, Free Kick 3

MONTREAL IMPACT BREAKDOWN

Goals Scored: 5 Goals Against: 9
Run of Play: 5 Run of Play: 6
Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 0 Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 3
Penalty Kick: 0, Corner Kick 0, Free Kick 0 Penalty Kick : 1, Corner Kick 0, Free Kick 2

 

10 April 8:38 am

After a heartbreaking draw against the Union last weekend, the Fire travel north to Montreal to face another side looking for a first win of the season Saturday (2:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The game has added spice with former coach Frank Klopas facing the Men in Red for the first time as opposition coach.

Here are a few tactical observations to keep in mind on Saturday.

Continued focus on the wing play - taking advantage of Shipp's positioning

In last Saturday’s match, Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup and impressed. On the other side of the field, Harry Shipp looks much more comfortable when he cuts inside, as opposed to hugging the touchline and taking on players.

Shipp's set piece play alone is worth a place in the starting eleven, but his ability to pick a pass is also a dangerous weapon. Shipp's tendency to drift inside also benefits the Fire for other reasons.

First, in the absence of a creative central midfielder, it’s not felt as much when the rookie comes central and occupies those positions. Against a team like Montreal that boasts an impressive attack, the use of two defensive-minded midfielders can be necessary (as I will explain in more detail later) but with Shipp filling the gap, the Fire don't lose much in an attacking sense.

Shipp's positioning also opens the door for Greg Cochrane to show his attacking talents from the left back position. Cochrane has fit seamlessly into the Fire back line and his excellent crossing ability has been on show in recent matches.

With the Impact's wide players like Mapp reluctant to track back on a consistent basis, the Fire could again benefit from attacking in the wide areas.

Continuing to win the ball high up the field - catching Montreal in transition

In the first half last week against New York, the Impact sliced through the Red Bull midfield as if they had three extra players on the pitch. Klopas emphasized transitioning the ball from defense to attack as quickly as possible and for most of the first half, that worked to devastating effect.

Montreal should've been well ahead at halftime but actually went into the break behind 2-1. The reason for this was because the Canadian team was caught trying to force the ball forward too quickly, resulting in turnovers, which the Red Bulls capitalized on twice in three minutes. I expect the Impact to try this tactic again on Saturday.

Players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa both like to hound the opposing team when they are in possession in their defensive third. The Fire's first goal last week was a perfect example of this, with Amarikwa nicking the ball from a defender before setting up Magee for an easy tap in.

If the Fire can force the Impact into turnovers high up the pitch, it could prove costly for the Canadian team.

Attempting to contain Montreal's fearsome attack - staying compact and limiting mental mistakes

Just when we thought an attack featuring Marco Di Vaio, an in-form Justin Mapp and Felipe was going to be a challenge, the Impact went out and acquired promising American youngster Jack McInerney.

This move could see the Impact change formation to a two striker statute with Di Vaio and Jack Mac up front or see McInerney play in one of the wide attacking roles behind the target striker. In any case, the fluidity of the Impact's attack will be a major challenge for the Fire to contend with on Saturday.

None of the Montreal attacking players stay static for long, with Felipe essentially having a free role in the hole, Di Vaio often pushing wide, and Mapp cutting inside with the ball at his feet on a regular basis. With this in mind, the Fire defense needs to stay organized and compact and not allow Montreal to drag players out of position.

This has not been a problem for the Fire this season, with most of the team’s nine goals against coming from lapses from set pieces. A clean sheet Saturday afternoon would be a massive achievement.

Prediction: The Fire score early and finish the game off late 2-0 with goals from Magee and Hurtado.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.