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18 June 12:44 pm

After a rousing comeback against Portland last time out in the league, the Fire start a busy period Wednesday night against a tricky Colorado Rapids team (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) who just their six-game unbeaten streak snapped at the weekend by San Jose Earthquakes. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:

Exposing the Rapids center backs: targeting Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne

Colorado's usual starting pair at the center of the defense is Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor but with the Irish-born youngster in Turkey with the US U-20 team, right back Marvell Wynne has slotted into the middle.

FIRE vs. RAPIDS: Tickets Still Available

Against San Jose last week, this pairing had a lot of trouble, especially when the Quakes attacking players separated and isolated the center backs.

The movement of Rolfe and Magee, both very mobile strikers, could open up the Colorado defense. If the Fire’s attacking pair can draw Moor/Wynne out, it can lead to space being created behind them, something San Jose did well last weekend.

Keeping an eye on Deshorn Brown - the rookie has 4 assists this season

Similar to my thoughts a few weeks ago about D.C. rookie Kyle Porter, Deshorn Brown has caught my eye for Colorado this season.

Playing on the left of a front three he’s dangerous and a good supplier of the ball for striker Edson Buddle. Much of Colorado's chances in the past few matches have come from Brown’s side.

Larentowicz, Duka Preview Colorado

The Rapids will be without Atiba Harris after his red against San Jose last week which puts even more emphasis on Brown to step up in the Kittitian’s absence.

Right-sided players Jalil Anibaba and Patrick Nyarko will need to be very wary of the rookie on Wednesday night.

Fire squad rotation - my case in for it

The Men in Red have a tough stretch of 4 games in 11 days and it would be very demanding on the players to try and stick with the same starting XI for all four because of a risk of burnout.

A more likely approach would be one of steady and not drastic rotation meaning making a few changes each match and not starting a completely different team. This is of course assuming the team doesn't pick up any injuries or suspensions during this stretch.

READ: Nyarko says next eight day stretch is "crunch time"

Giving a few players a break Wednesday night with one eye on the tough away Eastern Conference match against Columbus on Saturday might be a worthwhile policy for head coach Frank Klopas.

Fire squad rotation - my case against

Something fans have criticized coach Klopas for is sticking to a regular starting XI and not making too many changes from game to game.

That being said, the team is currently unbeaten in four games and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The last 20 minutes against Portland last weekend was the team’s best spell all season and if they can continue that form the next few weeks could see us in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and moving closer to the MLS Cup playoff positions in the East.

With the back line finally stable and the Mike Magee/Chris Rolfe partnership starting to really gel, there is a strong case for coach Klopas to stick with the same XI during this run of games.

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

18 June 8:57 am

It's simple really: #MakeMagee an #MLSAllStar.

Last year we here at Always on the Inside put our eggs in one basket when it came to #MLSAllStar voting by getting behind talisman winger Patrick Nyarko.

Stealing the Chicago White Sox idea of #TakeJake, (a ploy to get pitcher Jake Peavy to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game), we decided to push the #PickPat hashtag on Twitter. Along with the social calls to action, we got CSN Chicago's Dave Kaplan in on the action, with him displaying this sign on Chicago Tribune Live.  

In addition, I wrote open letters to All-Star head coach Ben Olsen and MLS Commissioner Don Garber appealing for them to #PickPat.

While there was a lot of nice buzz created, in the end, Pat wasn't chosen (though I still think he should have been).

Fast-forward to today when we find out that Mike Magee is second in fan voting among MLS midfielders (even though he's a forward in Chicago) to go to this year's All-Star Game vs. AS Roma at Kansas City's Sporting Park.

Though we came up short last year, I think its time we bring the hashtags back out and #MakeMagee an #MLSAllStar for the first time in his career...

His credentials...

- A career high of eight MLS goals in 12 games played this season (currently third most in MLS and definitely most for a "midfielder").

- 10 goals in 14 competitive matches in 2013.

- As of Tuesday, he's never not scored in a match for the Fire, tallying four in as many games since joining the Men in Red last month. 

- A true leader on the field and player that has come into his own over his 11-year MLS career.

- While the MLS All-Star Game is a reward for achievement during the first half of the season, we'd be remisce if we didn't mention that Mike Magee has won two MLS Cups and two Supporters Shields over the course of his 11-year MLS career. 

- #MikeMageeFacts can truly go national when he's included among the league's best players.

Vote for Mike, Patrick Nyarko, Jeff Larentowicz, Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe by clicking here or by texting the player's last name to 22442 through July 2 at 2pm CT.

17 June 4:33 pm

The Chicago Fire U16 and U18 Academy sides as well as the U18 Indiana Fire Academy learned their groups for next week’s U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy National Playoffs set to be held in Dallas, Texas earlier Monday. 

UPDATE! U.S. Soccer then realized they had made a mistake with the drawings and held a re-draw for both age groups. Below are the updated groupings for the Chicago Fire U16, U18 and Indiana Fire Academy U18 side...

- Chicago Fire U18s are in Group 1 with Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Houston Dynamo and PA Classics
- Indiana Fire Academy U18s are in Group 7 with Baltimore Bays Chelsea, Chivas USA and De Anza Force (CA)
- Chicago Fire U16s are in Group 1 with De Anza Force (CA), Georgia United and Arsenal FC (CA)

With the USSFDA now into the fourth season of their current playoff format, the Fire Academy is one of just four clubs (out of 80) to see both U16 and U18 sides qualify for the National Playoffs every year.

They’re joined by FC Dallas, CASL (NC) and Concorde Fire (GA) as the four clubs with the current distinction.

The USSFDA National Playoffs feature eight groups of four teams in a round-robin format with the winners of each group advancing to the July’s national finals in Houston, Texas.

Earlier Draw, now null and void:

The Chicago Fire U18 side has been paired in Group 4 with Real Salt Lake (AZ), Dallas Texans and Weston FC (FL) while the Indiana Fire U18s join Vancouver Whitecaps, Pateadores (CA) and Kendall SC (FL) in Group 1.

The Chicago Fire U16s were drawn into Group 3 with PDA (NJ), Colorado Rapids and Revolution Empire (NY).

17 June 9:47 am

In what was widely considered one of the best results of 2012, the Chicago Fire earned a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park on June 17, 2012.

Patrick Nyarko got the scoring going early with a powering fourth minute header which left Red Bull defender Roy Miller on the ground in its wake. 

The shortest man in the box would equalize just after halftime as Mehdi Ballouchy picked out Dax McCarthy at the back post to level things at 1-1 in the 55th minute. 

The Fire should have gone back ahead nine minutes later. Making his home re-debut, Chris Rolfe slipped Dominic Oduro through the Red Bull back line and the Ghanaian hit a desperate sliding effor that Ryan Meara got a piece of but would trickle all the way over the line.

Despite the whole ball crossing the line, former Fire defender Wilman Conde slid to scoop it out of the net and referee Baldomero Toledo relied on his linesman who waved off the goal, sending Fire players into a bit of fury.

The Fire would rightfully go ahead four minutes later as Gonzalo Segares was fed into the box on the left and saw his first effort saved by Meara before emphatically slamming home the rebound, charging the home crowd up in the 68th minute.

Rolfe would ice the game 13 minutes later when a great piece of individual skill from Nyarko down the right eventually found the veteran Fire striker at the back post for a tap-in, giving the Fire a 3-1 win on Father's Day.

15 June 9:28 am

In the Fire's Reserves first foray into the MLS/USL Pro partnership, the team dropped a 2-1 decision away to the Charlotte Eagles at Queens Sports Complex Friday night.

Led by Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich, the team started eight first team players and three from the club's Development Academy sides, two of which (Jake Taylor and James Myall) slotted in as center backs.

The Fire Reserves took the lead just before halftime. In a play quite similar to Patrick Nyarko's winner in Thursday's Open Cup match vs. Columbus, Michael Videira's cross from the right found Quincy Amarikwa at the back post where he headed past Eric Reed to make it 1-0 in the 42nd minute.

Charlotte responded with a number of chances in the second half outshooting the Fire Reserves 12-0, forcing Paolo Tornaghi into eight second half saves. . They would find their two goals in the span of five minutes as Christian Ramirez equalized in the 70th before Ben Newnam found the winner in the 75th.

Two more Fire Academy products Jeff Farina and Hayden Cochrane made cameo second half appearances, meaning the maximum five Academy players were used in the game. The Fire Reserves fall to 1-4 on the 2013 campaign and will welcome the Eagles to Toyota Park on Saturday, June 29 at 7:30pm (Live webcast on Chicago-Fire.com).

For more, visit the match report on CharlotteEagles.com.

Box Score

Chicago Fire - Paolo Tornaghi; Wells Thompson, James Myall*, Jake Taylor*, Hunter Jumper, Brendan King (Jeff Farina 76'), Mike Videira, Grant Lillard*, Yazid Atouba (Hayden Cochrane 74'); Corben Bone, Quincy Amarikwa

Charlotte Eagles - Eric Reed, Fejiro Okiomah, Matt Gold, Ben Newnam, Shaun Francis (Nick Courtney 46'); Stephen Okai, Sam Asante, Jorge Herrera, Nate Thornton (Will Prado 88'), Juan Guzman (Drew Yates 34'); Christian Ramirez (Tommy Smith 76')

Scoring Summary
CHI - Quincy Amarikwa (Michael Videira) 42'
CHA - Christian Ramirez (Sam Asante) 70'
CHA - Ben Newnam (unassisted) 75'

Misconduct Summary
CHI - Jake Taylor (caution; Foul) 12'
CHI - Wells Thompson (caution; Foul) 82'
 

Statistics           CHI          CHA
Shots:                    4             15
Saves:                  10             3
Corners:                4              4
Fouls:                   16            10    
Offsides:               1               2

Referee: Dustin Thorne; Assistant Referees: Ross Cox, Gustavo Solorio; Fourth Official: Brandon Cline

12 June 8:59 am

According to the TrueCar Player Registry, Amos Magee played only eight competitives games, three goals and 225 minutes as an A-League "call-up" player for the Men in Red in 2001 and 2002.

In fact, as of now, he has a better strike rate than man of the hour and namesake Mike Magee (three goals in 267 minutes).

Despite his short time with the Fire, the revered lower-league striker wrote a legend of his own in Chicago with one very memorable extra time goal in the 2001 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Wheaton College.

In the first of our Fire "Unsung Heroes" series, we speak to Amos "Chesty" Magee about the cult following he earned from his short time with the Fire. 

10 June 5:06 pm

A smattering of the changes the Fire made in coming back from 2-0 down for the draw Saturday night [clears throat]: Chris Rolfe moved from up top to out left, Patrick Nyarko moved from out right to up top, Dilly Duka moved from the left to the right, Maicon Santos came in for Rolfe and moved up top, Nyarko moved out left, Sherjill MacDonald came on for Duka and went out left, Nyarko moved out right (completing his left-right-center trifecta), Daniel Paladini came on for Jeff Larentowitz.
 
And that’s just the visible changes. Because what was just as apparent were the invisible changes: the change of mindset, the change of momentum, the change of attitude. Something changed in the Fire, something transformed from dejection into something like triumph - all of which you can see on Mike Magee’s face after Paladini’s equalizer, right about here:


 

“Tonight I about lost my mind, I’ll admit it,” Magee said after the match, referring to his spats with the ref and others that earned him the respect of every Fire fan watching (and a yellow card). “I was just yelling, showing emotion and trying to light a fire under whoever was looking.”
 
But look also in the moments just before the game-tying freekick:

Forget the tired legs, forget the frustration of being down. Look at Jalil Anibaba, Nyarko, Alex, and Paladini all working together, throwing themselves around, eventually overcoming the Timber players on the far side and feeding Magee. Nothing represents Saturday’s comeback as well as that image of Alex anticipating the ball squeezing up the line, hustling back from the Portland box, and sliding in, while at the same time Paladini, tracking the play, anticipates the result, hurries over to help Alex, saves the ball after his tackle from going out, and plays Anibaba, who plays Nyarko, who plays Magee.
 
The crowd goes wild.
 
For the third game in a row, Klopas’ second half gambit worked. The game changed. It changed physically, in terms of where players were and what numbers on the scoreboard said, but it also changed intangibly, mentally, emotionally. It’s becoming a pattern: most of the Fire’s goals this season (6 of 11) have come late in the 82nd minute or later.
 
Part of that is preparation, is team togetherness, the kind of stuff coaches like to talk about. Klopas told reporters he talked over readiness with his subs: “‘Listen, just be prepared to go in right from the start. Or when you get called on in the second half, your ability now to come in and influence the game, you have to be ready.’”
 
Or like Paladini said after the game: “It’s one of those things where you have to be ready when your name’s called upon – you either shy away from it or you step-up to the plate.”
 
The good news for Paladini and the other subs is that with the team in the midst of a stretch of 11 games in 49 days, they’ll definitely be getting more time to influence other games. As Logan Pause gets fit again, too, Klopas is going to have some interesting decisions to make in June.
 
After finally getting close to something resembling a consistent line-up, will Pause take his spot back from Alex? And what about the way the subs keep affecting games? Does Paladini deserve to start again? Can we keep expecting Klopas’ late game changes to make the difference?

07 June 11:55 am

Much like the shirt exchange post-match, the scarf exchange between supporters of opposing clubs is held as a sacred tradition.

Seeing as almost all of the live soccer I take in these days comes from a press box view, the scarf exchange is one thing I haven’t had the opportunity to carry out of late.

Take a trip back a few weeks ago when I set off for Philadelphia to cover the Fire’s match against the Union. Sitting near (but not in) the desired exit row on my Southwest Airlines flight, I was diligently working on an article for the next day when I looked up to see one of the flight attendants wearing an apron decked out in Timbers Army patches.

I meandered through how Alaska Airlines might feel about this whole situation before asking the Southwest attendant how much of a Timbers fan he was.

Jason or “A-B” as he’s know in the Southwest world was quick to tell me he was a member of Timbers Army and went to as many matches as his work schedule would allow.

I then went ahead and told him what I did for a living working with the Chicago Fire at which point he got out his phone (on airplane mode of course) and showed me a number of photos from the two side’s previous encounter last May in Portland.

Speaking of the Section 8 Chicago/Timbers Army friendly alliance, he even took some photos with Fire supporters, many of which are friends of mine.

He then had to go back to his duties, serving drinks to the many passengers behind me.

Remembering that I always travel with a Fire scarf, I dug through my carry-on bag and pulled out the very famous Tetris scarf produced last season by Section 8 and as he passed through the cabin again, I stopped and gave it to him, to his great surprise.

He walked to the back of the plane and soon enough, returned with his own Timbers Army scarf, complete with many of the same patches that adorned his apron. I was completely surprised by this gesture as you could see that this scarf had been worn through many a match and held great importance.

I asked him if he was really alright with parting with such an important piece of his Timbers memories and he didn't even think twice. 

And thus, soccer diplomacy occurred once again. Those Timbers Army folk (of which there will be 175 at Toyota Park Saturday night), aren't so bad.

07 June 8:40 am

After a week of very positive results on the field, the Fire team will be full of confidence as they welcome the Portland Timbers to Toyota Park on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/La Ley 107.9FM) .

Portland are not short of confidence themselves, riding into town on an 11 game unbeaten streak. Both teams are missing players due to international duty. Here are some tactical things to keep an eye on...

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #1 – keep the diamond for the Portland game

In the Fire’s most recent MLS game against D.C. United, the team tweaked the formation and started with a 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. Jeff Larentowicz played just in front of the back four while Alex got the start at the point of the diamond.

Against D.C., this tactic worked very well as Alex was given license to stay forward and almost act as a third forward at times while helping Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe put pressure on the United back four.

Frank Klopas echoed this in a recent interview, stating “He’s had two good games, he brings that ability onto the field – when he gets the ball he can make good passes and connect plays together, another guy that supports the forwards.”

Like Magee and Rolfe, Alex is just as good without the ball at his feet, constantly making runs wide and connecting with Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere on the wings. Though the Fire didn’t have as much possession as D.C., Alex was involved in a number of counter attacks which caught United off guard.

Every fan wants to see attacking soccer from their team, especially at home, and starting Alex at the top of the diamond would certainly signal that the Fire don’t intend to sit back and allow Portland to come at them, but rather the opposite.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation option #2 – revert to two more defensive minded players in the middle

Even without starting striker Ryan Johnson (gone for international duty), Portland boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS. To date, the team has scored 22 goals, only 12 away from what they put up the entirety of last season.

Frenchman Frédéric Piquionne will start as the lone striker in place of Johnson but it is the support behind him that the Fire must be wary of. With players like Diego Valeri (who I will talk about more later) Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson, the team from the Rose City have a wealth of attacking options.

Because Portland plays with a 5 man midfield, a lone holding midfielder might not be enough for the Fire on Saturday night. Jeff Larentowicz did a fantastic job of stifling the D.C. attack last weekend but against a team not afraid to push men forward, a two-man combination of Pause/Paladini/Larentowicz makes more sense tactically.

Two holding midfielders would also put less pressure on wingers Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka to drop back and help out defensively. Coach Klopas also called for the team to dominate more in possession against the Timbers and playing the two central midfielders close to one another would suit this strategy.

What will be interesting is which option the Fire start the game with, knowing that the team can revert to either option simply by making a substitution and either bringing Alex on the field or off.

Stopping Diego Valeri – taking a physical approach

Over the past two seasons teams have used a number of strategies to stop Fire playmakers such as Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sebastian Grazzini. One tactic that is used very often is to be physical (and in some cases overly physical) in an attempt to keep the player from making an impact. One way to try and contain Timbers creative midfielder Diego Valeri is to take this very approach.

Back in 2011, Paladini employed this tactic against RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and after 11 minutes, Beckerman snapped, head-butting Paladini and getting sent off with the Fire ending the game as 3-0 winners.

There is certainly a fine line between kicking lumps out of a player and just being physical with him. Thankfully, the Men in Red are blessed with veteran players such as Pause and Larentowicz and players like Paladini who are well versed in the “dark arts.” 

Because Valeri is so mobile, another option would be to man-mark him but that essentially eliminates one of the Fire players’ ability to contribute to the attack. The physical approach is certainly a more practical tactic than the man marking one and if the Fire can contain Valeri and prevent him from pulling the strings in midfield, it will be very detrimental to a Portland team who rely heavily on his creativity.

Prediction: The Fire will continue to turn the corner and hand the Timbers their first defeat in 11 games. 1-0 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.