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01 May 8:47 am

After yet another draw against the Revs last time out, the Fire head into May without a win. The first of four grueling matches this month is against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park on Saturday evening (7:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). Both teams enter this game with sour tastes in their mouths after the way their last matches ended and I expect it to be a frantic first 20 minutes or so. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Replacing Quincy – how will coach Yallop adjust to the loss of the team’s top scorer?

Perhaps the most important outcome of the match against New England last time out was the red card and one game suspension for Qunicy Amarikwa, the team’s top goal scorer and most consistent attacking threat this season. Replacing Amarikwa is no easy task, especially because his partnership with Mike Magee was just starting to bloom, but the Fire coaching staff does have plenty of options.

The most obvious and like for like switch would be for Juan Luis Anangono and act as the target striker with Magee playing behind him. Anangono has come off the bench on a consistent basis this season and will be looking to avenge his injury time penalty miss against New England.

A more likely scenario however would be for either Victor Pineda or Benji Joya to start in place of Amarikwa. Both players are comfortable playing in the forward roles and Joya especially would relish a chance to start in his more natural position instead of a wide one where he began the season.

Playing with either Joya or Pineda up front would also allow the Fire to continue to play a target-less striker formation, something that has worked to date this season. That being said, Frank Yallop could also decide to start Joya or Pineda in one of the wide positions in an attempt to combat RSL’s midfield diamond, as I will explain below.

Don’t be too distracted by the obvious – Plata and Saborio are the clear danger men but Luke Mulholland makes RSL tick

Many will argue RSL’s unbeaten start to the season is down to players like Joao Plata, Alvaro Saborio or Javier Morales making the difference but the player who has had possibility the biggest impact this season is Englishman Luke Mulholland.

Mulholland plays on the outside of RSL’s compact midfield diamond, with Ned Grabavoy operating on the other side. In attack, Mulholland can provide balls into the area from a wide position but he also excels at making late runs into the box where he often finds space due to defenders concentrating on RSL’s more known attacking threats.

Defensively, Mulholland provides cover for his full back and does not get caught up the field often in transition. The Englishmen has chipped in with two goals and one assist in four starts this season and acts as the youthful spark in a midfield containing veterans such as Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales.

Mulholland is also very versatile, with he and Grabavoy able to operate comfortably on either side of the diamond. To combat this, I could see the Fire drafting Matt Watson or Logan Pause in to pack the midfield, especially against RSL’s narrow formation. Watson or Pause could play alongside anchor Jeff Larentowicz or a bit higher up, perhaps alongside Harry Shipp or Alex in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

In last week’s match against Vancouver, RSL overran the Whitecaps midfield for much of the first half. Putting an extra body in the middle on Saturday night would ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to the Men in Red.

Exposing RSL on the flanks – proving an attacking threat from both wings

Since the return of Patrick Nyarko to the starting eleven, the Ghanaian has been a one-man wrecking crew down the right hand side for the Fire. Nyarko has also combined well with right back Lovel Palmer in attack – something we saw work in the Fire’s favor against New England two weeks ago.

Due to RSL’s narrow formation, they can be exploited on the wings, where the full backs are sometimes left isolated. Nyarko and Palmer should thrive against this type of formation but for the Fire to take full advantage, the team needs to also have a consistent attacking threat from the left.

As mentioned in previous previews, left back Greg Cochrane has excelled in the absence of Gonzalo Segares and is always looking to get forward to support the attack.

In recent matches, Harry Shipp has drifted inside from his wide left position to great effect but against RSL, whoever occupies the wide left position must try to take advantage of their narrow midfield by attacking from wide. With the center of the park sure to be busy, if the Fire focus their attack in the wide areas, it could result in the team picking up its first win of the season.

Prediction: It was a long time coming, but the Fire finally pick up three points – 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.

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

WATCH: Kevin and Jeff preview Saturday's game vs. RSL

30 April 3:10 pm

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.

29 April 8:41 am

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
Charlotte Eagles -
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: 

28 April 9:17 am

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?

24 April 1:08 pm

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!

23 April 10:13 am

Frank Yallop winless in seven games, unbeaten in six as head coach of Chicago Fire

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

 

22 April 12:59 pm

An update on Chicago Fire loanee Grant Ward's recovery from surgery to repair broken metatarsal in his foot, from the man himself...
 

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... 

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!

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: