The Fire head back to Toyota Park Wednesday night for the biggest game of the season to date, a U.S. Open Cup semifinal against D.C. United. Both teams enter the game on the back of wins and knowing they are only 180 minutes away from a CONCACAF Champions League place.
With that in mind, league form goes out the window. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Slowing down D.C.’s new attack – avoiding the Silva/DeRo red herring
United Coach Ben Olsen has used the 4-4-1-1 formation for most of this season but due to a number of factors, namely not scoring many goals and a numerous injuries, he is constantly changing his front two.
In last week’s match against Montreal, D.C. started Dwayne DeRosario and Luis Silva to great effect with both players’ movement caused Montreal problems, especially in the first 30 minutes.
Both took turns holding the line while the other dropped deep, making it difficult for the Impact to track. With Silva scoring three goals in his last three matches, it is easy to claim that both he and DeRo are the major threats to the Fire tonight, but that argument is too simplistic.
In reality, both strikers have benefited greatly from some fantastic play from both the wide men and outside defenders in recent matches. Montreal’s lack of high pressure allowed D.C.’s outside defenders to act as auxiliary wingers at times, putting dangerous crosses into the Impact’s box.
With the defenders pushing up high, the wide midfielders were able to tuck inside and support the strikers in the box or pick up great positions just outside it.
For the Fire to be successful tonight, the team must not allow D.C.’s outside defenders to get forward as often as Montreal did. To do this requires a combination of high pressure from forwards such as Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe as well as positive attacking play from the outside mids, which will force D.C.’s defenders to stay back.
Minimizing set pieces – not allowing DC any unearned opportunities
In a cup semifinal, one mistake, or one brilliant piece of skill, can define the outcome. Countless knockout matches have been decided this way and it always leaves the losing team asking why they allowed an avoidable goal to be scored against them.
WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner
Playing as the away team and knowing the Fire’s strengths on the counter attack, D.C. will not be flooding players forward needlessly in tonight’s match. When set pieces present themselves however, the Black and Red will be looking to profit.
In the Fire’s last match against Philly, the team played very well defensively but again failed to keep a clean sheet. The Union goal came from a needlessly given up free kick resulting in the ball being bundled over the line.
Fire players must not rush into tackles and need to try and avoid giving up corners whenever possible. D.C. may be lacking in goals this season but giving up a set piece when DeRo is on the field could decide the match in D.C.’s favor.
Quick transitions to the attack – by any means possible
In recent tactical previews, I have lauded Patrick Nyarko for consistently pressuring defenders in the Fire’s offensive third of the pitch and forcing turnovers.
In last weekend’s match against Philly, Paddy did it again, winning the ball and bursting forward before dishing to Mike Magee who smashed in the winner.
Last weekend’s match also demonstrated how quick transitions can come from all areas of the pitch.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson constantly looked to distribute the ball quickly and launch an attack through his kicking. Whenever Johnson collected the ball from a cross or shot, he looked for outlet runs and was able to pick out those of Rolfe, Magee and co. with his long kicks.
Supersub Quincy Amarikwa also demonstrated how pressuring defenders on long balls can result in turnovers. Late in the game, he challenged Amobi Okugo in the air before stalking the center back and forcing a turnover just outside the Philly box.
But for some better finishing, the Fire would’ve scored a third goal and effectively ended the match. A quick turnover from a player like Nyarko or an accurate kick out from Johnson could open up the DC defense tonight.
Prediction: I have seen the Fire win and lose U.S. Open Cup semifinals and know that games like this are almost always very tight and tense. 1-0 Fire with the goal coming from Patrick Nyarko.
On Tuesday, July 9, a Chicago Fire fan forwarded a Yahoo! article to owner Andrew Hauptman that included a detailed account of a young fan who wanted to meet soccer superstar Lionel Messi on his birthday only to be left disappointed.
Upon further digging, it turned out, he wasn’t the only one. A group of approximately 75 fans had paid a premium for a meet and greet at the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field that ultimately didn’t come to be. Learning more about this group, the Fire owner’s immediate response was to find a way to contact these fans and invite them for a true, VIP experience at an upcoming Chicago Fire game.
Through a little help from Dirty Tackle’s Brooks Peck, an introduction was made, and then an invite was extended for those fans to be a guest of Andrew’s for last Saturday’s match against D.C. United. And while not everyone could attend, with some traveling from California, DC, Toronto and even as far as England for the original game, the Fire welcomed 16 fans to Toyota Park that night.
After a quick tour of the Park, a trip on field and even to the locker room, the guests enjoyed the game from the Second Star Club. The 4-1 win over United was the icing on the cake. Many of the fans were truly grateful for the invitation; calling it a “bright spot in all of this drama.”
One of the families shared this note with the Club after the game:
“…My family and I would like to thank you for yesterday's awesome tickets. We had such a wonderful time and we won't forget it, ever. Please thank Mr. Andrew Hauptman for everything that he did for us. This was a beautiful experience. Looks like we'll be season ticket holders starting next year. Thank you!”
Don’t forget, the Fire is still offering anyone with proof of purchase to the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field a 50 percent discount on a ticket to the Aug. 7 Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal match. All discounted ticket offers must be redeemed at the Toyota Park Box Office only. Inquiries regarding the discount can be directed to 1-888-MLS-FIRE.
Ben Olsen, D.C. United Head Coach
Select shots from the Fire's 4-1 win over D.C. United.
CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire
The Fire head back to Toyota Park on Saturday evening after a disappointing display in Vancouver last weekend, giving up three second half goals to the Whitecaps. D.C. come to town (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) after last playing out a 0-0 draw in Colorado on July 7. With D.C. sitting last in the East and the Fire slipping back from the playoff positions in recent weeks, this game is extremely important.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Team defense – be wary of quick transitions
In last weekend’s match against Vancouver, individual errors were again to blame for the Fire not coming back with any points but the team’s defending in transition also left something to be desired.
When the Fire turn the ball over, it is up to the team as a whole to defend, obviously not just the back four. D.C. will be looking to catch the Fire on the break as much as possible and when this happens, Fire players, most notably the outside defenders must turn attack into defense.
Against Vancouver last weekend, the Whitecaps first goal came from a quick transition from a corner where the Fire were caught with too many players up the field. The Men in Red should be able to create multiple chances against D.C. and while getting forward and coming up with chances is important, the players must not neglect their defensive responsibilities.
DC getting back to full strength – DeLeon and Porter return
Athletico Coaching Corner on D.C.
Over the past few matches, D.C. United have been without two of their start players, Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter due to injury and international duty respectively. Both look set to return to the team on Saturday night which will be a big boost to the Black and Red.
Though still raw, Porter’s crossing and 1v1 abilities make him one of the best up-and-coming wingers in MLS, while DeLeon’s creativity in the attack is also a major threat. D.C. have only scored eight goals this season but Porter and DeLeon have either scored or assisted in three of those.
That may sound like a small number but when you’ve only scored eight, contributing to three makes you responsible for almost half of the teams goals!
Because D.C. plays with one recognized striker, the emphasis is on players like DeLeon and Porter to get forward and support the lone striker whenever possible. The more the Fire can isolate both players and not allow them to link with the lone striker and withdrawn forward Chris Pontious, the better.
Targeting the middle two – getting past Kitchen and Thorrington
D.C. plays a system with two recognized defensive midfielders, presumed Saturday night to be John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen. Unlike Vancouver, whose three central midfielders often get forward to support the attacking three, D.C.’s pair are very much holding midfielders.
Both players sit in front of the back four to provide cover which makes D.C. a very difficult team to break down. There are times however when one of the central two is dragged wide, leaving space in the middle to exploit. When this happens, players like Alex must step forward and take advantage.
Recognizing when these opportunities present themselves and quicker switches of the point of attack from the wing to the middle are things I am looking to see on Saturday night.
After the last home match against Kansas City, Mike Magee criticized his teammates for not getting forward in larger numbers in the second half when the team was down.
If the Fire can get more people forward and force Kitchen and Thorington into 2v1 situations, the team will create chances.
Prediction: 3-0 Fire with goals from Magee, Nyarko and Alex
Earlier Thursday morning I was once again invited back to U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters in downtown Chicago to witness the semifinal round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup coin flips.
Let me be honest, unlike the previous three rounds, Thursday's process was the simplest I've witnessed.
That's because even before showing up at Soccer House on Thursday morning, U.S. Soccer had already confirmed what the potential semifinal pairings would be earlier this week based on geography.
Combine that with all eight quarterfinal teams applying to host the semifinals, literally all that was needed was to flip the famous bicentennial silver dollar twice.
Still, Competition Secretary Paul Marstaller kept things official, handing out the same formatted paper which clearly listed the matchups and assigned heads and tails.
That sheet looked like this:
|D.C. United/New England Revolution||Chicago Fire/Orlando City*|
|Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks*||Portland Timbers/FC Dallas|
If I can be bold enough to say, every time the Fire have come up in a coin flip, I honestly get this strange excitement in my stomach. The feeling of a simple coin going a long way to deciding your team's tournament fate is a thrilling, if not brief emotion.
Luckily for the Fire, the first coin flip landed tails, meaning the winner of next Wednesday's game vs. Orlando City will host the winnder of D.C. United/New England on August 7. This is the third straight flip the Fire have won after losing the initial third round flip to the Charlotte Eagles.
In the second flip, the coin came up heads, meaning the winner of Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks will host the winner of Portland/FC Dallas. The flip was the fourth consecutive win for RSL in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup.
And that was it.
Only one coin flip remains and that's for the final which will be played in early October. I'm told that will go down at some point in July.
All intentions to host the final were due along with intentions for the semifinal on Wednesday, though U.S. Soccer will likely not make that list public until the final coin flips occur.
I can confirm the Chicago Fire have applied to host the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final.
Earlier 2013 Open Cup Coin Flips:
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.
The potential quarterfinal pairings for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup set to be played Wednesday, June 26:
1) Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew winner hosts Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City winner
2) D.C. United/Philadelphia Union winner hosts New England Revolution/New York Red Bulls winner
3) FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo winner hosts Portland Timbers/Tampa Bay Rowdies winner
4) Real Salt Lake/Charleston Battery winner hosts Carolina RailHawks/Chivas USA winner
Click Here to buy tickets for the Fire's Fourth Round USOC match vs. the Columbus Crew (Wednesday June 12th, 7:30pm Toyota Park)
Select shots from the Fire's 2-0 win over D.C. United
CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire
The Fire’s Athletico Injury Report has become much shorter with a number of players coming off the list in the last week.
Daniel Paladini (left calf inflammation), Maicon Santos (right shoulder sprain), Hunter Jumper (right groin tightness) and Yazid Atouba (right ankle sprain) all came off the report over the last week and will be available for selection by Frank Klopas in Sunday’s showdown with D.C. United.
The one addition to the list this week is captain Logan Pause who is listed as questionable after suffering a left groin injury just before halftime of Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over the Charlotte Eagles.
Should he be unable to go, Paladini will most likely step back into the Fire midfield in his stead.
Arne Friedrich is back in Germany again receiving treatment for his hip problem while Steven Kinney remains out with a right quad strain.