MLS Regular Season
It was May 25 and I sat at Section 8 Chicago’s watch party at A.J. Hudsons, slightly distraught.
Despite seeing the Fire put in a fantastic effort in the always difficult climes of Rio Tinto Stadium I sat there in disbelief, surrounded by Fire supporters far more vocal in their dismay after witnessing Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio put the home side ahead 1-0 in the 78th minute.
The feeling was one I remembered -- the same aching pit in the stomach I’d felt nearly the entire game a week earlier in Philadelphia and then a week before that when the Fire had dominated but still found a way to lose at home to the Union.
Thankfully it took just six minutes before I felt good again and it was all down to an unlikely hero and an even less likely play as Quincy Amarikwa came flying through to volley home an improbable equalizer in the 84th minute.
Hudson’s erupted and though the game would only finish as a draw, it certainly felt like a win.
Fast forward five weeks and the Fire find themselves in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, just five points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand and on an eight-game unbeaten run that began that night on the Wasatch Front.
Four days after escaping Rio Tinto with a point, Magee would tally his first goal in a Fire shirt just 11 minutes into his club debut. All but about 1,500 people in Rock Hill, S.C. nearly missed it as my laptop carrying the YouTube stream crashed right at kickoff of the match.
As I sweat buckets there was something about the way my computer rebooted itself that told me things were going to be okay. Yes it took 11 minutes to get the feed back up but it returned just in time for anyone that held out hope to see Magee nod home his first Fire goal.
Every night since first suiting up that night in front of a small crowd in South Carolina, Magee has tallied for the Fire. Soumare has brought stability to a back line that has given up less than a goal a game in its last eight outings.
No doubt their acquisitions have helped the turnaround but it’d be wrong to say that the team didn’t already have a decent setup in place.
Along with their play, offseason acquisitions Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka have all contributed in a big way over the last month, complimenting the consistent performances of Patrick Nyarko, Gonzalo Segares, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini.
Having never previously tallied in the U.S. Open Cup before 2013, Chris Rolfe has found a bit of a goal-scoring touch in the tournament, scoring three goals in as many games so far in this year’s competition.
This isn’t to say the eight-game unbeaten run has all been pretty. There have certainly been moments (see the first half against Portland) where we’d like to see more from the Fire and many times where goalkeeper Sean Johnson has had to come up huge to ensure the positive run.
But just as it seemed the Fire couldn’t get any bounces to go their way at the start of 2013, the karma, minutia, or maybe just the soccer gods seem to be smiling down on a team that wasn’t quite punching their weight at the beginning.
Now that I've suffiently set a jinx, yes the Fire are still 5-7-3 and yes, whether in the league or the Open Cup, plenty of work remains to be done to dig out of the hole from which they started the season. Depth needs to be built in the back and up front but it's still worth saying again, what a difference five weeks can make.
Tactical Preview: Despite international absences, San Jose will be reeling from stoppage time win over LA
After the weekend off, the Fire head back on the field Wednesday night against the San Jose Earthquakes with the team looking to extend its eight-game unbeaten streak to nine (LIVE 7:00pm CT on My50).
San Jose played late Saturday night against LA and came from two goals and a man down to win 3-2. Both teams are still on the outside of the playoff spots looking in but are moving in the right direction. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective Wednesday night.
Gold Cup changes – Both San Jose and the Fire missing players – who will it affect more?
Both the Earthquakes and the Fire will be missing players due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments but in terms of sheer numbers, San Jose is certainly hit harder. The California club is sending four players to compete while goalkeeper Sean Johnson is the Fire’s only representative.
The Earthquakes will also be without center back Victor Bernardez who picked up a red card against LA.
The losses of last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and dynamic midfielder Marvin Chavez are especially tough and San Jose will certainly be relying even more on strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon Wednesday.
Paolo Tornaghi is no stranger to the Fire net but will be looking to put in a better performance than his last MLS outing, giving up four goals at home to Chivas USA back in March.
Still, Tornaghi is an excellent goalkeeper and could easily be starting for another team in MLS. With Sean Johnson missing for the better part of a month, this is a chance for the former Inter Milan ‘keeper to really step up and force coach Frank Klopas into making a tough decision on the starting job once Johnson returns.
Keeping an eye on the outsides – Morrow and Beitashour are attacking threats
When you have strikers who are good in the air like San Jose has with the likes of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon you want your wide players to be able to put a good cross in. The Earthquake’s wing backs can certainly do that.
Rolfe, Tornaghi Preview San Jose
Both Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour enjoy getting forward and their crossing ability is outstanding. Thankfully Gonzalo Segares did not get called into Costa Rica’s Gold Cup squad and his battle against Beitashour will be one to watch on Wednesday.
Beitashour’s numbers are certainly down from last season where he recorded six assists but he is still a player the Fire cannot allow space to cross the ball into the box.
In the ‘Quakes last away match against D.C. United last month, Morrow got forward a lot more than this past weekend’s match against LA. The outside backs attempted a combined 13 crosses in that match compared to only seven in the LA match.
Limiting the number of crosses should be a goal for the Men in Red on Wednesday night.
Tightening up at the back – important for Berry and Soumare to get their positioning right
With the possibility of both Lenhart and Alan Gordon starting for San Jose, both Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must be prepared for some bruising physical battles.
Another thing the central defenders must keep an eye on is their positioning. An overlooked aspect of the Fire’s 5-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal last week was the amount of good chances Orlando had, especially on 1v1 duels with Sean Johnson.
The Orlando strikers were able to get as many chances as they did due to some positioning errors by the Fire’s central defenders. Better communication between the pair, the back line and goalkeeper as a whole should correct this problem.
This will also be Tornaghi’s first match playing with Soumare so it will be interesting to see how good the players’ communication with one another is.
At times Berry and Soumare make it hard for themselves with some lackluster positioning which resulted in them having to make up ground and make some last ditch tackles, something we saw against Orlando on more than one occasion.
Though Gordon and Lenhart are more about physicality than movement, I look for the Fire center backs to tighten up a bit on Wednesday and continue to improve on their less than one goal a game against average during this current eight-game unbeaten streak.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Patrick Nyarko and “Magic” Mike Magee
If you're like me, you might have spent your Friday night away from a television, meaning you missed the second episode of MLS Insider on NBC Sports Network.
No fears though, catch the full episode featuring the Houston Dynamo's 2006 MLS Cup championship, a segment on FC Dallas keeper Raul Fernandez and the best and worst moments of the past week..
Tune in or set your DVRs for MLS Insider, Fridays at 6:30pm CT. You may see a Fire player featured quite soon...
The Fire start sluggishly and give up an early goal thanks to some sloppiness. The first half runs its course with a series of dreary long balls, and very little else worth mentioning. The second half begins, the Fire come out a totally different team. They move the ball quicker. They even the game. They continue pressing. They take the lead. The second half develops into a series of counter attacks on one end and dramatic blocks, saves, and misses on the other. The game ends, the Fire players celebrate.
Sound familiar? After almost carbon copy games against Colorado and in Columbus last week (not to mention similar feeling games against Portland and RSL), the Fire games are becoming something like the works of one of those airport authors - the characters change and the setting is different, but the arc remains the same.
Not that we’re lacking any drama. These comebacks are scintillating, and we deserve it after those early games that were, frankly, difficult to watch. Now Fire games are chaotic, fun spectacles.
I was pining for a hockey-like empty netter on Saturday when all possible counterattacks flamed out and, yet again, we never got the insurance goal that would let us relax and enjoy the last few minutes of the game. Just like Wednesday against Colorado, the Fire survived Columbus thanks to some great work by Sean Johnson in goal, some miscues, and a few fortunate bounces.
Of course, every comeback is different, and this time there was no Klopas Gambit. There weren’t major changes in shape or personnel. What was different was who stepped up to change the game.
Last week we talked about Jeff Larentowicz really driving the Fire upwards, and literally the first play of the second half, the play that set the tone for the ensuing comeback, was of Larentowicz tackling Oduro hard at midfield.
But all of a sudden it looks like the Fire have depth all over the place. Players that struggled to make an impact at the beginning of the season are proving their worth. Joel Lindpere had two beautiful assists, Dilly Duka was arguably player of the game Saturday against his old team, and with Magee about as hot as a player can get, it’s no surprise the Fire are charging up the table.
The attitude in the locker room has to be refreshing. After the game on Saturday, Magee said, “We know we can battle and we fight for each other, that’s the hardest thing in soccer.” Despite the slow starts and the stressful endings, the Fire are building something.
Let’s enjoy it with another look at Duka skinning and megging Chad Barson.
Sunday's announcement of Arne Friedrich's retirement was a tough one to take but the Twitterverse did a great job to pay tribute to the two-time German World Cup veteran's illustrious career.
Here are some of our favorite tweets from Sunday:
Select shots from the Fire's 2-1 win over the Crew.
Credit: USA Today Sports Images
The Men in Red extended their unbeaten streak to six games across all competitions on Wednesday night (4-0-2), coming behind to defeat the Colorado Rapids 2-1. Columbus notched a big win against Montreal last time out and face difficult trips to Kansas City and LA after the Saturday’s home game against the Fire.
Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective in this big match for both teams (LIVE Saturday 6:30pm CT on My50).
The turnover game - both teams will look to pressure each other’s back line
In the Crew’s most recent loss to the Union earlier this month, the Ohio team had major problems retaining possession when put under pressure. The Union forwards, especially Jack McInerny, did not allow Columbus time on the ball and the pressure led to Philly getting on the score sheet.
Johnson, Rolfe Preview Columbus
On the other side of the coin, the Crew like to deploy the high pressure tactic too, with former Fire player Dominic Oduro often hunting down defenders and not allowing them time on the ball.
In the Crew's 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact last weekend, Oduro stole the ball from a Montreal defender before slotting home the Crew's second goal in the 22nd minute.
Fire defender Austin Berry had an unfortunate incident in Wednesday's match against Colorado where he was stripped of the ball allowing rookie Deshorn Brown to give Colorado the lead.
In a game that is expected to be very tight, the team making the least mental mistakes could end up on top.
The battle on the left side - Duka/Lindpere vs Anor
Columbus winger Bernardo Anor won many plaudits for his performance against Montreal last week on his first start back from a horrible ACL injury.
The left-footed Venezuelan started on the right against the Impact and will be looking to build on that performance against the Fire Saturday night.
Dan and Kevin Talk Crew
Duka played his best game for the Men in Red against Colorado on Wednesday night as he was able to get in 1v1 situations on numerous occasions and earned the penalty that equalized the match.
Lindpere has yet to fully live up to the high expectations put on him by Fire fans after his move from New York this offseason.
With the team in the middle of a 4 games in 11 day stretch, a start for Lindpere seems plausible.
Getting back into the stating XI in a huge Eastern Conference showdown could be the perfect motivation for Lindpere to put in a man of the match performance on Saturday night.
Dominic Oduro - A striker with a point to prove
With seven goals to his name this season, Dominic Oduro has landed on his feet in Columbus after his trade away from the Windy City. Oduro also seems to have developed into a more complete striker since his move.
The speedy Ghanaian’s patience on the ball has resulted in him making better decisions and linking with his midfielders more instead of going alone and trying to score.
What has impressed me about Oduro since the trade is his move away from a reliance on his right foot to a player that is comfortable shooting with both.
Fire fans will remember Oduro's hot and cold finishing but on his day, he can be unstoppable. The Fire have held Oduro scoreless in two matches already this season but at home, the Ghanaian will be aiming to prove a point and it is up to the Fire defenders to keep him quiet on Saturday night.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with a brace from midfielder Alex
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
Select shots from the Fire's win over the Rapids
CREDIT: Brian Kersey