Blog

MLS Regular Season

01 June 7:39 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

 

On today’s performance…

 

“I thought we played really well today. I thought we had some great individual performances from a lot of the young guys playing, and other than one mistake, I thought we very deserved to win. Obviously very frustrating points wise, but very encouraging performance wise. I thought they gave their heart for this club and the team today and tried their best to get the result.”

 

On decision to start Chris Ritter…

 

“I think Chris has done well in the games he’s had with the reserves, trains well. With a few bumps and scrapes that we do have, I thought our forward play has been good. I thought today, other than the chance that they got and they scored on, we kept them pretty quiet. A very good team that’s good at going forward. The stability of Chris next to Jeff, it really wasn’t a defensive move. It was more making that box that Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane love to operate in. I think that Chris, Jeff, Baky, and Jhon did a really good job making it difficult for them to get any space and go and that’s reason that I am playing Chris. It loosened Jeff to get on the ball and we had some good solid possession and solid attacks.”

 

On the original back four together after a couple months…

 

“I thought they did well. Gonzo’s not really training much. He got an injection before the match, he has to get his ankle cleaned out, but I think he has done well for what he’s done. Baky and Jhon were strong, and played with authority today. Lovel wasn’t our best player but pretty close. I thought he had a great game. Once they start to play together again, and it’s been up and down and injuries and other things come into it, but I was very happy with the chances we didn’t give to L.A.”

 

On the health of the team…

 

“I think we are okay. Lovel has just a bit of tight hamstring. Quincy has been feeling a little bit fatigued. With the game on Wednesday I thought ‘take him out.’ We were one up at the time. I think we are okay. I haven’t check with Bo [Leonard] yet, but I think we should be okay.”

 

On changing to a more defensive formation in a 4-2-3-1…

 

“The balance has not quite been right and I think the balance was good today. I think we created enough chances to win the game, but we limited them to not many good looks. Whether it’s Chris or the system we played, I liked it. Logan probably would have played in there had he been healthy, but I was very happy with Chris’ performance. I was very happy with the whole demeanor we had and the way we went about it. I thought we played high up the field, which is important. I thought we created some good turnovers, our penalty comes from a turnover, but it was good play by us.”

 

On Landon’s performance today…

 

“He scored so…that’s Landon. I actually texted him when he broke the record and I was there for his first goal in the MLS and I just saw it again today, but Landon is a good player. I think you saw his quality on the finish, and any time we can keep him under wraps, and Robbie Keane, two very good players. Our team did a nice job of that, we didn’t give them some good looks, which usually they have.”

 

On Duka and Ward out wide…

 

“I think both guys did well. Dilly’s been kind of injured all year and he played in the Columbus game and wasn’t effective. He never got himself going. I talked to him this week and said ‘you got that game under your belt; that was the game to get your legs moving, now we got to start to play.’ I thought he did well, a couple of shots, but he is going to tire. He hasn’t played much, but I liked the fact that they are attacking players, both of them, with Harry and Quincy it’s four good attacking options we have and the supply was good from Chris and Jeff. I though Grant Ward played well today. He is a good player, a young kid. It’s a shame we’ve not had him and just got him now. We got to make a decision pretty soon so we will see how that goes.”

 

Chicago Fire Forward Quincy Amarikwa

 

On battling in the heat against the Galaxy

 

“That’s what it was, it was a battle. It’s hot, you could tell; a little bit different than what we’ve been playing in recently. As a team, we battled, we fought hard; unfortunately one mistake got the best of us. But we’ll bounce back and hopefully get a win on the road in Denver.”

 

On the team adapting to multiple injuries

 

“I mean, a couple of guys have come down with injuries, so we’ve had to adapt. I think the guys that were called upon today did really well to fit into the system and really show themselves, and show that we have depth all the way to our 18th man and beyond. I think the guys showed well, and it’s going to carry on through rest of the season.”

 

On how upcoming week will test depth

 

“Yeah, definitely, any time you have three games in eight days, your depth is going to be tested. I think we rose to the occasion today; it only builds confidence for the rest of the week.”

 

On combating fatigue after Columbus game

 

“I feel pretty good. For that reason, I came off a bit early, I think in the 60th minute. Just looking to save my legs a little bit, especially since we’re going to altitude on Wednesday. I think the guys that stepped on did really well. Again, it’s unfortunate to concede that goal; but overall, I think that’s one of the better performances we’ve had, especially at home, this season.”

 

Chicago Fire Homegrown Midfielder Chris Ritter

 

On first game in MLS

 

“It was an exciting day for sure. Getting your first start, or even just making your debut, is certainly a special day. The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to, and I feel a bit at fault for the one goal; but definitely a learning experience, and playing more games this season could make it up.”

 

On the coaching staff’s advice in first game

 

“He kind of just told me to play my game, which is, I think, the best thing to hear from a coach. I think the whole coaching staff had all the confidence in the world in me, so it made going out there pretty easy; so I’m hopefully doing well.”

 

On giving up a goal and learning a tough lesson from it

 

“It just shows how quickly top-notch players like Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan can punish you, so definitely a lesson learned.”

 

On technical adjustments in the midfield prior to the game

 

“I think we do a good job adjusting to all the teams we play. It’s kind of a mix of adjusting and letting them adjust to you, so I thought playing with two holding midfielders was effective and held them to limited number of chances.”

 

On being part of the first two Homegrown players to take the field in club history

 

“Definitely exciting. Harry [Shipp] has done a great job this year, and I’m kind of just trying to follow in his footsteps. It’s fun to be out there with Harry, a guy I know pretty well and spend some time with off the field; so definitely a special moment.”

 

Chicago Fire Defender Gonzalo Segares

 

On first individual performance coming back from injury

 

“First game of the season; not completely fit yet, but it was good for me to come back. I feel that defensively, it was pretty good, but I had a few issues with the ball. Definitely not sharp yet, but you just have to keep working.”

 

On health of ankle after the game

 

“It’s okay until the medicine goes away [laughs], then it’ll start hurting. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for a long time, I think it’s around 9-10 weeks, and the bone spurs started growing after the injury that I had. But I’m just glad that we know what it is, and the injection definitely helps me be in the game and not have pain; it’s something that we eventually hope will get fixed.”

 

On being surprised about the starting backline meshing well

 

“No. I’ve worked with Baky [Soumare] for a long time, with Jhon [Kennedy Hurtado] and Lovel [Palmer] I’ve been playing with for a while; we worked a whole preseason as well, so we’re used to each other. I felt we were very satisfied with how we did defensively. It’s unfortunate that the one play, I think the only look that we gave them, they definitely took advantage of that; that’s what you get with Keane and Donovan. I think we learned from that, and we’ll just keep building up. There’s an important game against Colorado this Wednesday, and we need to go over there and get some points.”

 

On tying Chris Armas’ mark of 214 appearances for the Fire

 

“It’s definitely an honor. Chris is a guy that helped me a lot when I came into this league, he’s a Fire legend. It’s definitely an honor to have as many games as him. It’s not easy to stay at one club in MLS, and I’ve been lucky enough and fortunate to have been here for that long.”

 

Los Angeles Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena

 

On the match:

 

“Awful game today.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve told the league when it’s this hot and humid in Chicago in June, we don’t want to play afternoon games.  This is not fair for the players.  It’s difficult.  It’s not fair for the fans.  We shouldn’t be playing this game at this time.  Difficult, difficult game for the players to deal with.”

 

On players suffering from the heat:

 

“Difficult conditions. You can’t play these games this early in the afternoon.”

 

On Robbie Rogers play:

 

“Rogers played very well.  He did a good job for us.”

 

On Landon Donovan’s goal:

 

“Not his best day but he got a goal and he hung in there for 90 minutes so that was good.  It was a lousy game today.  There’s no other way to put it.  I think Chicago played a little bit better than us, but the conditions were difficult for both teams and it made for a not-good game.”

 

On the penalty kick against LA:

 

“If a referee doesn’t see it, he shouldn’t call it.  If he thinks he saw it, then fair enough.  It may have been a foul but it was probably outside the penalty area.  I don’t know how they do that without discussing it between the linesman and the referee.  And if they did then they got it wrong.”

 

On getting a point on the road:

 

“[Happy] we got the point.  We’ll take the point and get out of Chicago.”

 

On Dan Gargan’s condition:

 

“Just heat issues.”

 

Los Angeles Galaxy Captain and Forward Robbie Keane

 

On playing the game in hot conditions:

 

“I don’t know who makes these f***ing stupid decisions.  Play a f***ing game at three o’clock in the afternoon.  Who wants to watch that crap?  Do you?  I don’t want to watch that crap.  These people who haven’t got a clue about soccer make these decisions when we play a game.  Why not play at eight o’clock? It wasn’t on national television.  It’s so stupid.  They need to look at these games and use their head and be clever.  No player wants to play in that humidity.  Everyone was affected by the heat.  Why would you want to play at three o’clock in the afternoon?  On the hottest day of the year so far here in Chicago, knowing it is going to be that hot.  And you can’t blame the Kings-Hawks game because you didn’t know that was going to happen until two days ago.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  We have to stop.  We have to listen to the players instead of listening to people who have never kicked a soccer ball in their whole life.”

 

Los Angeles Galaxy Forward Landon Donovan:

 

On his goal:

 

“I feel great.  I feel great helping the team.  To get a tie on a day where we didn’t really play well and sometimes during the season you have to games where you don’t do well and you have to find a way to get something out of it.  I’m glad to help out.”

 

On the conditions:

 

“That’s the way the league is at times.  There are games where it is ugly.  You play during the day, it’s hot, the field is slow and that kind of stuff happens.  You have to have the character and the resolve to find a way to get a result and we did that today.”

 

On the team battling the conditions:

 

“It was difficult for both teams.  Both teams you could tell couldn’t really get around the ball and press the ball.  You couldn’t move efficiently as you wanted so again, it probably doesn’t look great from a spectator standpoint but that’s the way it goes.”

 

On Robbie Rogers’s assist for his goal:

 

“I thought he did well.  Coming into the game was tough and he hasn’t played in a while so fitness wise it was going to be tough but I thought he defended pretty well.  He made a few good plays and the assist was a really good ball.”

 

Los Angeles Midfielder Robbie Rogers

 

On looking confident on the field:

 

“I think just being able to train for three or four weeks and sustaining that kind of workload has really benefited me.  I think there’s tons of things I can improve on and today I thought there were things I could have done better but I was happy to provide Landon with that assist and get a point on the road.  I really think these are the kind of games that when you get three points, and I think we are a good enough team to do that, but sometimes you just kind of have to grind it out.”

 

On the heat affecting him:

 

“For me, not too much.  But I could tell it affected the other guys.  I only played like 60 minutes or something which is a bit different, and it was hotter in the first 20 minutes of the game and you could tell guys were tired on both teams.”

 

On a turning point for his comeback:

 

“It’s one assist in one game.  It’s a lot of work that I have ahead of me this season so it’s a positive to contribute in that way and to help defensively but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

 

On his assist being against Chicago:

 

“No, it doesn’t mean anything to me.  I think maybe this is my third or fourth assist I’ve had playing in Chicago when I was playing for Columbus.  I’ve had some success here.  I don’t know why.  I’ve always enjoyed playing here and the fans are great.  It’s a great city.  I enjoy it.”

 

On his assist:

 

“I just kind of noticed that the guy put his head done when he was passing it to the outside midfielder and it’s a slow field, you can pick things off, so I kind of just read that and when I went to take a touch, I reached for it and I saw Robbie.  I also saw Landon coming in the back post so I thought just if I could whip it into the back post he would run on to that.  He had an amazing finish.  It wasn’t an easy ball to finish.  Those are the kind of balls a winger and an outside back has to play and we work on that kind of stuff.  It’s not a routine thing but it’s kind of something you do ten, twenty times at training so it was a great finish.  You have to give Landon a lot of credit.”

 

On the differences between the first and second halves:

 

“I felt like Chicago got a little tired and were playing very direct and launching balls behind us.  I thought in the first half they were finding little passes here and there so it made it a little easier for us to predict.  I thought we started off the beginning of the second half really well.  Chicago got that goal but besides that I thought we were playing pretty well.  We finished the game all right.  Everyone was dead at the end of the game.   We will take that point on the road.”

29 May 3:13 pm

After a lackluster performance in Columbus last week, the Chicago Fire need to pick themselves up for a massive week ahead, starting with Sunday’s game at home against the LA Galaxy. Landon Donovan’s USMNT snub means he will be looking to prove Jürgen Klinsman wrong all while adding to his MLS scoring record. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective…

Winning the midfield battle – a change of formation against LA may be necessary

While there is an obvious attacking threat that needs to be stifled, LA’s defense is leading the league with only nine goals given up all season. A key to that has been the play of the Galaxy midfield, dominating possession and not allowing the other team to attack.

With this in mind, a change in formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 could be in the cards. This would provide more support to Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and would also match up well against LA’s narrow midfield. A holding midfield duo Larentowicz and one of Logan Pause or Matt watson would not only put more on pressure on Juninho and co., but would also mean another player to pick up Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane when they drop deep – which I will explain in more detail later.

Pause has had some stellar performances off the bench of late and is pushing for a starting place. Ahead of the proposed Watson/Pause/Larentowicz duo, I would like to see Grant Ward and Benji Joya on the outsides with Harry Shipp operating behind the striker, presumably Quincy Amarikwa in the absence of Mike Magee. Shipp is most effective when he drifts inside and links with the strikers.

With Patrick Nyarko missing and Dilly Duka not doing enough defensively last week, a Ward/Joya tandem on the wings would not only provide some dynamism in the attack but also provide more protection for the Fire’s  outside  defenders. Dan Gargan and more so A.J. DeLaGarza are constantly getting forward, and benefit from the Galaxy’s narrow midfield.

This formation would put a lot of pressure on Quincy Amarikwa to man the forward line alone, but the 4-2-3-1 formation would mean less emphasis on the striker to hold up the ball and would allow Amarikwa to what he does best: harass the opposition’s defense.

Some may see this  formation as a negative one, especially when the Fire are at home, but against a midfield as strong as LA’s, I think this could give the team its best chance of winning.

Slowing down the Donovan/Keane juggernaut – doing a better job than against Higuain last week

After watching the clearly inspired performances of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane last weekend against the Philadelphia Union, it’s impossible for me to write about anything else for this preview. Donovan was clearly a man on a mission to surpass the MLS scoring record following his surprise snub from the final U.S. World Cup squad.

The Union were unable to handle the combination play and movement of Donovan/Keane as one dropped deep to collect the ball while the other would make a defense-splitting run.

Dropping deep, especially by Keane, allows players like Gyasi Zardes to move into that space and look for passes from the Irishman. Last week, I highlighted the attacking threat of Federico Higuain and the Fire did not deal with the Argentine well, allowing him to dictate the game and set up both of the Crew goals.

A much better job needs to be done this week but unfortunately, the Fire need to deal with two players instead of one. The Fire midfield, as I mentioned earlier, have an important role to play in attempting to stop Donovan/Keane from getting the ball when they drop deep for it.

The Fire defense also needs to be stingier. Too often, including on both of the goals, Columbus players were able to get in behind the Fire back line - something that needs to be addressed and prevented on Sunday. If the Fire do a better job of stopping Donovan and Keane than they did last week against Higuain, it will massively improve the Fire’s chances of picking up a positive result.

Prediction: Fire start a testing week with a positive result - 1-1 with a goal from Benji Joya. 

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

28 May 1:46 pm

This week, after a frustrating match in Columbus, it was revealed that the Fire are so decimated by injuries the assistant coaches had to fill in a practice scrimmage last week to make up numbers. Granted, even past their playing shape, the coaches C.J. Brown, Clint Mathis, and Brian McBride would win most 3v3 tourneys in this city today, but it shows just how handcuffed Frank Yallop’s roster can get when the injury bug hits.

Yallop said he won’t use injuries as an excuse, which is great, that’s what every coach says, but I don’t like it. I think that injury is a great excuse. It’s not an excuse for playing poorly, because every excuse for playing poorly sucks. Rather, injuries can be excuses for other things. For roster shake ups, for weird substitutions, for tactical changes, for second chances, and so on.

QUESTION: Would Rookie of the Year candidate Harry Shipp have gotten this much tick to prove himself if Alex and Dilly Duka weren’t hurt to start the season?  

Injuries are totally natural and can be a blessing when they force a team to break from what's comfortable, but basically they’re unpredictable and infuriating. I mean, every team and player has them, but no team or player has them exactly the same. So it’s the way teams, coaches and players deal with their inevitability that makes injuries what they are as well as an interesting excuse.

Once they hit, do you go to the market to find replacements or call on young players? Do you stack the squad with depth at the beginning of the season, or hope to ride out the injuries when they come? What about the players with previous injury issues - do you monitor their minutes? Alter their training regimen?

So far, I’ve found Yallop’s approach to injuries fascinating and impressive. The work he did to improve the squad this year is a real strength. Remember that after the frustrating results vs. Philadelphia last season, we were talking about the Patrick Nyarko/Chris Rolfe striking partnership.

This Fire team’s depth should be able to deal with an injury bug and the kinds of personnel changes a full season requires. That’s why it was nice to see Dilly Duka get a run out on Saturday, even if he’s short of match fitness, and Grant Ward get a chance to show why his name caused so much excitement during preseason.

All year, Yallop has rewarded players for playing well, simple as that. So you know that any injury also means an opportunity for someone else. When preseason starters like Gonzalo Segares and Alex were hit by injuries, they were replaced by rookies Greg Cochrane and Shipp, who’ve proved themselves to varying degrees.

On Saturday the Fire were without Alex, Bakary Soumare, Patrick Nyarko, Mike Magee, and Lovel Palmer, for reasons as diverse as calf soreness to kidney stones. Good luck preparing for those scenarios in preseason video sessions.

The other interesting thing about injuries is that they’re a totally natural thing. Their existence is the proof that what we watch and turn over as pastime is actually an excruciating tug of war between physical performance and physical possibility. Somewhere in between there is the place where muscles and ligaments break down, where a body suffers. Injury bugs are a reminder that we’re watching athletes push themselves to their limits.

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

24 May 10:48 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On where the breakdown occurred:

“We seemed flat from the first whistle. The guys seemed up for the game, but we weren’t sharp. We had a couple chances here and there. Same as them, but they were sharper in front of the goal but we were poor defensively. For us, we have to address that but it’s difficult. We have a few guys out at the moment, so there’s not a lot we can change. We just have to keep working, and it’s one of those games were Columbus was better than us tonight they deserved to win the match. You have to take the defeat and move on.”

On having five players out:

“You can understand how it’s not just the defense. You have key guys not playing, six or so. It’s not an excuse I never make excuses. I’m not blaming them they haven’t played for a while. Steven Kinney came in and he hasn’t played all season. Grant Ward made his debut and he hasn’t played for four months. Tough night around we kept going to the end but, we were pretty naïve generally all over the pitch, especially defensively. We have to make better decisions where we don’t give chances to the opposition. We left the game mentally flat. Maybe it’s because we came off two wins, and we don’t think we have to earn the right to play a game. We do every game.”

On dealing with Higuain’s ability to spring players:

“He’s pretty close to the best in the League. The game plan was as soon as he got the ball to drop. We couldn’t really figure it out. He does it at the right time and he finds space. He’s a good player, take nothing away from that guy. He’s a very good player. He sees the game well. He sees the game how it should be looked at. Offensively, we couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t just him they had good runners off the ball. We made poor decisions defensively to give them the chances to score.”

On not being able to score:

“That’s kind of us. We looked like we were going to score most games. We went through the game and had some good chances. Quincy [Amarikwa] has gotten some good spots. I just talked to him he’s a little calmer, a little bit picking guys out. I’ve only seen him once but we had chances to score but you can’t keep conceding goals and win matches. At some point you need to shut it down and make it difficult. It’s the whole team; it’s not just one or two guys. The whole team has to do it.”

Chicago Fire Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

On the backline:

“Columbus guys are tricky, they know how to run off your back shoulder, they know how to find time on the ball and it allows guys in the midfield to pick out runners. I think that both goals come off of passes from the midfield with runners off of our back shoulder. They both ended up as goals. They also had other opportunities that were similar that didn’t come off for them.”

On Columbus tactics:

“They overload the midfield so we have to find a way to get pressure on the ball. If we turn the ball over then there is no pressure on the ball and then he can pick his head up and make those passes. Like I said, the forwards and the wingers are tricky enough to run off his shoulder and find that space. It’s dangerous.”

On missing players on the road:

“Every road game in this League is a difficult game. However, every road game is a winnable game if you’re playing right, if you’re turned on at the right moments. Today we weren’t.”

Chicago Fire Goalkeeper Sean Johnson

On new players in new positions:

“I think you can’t really come up with any excuses. You can’t really look to blame a different lineup or different person. We are all on the same team. We all train together on the pitch and prepare ourselves for match day. I think it’s down to what we do when we step on the field. We are more than capable of meshing together for 90 minutes and getting a result.”

On Higuain:

“Higuain is a class player. He’s not just been doing that for our game, he didn’t really come out of anywhere, he’s been doing it all season. We’ve got to do a better job of being aware of the kind of things he likes to do. He’s a crafty player, very good on the ball. I think just putting ourselves in better spots. It’s not any surprise to us that Higuain is capable of threading those passes and putting himself in those spots. It’s just up to us to deal with those things better.”

On goals:

“On the first one I put him out wide and I think it was still an angle where he had a difficult finish. It could’ve been saved, possibly. The second one was in no man’s land and I came out to close the angle and he did well to put it past me.”

COLUMBUS CREW SPORTING DIRECTOR AND HEAD COACH GREGG BERHALTER

On needing a win:

The starting point is it is always better to win then to lose or draw. We’re happy. I think we’ve been frustrated that we’ve been playing well and not getting the results. We’re still trying to focus on the product we’re creating and how we’re playing. It’s nice when you get results. From that standpoint were happy. I think it was a good effort. Obviously we’re missing some guys but we did a great job.

On Ethan Finlay’s first start of the season:

He was excellent. This game isn’t something that comes out of the blue. If we look at what he’s been doing these last couple of weeks, he’s been leading up to this. I’m most happy with the fact that he was a guy that isn’t a starter, he works his way to the 18, he works his way to the starting lineup, then he performs like this. You can see the progression and he makes other guys believe there’s a chance. He makes other guys believe that if they work hard and train hard that they will get an opportunity.

On defense:

Chicago hasn’t been shut-out yet this season I think that speaks for itself. The guys did it with determination. Guys like Eric [Gehrig], Tyson [Wahl], Hector [Jimenez]. I mean I thought Chad Barson was great as well with his defensive responsibilities. Steve Clark was very secure today. On crosses, he didn’t give up any rebounds today and that’s what you want from a goalkeeper. I think these guys really responded. You can see some of the guys that played last week and played again this week they are getting a rhythm and they are getting a lot more comfortable.

On Michael Parkhurst and importance of getting him in the game:

I think the fans were spectacular to give him that ovation and really cheer him on. He’s been through a lot these last couple of days and it’s nice for him to feel that everyone supports him. It’s the team, the fans and the community supports him. He had a tough session on Thursday, followed by a weight session followed by a red-eye across the country. It was too much for him, he wanted to play but I didn’t think it was worth the risk of an injury after all of that travel and training.

On replacing Federico Higuain:

You don’t replace Federico, simple as that. We get someone on the field that can play their game and we’re not going to ask someone to come in and play like Federico that would be foolish of us. We’re going to ask someone to come in and play to the best of their ability. I’m confident that we are going to be able to get that out of someone.

COLUMBUS CREW GOALKEEPER STEVE CLARK

On tonight’s game:

We had a fantastic game. We knew that there were a lot of players on this team that could play and Eric [Gehrig] obviously stepped up tonight. The thing about Eric is that he is a gamer, the whistle blows and we don’t have a problem.

On second shutout of the season:

For me it’s more important to win and I knew that if I continued to play the way that I play every game then shutouts are going to come and a lot of them. For me it’s about process not results all the time, especially in the goal keeping you have to keep your head and blinders on from distractions. Shut outs come and they go.

On Chicago’s playing before first goal:

You have to give credit to Ethan Finlay for figuring that out, he had a fantastic run. He is a very intelligent kid and a very intelligent soccer player. He spotted that and he was in behind.

On Crew’s teamwork tonight:

I think that our backline had a good game but I can’t tell you compared to their backline. We didn’t give them a goal and they gave up two but I thought that we played very well.

COLUMBUS CREW DEFENDER MICHAEL PARKHURST

On playing tonight:

It’s nice to be back home. It’s a few weeks earlier than I participated or that I wanted but it’s really good to be home. And it was a really nice motivation when I came on the field and I heard everybody. I was really appreciative of that and the support that everyone has given me here.

On the last 48 hours since being cut from the final U.S. Men’s National Team roster:

It’s tough. We didn’t know that the cuts were going to come in that day so no expectations there. It’s difficult of course, I just lost my dream. You have to bounce back and be professional. Now my whole propose is the Crew.

On leaving with his “best foot forward”:

Yeah I think so, I don’t think that there is anything else I could have done. I don’t think that there was anything negative that was on my part that made them not choose me. I think that’s just how it was set up.  It makes it a little easier for me to swallow knowing that I had done my best.

On moving on from the roster announcement:

Absolutely, it’s great to be back around the guys.  I wanted to come back here and get back to business as quick as possible to get my mind off of it.

23 May 8:38 am

The Fire head to Columbus on Saturday night (6:00pm on My50/TWCSC) looking to make it three wins in a row after laboring to earn a victory at home against Sporting KC last weekend. The Crew started well under new coach Gregg Berhalter but haven’t won in eight matches. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Another week, another weakened defense – taking advantage of the Crew’s makeshift back four

The Fire took full advantage of Sporting KC’s defensive absences last weekend and I expect the team to look to follow suit on Saturday night. Columbus will be missing two of their Costa Rican defenders, center back Giancarlo Gonzalez and left back Waylon Francis while Michael Parkhurst will return after being cut from the U.S. World Cup squad.

Last week, the Fire looked to put pressure on the KC back line and it worked very well, forcing two penalty kicks in the first 15 minutes of the match. I look for the Fire to be more consistent with the high pressure tactic instead of starting with it, then sitting back before taking it back up again.

Like last week, the Fire are catching Columbus at a good time and need to be ruthless. If the team had managed to pick up a third goal last week, the last twenty minutes or so wouldn’t have been as nerve wracking. If the team does manage to take a lead, looking to double it instead of sitting back and letting Columbus dictate should be the plan.

Both Quincy Amarikwa and Mike Magee found space in behind the KC defense last week and if they can be found again by the likes of Shipp and Joya, the Fire could certainly leave Columbus with three points.

Mass changes on the right? – Dealing with the possible injury losses of Nyarko and Palmer

The Fire’s injury report published late this week brought some unwelcome news in the form of injury to Patrick Nyarko and sickness for Lovel Palmer. The Fire’s starters in right midfield and defense could both miss out on Saturday which would be a big blow considering how well both played last week.

Palmer had been criticized by some for his defensive performances but he had a fine game against Sporting KC. Nyarko was also a standout player last week, both tracking back to help out Palmer defensively and helping to pressure the KC players off the ball.

With both players potentially missing this week, Coach Yallop has a tough decision on his hands. Matt Watson has had some time at right back this season when Palmer was suspended but Logan Pause or even the fit-again Steven Kinney could feature.

On the wing, Victor Pineda may get the start while Dilly Duka could also make the move from his usual left wing position. Duka replaced Nyarko last week and looked good in the attacking third, cutting in onto his favored left foot. If Duka does get the nod, I look for him to track back more and help out whoever our right-back is defensively.

The Fire outside defenders have been left isolated too often this season which is one of the reasons the team has given up 19 goals to date. With the possibility of two stalwarts in the Fire lineup missing, the Crew’s plan will be attack as often as possible down the Fire right so a strong defensive performance from Nyarko and Palmer’s replacements is imperative.

Keeping Higuain on a tight leash – not allowing the Argentine to create for the Crew

For me, Federico Higuain is probably the best creative midfielder in all of MLS. His vision, passing range and set piece deliveries are unique and he would improve any team in the league if he joined them.  

Like Magee, Higuain likes to drop deep to get the ball and is also very comfortable operating in the space between the opposition midfield and defense. He essentially has a free role with Columbus and covers quite a bit of ground, making him hard to track.

Last week’s 3-3 draw with Portland also highlighted Higuain’s scoring threat, chipping the 6’4” Donovan Ricketts from outside the area to earn the Crew a 3-3 draw. With six goals and three assists on the year, Higuain has been directly involved in 70% of the Crew’s 13 goals in 2014.

In matches this season, the Fire have generally done a good job keeping the opposing team’s most influential players quiet which is mostly down to stopping the person from getting the ball. Assistant coach C.J. Brown emphasized this point during the buildup to the Columbus match.

With this in mind, most of the burden will be on Jeff Larentowicz to try and keep Higuain under lock and key.

Prediction: A high scoring draw (2-2) with goals from Mike Magee and Harry Shipp

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

20 May 10:09 am

Coming off Harry Shipp's stunning hat trick display at New York, the halftime broadcast of Sunday's game vs. Sporting KC featured the seven hat tricks that have been recorded by Chicago Fire players in MLS Regular Season play.

Just in case you didn't set your DVR, check out all 21 of the historic goals below:

Who do you think will be the next Fire player to bag a hat trick? 

18 May 6:51 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On the Fire’s first win at Toyota Park this season

“Well obviously, last time I saw you guys, it wasn’t a pretty sight with the game we had before. But today, we come away with three points against a good side – it’s obviously the aim before the match. We got it done; we’re unbeaten in two games, which is always a good thing. We dug through and got the result that we needed. We should have shut them off with a couple of chances late in the game, but didn’t; and you have to give credit to Kansas City, they kept going, created some chances late with ten men. But it’s great to get that win; I feel good that we saw it through. But obviously, there’s room for improvement on any performance, and there’s no difference for this one.”

On the lack of shutouts

“We won the game, would have loved to get the shutout; winning is everything. If we win 3-2, 2-1, whatever it is, we’ll take it. Obviously, it’s nice defensively if we can get a shutout. But as you know, it wasn’t a defensive back four error; it was someone not picking up someone on a set play, so that’s a team thing. We’re working on stuff all the time; it’s brand new, with 10 games in, I’m happy with only losing two games in this league with a group that’s been put together a little bit. We’ve had our ups and downs; we should’ve won more games for sure. We had two home games that you saw had penalty kicks; we could be on four wins right now. It has me going, “well, that’s not bad,” so it’s give and take. I don’t get carried away with winning games; I don’t get carried away with losing or tying games. I think, right now, we’re in a good spot, we’ve got a chance to now get going. These next four games are tough; we’ve got a tough schedule, but it’s something that I’m looking forward to, to see and test the character of the boys. They’re up for the fight, and we saw this game through, which is important to me, so they’re going to feel good about it. We did the same in New York, no matter how the manner is. I got a little bit of gray hair; it could’ve been silver by the end of the game. But we got the win, and that’s all that matters at this point.”

On the revamped back line

“It’s pretty good; and again, it’s a work in progress the whole time, it’s a team defensive type of thing. I thought Patrick [Ianni] had a good, solid game again; Jhon [Kennedy Hurtado] again, I thought, was solid in the middle, the two outside backs at times. Kansas City moved the ball well; they get you overloaded at times, they pull you around. In general, they had a couple of good chances; but I thought we had the better chances, to be honest. Dilly [Duka] had a breakaway, Mike [Magee] had a chance to go around a keeper and slot it. I know it was a tough game late in the match, but we could’ve come away with four or five goals today. The way I’m trying to set the team up is to obviously try to outscore the opponent, and try to make sure that we’re going forward, but we’re just trying to be solid and defensively sound at the back. The balance at the moment is a little bit wavering; we’ve gone forward okay, but I think the defensive side of things is not quite right yet; and again, it’s not just the back four, it’s the whole thing. We watched a lot of DVD last week, we’re going to watch it again this week, and see if we can get the balance where we can just be in good spots. And I just think, as a team, we sat back a little bit again in this game. We have to slide up the field and keep the ball, especially against ten men.

On who is taking penalty kicks

“I actually had a chat with a few press guys a few weeks ago, and I decided Jeff [Larentowicz] was going to take them. But Mike [Magee] and Jeff were talking, and Jeff felt that Mike was the guy to do it. He missed the last two for us; last season [against Montreal], then the first one against Philly. To score two in the same game is tough, so you have to hand it to Mike that he stepped up and buried those two chances and won the match for us; it was great.”

On facing a 3-5-2 formation

“I have not seen that for a while, actually; that was old school MLS stuff, the 3-5-2. But looking at [Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes’] team, it was depleted a little bit at the back, so he decided to play that. It was a little bit different; for us, I’m sure where they’re going to play and who’s going to play, just make sure we’re ready to do it, and step the guys and do our thing. For a good seventy minutes, I felt we were comfortable, and then it got a little hair-raising at the end. But you have to hand it to Peter and his team, they’re a good side; they’re not champions for nothing. They proved it today; they really came up to fight, especially with 10 men.”

On the thought process behind the Fire’s double substitution

“I just thought the momentum was getting away from us a little bit, so I just decided that double is always good. One is not always the impact that you want, so I wanted to do two at the same time, and make two positions freshened up. All in all, I thought it was good; I think Logan [Pause] did a good job, and Dilly looked good when he came on. He has not played for a while, so it was good to get him some minutes and get him running around. All in all, you decide what you want to do; I talked to the coaches, but ultimately, it was my decision. I felt it was the time to do it.”

Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder

On not being able to score to put the game away:

“We want to, it’s not something we’re afraid of.  It’s just not happening.  We come close, we have opportunities, but they make the defensive plays and good saves, but it will come.  A win is a win and it’s good that we can be picky in this circumstance.”

Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper

On the defensive performance:

“We needed to learn how to control a game and we are.  I think tonight that the effort defensively was fantastic.  We limited shots, limited chances and there were not many shots on target at all.  I think we’ll look to build on that going forward, but I’m really happy with the performance tonight.

On the learning curve:

“I think we’ve learned a lot.  The most important thing we’ve learned is that we can’t sit back and wait for the game to come to us. No matter what the result is – regardless if we’re tied or we’re up we need to keep playing our game and be confident that we can dictate the way the game goes, close out games and get results.”

On building momentum:

“Back-to-back wins are huge for us.  Now we know what it feels like to win.  We know how to win and now it’s a matter of focusing on the little things and getting it right so that every game we give ourselves a chance to win and put ourselves in a position to go on and push for three points.”

Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward:

On the first win a home:

“We needed a win badly; however, if that’s how we’re going to win games, I probably only have a couple games left in my career. We’ll take it, it was deserved.  It was a very funky game, but we’ll take wins however we can get them at this point.”

On the end of the game:

“That’s kind of been our M.O.  We get up in games, play well in spurts then kind of take our foot off the gas.  That happened again tonight.  We created a couple chances, I even had a couple of good ones, but for whatever reason we’re letting teams hang in games, and teams like K.C. usually make you pay.”

Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire midfielder

On playing K.C. with missing starters and a man-up in the second half:

“The players they subbed in for them are still really good players.  A championship team isn’t 11 guys it’s 18 guys.  When you slide guys into the midfield and up front they are still going to be dangerous.  I think they were good keeping the ball in the attacking half, but once we were able to break that pressure we did a good job of slipping balls in – getting Quincy and Mike behind for some penalty calls in the first half.”

16 May 8:00 am

The Fire finally picked up three points last week in dramatic fashion with a 5-4 win over Red Bull in New Jersey and will look to make it two on the trot when they welcome defending MLS Cup champs Sporting Kansas City to Toyota Park on Sunday (2pm CT My50/TWCSC-WI/UniMas).

Sporting brings a depleted squad to Chicago but their first loss at home in some time at the hands of the Union on Wednesday night means they come to town with a bad taste in their mouth. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Taking advantage of a depleted SKC defense – testing the makeshift back line

On Sunday, Kansas City will take the field without either member of their famed center backs – Aurelien Collin (injury) and Matt Besler (international duty). Right back Chance Myers is also a doubt. On the outside, Seth Sinovic could be the only regular starter in the back four to play on Sunday while Brazilian Igor Julião had a solid debut in Wednesday’s match against Philly.

In the past, SKC have dealt with the loss of Besler due to national team commitments but losing both center backs is a large blow. SKC’s patched up defense must have Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa licking their lips. Last week we saw Harry Shipp play an absolutely brilliant defense-splitting pass to put Mike Magee in 1v1 with Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles.

Against SKC, Shipp and whoever plays in the center of midfield alongside Jeff Larentowicz should be looking to play those types of passes in behind the SKC defense to the onrushing Magee or Amarikwa.

Repeating last week’s second half tactic on Sunday – putting high pressure on SKC

Amarikwa described Frank Yallop’s tactical switch at halftime of the New York game the best. When asked, he said, “We came in at half time and knew we were sitting in too much. We were giving New York too much respect to play and we know we can score goals. That’s what we’ve done consistently this year. So, we said in the second half we’re just going to high press, what do we have to lose, and I think it really caught them off guard.”

The exact same tactic should be in place from the first whistle against SKC. In Wednesday’s match against the Union, Sporting gave up the ball on far too many occasions, many times with minimal pressure applied by the opposition. The Union sat back and used the counter attack to their advantage but for the Fire, forcing a new-look SKC into mistakes will be critical.

If Benji Joya gets the start again in the center of the park, I expect to see more from him in this regard. Joya is slowly but surely improving the defensive side of his game but against a team like SKC, I expect him to take a page out of the Dax McCarty playbook and not allow the SKC players any time on the ball.

Joya has the comfort of Jeff Larentowicz behind him so taking a few risks and pressing higher up the field could reap rewards

Providing more support to the outside backs – wing backs exposed again against NYRB last week

As I discussed last week, a lot of the problems for the Fire defensively stem from attacks coming from the wide areas. That was again the case against the Red Bulls in Saturday’s game. It was obvious that NYRB coach Mike Petke told his team to try and isolate Greg Cochrane on the left hand side. During the first half, the Red Bulls attacked almost exclusively down the Fire left. Cochrane certainly held his own but he lacked support from Harry Shipp who was playing in front of him.

On the other side, Lovel Palmer had a tough game in New York. The Red Bulls were again allowed space and time to put in crosses and it really hurt the Fire. Case in point being the Red Bulls first goal, where Eric Alexander was given yards of space to pick out a cross and he duly found the head of Tim Cahill, the best header of a ball in the league.

Against a team like Sporting KC, who put an emphasis on getting their full backs forward to support the outside attackers, the Fire need to try and minimize the amount of 1v1 situations between our outside backs and the SKC wide men.

Prediction: The Fire are hitting KC at the right time: 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: No cardiac arrest after 5-4 win in New York

14 May 9:35 am

We’ll probably never know what was said at halftime in the away locker room this weekend in Harrison, NJ. We won’t know if things were kicked or thrown, if team leaders screamed, or if, as is Frank Yallop’s style, calm orders were dispatched.  

What we do know, though, is that players after the game said they came out focused on putting more pressure on NYRB’s back line. And we know that whatever was said got the Fire refocused enough to turn around a 2-1 halftime score line, score four goals in 19 minutes and overcome a frustrating start to the season to get their first win.

But that talk will go down in the history of halftime talks because whether or not Yallop Al Pacino’d the squad, they came out re-pumped up to the point where Quincy Amarikwa was ready to do this:

Amarikwa was ready to throw his face in front of Luis Robles’s clearance if it meant continuing to pressure NYRB and continuing to build for the Fire the advantage they eventually, if not exactly calmly, rode to three points.

As much as I’d like to picture Yallop standing on chairs and screaming, there are other signs that point to a different kind of leadership at halftime. Look at Mike Magee here, barely five minutes into the second half, extolling the guys to push up and stay up. His eyes are popping out of his forehead!

One of the most competitive guys in the league, Magee could smell NYRB’s weakness after Amarikwa tied the game at 2-2. And Magee did his job after the Fire built their three goal cushion, helping through the midfield in the game’s dying moments to help the Fire fight off NYRB and finish off the win.

What all this points to is that whatever really went down at halftime, the orders were clearly to pressure NYRB’s back line and close out the game. The mistakes Magee, Amarikwa, Patrick Nyarko, and game hero Harry Shipp squeezed out of that back line were exactly what Yallop expected.

The true magic of the situation was that the orders were delivered in a way to convey a strategic, tactics-based message with enough emotional weight to overshadow the recent disappointments in the team’s mind. It led to eye-popping bodily sacrifice for the team. Everyone came together for the best 20 minute spell of the season, and it led to a deserved win.

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

13 May 8:56 am

Simon Borg's Instant Replay video series on MLSsoccer.com continues to be destination viewing. In this week's episode, Simon cites the updated FIFA Laws of the Game to explain why Harry Shipp's first goal on Saturday vs. New York stood despite offside shouts from just about everyone in Red Bull Arena.

He also looks at another play the Fire may have gained an advantage on...