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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

15 May 11:48 am

Wednesday night's Art of Futbol at Prairie Production Studio was another fantastic success. Check out some of the pieces as well as interviews from Gonzalo Segares, Benji Joya, Frank Yallop and Foundation Director Jessica Yavitz:

 

Check out select shots from the Art of Futbol 2014!

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.

10 May 10:48 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On the spirit of the team:

“It’s been good. I mean, you know, I think last week we had that same situation. We’re 5-2 up in this game and they nearly come back and tied it. We’re two-nil up at home and they come back and win it, [Real] Salt Lake last week. So, what I’d like to think is we’ve learned something from last week. We can only get as hairy as this, but [we’re] playing against a really good team. You can’t take away from that.”

On Harry Shipp:

“Great. Harry’s been playing really well. Each game he’s gotten better, and better, and better. I think just his passes with the one pass to Mike [Magee] when he just missed it, first half, to make it 2-1 I think, and they go down the other end and score. That pass, you know, he’s got that passing in as well as the finishing. I can’t say enough about Harry. He’s really working hard at his game, he looks like a real player, and I think he’s got a great chance at going all the way.”

On the importance of scoring the first goal:

“I always say, and I think there’s stats if you look at the stats, if you score first in our league it’s 83 percent, I think, you get a point or more. So, I think, you know, getting on the chart first is always a big thing. We’ve been a bit unlucky, to be honest. We’ve had two home games and we’ve had a penalty kick in the last minute of the game to win it and missed them both. So, we could’ve been on three wins, four wins, you know, maybe two wins, or whatever and we’re not stuck talking about it now. What I like about the group, you know, they’re really celebrating now because they deserve it, you know, we’ve deserved more that we’ve got. They have not dropped their heads, come to a really difficult place to play, and get a result, and score five goals, which is amazing really, in any game, not just coming to New York and doing it. I’m really proud of the guys the way they hung in there at the end, Sean [Johnson] made two great saves, and we preserved the win.”

Chicago Fire Forward Quincy Amarikwa

On the match:

“I think overall we showed a lot of fight. We came on the road, I think a lot of people, especially the analysts, didn’t think we could come out here and get the road win. I’m glad we were able to prove them wrong.”

On the second half:

“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. We put away the number of goals we needed to get the win tonight.”

On the importance of getting the first win of the season:

“I think it’s a pretty big relief, you know, we’ve kept the morale high this entire time. We’ve known we’re capable of winning. I mean a lot of games came down, I think there’s two games that came down to PK’s that we just weren’t lucky on. It was nice to have a little bit of luck go our way today and I just think it’s what’s more to come. We know we can win and we just proved it tonight and we’re going to continue on with the rest of the season.”

Chicago Fire Midfielder Harry Shipp

On the match:

“Yeah I’m honestly just happy to get the first win for this team. I think over the past four or five games, or so, we’ve had some heartbreaking ties and losses giving up late goals, especially last week. So, I think just hanging on for the win, I think New York’s a good team, they were going to get back in the game, you kind of knew that, but just kind of some last ditch defending helped us in the last 10 minutes or so. I’m just happy, if I score three goals and we don’t win the game it doesn’t really matter. So, that’s what’s important.” 

On his game:

“Yeah I think especially in the second half. I think I was finding spaces in the first half and played a ball to Mike [Magee], scored one goal, but I think we kind of knew going into half time, I think we knew we could exploit those spaces even more underneath, me coming inside off the left and so I think we really started pressing higher in the second half, trying to win the ball off their back four, which is how I got my second goal, or third goal was taking it off of them. So yeah, I think the first, especially 30 minutes of the second half were really good.”

On play of the team:

“Yeah it was surprisingly upbeat. You know, I think we played well for those first 70 minutes or so and then I think we collapsed down the stretch, but we know if we could take those 70 minutes and turn it into 90 minutes we have a chance to win every game and I think we’ve been playing well the prior three, four games before that and that was just a lapse of 20 minutes, like I said. But yeah, I think everyone was hungry in training, everyone was feisty trying to get after it, trying to get a spot in the [starting] 11, and I think, you know, it showed this game.”

08 May 11:15 am

Last Saturday’s injury time loss to RSL prolonged the Fire’s misery for another week as the team continues to search for their first win on the season.  It doesn’t get any easier this weekend, when the Men in Red travel to Red Bull Arena to face New York on Saturday evening (5:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The Red Bulls have yet to really hit the ground running the season and will be looking to repeat the drubbing of the Fire in the last regular season game of 2013.

Here are some tactical observations to look out for on Saturday evening.

A potential shakeup in the back? A return for Segares likely but other changes possible

Frank Yallop didn’t have positive things to say about his team’s defending for the last 20+ minutes against RSL as and I expect him to make one or more changes to the back four for Saturday’s game. With Gonzalo Segares making the 18 last Saturday, one potential switch is at left back in place of Greg Cochrane.

Cochrane’s attacking ability has been a highlight during his stint in the starting eleven but he was caught out defensively on more than one occasion during the last 20 minutes against RSL. From a purely tactical perspective, the return of Segares would boost the Fire’s aerial defending prowess, especially against threats such as Tim Cahill.

A few weeks ago, Frank Yallop spoke about the need to get Patrick Ianni game time with both Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare in the team’s reserve game vs. Charlotte, in the case he may need to be utilized in a future match.

 Some of the mental mistakes made by Soumare last season have crept back into his play of late and this could result in Ianni getting a run Saturday vs. Red Bull. a

New York have scored the most goals in the East this season and the Fire cannot afford to make any more mental mistakes especially against a team boasting the Conference’s top goal scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry, the Fire’s arch nemesis  over the past few seasons.

What to do up front? – Will Amarikwa or Anangono partner Magee up front?

In a game where it was imperative that he put in a solid performance, Juan Luis Anangono gave a good shift against RSL last week, picking up a goal and linking well at times with Mike Magee. His competition for a starting spot on Saturday evening is the returning top goal scorer Quincy Amarikwa who missed the match due to red card suspension.

Tactically, there are arguments to be made for both players to get the nod. Amarikwa’s constant high pressure on the opposition’s backline would be welcome against a New York team who continue to be weak defensively in the wide areas.

Quincy is also the more ideal player to have in 1v1 situations, especially if the Fire can get him against one of the Red Bull center backs. In the middle, Jamison Olave has lost a step of pace from his days in Salt Lake and his partner Armando has yet to settle fully into MLS.

Anangono’s size is an important factor to consider, both in the attack, and defensively where he would be useful for set pieces. It is also important for the Fire to start being smarter in possession, especially holding the ball up in the attack.

Anangono has been a mixed bag in this regard so far this season but if he is given his second start in a row, I expect to see an emphasis on this tactic on Saturday night.

Monitoring Lloyd Sam – Stepping out and pressuring the Red Bull winger

Just looking at Lloyd Sam’s four assists this season gives you a good indication into the threat the Englishman poses. From his wide right position, Sam’s crossing is extremely accurate. Not only does he put himself into good wide positions, his ability to still put in a cross while under pressure from a defender makes him even more dangerous. Another problem with the Fire’s late game collapse last week was the lack of urgency by the team’s outside midfielders and defenders to close down the RSL wide players resulting in free crosses.

In Saturday’s game, the Fire must not allow Sam to get similar amounts of space granted to RSL. Stifling Sam will also cut the supply to Wright-Phillips and Henry.

Prediction: If I predict we will win, the team will end up with a tie so I’m going with a 2-2 tie with goals from Quincy Amarikwa and Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: The Centerback

01 May 3:26 pm

Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle talk all things Harry Shipp and break down his rookie season.

19 April 6:02 pm

Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
 
On where the team needs to go from here
 
“Tough one. Déjà vu from the last home game we had. Should have four more points than we’ve got. The team kept going, fighting and that’s good. It feels empty because of the way we have put a lot of effort into the games we’ve had and you don’t get rewarded for it. I think we’ve played pretty well, created some good chances today, had another chance in the last dying seconds to win it and we didn’t. We deserved to win. We had some good performances today. Overall, I can’t fault the guys for effort.“
 
On quality of penalty and Mike Magee not taking it
 
“It wasn’t a good penalty kick. Mike missed his last one. Jeff scored a penalty this season. I’m 50 yards away, I can scream whatever I want, it’s up to them to sort it out and who’s taking it, and they decided Juan is taking it”
 
On the referee and Quincy Amarikwa’s second yellow card
 
“Didn’t touch him. It’s maybe a foul on Quincy, he’s not diving. He gets run into and he goes down. I can’t comment on the referee, but he’s wasn’t good. He missed some plays that were important in this match.”
 
On the morale of the team
 
“Nope, It’s fine. We know we should have won two more games, maybe three, but we haven’t. It’s not like we have fumbled through the game. I thought we played well today. I thought we played well, we dominated. They had some spells, they’re a good team. But you look at the chances and stuff that we did, it’s just disappointing that we don’t have a win.”
 
On the missing piece to get over that hump
 
“The missing piece is ice-cold finishing in the last seconds of a game. Away from home it’s difficult to win matches, but at home you got to win. That’s how you get your points and do well on the year. We’ve had two games, and there is no time left on the clock, and we have a penalty kick. The players know that it is important to score that. It’s just a shame we haven’t gotten the points for the performances we’ve had. It’s a long season, but you can’t keep falling behind the guys ahead of you.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire defender
 
On the result, missing two penalty kicks at the end of games:
 
“It was bizarre - to see that once is tough, but twice is even worse. It is tough to take.”
 
On Anangono taking the penalty kick:
 
“Juan stepped up and grabbed the ball, and that’s just what happened.  As the captain and the one who’s made a penalty this year I should have been the one to take the penalty but I didn’t – that’s on me, not on Juan.”
 
On the second yellow on Amarikwa:
 
“I’m not going to comment on referee decisions.  In the end, it’s a red card and it’s something we’ll have to deal with.  Quincy has been outstanding for us.  It’s going to be a shame to have to miss him the next game, but we’ll move on.”
 
On not getting a result:
 
“The last three games we’ve certainly been the better team – Philadelphia, Montreal and tonight.  I don’t think that tonight the other team really wanted to win from the start.  They were slowing the game down in the first half and got fortunate on the penalty call.  I think it was a penalty because Patrick [Nyarko] clipped him, they got the goal they wanted and they slowed down.  In the run of play, outside the last couple of minutes when we were pushing forward, I’m not sure they get a shot on goal from open play.  All-in-all it’s more of the same, but if we can get wins going forward it will be ok.”
 
On the string of draws:
 
“We feel like we’re playing so well at the start of the year and the build-up of points we feel should have makes the draws tough to take.  Again, the way the next game goes – up or down will say a lot.  If we win we’re unbeaten with a win.  If not, things look a little differently.  Everyone needs to stay positive and keep pushing.  The good thing is that we’ve been the better team the last three games.”
 
On the play of Harry Shipp:
 
“Harry has been outstanding. If I had to say two guys that have pulled us through the first seven games, it’s definitely been Harry and Quincy.  As soon I, and I’m sure the coaches, saw him we knew he was going to do something for us this year, and he has, and needs to continue.”
 
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire forward
 
On foul that led to his second yellow card:
 
“Clearly I don’t think it was a foul, but it’s not my decision to make so what can you do?”
 
On his goal:
 
“The ball came back to Harry, I had space in the middle, pointed and he put the ball right where I wanted him to. I took my first touch into the box, put a bit of my body on Farrell, saw that the keeper’s legs were open and put the ball between his legs and that was that.”
 
On the result:
 
“It’s disappointing to not come away with three points, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to win games.  Juan puts that PK in and it’s a different outlook.  As long as we’re coming away with points we’re carrying this confidence into future games and it’s just a matter of time before we’re coming away with some wins.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire forward
 
On his performance:
 
“Since I got suspended, I had a week to reevaluate my game, I was struggling physically and that red card at the game in Portland affected me mentally.  I decided to get back to basics and just play my game.  I think it’s been ok so far during the past three weeks but I’m still not happy because we’re not getting the wins.  I hope to keep playing the same, getting better and that we get the win soon.”
 
On draws at home:
 
“It’s been extremely frustrating, especially since we’re dominating teams, we’re out playing teams and creating the best chances and we’re not getting wins – that’s the most frustrating part.  I keep telling the guys that if we keep playing like this we’re not going to lose a lot of games and the tide is not always going to go against us like this.  We just need to keep pushing and sustain that until the end of the game.  We need to buckle down, even though we’re frustrated, and the wins will come.”
 
On how this year’s start compares to last year’s start:
 
“It feels differently this year because we are dominating teams.  The last three weeks we feel like we deserved victories, judging from the fact that we that we’ve had possession and have created more chances than the other team – that’s been the most frustrating part.  We know we can play the soccer, now it’s just how to find the victories – that’s the test for us right now.”
 
On the bye next week:
 
“We wish we were still playing just because we need to build momentum.  The week off breaks that up, but guys are experienced and we know what we’re doing right and will continued that stride when we play again.”

17 April 10:27 am

MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle and break down the Fire's match vs. the Revs.

15 April 8:05 am

It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.

In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.

After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”

It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.

You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.

The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.

And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”

That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.

Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.

This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.

It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.

What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own. 

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

14 April 12:33 pm

#QuincyTime continued to take on a life of its own on this weekend when Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa scored the 54th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Montreal on Saturday.

With the goal, Amarikwa has already equaled his total for the whole of 2013 just six matches into this season and has been involved in a goal in five of those games.  Just to take it one further, Amarikwa has five goals and one assist in his last eight Fire appearances dating back to October 4 last season.

He started only five of those games.

So while the Fire are still winless in six matches (but unbeaten in five), Amarikwa seems to be the revelation early on this season. With the Fire having given up seven goals from dead ball sequences before Saturday, it was nice to see Amarikwa bury a set piece second ball for the Fire for a change.

One more look…

And for the second time this season, Quincy brought out the #cf97NaeNae to celebrate…

An MLS journeyman who's calling card has been coming off the bench, Amarikwa scored just four goals in his first 67 MLS matches but with six goals in the last year, he's already doubled his career goal total in 20 games with the Fire. As he continues to show efficiency on the field, I posed this question on Twitter Saturday…

What do you think are the reasons for Amarikwa’s turnaround with the Fire? Will he become the eighth Fire player to hit double-digit goals by year’s end? Give me your thoughts below!