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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!

10 April 8:38 am

After a heartbreaking draw against the Union last weekend, the Fire travel north to Montreal to face another side looking for a first win of the season Saturday (2:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The game has added spice with former coach Frank Klopas facing the Men in Red for the first time as opposition coach.

Here are a few tactical observations to keep in mind on Saturday.

Continued focus on the wing play - taking advantage of Shipp's positioning

In last Saturday’s match, Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup and impressed. On the other side of the field, Harry Shipp looks much more comfortable when he cuts inside, as opposed to hugging the touchline and taking on players.

Shipp's set piece play alone is worth a place in the starting eleven, but his ability to pick a pass is also a dangerous weapon. Shipp's tendency to drift inside also benefits the Fire for other reasons.

First, in the absence of a creative central midfielder, it’s not felt as much when the rookie comes central and occupies those positions. Against a team like Montreal that boasts an impressive attack, the use of two defensive-minded midfielders can be necessary (as I will explain in more detail later) but with Shipp filling the gap, the Fire don't lose much in an attacking sense.

Shipp's positioning also opens the door for Greg Cochrane to show his attacking talents from the left back position. Cochrane has fit seamlessly into the Fire back line and his excellent crossing ability has been on show in recent matches.

With the Impact's wide players like Mapp reluctant to track back on a consistent basis, the Fire could again benefit from attacking in the wide areas.

Continuing to win the ball high up the field - catching Montreal in transition

In the first half last week against New York, the Impact sliced through the Red Bull midfield as if they had three extra players on the pitch. Klopas emphasized transitioning the ball from defense to attack as quickly as possible and for most of the first half, that worked to devastating effect.

Montreal should've been well ahead at halftime but actually went into the break behind 2-1. The reason for this was because the Canadian team was caught trying to force the ball forward too quickly, resulting in turnovers, which the Red Bulls capitalized on twice in three minutes. I expect the Impact to try this tactic again on Saturday.

Players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa both like to hound the opposing team when they are in possession in their defensive third. The Fire's first goal last week was a perfect example of this, with Amarikwa nicking the ball from a defender before setting up Magee for an easy tap in.

If the Fire can force the Impact into turnovers high up the pitch, it could prove costly for the Canadian team.

Attempting to contain Montreal's fearsome attack - staying compact and limiting mental mistakes

Just when we thought an attack featuring Marco Di Vaio, an in-form Justin Mapp and Felipe was going to be a challenge, the Impact went out and acquired promising American youngster Jack McInerney.

This move could see the Impact change formation to a two striker statute with Di Vaio and Jack Mac up front or see McInerney play in one of the wide attacking roles behind the target striker. In any case, the fluidity of the Impact's attack will be a major challenge for the Fire to contend with on Saturday.

None of the Montreal attacking players stay static for long, with Felipe essentially having a free role in the hole, Di Vaio often pushing wide, and Mapp cutting inside with the ball at his feet on a regular basis. With this in mind, the Fire defense needs to stay organized and compact and not allow Montreal to drag players out of position.

This has not been a problem for the Fire this season, with most of the team’s nine goals against coming from lapses from set pieces. A clean sheet Saturday afternoon would be a massive achievement.

Prediction: The Fire score early and finish the game off late 2-0 with goals from Magee and Hurtado.

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

07 April 12:02 pm

Mike Magee (a great dancer) can redirect a cross like it's nobody's business.

In this edition of slow it down, Quincy Amarikwa (also a great dancer), picks Amobi Okugo's pocket with flying colors, runs the ball down the field and crosses to Magee... you know the rest.

Voice of the Fire Dan Kelly put it best by describing Magee's play on the goal as being like, "A shifty little feline after a seven hour nap." You may be confused after reading this, but I promise after you watch the video below, it should all make sense. (unlike the duo's dance moves)

Let's slow it down!

07 April 10:51 am

Mike Magee will tell you he should have had at least two goals on Saturday.

Whether it was finishing on that awkward back and forth play that saw him with an open look at goal while Sheanon Williams was down in the box in the 88th minute or the game-ending penalty and rebound save from Zach MacMath at the death, the fans and he himself feel like he should have had another.

And it's not necessarily easy to point that out about Magee but thankfully, he tweeted this yesterday:

So now that that's out of the way, it's worth noting something else: Mike Magee did open his 2014 Fire account off a great feed from Quincy Amarikwa in the 16th minute Saturday. That goal was a small milestone as it pushed Magee inside the Top 15 (actually tied for 14th place) on the club's all-time goal scoring list with Lubos Kubik and Cuauhtemoc Blanco at 16 (MLS Regular Season) and 19 (All Competitions) goals respectively. 

You took a pause real quick right there and realized that the Fire have only had 16 players hit those numbers over the course of 17 years. Now you realize that the club hasn't really had a consistent goal scorer over multiple seasons since the likes of Ante Razov, Josh Wolff and Damani Ralph came through. 

There's no doubt that Magee got to those odd milestones quicker than Blanco or Kubik but he also beats Razov, Wolff and Ralph to those numbers by a considerable margin...

The tables:

MLS Regular Season Goals - Fastest to 16

Player Years GP to 16 Goals Total Fire Goals
Mike Magee 2013-present 25 GP 16
Ante Razov 1998-04 33 GP 76
Josh Wolff 1998-02 35 GP 32
Damani Ralph 2003-04 35 GP 22
Brian McBride 2008-10 42 GP 18
Dominic Oduro 2011-12 42 GP 18
Hristo Stoitchkov 2000-02 44 GP 17
Dema Kovalenko 1999-02 49 GP 22
Chris Rolfe 2005-09; 2012-14 53 GP 48
Cuauhtemoc Blanco 2007-09 58 GP 16
Lubos Kubik 1998-00 68 GP 16
Nate Jaqua 2003-06 73 GP 21
Chad Barrett 2005-08 75 GP 18
Piotr Nowak 1998-02 77 GP 26
Marco Pappa 2008-12 87 GP 26
Jesse Marsch 1998-05 183 GP 19

Fire All Competitions Goals - Fastest to 19

Players Years GP to 19 Goals All Competitions Goals
Mike Magee 2013-present 29 GP 19
Josh Wolff 1998-2002 47 GP 39
Ante Razov 1998-2004 53 GP 95
Damani Ralph 2003-04 55 GP 28
Dema Kovalenko 1999-00 56 GP 34

So while you could probably go back in Magee's short Fire tenure (he hasn't even been here a calendar year) and point to a few more opportunities that would see his goal total even higher, he's still on a record scoring clip for the Fire. 

And Mike, keep your head up after that penalty kick save. We expect to see lots more of these celebrations this season: 

31 March 12:38 pm

If he had a super power what would it be? Which teammate would win American Idol? Who would play him in a movie?

It's all in this episode of Both Sides of the Badge with Chris Ritter presented by Quaker.