Blog

Player

19 October 11:03 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 1-0 win over Toronto FC.

CREDIT: Brian Kersey, Chicago Fire

18 October 8:38 am

With two massive road victories under their belt, the Fire play the final regular season game of 2013 at Toyota Park against Toronto FC on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports Wisconsin).

With six goals scored in the last two matches, the Men in Red are hitting form at the right time and know if results go their way, they could be guaranteed an MLS Cup Playoff spot by the final whistle. Toronto have nothing to play for but will be looking to play spoiler. Here are some tactical things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Keeping up the high pressure tactic – play a high line and get players into the TFC box

As I mentioned before, the Fire have scored six goals in the last two games. The closest to that tally in a previous two-game MLS span has been four goals. With that in mind, the Men in Red must try and get people into the box whenever possible against Toronto.

In many games this season, Toronto have not been undone by individual brilliance, but rather defensive errors. TFC coach Ryan Nelson, a former defender, must be disgusted by the amount of tap in goals his team has allowed with Sporting KC, Montreal and New York all scoring simple goals against Toronto and all stemming from defenders ball watching and not following their marks.

The Fire need to try and take advantage of this by getting more players from the midfield into the box to support assumed strikers Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangono. The high pressure tactic can be very beneficial to this, with players like Alex not allowing the defenders to have time and space on the ball. With the team playing a high line and not dropping deep, it will give players an opportunity to get forward and into the box faster.

The Rios conundrum – who to start in the center of midfield?

Arevalo Rios played two grueling matches for Uruguay over the past week, helping La Celeste qualify for the World Cup intercontinental playoff against Jordan.  

After playing 180 minutes for his country and only returning to Chicago on Thursday, it might be difficult for him to start in the middle for the Fire on Saturday night.

WATCH:  Magee, Berry talk Toronto FC

One reason that the coaching staff might decide to start Rios however is that Jeff Larentowicz is currently sitting on four yellow cards and one more against TFC would rule him out of the season finale at New York next Sunday.

Another option for the Men in Red could be to start Larentowicz and bring on Rios for the former New England man if the Fire are in a comfortable position.

That being said, as we have seen from the past two games, the high pressure tactic is effective regardless of who starts in the middle. 

Muzzling Bobby Convey – a danger on both wings

Bobby Convey is one of the few players to have a strong year for TFC and the Fire must not allow him to create chances for target striker Bright Dike. Convey is equally comfortable playing on either wing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started on the right where he would link up with improving right back Mark Bloom.

While Bakary Soumare has found form again in the last few matches after having a few horror moments previously, Gonzalo Segares is a player that will be looking to have a better performance against TFC.

In 1v1 situations, Sega is very difficult to beat but the problems start when players make runs in behind him. The Costa Rican can sometimes be caught too high up the field while other times he is forced to move inside to cover for one of the center backs. Both of these were highlighted in last weekend’s match against Dallas.

Against Toronto, I would also like to see the Fire’s outside midfielder track back and help out Segares more, especially if Bloom gets forward. A composed and compact performance by the Fire’s back four as a unit will give the team a very good chance of coming out of the game with three points and maybe even a guaranteed playoff spot.

Prediction: After having to endure a nervy end to last week’s match, the Fire make it easier on fans by winning 2-0 with goals from Alex and Mike Magee.

15 October 2:13 pm

Hey, look at that... For his vaillant performance en route to a win over FC Dallas, the folks over at MLSsoccer.com decided to make Mike Magee the #3 performer of the week!

And since we're on the subject of Mike Magee, we would like to subtly steer you in the direction to support him to be the MLS MVP. Check out the video below!

#MikeMageeMVP

15 October 12:06 pm

The Fire won back-to-back away games and scored six goals. They sit in a playoff position and control their own fate with two games remaining. Juan Luis Anangono is heating up. Mike Magee is so hot he’s scoring goals by accident. Sean Johnson is playing like, and being recognized as, one of the four or five best American goalies. Jeff Larentowicz is owning midfields. Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry are two of only three MLS players who’ve played every single minute so far this season and their defensive relationship is finally solidifying. There’s real depth on the outside and through the middle (where captain Logan Pause and summer standout Daniel Paladini are working to get past Alex and Arevalo Rios).

That’s the general view right now. The squad is playing up to their potential and the depth is supporting them. The competition for spots is pushing everyone harder, and the depth is allowing Frank Klopas to cover for injuries, international duty (Rios, Lindpere), or to go with the hotter player (Anangono over Chris Rolfe).

In other words, things are shaping up nicely. The general feeling is a good one, momentum is building, the Twitter trolls have returned to their caves, and it’s hard to fend off enticing thoughts like, you know those lower-seeded teams that barrel into the playoffs and scare everyone because they’re playing with momentum and confidence? What if the Fire can be that team?

All season long, the Fire’s major problem was consistency. They were infuriatingly inconsistent from game to game and, indeed, from half to half. Maybe it was a focus thing, maybe it was a changing personnel thing, who knows. But now the Fire are managing games better. They’re attacking straight from the beginning. They’re pressuring the ball all over the field. They’re getting crucial two-goal advantages and defending well enough to hold on to them.

We saw all that last week in D.C., where a super high defensive line pushed the Fire team way up the field to pressure United players into mistakes that led to chances and goals. We saw the same thing in Dallas on Saturday night. Alex, especially, was way up the field in the first half, never letting the Dallas players play the ball comfortable in their own half. (Magee, Anangono, Patrick Nyarko, and Dilly Duka deserve credit too.) How many shots did the Fire have at the top of the Dallas box in the first 30 minutes? It was harassment.

So just like in DC, a high defensive line and concentrated pressure led to a 2-0 first half lead. But just like in DC, we saw where it could be dangerous. We saw the team pay the price of so much early pressure, with Nyarko tweaking a hamstring and the rest of the team almost running out of gas late in the second half. We also saw how pushing too eagerly can be scary:

But I like this high pressure because it fits the moment, with the Fire desperately needing these results to make the playoffs. There are just two games left and the Fire have to prove their potentially newfound consistency beyond the past two away wins. They have to show the urgency and the commitment and the work rate into the next two games, too. Klopas's high risk and high pressure tactic fits. 

It's a great moment: After all the work and all the struggle, suddenly the players’ quality shines through. Suddenly everybody trusts each other. Goals and points happen. Anibaba scores a stunner. Other teams hit the posts. 

I don't know about predicting anything against Toronto and New York. But if we keep seeing the Fire play as they have these past two games, they'll get to play a few more.

13 October 12:45 am
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at FC Dallas
Toyota Stadium – Frisco, Texas
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
 
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas
 
General thoughts on the match…
 
“With games running out, we knew that this was a game that we needed to get three points.  It’s a good team with a lot of quality players, so we knew we had to play a very good game, stay compact, and defend well without the ball because of the team speed that they have.
 
At this point in the season, you want to be playing for something and we have to focus on looking at it one game at a time, but this was for sure a massive win against a very good team.”
 
On the goals the Fire gave up…
 
“I have to look again but there was two bad goals that went in. The first goal looked like offside to me and the second, Gonzalo Segares got the ball and the referee calls a PK. On the other end, Juan [Luis Anangono] beats the goalkeeper and goes down and the referee doesn’t call anything. The referees need to be consistent… Very consistent in games like this.”
 
On going into a defensive mode in the second half…
 
“Patrick Nyarko had an issue with the hamstring and we were forced to take Dilly Duka out. Patrick would have been our first sub had Dilly not gotten hurt. We were thinking 65 minutes would be good to bring Patrick out. We didn’t want to push him any more than that. Then Dilly gets hurt and now we end up losing Patrick for a longer amount of time… at a crucial time.
 
As the game went, it really dictated the subs that we had to make. We needed to strengthen the middle. The changes that FC Dallas made strengthened the middle and we needed to match that. We put guys in that were a little more defensive-minded and they were able to finish the game off.”
 
On the importance of Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire this season…
 
“His numbers are fantastic. We were having problems scoring when we got him and now we’re playing for something. It’s a really good time to be playing well.”
 
Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee
 
On his goal…
 
“I wasn’t even surprised. I didn’t see anything at all. I tried making a run to get in-behind and Alex hit a shot that was coming right at my face. I tried to protect myself and not get hit in the face. I felt it hit me, I want to say in the ribcage and when I looked up it was heading into the goal. I didn’t have any time to be surprised. It was the strangest goal I’ve scored.”
 
On Juan Luis Anangono’s goal…
 
“Juan is great in the air. He gets up well and his timing is great. We actually have begun to start looking for him more on set pieces. He did all he needed to do, which was just glance it towards goal. It was perfect. More importantly, he had a fabulous game tonight.”
 
On Jalil Anibaba’s goal…
 
“Not a knock on Jalil, but I don’t think anyone in Chicago was expecting him to do that tonight. He is a great defender, a great kid. If we have to have a guy in that spot… If we have a guy trying to bend one in to the far upper-90 it’s normally not going to be him. But thankfully, tonight it was him. I am glad it was because I don’t think anyone else would have been able to do it.”
 
On making a run towards playoffs…
 
“For the last two months, we’ve been hovering right around that red line. The big issue for us was getting over that hump. Now, we’ve put ourselves into a position with two matches left in the season that we control our own destiny. If anyone else outside of this locker room would have said that this is where were going to be at this point in the season, I think everyone would have called BS on them. We have always believed in ourselves. We’ve had some lows and some great performances and tonight was obviously one of the great ones.”
 
Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba
 
On his goal…
 
“At the time, I didn’t know how important it was going to be but I tried to get into a good spot and I tried to put the ball to the far post. I put it in a good spot and it went in.”
 
Talk about how the defense was able to tighten up in the final 10 minutes of the match to get the win…
 
“If you go back and watch the video, the way we closed out the game was not just a defensive effort. We had a lot of help from players higher up the field that killed off minutes and took a lot of time off the clock. That was what we needed. It is our job as a defensive unit to keep balls out of the back of the net but I thought the attackers did a very good job to help us finish off the game.
12 October 10:46 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 3-2 win over FC Dallas, presented by MiAllstate.

CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images

08 October 1:54 pm

 

The big stories of Friday night’s win at DC United have to be the Fire staying in the playoff hunt (now two points behind Philly for the East’s fifth and final spot) and Sean Johnson’s saves that helped procure an invaluable clean sheet. But a closer look finds a Fire team with an ignominious away record finally succeeding away from Toyota Park with the help of a new approach that could propel them into the playoffs: a high defensive line.
 
To get the qualifiers out of the way, yes, DCU was playing a little hungover after their incredible U.S. Open Cup win at Salt Lake on Tuesday night, and yes, they were playing some young guns. But these are professionals playing for their jobs and for their pride. With some better finishing they could have made this night super awkward.
But that said, the Fire managed to not only keep a clean sheet en route to a comfortable seeming 3-0 win, they did so with a super high defensive line. It had some hiccups but, like the Fire coaches have been clamoring for the past few weeks, they finally found themselves with an advantage of at least two goals. It gave them a little bit of emotional space to play in, a little bit of confidence, and those are the things that the Fire need to succeed away from home.
 
It’s important to acknowledge that the Fire’s three goals came for the most part against the run of play. DCU held a lot of possession, something the Fire are OK with, but they soaked up the pressure and hit DCU back efficiently, repeatedly, and without mercy, exactly what Frank Klopas envisioned for a tricky away game.
 
They did so by pushing Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry way up the field. Along with Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios scrambling in midfield, that scrunched the amount of space DCU’s midfielders had to play in. With less room to play, they were more likely to lose the ball gifted the Fire playmakers with chances here and there throughout the game. It was Patrick Nyarko stepping up in the sixth minute which led to Mike Magee’s shot that was saved by Joe Willis. The foul that led to the Fire’s second goal came after another giveaway gave the Fire possession in the 25th
 
With two more away games left, it’s enticing to think that this high line and high pressure approach is the Fire’s ticket to the playoffs, but we saw on Friday how the high line invites its own risks. Leaving so much space behind the defense means that balls between or around the defenders can pose serious threats to a backpedaling line. The best way to counter that is to constantly pressure the ball so that whoever’s on it never has the time to look up and find the pass behind the defenders. There was a 10 minute period after the Fire’s first two goals when DCU was creating chances and Klopas appeared on the bottom of the TV feed, screaming at his midfielders to apply more pressure on the ball.
 
 
It’s reassuring to see Klopas continually tweaking the tactics, even so late in the season, because we’ve seen that this team needs those sort of adjustments to continue gelling into this final phase. But considering his allegiance to the traditional 4-4-2, it’s also interesting to see Klopas take on the trendy defensive high line. It’s the high line that Pep Guardiola has rode at Barcelona and now Bayern Munich, and the Fire share with Guardiola’s teams the characteristic of being most dangerous on the counterattack, right after the high line wins the ball.
But with so much space behind the defenders, any mistake can be costly. A quick jaunt through tactics guru Michael Cox’s articles shows exactly how scary it can be. It’s a high risk sort of approach, one that requires the entire team defending as one unit, always pressuring the ball, always keeping neat straight lines in the back, and always having faith that your teammates are pressuring as hard as you are.
 
 
The Fire came out needing three points to stay in the playoff race and they managed to put a solid game together that was marked more by game management and efficiency than halftime adjustments and inconsistent focus. With just nine regular season points left to play for, it was refreshing, and much needed. The Fire will take those risks in the next three games. The only question is whether when Philly slip up, they can keep the focus and confidence and squeeze into the playoffs.

 

07 October 6:18 pm

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club and Fire Foundation are happy to support the Chicago Department of Public Health in encouraging residents to get a flu shot and stay healthy this winter. 

On Monday morning, Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares joined Dr. Bechara Choucair, CDPH Commissioner, and Anna Esquivel, CDPH RN, at the Little Village Community Council for a press event unveiling CDPH billboard, print and CTA flu shot awareness ads featuring Segares and other prominent Chicago sports figures including Mike Ditka, and Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles, both from the Chicago Sky.

Segares received his annual flu shot from CDPH Immunization Medical Director Julie Morita, M.D and the Department also administered free flu shots at the event for Little Village Community members. 

Gonzalo was interviewed by FOX 32 and Univision telling reporters that – "I’ve got to stay healthy for my long season, and I always get my shot once a year. It’s definitely encouraging for people to come over and get theirs."

Gonzalo wasn’t the only celebrity at the event as the Fire’s mascot Sparky also “received” his flu shot.

The annual shot is the best protection against influenza and we want all our fans to be safe, especially during the colder off season. Check out the photos for more and keep an eye out for the ads throughout Chicagoland!   

For more information on the flu vaccine, please click here.

04 October 11:43 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at D.C. United
RFK Stadium – Washington, D.C.
Friday, October 4, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the team’s approach to facing D.C. United and the home side’s high-energy display:
 
“For sure, that was to be expected. Winning the Open Cup is a great achievement and it doesn’t matter what their record is. They have a lot of quality players on their team and obviously coming off that, being at home, we knew it was going to be a difficult match. We had some chances early on. I think they did also, but we were able to finish out chances. I think that was the key in the game. I think, obviously, in the second half Sean made some big saves for us and I think we were smart towards the end to close the game off. We kept our shape really well, we were smart in possession, and we knew, as they were pushing, that there would be opportunities on the break. But we didn’t have to go every time. I think we needed to be on the ball a little bit more, but then again the third goal, obviously, it was great, but I just wanted to keep the ball. We were smart, we kept our shape, we didn’t get stretched out knowing that they had to push. I think when you keep a clean sheet and you put your chances away, you put yourself in a good position to win. We knew it was going to be a difficult match. It’s a quality team regardless of their record, plus coming off that final, you know? They put their emotions into it, and really, they were playing loose.”
 
On what he saw on Jeff Larentowicz’s goal
 
“Just some good ball movement, and obviously, the movement off the ball was the key. You get those chances and you put them away. But yeah, there was some good ball movement and some good off-the-ball movement, and I think the field was fantastic tonight. It made for a good game. You could move the ball quickly and stuff like that. It was a good combination, and guys were rewarded for their movement off the ball.”
 
On Mike Magee’s role on the night:
 
“I think that you need to find other guys. I think Mike, as a striker, I think one of his roles is to score. You give him two or three chances, you know he’s going to do that. But he’s also the guy where it really doesn’t matter. For him, he’d give up the 18 goals if that would mean we have four more wins for the team. That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s good because then, when you, with Juan and Quincy coming in with their ability and attitude, the movement off the ball creates a lot of space for our midfield players. And Mike is smart to find those guys. I think Jeff did a very good job joining in late and making late runs. A lot of times goals follow goals. When you’re on the road and get chances, you got to put them away and you need to be able to defend well and we did, and Sean came up with some big saves.”
 
On Sean Johnson’s performance:
 
“He played well. He made some key saves. We talked about our ability to close games out in the end and how we do it. We didn’t do a good job last week against Montreal. We had the lead up into the final ten minutes and we were pushing the game a little bit and we didn’t keep our shape as we were moving forward, it was almost like we were down 2-1. I thought we were smarter about this, the way we went about this game. We had the lead, and I think we pushed at the right moments, we took the risks at the right moments, but I always know that we kept numbers up in the back. It’s great when you win. D.C. United, like I said, has a lot of quality and it’s never easy for the players to come and play here.”
 
On the team’s mentality entering the final games of the regular season:
 
“We knew we had to win tonight. I saw that Montreal and Houston played tonight and Houston won that game, and there are a lot of matches tomorrow. We knew that this was a big game for us. We needed to get points. We’re playing four games—three on the road—and we need to find points to be there. It’s never easy. But it’s great that we got the three points here and you can watch the games a little bit more relaxed tomorrow.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On the team’s performance:
 
“We’re in the playoff race and we want to stay alive. I think last week we gave some points away. Every time we’ve gone on the road and had an opportunity to push ourselves further in the playoff race we haven’t done it but tonight we did it. D.C.’s a team coming off a big win and we wanted to make sure we came in and beat them.”
 
On his goal:
 
“Juan had the ball wide and took a couple guys on. I know that my job is to get in the box when I see a play develop. The ball came to me and I was able to finish it. Juan did all the work and I just kind of cleaned it up at the end.”
 
On the win affecting the team’s confidence in the playoff push:
 
“Yeah, it keeps us alive. I think we haven’t done well on the road this year. To score three goals is great, and to keep ourselves in it is all we could have asked. We get to play next week again in a game that means something. We all believe we can get into the playoffs but we have to make sure we do it when we have the opportunity.”
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire Goalkeeper
 
On his team’s start to the game:
 
“It took us a while to really get settled into the game. There was a very high level of play to the game for the first few minutes. It was tough—I’m not going to say it was an easy time. We definitely had to grind it out.”
 
On the effect of the result in the team’s playoff push:
 
“It’s huge. We got three points, and especially in this time of year when we’re fighting for a playoff spot. It’s massive no matter where you are—home or away. I think every point matters, and to come away with three points is a big task and everyone should be happy. Now we can get better and get ready for next week.”
03 October 10:49 am

As Chris Rolfe himself pointed out to Anthony Zilis recently, 2013 has been his worst year statistically with just four goals and one assist over 28 games this season. Still, teammates have backed him, with his contribution as a midfield sub in last Saturday's 2-2 draw specifically sticking out.

The mention of this being a poor statistical season combined with Mike Magee calling Rolfe a "great finisher" had me go back and nerd out on his body of work over the years. With 48 goals, Rolfe continues to be the club's second all-time scoring leader behind Ante Razov at 76.

The fact that Rolfe has now equaled the number of seasons Razov played made their shots to goal percentage an interesting and worthy comparison.

See the tables below...

Ante Razov
Years GP Goals Shots SOG Goals/Shots % Goals/SOG %
1998 30 10 88 41 11.36% 24.39%
1999 30 14 90 49 15.56% 28.57%
2000 24 18 127 63 14.17% 28.57%
2001 7 2 26 11 7.69% 18.18%
2002 25 14 115 56 12.17% 25%
2003 26 14 119 67 11.76% 20.9%
2004 13 4 52 25 7.69% 16%
TOTALS 155 76 617 312 12.32% 24.36%

 

Chris Rolfe
Years GP Goals Shots SOG Goals/Shots % Goals/SOG %
2005 29 8 61 32 13.11% 25%
2006 21 7 39 19 17.95% 36.84%
2007 19 6 38 19 15.79% 31.58%
2008 26 9 42 24 21.43% 37.5%
2009 28 6 62 26 9.68% 23.08%
2012 22 8 58 20 13.79% 40%
2013 28 4 66 18 6.06% 22.22%
TOTALS 173 48 366 158 13.11% 30.38%

Some Takeaways...

- Despite playing 18 matches more, Razov took 251 more shots and 153 more shots on goal than Rolfe. That might have to do with the fact that...

  • Rolfe has played a significant amount of his Fire career out on the wing  -and-
  • Razov was arguably surrounded by a stronger cast of attacking players (the league never had more than 12 teams when he was in Chicago)  -and-
  • Ante just shot a heck of a lot more than Chris

- To Magee's point, Rolfe is a stronger finisher over the course of his Fire career. Only once did Razov go above 15% conversion on his goals/shot ratio while Rolfe did it three times. Between 2006-08, the current Fire attacker also went above 31% on his Goals/SOG ratio and has never dipped below 20% in his career.

- While there isn't much difference in the pair's career goals/shots ratio (less than one percentage point), Rolfe's Goals/SOG ratio is noticeably higher, coming in at just over 30%.