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23 August 7:09 am

 

After a morale sapping 2-0 loss in New England last week, the Fire need to pick themselves up for the visit of Eastern Conference table toppers Sporting KC Friday night. There has been no love lost between the sides over the past few seasons and this one promises to be no different. Here are few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Changes to the Fire defense – who will replace Bakary Soumare

Since the return of Bakary Soumare, the Fire’s starting back four has remained virtually unchanged despite some less than stellar performances. Soumare’s suspension forces Frank Klopas into making a tough decision.

The two most likely options are moving Jalil Anibaba into the middle and replacing him with Logan Pause/Wells Thompson/Mike Videra or keeping Jalil at right back and drafting Hunter Jumper into the middle.

The latter seems the more likely choice, especially considering Jumper’s height and the coaching staff’s desire to play big men against Sporting KC in the past. Jumper has had limited playing time this season (just one appearance so far) and will need to adjust to a SKC team who started off so well at Toyota Park last time out.

A strong start and scoring first will be a huge boost to the Fire psychologically.

How to break SKC down – target the outside defenders

Kansas City have the second best defensive record in the East thanks in part to a brilliant goalkeeper and rock solid central defense pairing but it’s on the outside of the defensive four that some cracks appear.

In SKC’s recent loss against New York, more than one of the goals scored by the Red Bulls came from getting in behind the defense. With players like Mike Magee, who is so good at making runs, the Fire need to be trying to play through balls as much as possible Friday night.

Getting into 1v1 situations with the SKC outside backs is another good tactic. Joel Lindpere has made no secret of his desire to play in the middle and not on the wing, where he feels that his lack of place and ability to take a man on are on show.

With that in mind, switching Alex to the wing is a good option. With Alex and Dilly Duka on the wings, the SKC outside defenders would certainly be on the back foot for most of the night.

SKC wing play – don’t allow easy crosses

Just as the Fire should be looking to attack down the wings, the Men in Red must also be wary of SKC’s wide play. Normally, SKC rely on U.S. international Graham Zusi to create from midfield but in his absence, more emphasis has been put on getting the ball wide and putting crosses into the box for Bieler, Kamara and Saad.

In Sporting’s last match against New England, this tactic worked to perfection, with the first two goals of the night coming from crosses. New England allowed the SKC players far too much room to pick people out with crosses.

The Fire must be quicker to close Kansas City down, especially when they get the ball into the wide areas. It is expected that Zusi will be back in the starting lineup tonight but his presence should not distract the Fire from concentrating, not allowing Sporting players time on the ball.

Prediction: It’s a must win for the Fire and I expect them to come out on top: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee.

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

19 August 12:28 pm

Call it Fire 2.0 version 2.a. After the Bakary Soumare/Mike Magee stage of the season (the super hot June, Fire 2.0, back in the playoff race) the closing of the transfer window earlier this month saw two more players - Juan Luis Anangono and Arevalo Rios - come in and now we’re seeing another shift in the team.

New players came just in time too, because injury and fatigue start to necessitate rotation around this time in August. Last week against Montreal, Frank Klopas switched up his tactics to accommodate his newfound depth. The finishing and creativity of Magee and Patrick Nyarko were replaced by the industry and hold up play of Alex and Anangono, in a sort of fusion 4-5-1/4-4-2. That set up worked in part because Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause established a base of control and support in the midfield the whole team could build off, and also because of the way the outside midfielders got forward, Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere scored both goals.

On Saturday night in New England, Klopas went back to his trusted 4-4-2 and plugged in new Uruguayan signing Rios alongside Larentowicz in Alex’s former spot in the center of midfield. In his first MLS game, on turf to boot, Rios showed what we’re getting by breaking up play all over the place and springing a few counter attacks. You can see what Klopas is thinking: Always pushing the team to counter swiftly after winning the ball, Klopas must be licking his lips at the idea of Rios looming around and sending Duka, Magee, Angonono, Amarikwa, and Nyarko off into space behind opposing defenses. This ball didn’t turn into anything, but look at how quickly the Fire can forward with Rios:

But Saturday night the Fire lacked a little bit of rhythm and cohesion and it was clear that Rios and Larentowicz - having trained together, what, three days at most - have some work to do to provide the base of control and support that Larentowicz and Pause provided last week, or the balance of control and distribution that Larentowicz and Alex had during the Fire’s turn-around in June/July.

It’s tempting to think that unlocking the code of the center midfield (Laurentowitz/Pause vs. Laurentowitz/Alex vs. Laurentowitz/Rios vs. something else) will unlock the rest of the Fire season. That’s probably psychological game playing, because as off-rhythm as it may have looked on Saturday, if Magee’s shot off the post in the first half is an inch or two right, or if Duka reads Magee’s pass in the second half, the center midfield issues may well have been buried under more stories of Magee’s magical season.

Credit to New England, too, who played deep and didn’t let Anangono get behind them as much as he’d have liked. But the Fire need a plan for teams that play deep. How will they break them down? On Saturday, the Fire couldn’t adjust offensively, and after taking out Duka and Lindpere, they never had the width or chances they created against Montreal.

All year we’ve loved to break up the season into pieces. There was Fire 1.0, Magee’s Fire 2.0, and now the current iteration. I think we’ve been conceptualizing the season in pieces because we want to see the Fire’s poorer displays as merely symptoms of an old version of the Fire, not a sign of what’s to come. The bugs have been fixed, we want to think, and when we see a run of bad form followed by some good games, we say “thank God, ok, we’re past that”.

We know the Fire have the quality to get into the playoffs but then a game like New England comes and they drop points against a playoff challenger. The psychological game we play to convince ourselves that the best is yet to come gets tougher. And all year, for every step the Fire take forward, they take another one back, only to get up and quickly go forward again.

But the season won’t be decided by one game. The Fire have to regroup and figure out how to accommodate all the new players, get the rest of the team healthy, and push into the playoff race. Fans and commentators have argued all season about which is the real 2013, is it the one that beat Montreal last week or the one that lost to New England on Saturday?

I think the bipolar character of this team might be exactly where its strength comes from, and I saw enough on Saturday to suggest that, yes, the best is still to come. So let’s stick with “Fire 2.0v2a.” Next week it’ll probably be something completely different.

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

19 August 11:54 am

Over the weekend, Chicago Fire Season Ticket Holders began receiving #FIREUP renewal packets in the mail regarding 2014 Season Tickets. Chicago-Fire.com did a Q&A with Vice President of Ticket Sales, Service and Operations Mike Ernst to explain the philosophy behind some of the changes to the club's Season Ticket packages next season.

Chicago-Fire.com: Why is there a reduction from a 20 tickets to 18 tickets in the Season Ticket Holder packages?

Mike Ernst: Having discussed the potential move in the past, there are a couple of reasons we decided to make the switch this year.

First, we have seen over the course of the past several years that the Bonus Games were not always popular with our Season Ticket Holders. When we had a match against a big-name team like Manchester United, people were extremely happy, but if the game(s) were against a perceived lesser opponent, people were not as interested and were less likely to attend. 

I think this stems from the fact that the games are exhibitions in nature and often times the regular starters did not play due to the competition calendar. 

As a Club, we have tried to do our best to balance making sure the First Team is rested and has a competitive advantage in games that count (MLS Regular Season & U.S. Open Cup) while also putting on exhibitions that attract new, prospective fans.  

C-F.com: Does the exclusion of Bonus Matches from this year’s season ticket packages mean the Fire won’t be hosting international friendlies next year?

ME: Far from it, exhibitions against international opponents will continue to be a focus for our Club going forward and  we will give Season Ticket Holders the chance to purchase their tickets for any of these games before the general public. In addition, Season Ticket Holders will be able to purchase these tickets at a significant savings off the face value. 

These matches give us the opportunity to raise the profile of our Club with the opponent’s fan base and the broader general public. The goal of hosting these matches is to attract local fans of another Club to a Fire game with the aim of converting them to supporting their local Club. 

It is critical for the continued growth of our Club to recruit new fans and then convert them  to Season Ticket Holders over time.

C-F.com: Why has the Club shifted course on U.S. Open Cup games with the offering of the U.S. Open Cup Series Ticket? What does that mean?

ME: The U.S. Open Cup Series ticket will be the 18th game in the season ticket package. That ticket (and parking if applicable) will be good for up to three games if the Fire host the 3rd Round, 4th Round and Quarterfinal at home. 

This change is the next step in ownership’s commitment to contend for the U.S. Open Cup on an annual basis. In the past, we have and have not included U.S. Open Cup games in our season ticket package. We feel it is important to take this step, so that we give the guys on the field the best possible competitive advantage. 

In the event that we do not host a U.S. Open Cup game at home, the Series ticket will be good for exchange to another MLS regular season home match.

C-F.comWhat benefits are changing for Season Ticket Holders in 2014?

ME: The Club is committed to providing Fire fans with the best season ticket benefits in Chicago. In 2014, we will continue to offer free parking/$6 parking where applicable, the same exchange program to help you avoid wasting tickets, and a 20% off savings on merchandise at the TOYOTA PARK team store and online. In addition, it is important to note that we are not raising the price of tickets on a per-game basis.

Our goal is to continue to grow the season ticket base, so that we put the Club in a situation to sellout every match at TOYOTA PARK and thereby provide the team on the pitch with a home-field advantage. While that will not happen overnight, we believe that providing all Fire fans with an affordable and flexible season ticket option is critical to achieving our goal.  

C-F.comWhen can Season Ticket Holders expect to receive tickets for 2014?

We are expecting the 2014 season to begin sometime in early to mid-March, so we are aiming to have Season Tickets out by mid-February. It is important to us to make sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible. 

In addition, we are still looking at options on how Season Tickets will be formatted for next year. There will be more information on that in the coming months. 

17 August 9:23 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, Mass. – August 17, 2013
 
Chicago Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich
 
“I think that as it wore on, [the Revs] found a goal – a long ball, pulled apart in the back – and Juan (Agudelo) made a good play out of it. I need to watch the replay to see if it went over the line. It’s a tough one and they call it, so now we’re chasing the game. It was a little helter-skelter in the end and they get a second one. We hit a post early. Mike (Magee) was in later in the game and speared one to Dilly (Duka) and we just couldn’t tap it in. We had our looks and it’s a tough place to play. At the end of the day, things just didn’t go our way.
 
Any time you bring new guys in, it takes some time. So I think is just a matter of getting to know each other and familiarity and all that type of stuff.
 
We’ll brush it off. There are 11 more games and you can’t get tied up in one game. It’s just unfortunate with the events that happened. It’s silly in some ways, but what are you going to do?
 
I don’t know what happened after the game and like I said earlier, I just don’t think non-players should be making comments to players on the field if that’s the case. I don’t know what I happened from there. It’s not for me to judge that. But I guess the referee judged it. So, it is what it is.  It’s unfortunate, and we’ll more on, brush ourselves off and get ready for the next game.”
 
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson
 
“I thought they finished their opportunities, plain and simple. I thought it was a hard-fought game; (we) just ended up on the wrong side of the result.
 
You saw it, we lost. What more do you want me to say? Push and score a goal. It happens.”
 
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
 
“It was difficult. I think that the second half for us was a bit better. We were able to pressure more in the midfield. In the first half they had a lot of time. But that said, I don’t think they had a lot of chances in the first half. I think that as the game got stretched, as we pushed more guys forward, they got a second goal. For us it was a tough game, but we try and move forward.
 
It was tough. This was a big game. We were sitting right on top of the Revs before the game and now they leapfrog over us, so we’re hoping to continue to push to get into that playoff spot. We’re getting to a point in the year where they are running out of games. So whether it’s at home or on the road, we want to get points and tonight we let this one slip.
 
It’s always fun [playing against your former team.] You get to see familiar faces and play in the old stadium, but that all kind of goes out the window once the whistle blows and things get going. After the game you shake hands. It was good. I would have liked to have won, but that’s what happens.”
 
New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps
 
“I thought it was a pretty hard-fought match, but we came out with the right mentality. We certainly changed the lineup from our last couple games. I thought the guys that got in tonight did an excellent job.
 
It’s a little bit feel, it’s a little bit going over a lot of film and just seeing where we might need an uptick in certain areas. I thought Matt (Reis) has been training really well and pushing Bobby (Shuttleworth) and Bobby’s played great all year. It’s a great little competition, but sometimes when guys are pushing in training – to reward and give an opportunity, I thought Matt earned it.
 
With Juan (Agudelo) coming back – he wanted to come back last week, but we had to listen to our medical staff because he had a knee injury and we wanted to be smart. For me, Juan has a really good presence up there. He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous when he holds it. It’s not just holding it to play it; it’s holding it to get people in and then giving it up. So for me, he gives players like Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn (Rowe) a little bit more time to find the gaps, and Diego (Fagundez) as well. When you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.
 
I think it was the effort from everybody. We were closing down on every opportunity and that’s exactly what we need as a constant. I think when we do that, from Lee to Kelyn to Scott (Caldwell) to Diego when he’s there in there. And Saer (Sene) came in and Chad (Barrett), and when we can limit them, there’s just a little bit more urgency we do a lot better. Then again, I thought A.J. (Soares) did a nice job coming in and was very vocal in training all week and very vocal on the field and we need that.
 
We needed a win. Last week, we were really disappointed with the way the game went from top to bottom. We were really disappointed with (the loss) to Toronto as well, because we played decent enough to do something in that game. But we didn’t and that was a real kick to our psyche. We needed to rebound. I thought tonight after another loss, you really start asking a lot of guys, and tonight the energy was there. Right from the opening whistle, I felt really good about our chances.
 
To be honest with you I don’t know (what happened after the final whistle). I’ll need to go back and look on film. I know that there were red cards shown to (Bakary) Soumare and Saer Sene. I don’t know what exactly transpired to lead that. It’s two teams going at it and we’ll see it on film, but there was definitely a lot of emotion.
 
It’s funny, we talked a lot about (shutting Mike Magee down) and he still got a shot. That’s how he gets chances. It was a shot deflection and he’s just so elusive inside the box, you just can’t get too close to him. So, for us we talked a lot about where he arrives. He likes to drift, he finds the gaps – he’s really good at that. If we can keep an eye on him, that was the best – I think we did much better in the second half actually, to communicate every step he made. He’d start wide and drift in and go long, so as long as (Andrew) Farrell was communicating that pass on to A.J., it worked well. In the first half, it was a little bit of a breakdown, because Farrell had to come over all the way and he almost had his chance. But that’s what Mike Magee’s been doing. He’s just been lethal when he gets a yard of space and that’s hard to defend.
 
Not much (was different to create chances in the second half.) For me, we talk about possession and where you have good, dangerous possession and there’s a difference. In the weeks before we had center back, center back outside back – that to me is not dangerous. We were at the top of their box moving it from the final third area, not totally in the box. But we had them in the area where you limit counterattacks, you limit anything they’re doing and you’re not so far up the field. It was a good possession and I thought it was a dangerous possession, which makes (Chicago) work harder. In the second half, I thought it was a lot of the same, but we were able to break through.”
 
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis
 
“I think that’s one of the things that I have always been good at throughout my career, whether it’s been in college all the way up until now. Even if I don’t get in a lot of games, there’s not that much of a drop-off when I do get in. It was nice to get back out there. It was great. I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen again, but I was happy to help the team. It was a big game for us. We really needed the points, and we came out and did everything we needed to do.
 
We really want to make it tough [for other teams] to play here, and being at home, we should be getting three points every time we play at home. I feel like if we can do that – if we can win out our games at home – we’ll put ourselves in a great chance to make the playoffs.
 
I thought as a team, we did a great job. We weathered the storm a little bit. We knew they were going to come out and really pressure us, which we did and then we were able to control the game from then on out. The guys did a great job and we broke them down. It took a while – we knew it was going to take a while, but we were persistent and finally got what we needed.
 
I think I have been doing this for long enough that the nerves are there, but it’s the excitement. You never know when it’s going to be your last game, you never know. You always got to enjoy getting out there. It was a lot of fun.
 
[Getting the start] felt good. I heard [I would be starting] I think it was Thursday or so. [The coaches] just asked if I was ready to play and I said ‘Yeah.’
 
Yeah, [Juan Agudelo’s goal] was a great goal, and that’s what he brings. He brings that little bit that you need. You can see why the premier leagues are asking for him.
 
[Juan Agudelo] does all the things well. He holds the ball up well, he gets behind well, takes people on. He’s got the complete package.
 
It’s one game. We are going to have to look at it, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well and move on.
 
I thought [the back line] did well. We were saying before, they had a few chances in the beginning and then not too many throughout the rest of the game. We were organized. The chances that they did get were not spectacular chances. I thought we did great.”
 
New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies
 
“I’m glad that we got the three points. That’s the most important thing. Am I happy with my play? Absolutely not. But it’s good to get the junk out of my system now, before we start getting into tougher situations. Just getting out there felt great. This is a team where I think I’ll really be put in a position to succeed. The midfielders create a lot of space for the forwards and provide great chances and great service, so I’m psyched. I’m psyched for the games ahead and once I get my feet back under me after the craziest two weeks, three weeks. I think things will go much better than they had today.
 
I expected to come on. Once you get the actual ‘you’re going in,’ (I felt) just sheer excitement. I’m so happy to be back. I’m so happy to be part of this team and this organization that I’ve grown up watching and it’s an exciting time. It’s 10 games left now and the playoffs are on the horizon if we continue to play like we did today. I was also very impressed with the way we played today. The way we were able to control the ball in their half and keep possession and keep moving it. I think that is a great sign of how far soccer has come in MLS – just in the two years I’ve been gone or year and a half or so. Teams are starting to understand how to keep the ball and how to keep the defense moving even if you can’t break them down. I’m excited to be a part of this team.
 
I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a perfect time to come on. They’re going to be pushing forward and they’re going to leave so much space open,’ and they did. I was just unlucky not to finish my chances but they’ll come. As a striker, it has to go in and out if it doesn’t work out for you.
 
It depends how much time you get with the guys [to learn a new system.] I’m just taking it game by game and we’ll see what happens. I think fairly quickly, I’ll be able to be on the same page as these guys. I think it’s just a matter of timing at this point. A lot of the guys know how I play, which is great. I think soon enough it will click.
 
It’s amazing (to play soccer in New England again.) I’ve grown up here, played soccer here for 18 years. There’s so many people that I’ve played with or against here in New England and have come to support me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I feel like I’m on the last hurdle; the last step before I can get back to where I was before the accident. I think I’m very close to crossing that finish line and that’s why I came here, because it’s a perfect opportunity for me to play with players like this, to cross the finish line.
 
(My fitness is) alright. Obviously, with more minutes, the better it’ll get, so there’s still 10 games left. Soon enough I’ll be 90-minutes fit and then it’s just a matter of finishing your chances and getting the opportunity.
 
As long as you capitalize on your chances and take advantage of your opportunity, you’re going to play. That’s all I have to focus on and I’m just glad there’s competition here, because it pushes people and it’ll only make the team better.
 
My brother, who’s like my best friend and just a lot of friends (were at the match.) Unfortunately, the families don’t make it out till next week. I guess that’s a good thing. You know, get the bad game out of the way and then for the next game, I’ll be ready.
 
I don’t feel pressure from anyone else except for myself. I put all the pressure on myself – I’ve always done that. I’ve kind of come in here with the idea of playing a lot, helping this team win and putting all the pressure on myself to be the guy that the team can lean on and depend on to grind out results, to make it happen, to get this team to the playoffs. We’ll see how each game goes and step-by-step I think I’ll get there.
 
Yeah, a little bit (of nerves stepping onto the field.) First time in a while but, that’s a good feeling.”
16 August 7:31 am

The Fire head east for another six pointer Saturday night, facing a slumping New England Revolution squad in Foxboro. Despite being without key players Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, the Men in Red beat Montreal at home last weekend. The Revs got handily beaten 3-0 in KC and are 0-2 in the month of August.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The Magee/Anangonó partnership – how will it fare?

With Chris Rolfe not training this week and Mike Magee back, it appears the Fire will start with Magee and new DP striker Juan Luis Anangonó up front on the turf against New England.

The U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat is the only time both players have been on the pitch together and it will be interesting to see how they combine against a New England team that has given up the second least amount of goals in the East.

Anangonó is very mobile for a target forward and is capable of dropping deep, something that Magee is also comfortable doing. On the turf, it will be important to keep the ball on the ground and retaining possession will also be key and I believe it will be up to both Magee and Anangonó to get other players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere involved in the attack.

Any new strike partnership takes time to gel, but I look for Magee and Anangonó to not stray too far from each other and be heavily involved Saturday night.

The Rios/Larentowicz partnership – another potential central midfield pairing

WATCH:  Lindpere, Larentowicz preview Revolution

Last weekend, we saw the return of Logan Pause, partnering Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and allowing the Ginger Ninja to get forward and support the attack.

This week, we could see a debut for Uruguayan midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, assumingly partnering the former New England man in the center of the park.

Most observers see Rios as a tough tackling midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks. This is certainly the case, but like Larentowicz, the Uruguayan also likes to get forward.

What will surprise some teams and even some Fire fans is Rios’s willingness to get forward when possible. Though he won’t score many goals (he had five in 53 matches last season) Rios will certainly start quite a few attacks from breaking up play in  the opposition’s half, something we’ve seen Patrick Nyarko do a lot of this season.  

What will be very important on Saturday night is that both players must know where the other is and not have a situation where they’re caught too high up the field. Communication and discipline from both players will be important, but I have no worries considering the wealth of experience the duo possesses.

New England’s Attack – who will get the start on Saturday night?

When people look at the Revs attack, Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene immediately spring to mind. In addition, New England have a couple of American strikers that have the ability to change games, namely Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies.

Agudelo is back to fitness after missing the last eight matches and is a familiar foe for the Fire, scoring in a 4-1 defeat by Chivas USA at Toyota Park back in March. He scored three goals in five games for the Revs before being injured and is certainly a threat.

Davies is looking to get his career back on track with the Revs and has a point to prove in MLS but he hasn’t played a competitive match in a few months.

With the addition of the former U.S. international, the Revs have excellent strength in depth at the forward position and have the luxury of bringing on high quality strikers if need be.

I touched on this issue when the Fire played Philly back to back earlier this season and it will be important that the team is prepared to change midway through the game and adjust to whoever comes off the bench. All four strikers bring different qualities and it will be important for the Frank Klopas to adjust his side accordingly.

Prediction: With so many question marks about who will start and new partnerships on the field, this game is very difficult to predict. I am going with 1-0 Fire (first clean sheet in two months!) with a goal from Juan Luis Anangonó.

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

15 August 1:32 pm

Well, the deadline has passed and judging by the cf97thirdkit@chicago-fire.com email address, Fire supporters were heavily engaged in coming up with the club’s new jersey design.

In total, the Fire received hundreds of entries from all around Chicagoland and as far reaching as Brazil, France and the UK. Those may not be eligible but they did give us a good gauge of how expansive a contest like this can be.

So… What’s next?

According to the official contest rules, a committee composed of Chicago Fire and Quaker staff will judge all eligible entries received during the Entry Period based on "overall appearance, originality/creativity, style and quality of the Design."

READ: #cf97ThirdKit presented by Quaker

On or about August 19 (next Mondayish), the top five designs will be unveiled and will work directly with the club’s creative team to develop their design into an acceptable digital format.

Beginning around August 26, the five semi-finalists will go up for fan vote, with fans allowed to cast their ballots 10 times each day through September 6. The three designs with the most votes will go to a final round of voting which will begin around September 9, with the winning design set to be unveiled around September 23.

Stay tuned!

14 August 7:15 am

As an organization, the Fire recognizes that Twitter is one of the most import social communication platforms it can use to engage with supporters.

The official Fire account (@ChicagoFire) is used to connect with fans, generate awareness, highlight promotions, or just informing fans in a real-time manner, i.e., news, weather and traffic alerts.  To broaden the discussion around the club and create deeper engagement with supporters, Chicago Fire Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla (AK) will be joining the conversation.

Beginning today, you’re invited to follow AK at @atulkhosla. While it will be impossible for him to engage and respond to every question (he does have a day job), you can expect AK to listen, answer questions, offer some behind-the-scenes access as well as his point of view about the business direction of the club, MLS overall, and the vision for the future. 

He can also discuss the finer intricacies of the dining in Bucktown, Badger football, and things that rhyme with coleslaw.

13 August 3:46 pm

If you saw this week's MLS save of the week nomination earler, you may have noticed something weird.

Helper to the 'keeper/forward, Chris Rolfe is up for his line clearing header that "saved the day". (VOTE HERE)

But let's not forget that "The Milkman" delivered too.

Sean Johnson made three big saves on Saturday night, and none more stellar than his point blank stop on Justin Mapp in the 39th minute of play. (watch above)

For his performance, MLSsoccer.com has named Sean to the Team of the Week, proving once again that they don't call him "The Milkman" for nothin'!

12 August 8:56 am

In the 87th minute on Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Fire were holding on to a 2-1 lead against Montreal, who were seven points and two playoff positions ahead in the table. Daniel Paladini, who had come on for Alex 25 minutes earlier, set up to take a corner, but there were just two Fire players forward against six or so in blue. Jeff Larentowicz and Quincy Amarikwa were moving around, doing their best to make space, but this was all about the chance to have the ball deep in Montreal’s half and relieve some pressure.

BTL: The Production

Paladini saw Amarikwa a half yard away from his marker at the penalty spot and floated a ball in towards him. Judging from how the ball arrived to Amarikwa at about the height of Montreal center back Hassoun Camara, and considering Camara’s listed at 6-2 and Amarikwa at 5-9, the Fire forward’s insanely acrobatic bicycle attempt got his feet up to a half-foot above his own head.

Even though Amarikwa whiffed, it was one of those athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic moments that can define a soccer game because generally, the team that comes out the most athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic is going to win the games. (Also, Amarikwa made up for the whiff by converting an equally impressive bike in the reserve match on Sunday morning.) It said more, too, that it was a substitute that was making this sort of tone-setting play.

Amarikwa has impressed Fire fans in his cameos this season because of his work rate, willingness to take defenders on, and his creative spontaneity on the ball (even if that means sometimes he holds onto it for a bit too long). Those were exactly the traits the Fire needed to get maximum points at home on Saturday, a critical result that leaves the team now just two points out of a playoff spot. Even though he didn’t have the impact on the game, Amarikwa's work was symbolic of that of the whole team.

In the third game in eight days, with Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe day-to-day, Patrick Nyarko out, Dilly Duka picking up a new knock every game, new DP Juan Luis Anangono acclimating to MLS, Logan Pause coming back from injury, and the pressure for points greater than it’s been all season following Wednesday’s Open Cup exit, the Fire came out on Saturday with a new look to them.

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As two deeper lying midfielders, Pause and Larentowicz haven’t found their rhythm together this season, but this time Frank Klopas put them out with Alex (who took the spot when Pause got injured) pushed forward with Anangono. The wide players were the same (Joel Lindpere and Duka), but the seemingly minor adjustment of adding Pause and pushing Alex farther forward actually provided the Fire the first fresh tactical look seen since the spring.

And it was a solid system, too, because it morphed from a 4-5-1 with Alex dropping deeper during periods of Montreal possession, into the usual Fire 4-4-2 when the Fire won the ball, with Alex pushing on into space with Anangono. They worked well together on certain fast breaks; Anangono showed that he’s not afraid to make lung-busting runs to clear out space for others. But as much as the system provided some necessary defensive support without sacrificing the slingshot counterattacking Klopas loves, the game was always going to be decided by the players stepping up into the spaces left by Nyarko, Magee, and Rolfe.

Klopas couldn't have asked for a better response from Lindpere and Duka, the two creative wide players who have fought for their playing time all season, and who scored the two goals. They took their chances (and a bit of luck), but they also held the ball, moved the team forward, tracked back, and generally kept the pace of the game far above the revolting one we saw on Wednesday night.

Saturday night showed the Fire’s depth and flexibility in personnel, tactics, and mindset, and it was Amarikwa’s bike that showed the Fire’s potential for style and spontaneity. If this team is going to complete this massive comeback into playoff contention, it’s as much the creativity as it is the grit that’s going to take them there and it’ll have to come not just from the superstars and leaders, but from everyone on the team. 

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