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24 May 10:48 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On where the breakdown occurred:

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

On having five players out:

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

On dealing with Higuain’s ability to spring players:

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

On not being able to score:

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

Chicago Fire Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

On the backline:

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

On Columbus tactics:

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

On missing players on the road:

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

Chicago Fire Goalkeeper Sean Johnson

On new players in new positions:

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

On Higuain:

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

On goals:

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

COLUMBUS CREW SPORTING DIRECTOR AND HEAD COACH GREGG BERHALTER

On needing a win:

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

On Ethan Finlay’s first start of the season:

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

On defense:

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

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

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

On replacing Federico Higuain:

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

COLUMBUS CREW GOALKEEPER STEVE CLARK

On tonight’s game:

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

On second shutout of the season:

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

On Chicago’s playing before first goal:

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

On Crew’s teamwork tonight:

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

COLUMBUS CREW DEFENDER MICHAEL PARKHURST

On playing tonight:

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

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

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

On leaving with his “best foot forward”:

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

On moving on from the roster announcement:

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

23 May 8:38 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

22 May 10:41 am

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, last year's high school class pushed Chicago's graduation rate to new highs, more than 17 percentage points higher than ten years ago, when only half of incoming freshmen went on to claim their diplomas.  Through a team sponsorship with City Year Chicago, the Fire hope to play an instrumental role in continuing that positive trend.

As a part of a partnership announced last fall with City Year Chicago, the Fire are currently sponsoring 11 City Year corps members who will work full time at Carl Schurz High School, the third largest high school in Illinois. These Fire-sponsored City Year corp members provide full-time targeted intervention for those students at Schurz that are most at risk of dropping out. 

On Monday, May 19, more than 30 members of Fire staff, including Fire owner Andrew Hauptman (a national trustee of City Year and co-founder and founding board chair of City Year Los Angeles), head coach and director of soccer Frank Yallop, assistant coach C.J. Brown and several players left Toyota Park to take part in a City Year day of service at Schurz.  The afternoon was split between spending time in four different freshmen classrooms for a series of life mapping exercises, i.e., working directly with students on goal setting and planning for the future, before hitting the field for some five vs. five mini games with the Schurz boys and girls soccer teams. 

Check out the recap video above and photo gallery below for select shots from the day.  To learn more about City Year Chicago and how you can get involved, visit http://www.cityyear.org/chicago.

20 May 10:09 am

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

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

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

18 May 6:51 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

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

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

On the lack of shutouts

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

On the revamped back line

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

On who is taking penalty kicks

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

On facing a 3-5-2 formation

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

On the thought process behind the Fire’s double substitution

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

Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder

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

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

Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper

On the defensive performance:

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

On the learning curve:

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

On building momentum:

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

Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward:

On the first win a home:

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

On the end of the game:

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

Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire midfielder

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

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

16 May 2:04 pm

The Fourth Round draw for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup occurred Friday morning at Soccer House in downtown Chicago and with MLS teams entering at this stage, the process was much more elaborate than the straight forward flips from last week’s Third Round draw.

Before I lay out how it unfolded, a few bullets to keep in mind…

  • I was incorrect in my earlier tweets and statements that a USL PRO affiliate could not be matched with its partner MLS club. I’m a busy guy and sometimes you just have to admit you’re not perfect, sorry!
  • The only affiliate relationship that needed to be separated for this draw was that of the LA Galaxy and LA Galaxy II who are both owned by the same party.
  • USL PRO side Orlando City and their PDL side Orlando City U-23s, are both in the tournament but could not be matched up at this stage as MLS teams must be matched with a lower league pairing.
  • Chivas USA was the only MLS club to not apply to host a Fourth Round Open Cup match.

With those done, I will underscore that the most important principle to keep in mind for how pairings are determined comes from Page 7 of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Handbook. It states:

“After each Third Round pairing has been determined, each Division I (MLS) team entering in the Fourth Round will be matched geographically to play the winner of a specific Third Round pairing. Instances where a logical geographic fit doesn’t exist will be resolved by random selection."

Jeff Crandall attends the fourth round draw for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Soccer House on May 16, 2014
As all business as a selfie can be prior to walking into Soccer House...

Upon arrival to Soccer House, Competition Secretary Paul Marstaller handed me a sheet of paper with four geographic groupings, plus a wild card pool. The most straightforward grouping was the top table which featured eight Third Round matchups across from eight MLS teams that made “a logical geographic fit” with those lower league pairings.

The pairings with the result of the coin flip are below. Teams that are not bolded either did not have a suitable home venue or didn’t apply to host (U.S. Soccer did not distinguish the reason on this sheet).

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X Brooklyn Italians SC (NPSL)/New York Cosmos (NASL)   New York Red Bulls (MLS)
  Dayton Dutch Lions (USLP)/Indy Eleven (NASL) X Columbus Crew (MLS)
  RWB Adria (USASA)/Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USLP) X Chicago Fire (MLS)
  Minnesota United FC (NASL)/Des Moines Menace (USASA X Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
  Laredo Heat (PDL)/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) X Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  NTX Rayados (USASA)/San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) X FC Dallas (MLS)
X Arizona United SC (USLP)/Oklahoma City Energy FC (USLP)   LA Galaxy (MLS)
  Fresno Fuego (PDL)/Sacramento Republic (USLP) X San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)

For the local Fire fans, I was able to take OFFICIAL VIDEO documenting the Fire's winning coin flip:

The second grouping of matchups pooled three Northeast MLS sides with three lower league pairings. Of note here, Marstaller said that because the Harrisburg City Islanders and Baltimore Bohemians are about equidistant to D.C. United and Philadelphia Union, a flip off between the two sides would be done to determine which club would host the winner of that Third Round Matchup.

Based on alphabet, D.C. United was assigned heads and Philadelphia tails, with the Union winning. Because neither Harrisburg or Baltimore applied to host, no flip was necessary as hosting rights defaulted to the Union. 

LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS FLIP ASSIGNMENT
Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) D.C. United
Philadelphia Union
Heads
Tails

United's loss on their first flip resulted in them moving down to the next pairing of two lower league matchups where a similar flip had to occur between New York Greek American Atlas/Richmond Kickers and Reading United AC/Rochester Rhinos to determind who would be D.C.'s opponent.

FLIP ASSIGNMENT LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAM
Heads New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)
Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)
D.C. United
Tails

Again, determined by alphabet, the New York/Richmond matchup was assigned heads while the other was assigned tails and the coin again flipped to tails matching D.C. United with Reading/Rochester.

This moved New York/Richmond down to a matchup with the New England Revolution and then flips were done to determine the hosting rights for those two matchups with both lower league matchups winning with heads. For the purpose of clarity, here is how that final grouping looked:

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
  Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) N/A Philadelphia Union
X Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)   D.C. United
X New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)   New England Revolution

The third grouping was a product of Chivas USA being the only MLS club not to apply for hosting rights. Because of this, Marstaller needed to pair them with lower league matchups in which both clubs applied to host, of which there were two: Atlanta Silverbacks/Chattanooga FC (heads) and Charlotte Eagles/Carolina Railhawks (tails).

A coin flip was done to see who would host Chivas and landed tails giving Charlotte/Carolina the hosting rights. This pushed Atlanta/Chattanooga down to the very ending “Wild Card Pool”.

FLIP ASSIGNMENT LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAM
Heads Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
Charlotte Eagles (USLP)/Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
Chivas USA
Tails

The fourth pool featured the PSA Elite/LA Galaxy II matchup paired against four MLS teams that were within geographical proximity. While both lower-league teams are based in Southern California, because PSA Elite also did not apply to host, Chivas USA could not be thrown into this group.

The most interesting part of the process Friday was the flip-off between four MLS clubs to determine who would play Galaxy II/PSA Elite.

Again determined by alphabet, Colorado/Portland and Real Salt Lake/Seattle Sounders did a preliminary flip. Both losers in that round (Portland & Real Salt Lake) were moved into the final Wild Card pairing, then Colorado and Seattle did a final flip, with Seattle winning again (which should keep Sigi Schmid somewhat happy) and Colorado also falling to the Wild Card group.

LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS
PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP) Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers
Heads
Tails
Heads
Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders
Heads
Tails
Tails

One final flip was done to determine the hosting rights for that match with Galaxy II/PSA Elite winning and presumably, since PSA Elite did not apply to host, Sigi will be their biggest fan.

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP)   Seattle Sounders

After all the flips above were done, the Wild Card pool looked like the below table, with MLS clubs placed on the right according to alphabetical order. Because of the odd number of matchups, coin flips could not be used to determine who would play each other so Marstaller placed three slips of paper marked “A”, “B” and “C” into plain envelopes. As the matchup moved down from the initial Chivas USA grouping, Atlanta/Chattanooga was assigned “C” while the other two lower-league pairings were assigned “A” and “B” based on alphabetic order.

WILD CARD POOL
Letter LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS
A
B
C
Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP)
Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers
Real Salt Lake

Marstaller then went down the alphabetic list of MLS sides and drew the slips of paper from the envelopes. When all three matchups had been finalized, final flips for hosting rights occurred, concluding the fourth round Open Cup draw. You can see how the envelopes were drawn and the winner of the flips below:

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
  Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP) X Colorado Rapids
X Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)   Portland Timbers
X Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)   Real Salt Lake

Following the draw, Marstaller said the published fourth round scenarios would not be accompanied Friday by match dates yet. This is because the Fourth Round has three possible match dates over an eight-day span. With USL PRO and the PDL, along with amateur sides having league games between the June 10-18 Fourth Round window, all clubs that have the potential to host a Fourth Round match will have the weekend to give their preferred hosting date before U.S. Soccer balances the already scheduled league games. Because of the logistical process, hosting dates are expected to be announced sometime next week. 

A comprehensive list of who won hosting coin flips can be found below.

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X Brooklyn Italians SC (NPSL)/New York Cosmos (NASL)   New York Red Bulls (MLS)
  Dayton Dutch Lions (USLP)/Indy Eleven (NASL) X Columbus Crew (MLS)
  RWB Adria (USASA)/Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USLP) X Chicago Fire (MLS)
  Minnesota United FC (NASL)/Des Moines Menace (USASA X Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
  Laredo Heat (PDL)/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) X Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  NTX Rayados (USASA)/San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) X FC Dallas (MLS)
X Arizona United SC (USLP)/Oklahoma City Energy FC (USLP)   LA Galaxy (MLS)
  Fresno Fuego (PDL)/Sacramento Republic (USLP) X San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
  Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) N/A Philadelphia Union
X Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)   D.C. United
X New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)   New England Revolution
N/A Charlotte Eagles (USLP)/Carolina RailHawks (NASL)   Chivas USA
X PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP)   Seattle Sounders
  Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP) X Colorado Rapids
X Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)   Portland Timbers
X Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)   Real Salt Lake

Thanks again to the U.S. Soccer staff for being great hosts once again!

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.

13 May 8:56 am

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

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