The Chicago Fire’s performance in Montreal deserved all three points. Tactically Frank Yallop got it spot on, and Montreal looked like the road team on their own pitch. Yes, the team had an abundance of quality chances, and, not for the first time should have wrapped it up.
Now six matches in, I feel the jigsaw is starting to take shape. The Fire has learned some lessons, grown as a team, and are now poised to claim all three against New England this Saturday (3pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
Personally, I’m excited to jump on the ‘Pub to Pitch’ bus from A.J. Hudson’s and enjoy the match without a headset. It promises to be a very open and exciting match, and here’s what I’d look for from a tactical perspective…
Defender of the Year Injured?
In 2013, the Revs stood tall and kept an MLS best 14 clean sheets. After a dismal start this year, conceding four in Houston, Jay Heaps’ defense is starting to show its strengths once more, allowing just three goals in their last four matches.
New England’s hope of keeping the Fire scoreless will be dealt a huge blow if 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves fails to overcome a right quad injury that he picked up last week. Goncalves was outstanding against the Fire last season. His strength and positional awareness often masks many of the deficiencies in partner A.J. Soares.
Soares tends to ball watch, a trait that won’t bode well against the budding partnership of Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa. The Revs full backs also love to attack, meaning there may be plenty of space for Amarikwa to test Soares’ pace and strength. From where I’m standing, there’s only one winner in that battle. Excuse me, what time is it again? That’s right, it’s #QuincyTime!
Revs attack is riddled with talent, yet predictable
Only three Revs players have hit the back of the net this season, and the team has been held scoreless in four of its six matches. There are many reasons for this lack of production, including injuries to key players and new players gelling. My take is that this Revs 4-1-4-1 formation is too predictable at the moment.
Teal Bunbury is obviously a good player, but he’s been a little too isolated by himself, and if the Fire defense do anything, don’t allow him stretch his legs in behind. Daigo Kobayashi and Lee Nguyen are excellent ball players, with exquisite vision and passing ability and they’ll look for Bunbury through the channels or over the top all afternoon.
The Fire gave up two big chances in Montreal last week, both errors, sending McInerney and Di Vaio racing through on goal. Luckily for the Fire, Di Vaio blazed over in the second half.
Chicago’s defense has been improving every match, and I have no doubt that the Men in Red have the ability to physically brush Bunbury and Co. aside, however, have they learned enough lessons in order to stay mentally strong for 90+ minutes and eliminate any costly errors?
From battle of the Franks, to battle of the Flanks
There's a possibility that Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp will again occupy the flanks for the Fire on Saturday. Offensively, they’ll be given room to express themselves, but defensively they’ve got a tough job on their hands.
New England’s wingers, poster boy Diego Fagundez and Frenchman Saer Sene love to cut inside, leaving space for their full backs (Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney, Kevin Alston etc) to attack. New York’s constant rotation in midfield caused the Fire problems earlier this season, and they’ll face a Revs side that also loves to roam. Discipline, shape and communication will be key when defending.
With that said, New England leave gaps and they can certainly be exposed when they turn the ball over. It’s crucial that when the Fire do win the ball back, they pick a pass and look to hit Amarikwa or Nyarko in transition immediately.
When the Fire plays with pace and direction, it’s a very dangerous team, but when the Fire loses its momentum and tempo, they suddenly start to play on the opposition’s terms. A perfect example of this was the excellent first 20 minutes vs Philadelphia, compared to the shoddy second 25.
PREDICTION: I don’t see a reason to make any changes to the team. Those 11 deserve to play from the start, but if fit, I think Dilly Duka would be a great guy to bring on against the Revs.
This is a good matchup for the Fire right now. I’ll go with a first clean sheet and a first win of the season. 2-0 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.
Editor’s Note: What’s that? Kevin Egan’s doing the Tactical Preview now? Nah, just lending a hand to fellow Irishman Stephen Piggott who is currently in the Republic and unable to do this week’s Tactical Preview.
Thanks for your help Kevin! Follow him on Twitter @Kev_Egan!