Tactical adjustments pay dividends for Fire defense

Fire's defensive has been stellar since moving Nyarko & Pause around

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause always had a tendency to shift back deep into the midfield, even when he played out on the right early in the season. Patrick Nyarko always shifted back deeper than a normal forward, even when he was paired up top with Dominic Oduro.

But for the last two games, Nyarko and Pause have been put into their natural positions as the Fire shifted to a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Nyarko moving to right midfield and Pause playing the holding role.

And the adjustment has paid dividends. In those two contests, Chicago took a 2-1 win against Chivas USA before drawing 0-0 with Real Salt Lake.

“You would say it takes away some of the defensive pressure off of us,” Nyarko said. “We still have to do our defensive duty, but we know in the back of our heads that Logan and Pável [Pardo] are back holding.”

The shift has also allowed Sebastián Grazzini to play higher up the field as a second striker, a welcome change despite being hampered by some superb holding midfielders.

“It’s been difficult with Salt Lake and even with Seattle, because in the diamond they do drop one guy deep,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “Against Seattle it was [Osvaldo] Alonso, and [against Real Salt Lake] it was [Kyle] Beckerman.”

The road won’t get any easier for Grazzini, however, as the Argentine will have to contend with Sporting Kansas City’s Júlio César on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Klopas is hoping that the Fire midfield can connect with Grazzini higher up the field to fully utilize his creative ability.

“We’ve got to find him more, and get him touches,” Klopas said. “It’s not good when he drops deep, obviously because he’s a second striker. We want him to give us the ability to find him closer to goal, and then when he gets frustrated he drops too deep and it’s not good for us.”

Pause’s role as a holding midfielder has contributed to two of the best defensive performances of the season, in which the Fire gave up just one goal on a questionable penalty kick call.

The Fire captain said his role hasn’t necessarily changed much, but chalkboard analyses from the last two games show that he has dropped much further in the midfield than he had when he was a right midfielder.

“Defensively, the way we switch now, with Logan and Pável in the midfield, we can cover more space,” left back Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com.

The shift also allows Pardo to play a more creative role.

The Mexican World Cup veteran thinks that shift from a 4-3-1-2 to a 4-4-1-1 puts the Fire in a much better place.

“I think it’s better when you have four midfielders than when you have three,” Pardo told MLSsoccer.com. “The field is more open. When you have three, they have to work a lot, because Sebastián can’t help as much on defense.”