The payoff of Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos’ decision to switch from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1 was immediate.
With one tactical stroke, the Fire transformed from a winless team with just three goals and 29 shots in its first three games to one that found the back of the net four times and hit 34 shots in two straight wins.
The Fire seemingly had their setup figured out. Then came last Saturday’s abysmal offensive effort against Chivas USA, however, when the Fire managed just four shots and struggled to create any scoring chances outside of Baggio Husidic’s 53rd-minute goal.
So why did the Fire’s offensive performance – which had risen so steadily over the previous two games – dip so suddenly against Chivas? According to winger Patrick Nyarko, it was more a product of a slow start to the match than an issue with the formation.
“We came out slowly and they took charge of the game and dictated the pace,” Nyarko said. “I think we just have to do a better job of coming out from our tracks a little quicker and being a lot more alert and play our game. I think that was the worst game we played all year.”
Part of the reason Nyarko figured the Fire struggled on Saturday night was the fact that the five-man midfield – which got up the field so nicely in the Fire’s first two games using a 4-5-1 – struggled to get into the box at the right times.
“We’re struggling with people waking up and coming out of the blocks and trying to get in those [dangerous parts] of the field,” Nyarko said.
Based on the Fire’s performance using the 4-5-1 formation in their 2-0 wins over D.C. United and Houston, the midfield getting into the box shouldn’t be viewed as a long-term issue.
Yes, it was a problem that flared up in the Chivas match and likely cost the team a third straight win. But if the Fire midfield comes out committed to rushing the box when it needs to be rushed, last Saturday’s game should prove to be more of an isolated incident than a long term problem heading forward.
The Fire play at Toronto FC on Saturday (4 p.m. ET).