The Fire head to Kansas City Saturday afternoon (2:00pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of two losses to start the season. The team has yet to score a goal or secure point but face a KC team smarting after a loss in Toronto last week. Both will be looking to kick start their season with a big win. Here are some tactical things to look out for.
Right back – three games, three different starters?
With injuries to both Logan Pause and Steven Kinney, it is likely the Fire will have to start a third different right back already this season. Jalil Anibaba started on the right against LA and had a difficult time of things but looked much more comfortable in his natural position at center back last week against New England.
With Kinney out, its almost assured that Anibaba will partner with Austin Berry in the middle which means we will likely see Mike Videra or Wells Thompson on the right. Both played there for a bit of preseason and Videra played at right back for the Men in Red during the 2011 season.
Previewing Sporting KC
Wells is the more experienced player and like Pause, has played in numerous positions during his MLS career. In a hostile atmosphere away from home, communication between the defenders will be key.
KC are particularly dangerous down the wings and Patrick Nyarko will need to be on hand to help out either Thompson or Videra who will face constant overlapping by the KC wing-backs.
Pressuring KC – copy the Toronto model
Sporting KC lost 2-1 in Toronto last week falling behind 2-0 after only twenty minutes. TFC pressured Sporting from the first whistle and it worked extremely well, with SKC constantly giving the ball away.
TFC’s first goal of the game came from pressuring and ganging up on the Sporting KC players. Folks will remember the goal stemming from a bad pass between Matt Besler and Aurelian Collin, but the reason the center backs had the ball at all was because TFC forced Sporting all the way back to their defenders.
TFC clearly flustered Sporting and the pressure prevented SKC from being able to get the ball to their danger men Claudio Bieler and Graham Zusi. Toronto was unable to keep up the pressure for more than the first half and in the second, KC was able to impose their game.
If the Fire can start in a similar fashion to TFC last week and sustain the pressure throughout the game (a tough ask, I know) it would go a long way towards allowing SKC to dictate the tempo, something they will look to do as the home team.
Testing Jimmy Neilson – difference between chances and half chances
A lot of the talk after the first two games of the season was that the Fire created many chances, but were unable to finish them. If we examine the amount of genuine saves Carlo Cudicini and Matt Reis actually had to make though, the numbers are very small, both have to overexert themselves on only one occasion, with the rest of the shots being hit right at them.
Both times the Fire forced the opposition ‘keeper into making a fine save was from shots outside the box. When the Fire do get the ball in the box, the team as a whole needs to start showing a bit of composure instead of rushing shots.
Muzzling Zusi – double teaming and picking him up when he comes inside
For the past few seasons, Graham Zusi has been Sporting’s best player by some margin. Zusi is dangerous because he can hurt you in so many different ways.
He’s comfortable playing outside on the wing and is just as effective when he switches wings as he did against TFC in the second half last week. Zusi also links very well with SKC’s outside backs, especially Chance Meyers who overlaps Zusi on a regular basis and picked up a lot of assists doing so last season.
Coach's Take: Sporting KC
Zusi also likes to cut inside, opening up more space on the outside for the wing-backs to move into. For the most part, TFC did a good job stifling Zusi last week and they did so mainly by double teaming him when he had the ball.
Zusi’s crossing is arguably his most dangerous weapon and with targets such as Bieler and Sapong lurking in the box, the less crosses the Fire allow, the better.
Prediction: The games in KC have been tight affairs recently, and I don’t see this one being any different. 1-1 Fire with a goal from Chris Rolfe.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.