The Fire returned to MLS action on Wednesday night against Toronto but were only able to pick up a point despite being a man up for 60 minutes. A much improved performance will be needed against Sporting KC in Kansas on Sunday afternoon (2:00pm CT on ESPN). Sporting are coming off a huge win in Portland and will be looking to make it two wins out of two since the World Cup break.
Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective:
Fire’s attacking strategy part 1: keep the ball on the ground and bring the wingers inside
Against SKC, I believe the Fire must have two approaches to their attacks and have healthy balance between the two. The first is keeping the ball on the ground and relying on playing through SKC by using the trickery and movement of players like Harry Shipp, Alex and Mike Magee.
On Wednesday night, the Fire were quite successful when Shipp was able to link with Amarikwa (who unfortunately will be suspended) and Magee around the top of the box, operating in between Toronto’s midfield and defense. The strategy forced TFC defenders to come out to pressure the Fire and left space in behind for Fire players to run into. When you add Grant Ward moving inside into this mix, it caused even more problems for TFC. Shipp and Alex in particular have such low centers of gravity and are very good with the ball in tight spaces.
Also when a player gets the ball in that position, defenders are very cautious about diving in because they know it can result in a dangerous free kick or even a penalty. The Fire took advantage of this caution on Wednesday night but couldn’t find a killer second goal. In SKC’s last match against Portland, they also had trouble when Adi, Valeri and Nagbe all linked together centrally.
If the Fire midfielders can find Magee, Shipp and co. in these areas a little bit of magic from them could give the Fire the advantage on Sunday afternoon.
Fire’s attacking strategy part 2 – getting the ball into the box from wide positions
Part two of my proposed attacking strategy is quite the opposite from part one, but as I mentioned, a healthy balance between the two could serve the Fire well. In SKC’s match against Portland, I was struck by how much the team missed center back Matt Besler who performed very well for the U.S. in Brazil.
According to reports, Besler will sit out the match on Sunday. What was most telling during SKC’s game last Friday was the amount of free headers Portland won in the SKC box. Aurélien Collin is usually a rock at the back but he looked out of position on more than one occasion and the rest of his defenders didn’t do him any favors.
On another night, Portland would have won that game easily; but that’s soccer. With this in mind, I would like to see the Fire getting more balls into the box to put pressure on Collin and co. Despite the Fire’s lack of size in the attack following Juan Luis Anangono’s departure, Magee is deceptively good in the air.
The Fire also possess players who can put a quality ball into the box such as Greg Cochrane or Gonzalo Segares on the left and Ward playing as an inverted winger on the right. Late runs into the box from either Chris Ritter or Jeff Larentowicz could also be a factor on Sunday afternoon.
Slowing down Dom Dwyer – despite missing his supporting cast, he is still a real threat
It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago Dom Dwyer was playing on loan in Orlando due to the wealth of options SKC had in the attack. Dwyer was recalled at the end of June last year and hasn’t looked back since, scoring the goal that took SKC to MLS Cup where they won on penalty kicks.
This season Dwyer leads MLS with 11 goals in 14 starts and is the biggest threat on the SKC squad and won the MLS Player of the Month award in May. Dwyer, like Magee, has the ability to change a game by himself and will be a handful for the Fire’s defense. Perhaps the most telling statistic from his play so far this season is that he is yet to record an assist, thus proving he is the ultimate finisher.
Aside from not allowing Dwyer space around the box, I would like to see the Fire defenders being overly physical with the Englishman, something that has got under his skin in the past and frankly is a trait of this SKC team. The Fire are certainly playing Kansas City at a good time but despite the projected missing players someone like Dwyer is not to be overlooked and restricting the supply line to him will be very important on Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: The Fire need a win and get it – 1-0 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee