The Fire head West to Tukwila to face the Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals Wednesday (9:30pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com) on the back of a morale boosting 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls Sunday night. After two straight losses, Seattle recorded a shaky 2-0 win also on Sunday.
Both clubs are taking this game very seriously and it should be a spectacle. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
A change in formation – tweaking the shape in the attack due to Mike Magee’s suspension
After picking up a red card in the last round, Mike Magee is suspended for the semifinal meaning Frank Yallop has an interesting decision to make tactically.
With only one recognized forward aside from Quincy Amarikwa to choose from, it makes sense that Frank Yallop will tweak the formation and change from a 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1. If Yallop decides to go with this, he will need to choose between playing Razvan Cocis or Harry Shipp in the advanced playmaker role.
Both players have experience playing in this position but I believe it makes more sense for the Fire to start with the Romanian international Cocis playing behind Amarikwa. Cocis is starting to get accustomed to the style of play in MLS and had the best performance of his short Fire career on Sunday. He also didn’t look entirely comfortable when he played out of the wing against Columbus a few weeks back.
Though the wing is not Harry Shipp’s preferred position, he is a keen contributor defensively which will be needed, especially if DeAndre Yedlin is marauding up the right wing for the Sounders. We all know Harry likes to cut inside from his wide position to link with the strikers and this could also be useful on Wednesday night.
With striker Matt Fondy also available, Yallop has the ability to bring a bigger body onto the field if needed, but I suspect we will only see this if the Fire need a goal. Both Shipp and Cocis started for the first time together on Sunday night and I expect to see them both in the lineup on Wednesday.
Solidifying the center of midfield – starting two defensive-minded players to neutralize the Seattle attack
A switch to a 4-4-1-1 formation would also allow the Fire to bring Chris Ritter back into the midfield to once again partner Matt Watson. This duo did a fantastic job in shutting down Federico Higuain a few weeks back and will need to put in a similar effort if called upon on Wednesday.
In recent weeks, the Sounders attack has been quite one dimensional – neglecting the outsides and attacking through the middle of the field. Coach Sigi Schmid noted this in his press briefing ahead of Wednesday’s match.
In general, Seattle deploys a narrow midfield four, with Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle tucking inside on a regular basis to support Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Against New York, the Fire started with Watson as the only defensive-minded center midfielder, but I believe two will be needed Wednesday, not only to try and snuff out the attacks from Neagle, Pappa and co., but also to match up numbers wise with Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda in the center of the park.
As we saw against New York, possession is not crucial to the Fire’s success, and I expect the team to go long stretches without the ball on Wednesday, but what will be more important is another strong defensive performance like we saw on Sunday.
If the Fire can clog the middle and make it hard for Seattle to break the Men in Red down, it could mean leaving Washington with a ticket to the U.S Open Cup Final.
Working on getting players in behind – focusing on playing through the Sounders defense
If we look at the projected Fire lineup for Wednesday, it is likely that a trio of very creative players will be in the XI, namely Alex, Shipp and Cocis.
All three players excel at playing balls behind the defense to on running attackers. We saw a great example of this on Saturday when Shipp played a brilliant ball through to Segares who would have scored if his first touch had been better.
This attacking trio will also need to look to try and make runs behind the defense, too. Alex showed his willingness to do this against New York and caused big problems for the Red Bulls defense when he was played in behind.
If the Fire do go with the 4-4-1-1 formation, the emphasis will be on Quincy Amarikwa to make the bulk of these runs, but the more support he gets, the better. In recent weeks, the Sounders defense has certainly been susceptible to these tactics.
San Jose’s winner two weeks ago against the Sounders came from a defense-splitting pass that set up Yannick Djaló. In the Sounders loss to the Galaxy last month, their makeshift back four were not able to deal with the movement off the ball from players like Gyasi Zardes and Landon Donovan who were able to get behind the defense on multiple occasions.
If Shipp and co. can open the Sounders up with balls in behind, it could make the difference on Wednesday.
Prediction: The Fire get a chance to win a 5th Open Cup after beating the Sounders on pk’s following a 1-1 draw. The Fire get to the final following goal in regulation from Quincy Amarikwa and a winning spot kick from Sean Johnson.