Following the devastating 6-0 U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat in Seattle on Wednesday evening, the Fire head to Montreal to face an Impact side dwelling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference (Saturday 5:00pm CT on My50/TWCSC). With 12 regular season matches left, the Fire are only two points out of the Eastern Conference playoff spots so there is plenty to play for as we head down the home stretch.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.
A defensive shakeup? Potential switches in the back for the Fire are shipping six in midweek
After letting in six goals on Wednesday, I fully expect Frank Yallop to make a few changes to the Fire back four, something he has done quite often in the past – especially after a poor defensive performance. Bakary Soumare and Gonzalo Segares could be the players Yallop decides to drop in favor of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Greg Cochrane.
Many of the Seattle goals originated from the Fire’s left hand side, where balls were played in behind Segares, who didn’t get much help defensively from Grant Ward, ahead of him on the left wing. DeAndre Yedlin caused a lot of problems when he got forward from the right back position and the Fire were unable to deal with that or runs made down the right by Chad Barrett.
Saturday might be a good opportunity to Segares a rest in favor of the more youthful Cochrane who hasn’t seen many minutes of late. In the middle, Jeff Larentowicz has been partnered with both Patrick Ianni and Bakary Soumare for two matches but has yet to play alongside Hurtado. Though it represents a gamble to try out a new partnership, especially when the Fire will be facing two brilliant strikers in Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney, I think we may see the Larentowicz/Hurtado experiment on Saturday evening.
Focusing on Ferrari/Krol – exposing the left hand side of the Impact defense
On the left hand side of the Montreal defense, the Impact consistently go with the Italian Matteo Ferrari and former Fire defender Krzysztof Krol. Ferrari is a vastly experienced defender but his lack of pace can be exploited, while Krol often gets caught too high up the field on transitions between attack and defense.
Quincy Amarikwa is the Fire’s best player at making runs behind defenders and I expect him to focus on getting behind Ferrari and Krol on Saturday night. Ferrari likes to try and cut off attacks early, by stepping up and putting pressure on the attacker, who usually has his back to goal.
This can be very effective, but it also leaves the door open for someone to move into the space left behind the Italian who is then separated from his other center back.
Getting into a 1v1 situation with Ferrari would also be ideal for the Fire because his lack of pace can easily be exploited. The Fire had some good attacking moves in the first half against Seattle, especially when players kept the ball on the ground and played one touch passes around the box. If the Men in Red can draw Ferrari out and utilize the space behind him and Krol, it could be make all the difference on Saturday.
Shutting down the Impact wingers – doubling up on Romero and Mapp
As I’ve mentioned before in previews of the Impact, Justin Mapp has really fallen on his feet in Montreal after some up and down years in Philly and Chicago. He has again proven his worth this season, chipping in with eight assists to date.
Mapp is equally comfortable taking players on 1v1 in wide situations or cutting inside and looking to find forwards by playing balls behind the defense. Mapp is especially dangerous on the counter attack where his pace opens teams up. As I mentioned earlier, both the Fire’s starting left midfielder and left back on Saturday must be wary of Mapp and not allow him too much space.
We cannot allow situations where Mapp is able to attack our left back 1v1. On the other wing, you have a similar player to Mapp in Andres Romero. In the Impact’s recent loss to Toronto, Romero looked very dangerous when he was able to find space on the left wing and attack the outside back.
Both McInerney and Di Vaio thrive on balls from Mapp and Romero and the more the Fire can limit those, the better.
Prediction: The Men in Red bounce back from the big defeat on Wednesday with a comfortable 2-0 in Quebec. Both goals scored by Mike Magee.