The Fire head back to Canada looking to put last week’s awful results behind them as they visit Toronto FC on Saturday night (5:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). TFC is looking to make the playoffs for the first time but suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of SKC last weekend.
Here are some tactical observations to keep an eye on.
Playing the quick counter attack game – beating TFC with pace
To date this season, the Fire have not burned teams on the counter attack, especially when playing away from home. Despite possessing pace in the forms of Quincy Amarikwa, Grant Ward and others, the Fire rarely threaten on the fast break. One major reason for this decline is the long-term injury loss of Patrick Nyarko, who is still out after suffering a knee injury at the beginning of the summer.
Saturday night’s game provides a good opportunity for the Fire to threaten TFC on the fast break. Michael Bradley likes to get forward from his central midfield position which leaves Toronto exposed if Bradley is caught too far up the field. If the Fire can get the ball quickly to the aforementioned pacey players, Toronto could be cut open.
In his preview of the game, Quincy Amarikwa mentioned the Fire’s focus on the counter attacking strategy and emphasized that the team must look for opening’s both on the wing and through the middle. The runs off the ball from the strikers will also be important for this tactic. Mike Magee and Amarikwa must try and find some space in transition for players like Alex, Ward and co. to get them the ball.
With players like Bradley running the TFC midfield, I expect Toronto to dominate possession, but that will count for little if the Men in Red can catch them with a sucker punch.
Restraining Luke Moore and Gilberto – Defore may return but his possible partners are very dangerous
With Jermain Defoe returning to full training this week for Toronto, it remains to be seen whether he gets the start against the Fire this weekend. In his absence, Luke Moore and Gilberto have been partnered together and have done quite well, chipping in with multiple goals.
Ideally, Ryan Nelson would partner Defoe with one of the two others because this partnership has worked well in the past, but due to his injury, Defoe may start from the bench.
Gilberto in particular has caught the eye over the past few weeks. He has a knack of making runs into very good positions and makes it easier for players like Bradley and Dominic Oduro to find him with passes.
His finishing is also very good, with his recent goal against Columbus particularly sticking out. If Defoe does indeed start on the bench, the Fire must adjust quickly if he enters the game.
The Gilberto/Moore combo is a much slower and more physical tandem but Defoe will pose a much different threat.
As Matt Watson mentioned in his preview of the game, Defoe is one of the best strikers in the league at finding space in the box and the Fire defenders must not let him get out of their sight if he does make an appearance.
After shipping seven goals last week, the Fire defense faces another stern test on Saturday, but a first away clean sheet since the New England game last month would be critical to the Fire’s Playoff ambitions.
Focusing on the TFC’s right side – taking advantage of Domenic Oduro’s lack of tracking back
Last weekend against SKC, Toronto started with Jackson at right back and Oduro ahead of him. While Oduro is extremely strong going forward, he is a striker by nature and doesn’t always track back to help out his defense.
Jackson is not a defender by trade and looked out of place against SKC especially when Seth Sinovic got forward from his left back position.
Last week in Montreal, the Fire looked most likely to score when Greg Cochrane or Lovel Palmer got forward and put in crosses. That unfortunately didn’t happen enough and I look for an improvement in that aspect of the Fire’s game on Saturday night.
It is unclear whether Jackson will start again this weekend, but in any case, the Fire should be targeting that side, especially on the counter attack.
Prediction: 1-1 Fire with a goal from Mike Magee.