After a lackluster performance in Columbus last week, the Chicago Fire need to pick themselves up for a massive week ahead, starting with Sunday’s game at home against the LA Galaxy. Landon Donovan’s USMNT snub means he will be looking to prove Jürgen Klinsman wrong all while adding to his MLS scoring record. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective…
Winning the midfield battle – a change of formation against LA may be necessary
While there is an obvious attacking threat that needs to be stifled, LA’s defense is leading the league with only nine goals given up all season. A key to that has been the play of the Galaxy midfield, dominating possession and not allowing the other team to attack.
With this in mind, a change in formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 could be in the cards. This would provide more support to Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and would also match up well against LA’s narrow midfield. A holding midfield duo Larentowicz and one of Logan Pause or Matt watson would not only put more on pressure on Juninho and co., but would also mean another player to pick up Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane when they drop deep – which I will explain in more detail later.
Pause has had some stellar performances off the bench of late and is pushing for a starting place. Ahead of the proposed Watson/Pause/Larentowicz duo, I would like to see Grant Ward and Benji Joya on the outsides with Harry Shipp operating behind the striker, presumably Quincy Amarikwa in the absence of Mike Magee. Shipp is most effective when he drifts inside and links with the strikers.
With Patrick Nyarko missing and Dilly Duka not doing enough defensively last week, a Ward/Joya tandem on the wings would not only provide some dynamism in the attack but also provide more protection for the Fire’s outside defenders. Dan Gargan and more so A.J. DeLaGarza are constantly getting forward, and benefit from the Galaxy’s narrow midfield.
This formation would put a lot of pressure on Quincy Amarikwa to man the forward line alone, but the 4-2-3-1 formation would mean less emphasis on the striker to hold up the ball and would allow Amarikwa to what he does best: harass the opposition’s defense.
Some may see this formation as a negative one, especially when the Fire are at home, but against a midfield as strong as LA’s, I think this could give the team its best chance of winning.
Slowing down the Donovan/Keane juggernaut – doing a better job than against Higuain last week
After watching the clearly inspired performances of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane last weekend against the Philadelphia Union, it’s impossible for me to write about anything else for this preview. Donovan was clearly a man on a mission to surpass the MLS scoring record following his surprise snub from the final U.S. World Cup squad.
The Union were unable to handle the combination play and movement of Donovan/Keane as one dropped deep to collect the ball while the other would make a defense-splitting run.
Dropping deep, especially by Keane, allows players like Gyasi Zardes to move into that space and look for passes from the Irishman. Last week, I highlighted the attacking threat of Federico Higuain and the Fire did not deal with the Argentine well, allowing him to dictate the game and set up both of the Crew goals.
A much better job needs to be done this week but unfortunately, the Fire need to deal with two players instead of one. The Fire midfield, as I mentioned earlier, have an important role to play in attempting to stop Donovan/Keane from getting the ball when they drop deep for it.
The Fire defense also needs to be stingier. Too often, including on both of the goals, Columbus players were able to get in behind the Fire back line - something that needs to be addressed and prevented on Sunday. If the Fire do a better job of stopping Donovan and Keane than they did last week against Higuain, it will massively improve the Fire’s chances of picking up a positive result.
Prediction: Fire start a testing week with a positive result - 1-1 with a goal from Benji Joya.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.