The Fire return to Toyota Park to take on the Columbus Crew Saturday (LIVE 7:30pm CT on MLSsoccer.com) with no points to show after an encouraging performance last weekend against the Dynamo. But for a few mistakes, the result could have been a lot better for the Fire, but the team is certainly improving.
Columbus come to Chicago on a four-game unbeaten streak and have picked up two wins on their travels this season. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Getting the ball wide – creating 1v1 situations with the Columbus outside backs
Looking at the Columbus defense, Chad Marshall has been a rock for 10 years in the middle and the addition of the Brazilian Glauber means the Crew has one of the strongest center back pairings in the league.
On the outside however, there are some weaknesses, particularly on the left. Against Montreal last week, the Crew stuffed the middle of the field when the Impact had the ball in an attempt to prevent Felipe from creating. This meant there was a lot of space on the wings and when the Impact actually got the ball to the outside, they created chances.
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If the Fire are going to try and single out Tyson Wahl and try and get in 1v1 situations with him, Patrick Nyarko might be the best player for the Fire to deploy on the right hand side. Bringing in Nyarko would mean either dropping or shifting Daniel Paladini, the Fire’s standout player so far this season.
Another issue to deal with on the left hand side for the Crew is the presence of Eddie Gaven. Though Gaven has left his left back Wahl exposed on more than a few occasions this season, his attacking play makes up for it.
In any case, I expect to see a lot of activity on that side of the field and those battles should be fascinating to watch.
Dominic Oduro – not letting the former Fire player get in behind
The Fire traded Dominic Oduro to the Crew in the offseason for Dilly Duka and the Ghanaian has notched three goals for his new club this season. The Fire defenders will know all about the pace of their old teammate and the runs he tends to make, but they still need to be very cautious and the back line must work as a unit.
The danger of playing a high line against Oduro is that he can make runs in behind, whereas if the defense drops too deep, it allows the Crew to pile on the pressure and keep the Fire pinned back in their own half. Another, less reported danger from Oduro’s runs in behind is the second ball opportunities they create.
When balls are being played through to Dom, oftentimes defenders are stretching to cut them out, or just turning and blindly kicking the ball away, resulting in second ball opportunities. Columbus are very good at getting men forward to pick up on these second balls, with players like Higuain and Viana looking to do so whenever possible.
This tactic worked well for Columbus against the Impact last week. The emphasis will be on the Fire midfielders to track their runners and not allow Columbus to create chances from the second balls on Saturday night.
Defending set pieces – beating a dead horse but a noteworthy point
Watching the Crew’s last few matches reminded me again of how good Federico Higuain’s deliveries from dead balls are. His corners and free kicks, from any distance, cause havoc in the box.
Against Houston last week, the winning goal came off a badly defended set piece all around for the Fire. Brad Davis was allowed to put the ball in under no pressure after playing the free kick short and then the Fire’s back line and goalkeeper all froze, allowing the ball to bounce straight into the net.
It’s difficult to blame one person for the goal, but it was a very soft one to give up. That being said, I would like to see goalkeeper Sean Johnson start to come and claim more corners and crosses, especially with his size, but doing that brings about the risk of not getting to the ball and allowing easy goals to be scored.
In any case, allowing free headers against Columbus is unacceptable and picking up a clean sheet for only the second time this season would be welcomed by fans and technical staff alike.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.