After the weekend’s friendly loss against Tottenham Hotspur, the Fire return to MLS action in a massive match Wednesday night against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (7pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The Canadians currently hold the last playoff spot in the West and the Fire know that that a win would bring them to within one point of the final playoff spot in the East.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
A potential switch in formation? – Adding another body into the midfield
Vancouver are all about one thing: pace. The ‘Caps speed on the counter attack makes them a very dangerous team to face. Players like Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks thrive on getting in behind defenses, something we saw far too often against the San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday night.
The Whitecaps also like to run everything through their creative midfielder Pedro Morales who excels at finding other attacking players with defense-splitting through balls. With all of this in mind, I suggest the Fire look to a change in formation, becoming narrower, which would not only shut down Morales, but would make it harder for the Caps to break the Fire down.
A switch to a tight midfield diamond, similar to the way Real Salt Lake play, is probably the best option for the Fire. This would mean dropping Jeff Larentowicz to the bottom of the diamond, with Alex and either Matt Watson or Chris Ritter playing in the center and Harry Shipp playing at the top, behind Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa.
The Fire must focus on retaining possession in this match and not give the ball away cheaply in midfield, as we saw in the last match against San Jose. The Whitecaps thrive on picking up loose balls and transitioning into a counter attack.
Morales also likes to drop very deep to get the ball and start attacks, similar to Columbus’s Federico Higuain. Deploying this diamond formation would also limit the ability of Morales to drop deep and create due to the fact that more players would be able to pick him up when he drops into that position.
The tight diamond would leave Gonzalo Segares and Lovel Palmer a little exposed on the outsides, but for me, stopping the Whitecaps ability to counter attack is more important.
Utilizing Harry Shipp at the top of a diamond – taking advantage of a possible switch in tactics
Due to the strong play of Jeff Larentowicz and Matt Watson of late, Rookie of the Year candidate Harry Shipp has been shifted to the outside. If the Fire switch to a midfield diamond, it allows ship to play in his most suited position.
Playing Shipp out wide does have some benefits, most notably allowing him to drift in from the outside to join Magee and others in the attack. He doesn’t have the pace to play on the wing consistently so the more the Fire can start him in the middle, the better.
In the Whitecaps last match against Dallas, the Texan club found space behind the Whitecaps defenders, especially on the outsides. Playing Shipp, arguably the Fire’s most creative player in this position, would also allow Magee and Amarikwa to concentrate on getting behind the Whitecaps defense, instead of dropping deep into the midfield.
The Fire have started very well in games this season and continuing this trend against Vancouver is important. A new system that neutralizes the Vancouver attack while at the same time slots Shipp into his most suited position could be the perfect tonic for a much needed Fire victory on Wednesday evening.
Prediction: The Fire get a big three points: 1-0 with a goal from Quincy Amarikwa
WATCH: Jeff & Kevin talk the week ahead at Toyota Park