Dispatch: Chicago Fire vs. Chivas USA
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick thawed himself out Sunday night and watched the tape Monday night. Here’s his take on Chicago’s latest bungle…
Let’s start with some positives, shall we?
- My fingers have sufficiently thawed, allowing me to work the keyboard properly.
- I’ve recovered from my literal and figurative Monday morning hangover. Fire fans, I hope y’all have too.
- Chicago scored a goal on a nice piece of teamwork from Santos, MacDonald, & Nyarko.
- A robust, passionate conversation about the state of the club occurred on Twitter Sunday night. Regardless of where you stand on things, one thing’s for sure: people care. And that’s a good thing.
- Section 8 attended the match in good numbers and kept it loud despite the frigid weather.
- Overall, aside from the goalkeeping, the Fire looked like a serviceable team.
Now for the negatives:
- About 12-15 minutes into the second half, Chicago broke its franchise record for consecutive minutes without a goal scored. It was 401. Now its 410.
- For an MLS regular season match, Sunday’s announced attendance of 9723 is the second lowest in Toyota Park history, ranking behind Wednesday, June 30th 2006’s 7858. Thing is though, there’s no way there were more than 7500 folks in that stadium. More on that later.
- After playing relatively well for about 70 minutes – including a short stretch of second half domination – everything fell apart for the Fire.
- Chicago lost its second consecutive home match this season to perennial MLS doormats Chivas USA, 4-1. Certainly, Chivas is an improved side, but a 4-1 home loss to any opponent in a league renowned for its “parity” is, well, terrible.
- Dating back to late September 2012, Chicago Fire is now in the midst of its worst ten-match run in franchise history, going 1-7-2 with a -12 goal differential.
- The Fire squad is a veritable M.A.S.H. unit, with numerous players – both starters and reservists – either unavailable or playing hurt. Add Alex to the med sheet now.
- Virtual fratricide is on the verge of breaking out within the fan base.
- A mere four games into the season, folks are saying they won’t renew their season tickets.
- Cries for a change in either ownership, management, or both are bubbling to the surface.
- At 0-3-1 with a -8 goal differential, Chicago Fire is the worst team in MLS. Not only do the numbers not lie, but perception is reality in this case too – just wait ’til you see the aggregate power rankings on Wednesday.
Unsurprisingly, Chivas didn’t come out pressing. Sure, they played three in the back, but one of the wing backs tightly marked Patrick Nyarko, so Chelis essentially employed a four-man back line. Chivas held their shape relatively well in the face of a newly aggressive Chicago attack. Sherjill MacDonald had a bit more pep in his step, and Daniel Paladini contributed a couple well-placed free kicks. Perhaps most surprising was seeing Chris Rolfe on the left wing.
Alex (starting up top and underneath MacDonald) and Paladini were very active, looking for space and channels in the final third, but the Fire began to concede more possession and lose its offensive organization. Inexplicably, Chris Rolfe and Nyarko switched sides twice within fifteen minutes. The defense hunkered down though, with emergency right back Wells Thompson getting a lot of protection from Jeff Larentowicz and Jalil Anibaba.
A chippy Paladini earned his second yellow in as many games. Chivas hard man Bobby Burling brought a nasty scissors tackle to the legs of Nyarko to earn a yellow card as well. The gaffer Frank Klopas rubbed Patty’s head and offered words of encouragement to his oft-targeted winger. Section 8 chanted “You’re not really Chivas.” Heh.
The Fire continued to mount an attack, yet couldn’t cash in. Brother Wells Thompson let one fly on the break, with a blistering shot that sailed just wide of the upper 90. Dan Kennedy denied Rolfe one-on-one after Chris’s nice touch and breakaway. Offensively, MacDonald appeared to have the right ideas, but he just wasn’t quick enough to execute them.
Overall, a good effort from the Fire in the first half. They showed flashes of being able to put things together to create chances. Box to box, Paladini was solid once again.
Es Miller Time.
With the franchise record for consecutive scoreless minutes fast approaching, Chicago urgently looked to score. Paladini and MacDonald combined nicely to create one of Chicago’s best chances all year. But slightly impatient and perhaps surprised at being onside and all alone in front of the keeper, Paladini touched the ball a split second too soon and inches wide of the near post. Shortly thereafter, MacDonald found himself alone on the break. Lacking the breakaway pace he showed in New York last October, he couldn’t muster a shot.
Chivas really turned up the attacking pressure about ten minutes in, which resulted in an Edgar Mejia blast that put Chivas up 1-0. Tornaghi (nor any ‘keeper) hadn’t a chance. The men in front of him were bunched up in the middle at the top of the box. Chris Rolfe, in particular, was woefully out of position during the sequence that led up to the goats’ first goal.
Klopas decided to ratchet up the attack. Maicon Santos came on for Paladini and, as OTF’s Shane Nicholson astutely pointed out, offensively, things changed for the better. The tactical move to go with a fluid 4-1-2-3/4-3-3 with an interchangeable front five caused problems for Chivas and led to Chicago’s first goal of 2013.
Nyarko scored off nice combination play from Santos and MacDonald, both of whom were strong enough to hold the ball up long enough to allow Patty to cut inside and get one past stalwart ‘keeper Kennedy. Loudly, and with gusto, Section 8 chanted “one more Fire, one more!”
Quincy Amirikwa subbed in for an ailing MacDonald (calf) and barely missed netting a Nyarko cross after a crafty dummy layoff by Santos, who continued to look sharp. But then it all came crashing down. After atrocious positioning from Tornaghi on a Chivas set piece, Joaquin Velazquez easily floated a header over the Fire ‘keeper and across his line. Chivas’s second goal shocked a Chicago side that had the momentum going in their favor. Tornaghi’s obvious mental error proved costly.
The dagger came quickly. A mere two minutes later, Chicago’s high line got caught on the counterattack. Not a center back was within 20 yards of the ball as Chivas broke forward. Jeff Larentowicz got owned by striker Juan Agudelo, who tucked one in past Tornaghi. 3-1 Chivas.
The Fire didn’t give up. Nyarko and Alex combined for a good chance, but Kennedy, as usual, was positioned to make the save. Larentowicz had a good chance off a header from an Alex free kick, but once again, Chicago couldn’t crack Kennedy’s safe.
To add insult to injury, literally, Mario de Luna put a hack job on Alex, who was helped off the field by two trainers and stretchered into the locker room. But that wasn’t the end of the bad news, oh no.
Once again, the Fire back line was caught high up the pitch. Jose Correa responded by racing up the right side and crossing a ball into the penalty area that deflected off a scrambling Jalil Anibaba for a Chicago own goal. 4-1 Chivas. Knife twisted and removed.
After the match, Chelis felt sorry for Chicago Fire. “They played with a lot of bad luck, a lot of bad luck. They had lots of attempts and failed to score in the first half. We had five opportunities, and scored on four.” Si Chelis. Sometimes, this is the soccer.
Yeah, the Men in Red were unlucky on Sunday. But they can’t feel sorry for themselves. There are thirty, count ‘em thirty, games left to play. And as OTF’s Chris O’Connor noted to me Sunday night, perhaps the best way to avoid self-pity is to crank the Iron Maiden!!!
PLAY THE MUSIC!!!
Take the late own goal away, and what you have is a tale of two goalkeepers. Again, minus the own goal, I reckon this match would have ended in a draw had Sean Johnson been on the field for Chicago. Chivas’s second goal was 100% Tornaghi’s fault. And while the third came off a counterattack that took advantage of a high Fire line, followed by a strong individual effort by Juan Agudelo, Tornaghi’s positioning left him culpable once again.
On the other side of the pitch however, Dan Kennedy, one of the best ‘keepers in MLS, had a fine game. He made eight saves. Eight. The Fire created chances, but no had answer for Chivas’s captain and all-star.
Surprisingly, Logan Pause didn’t make it onto the pitch Sunday. Given his penchant for quick comebacks, I felt certain we’d see the Fire captain’s return. Nevertheless, with Videira and Kinney still ailing, Wells Thompson went the full 90 as the emergency right back.
Patrick Nyarko took a bit of a beating out there once again. Nyarko: “I’ve been hit in the past but I feel like early on this season it’s getting worse. I keep getting hit all the time and I don’t know. I don’t know what the rules are or what, for some reason it keeps happening.”
The Fire’s heart and soul offered more candid commentary: “I think we got over-excited, we left gaps behind. [Chivas] capitalized brilliantly today.”
Yes, the opposition stuck to their tactics, were patient, and took advantage of Chicago’s mental errors. Conversely, Chicago’s impatience played right into Chelis’s hands. With a plethora of injuries and a coach still looking for answers, the Fire have no set tactics. During their poor run this season the players have grown increasingly anxious, and it showed during the second half Sunday.
More from Nyarko: “[Chivas] didn’t create much, but they finished all their chances. We created a fair amount of chances and we did not finish them, and so it put the pressure on us to try to push the game more…and we not wanting to lose at home…we left ourselves behind and gave up some pretty bad goals…we can look at ourselves and say ‘these are pretty bad goals we conceded.’ Us players…we know what we did wrong and it’s easily correctable.”
Kudos to Nyarko for some honest, straight talk. That’s leadership. Why not give him the armband?
Gonzalo Segares played well once again. Chicago’s defender has perhaps been this season’s most consistent performer. But he was noticeably frustrated for much of the 90 minutes. Sega was vocal, trying to lead, but it’s hard to direct traffic from the left back position. Tellingly, Segares lacked confidence in MacDonald. When Sega had possession on the left, MacDonald looked to receive passes. But the Fire’s veteran left back looked elsewhere. Sega held the ball and sought other options as much as possible.
Real talk from Segares:
‘It’s embarrassing what happened today. I’ve got no words to explain how things were so bad. We had a pretty strong first half. When you don’t put away goals and when you give away easy ones, it’s a bad recipe.”
“We’re losing our guys and getting punished. We were pushing to come back after the first goal and gave up a quick goal on a set piece. We’re not putting away our chances and giving up easy goals which is hurting us badly.”
“We should have had at least two or three goals, but we’re just not putting them away which is frustrating. I think it’s even more frustrating when we give away a goal and have to come back from being down 1-0 when we could have been up by two or three goals. Things are just not working and we need to bounce back from this and turn this season around.”
Should the Fire should go with a 4-1-2-3/4-3-3, with Larentowicz playing the holding role and the quintuplet of Santos, Alex, Mac, Rolfe, Nyarko moving around interchangeably up top? When employed, it seemed to inject new life into Chicago’s anemic attack. I’d like to see more of this formation.
Despite his penchant for the 4-2-3-1, Klopas’s available personnel seems more suited for a 4-3-3. But additional players should be available in two weeks, so who knows what’s in store. Hey, look on the bright side: New York may not know what to expect when they come to town on April 7th.
Sherjill MacDonald looked fitter and played better on Sunday. He’s visibly thinner than he was two weeks ago, but remains too heavy and slow to be an effective point man. Fitness aside, he’s playing hurt. The Fire’s DP needs surgery on his calf. And if we’re to believe him, it seems there’s no tangible medical plan in place to deal with his Compartment Syndrome, which requires surgery.
Fun With Chalkboards
Hopefully, Alex earned himself a spot in the XI after Sunday. He was active on defense and dangerous on offense. The man plays with no fear and wants the ball. I say give it to him.
Alex’s line: 28/16 successful/unsuccessful passes; 3 key passes; 2/1 shots on/off target. Defensive: 4 tackles won, 1 interception, 4 recoveries
Aside from the late own goal he conceded (which was a moot point), and getting caught up field at a couple inopportune moments, young Jalil put in another good, active performance at center back. Whether it’s at center back, or right back, Anibaba should remain in the starting XI.
Here’s his stat line: 35/8 successful/unsuccessful passing; 1 blocked shot; 3/2 tackles won/lost; 3 interceptions; 7 clearances; 8 recoveries
- Chivas fouls: 16. This was expected.
- Chicago shots: 19, with 8 on target. This is much better.
- Dan Kennedy had 8 saves. Nobody was talking about this Sunday night. The Fire had good chances, but were up against an all-star goalie who played well.
- Chicago won 62% of the duels. Good.
- Chicago passing accuracy = 74%. An improvement, but not good enough.
- Chicago controlled 57% of the possession. Again, this stat can often have little tangible bearing on a result.
I originally wanted to insert a sampling of Sunday night’s Twitter fare into this post, and perhaps tell the story that way. Thing is though, a sampling wouldn’t do it justice. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the robust, passionate, and polarized conversation at the #cf97 Twitter hashtag. Scroll down to about 4pm cst on Sunday and proceed upward.
Announced attendance. This is a pet peeve of mine. Officially, attendance was announced at a paltry 9723. Again, it is outside the realm of possibility that more than 7500 paying customers entered Toyota Park on Sunday, which may even be a tad conservative. Dear MLS clubs: stop offending our sensibilities. Tickets purchased is not attendance. Be honest and make both numbers public, or don’t say anything at all.
Arne Friedrich’s on his way back to Chicago and should arrive Tuesday evening. Let’s hope he’s got a suitcase full of German alpine magic spray. A healthy Friedrich will bring the on-field leadership, direction, and gravitas this team so desperately needs.
A two-week break that will hopefully see players get healthy and allow the technical staff to come up with some new plans and continue to scout for a legitimate goal-scorer. Remember, the MLS window is still open. If the club’s willing to spend the money, a player can be had relatively quickly.
NASL side Minnesota United FC (formerly Minnesota Stars FC) comes to Toyota Park for a friendly on Friday at 10am. If you’re able, go check it out. It’s free.
On Sunday, April 7th, an under-performing New York Red Bulls squad comes to town. The pink cows get a tune-up vs. the Philly Union this weekend however. And Thierry Henry may be healthy in time to hit the Toyota Park pitch. After Red Bull, Chicago will embark upon a three-game stretch that will have the squad travel to Houston, host Columbus, and fly to league-leading Montreal in the span of 13 days.
Klopas, Leon, and company better circle the wagons, ’cause the frontier that lies ahead is full of formidable obstacles. Regulators, mount up!