OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 34
Each and every Wednesday, OTF contributors have their say on our Men in Red…
The Men in Red are over the thin red line again. With two games left to play, they control their own playoff destiny. Are you surprised?
I am surprised, and it has nothing to do with the players. For many weeks now, I’ve said this squad has the talent to be a competitive in the MLS playoffs, but the results just weren’t stacking up. To be sure, September was a month of underperformance that left even the truest believers skeptical.
Now, what surprises me is Frank Klopas’s willingness to change his tactics. For example, take last Saturday’s game in Dallas. The Fire didn’t simply jump out to a 3-0 lead because FC Dallas played like a team that would have rather been at the bar. Moreover, it wasn’t just the now playoff-eliminated Toros’ indifference that made Chicago look dominant. Instead, it was Chicago’s pressing, 4-4-2 diamond.
Simply put, Frank Klopas’s best chance to redeem himself, save his job, and put his team, dare I say, in a position to not only make the playoffs but win the Eastern Conference, is to abandon the two defensive midfielder set as his first option. It’s no coincidence that the Fire is a better, more dangerous team when it plays with a lone DM. Whether the gaffer likes it or not, his best defense is his offense.
Consider Jalil Anibaba’s quote after last weekend’s win in Dallas: “If you go back and watch the video, the way we closed out the game was not just a defensive effort. We had a lot of help from players higher up the field that killed off minutes and took a lot of time off the clock. That was what we needed. It is our job as a defensive unit to keep balls out of the back of the net but I thought the attackers did a very good job to help us finish off the game.”
Read between the lines. What’s young Jalil saying? To paraphrase, “Don’t park the bus.” Imagine the number of points the Fire wouldn’t have dropped this season if what Anibaba described above had always been the plan, the mentality.
At the end of the day, Chicago Fire is a better team when Alex starts at CM. Thus, going forward, Frank Klopas is beset with a conundrum: does he bench Rios or Larentowicz? If he can’t bring himself to do either, and insists that both veteran DMs remain in the starting XI, he’d be foolish to employ a double-pivot 4-4-2. Instead, Klopas could go back to his vaunted 4-2-3-1 and put Mike Magee at left wing. Or, perhaps he’d consider removing Bakary Soumare and playing Larentowicz at center back in more of a libero role?
With two games remaining and the playoffs not yet guaranteed, Klopas must devise a plan, get his players to buy in, and stick with it. Tactics matter and it’s time for the gaffer to make up his mind.
I’m not surprised the Fire is currently sitting in playoff position. It’s a very Chicago-esque thing to barely scrape by at the end of the season. I don’t like it, but it makes for a hell of a ride. The thing that I don’t care for is that the Men in Red now partly depend upon the results of other games in the Eastern Conference, which isn’t reassuring. Although two wins will put the Fire in the playoffs regardless of other teams do, I won’t put my money on an away win at New York on the last day of the regular season.
Depending on the results of the New England and Philadelphia games this week, Chicago can stake its place in the post-season with a win against Toronto, which would definitely help me breathe a little easier. Unfortunately, I keep replaying last year’s play-in game exit over and over in my head. Just as disheartening as missing the playoffs would be to get knocked out in the 35th game for the second consecutive season.
I see no reason the Fire shouldn’t down Toronto fairly easily at Toyota Park this weekend, as the Reds continue to struggle. Chicago should be able to take advantage of the Canadians’ ineptitude, and with a little help from Montreal and Columbus, might just get that coveted “x” next to its name in the standings come late Saturday night.
After being over “the thin red line” for the second time in 2013, I must say I’m a bit surprised that Chicago Fire is very close to making the MLS post season – especially when I look back at the past seven to eight months. Here are some things that have made me scratch my head this year…
First, why on earth did LA Galaxy give away MLS MVP candidate Mike Magee for Robbie Rogers? Rogers has clocked 502 minutes and made one assist. Magee has 13 goals and four assists in 1721 minutes for the Fire. The soccer gods gifted Chicago on this one.
Second is the awful, 2-7-1 start to the season, which gave way to Arne Friedrich’s retirement. Also, don’t forget Sherjill MacDonald. Never has there been a player who showed so much promise during his first season and was such a complete a non-factor in his second.
Third is Patrick Nyarko’s concussion symptoms and Chris Rolfe’s lack of finishing touch – unfortunate circumstances to say the least. I could rattle off at least six more reasons why the Fire should not be in the playoffs, but nonetheless, they now control their own destiny with two regular season games remaining.
I’ve written more than once in this space that I didn’t think the Fire would make the playoffs. Between their inability to get results on the road, Frank Klopas’s failure to make tactical adjustments during the run of play, and late-game meltdowns (which are related to not making effective in-game adjustments), I did not believe this team would earn the necessary points. The problem has never been the level of talent on this team, just the execution. Thankfully, the big flaw in my argument is I thought Chicago would need 53 points to make the playoffs (as it did last season). Apparently, they will not need as many points this season.
Another idea I have maintained more than once in this space is the Fire have had everything line up nicely for them on multiple occasions. Therefore, I should not be surprised that they are in control of their own destiny (this week, at least).
When it came to the Fire’s opponents down the stretch, week after week, the Men in Red had good fortune. Certain foes had Concacaf Champions League matches to deal with, or key players on national team duty. Montreal was (is?) in meltdown mode, and recent adversary DC United spent most of its resources on a US Open Cup win before it hosted Chicago a couple of weeks ago. These things and more have played into the Fire’s hands. Moreover, Chicago’s nearest playoff competitors have played to draws of late and dropped points. Most recently, Philadelphia only managed a point at DC United last weekend.
Will the Fire make the playoffs? I am still not convinced they will. Three points this weekend is nothing short of a must against a bad Toronto team. Besides, it seems as long as I stay negative, the Fire gets results. So for now, I won’t change.
If you’re a die-hard Chicago Fire fan who’d like to take part in the OTF Roundtable, please send Scott Fenwick an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to get in on the conversation and make your voice heard! Cheers.