Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at L’Impact de Montreal
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick brings you the Fire week in review, player and coach interviews, and gets you match prepped for Chicago’s trip to Canada’s sin city…
Perhaps this week’s trip to La Metropole will show us whether the Fire have indeed turned a corner. From ownership, to management, on down to the players, talk during the days leading up to this weekend’s bataille avec L’Impact focused on consistency and the Fire’s ability to pick up where they left off versus Columbus, especially from the second half.
Saturday marks Chicago’s first outing in the house that cheese built, aka Stade (Joey) Saputo, a formidable task for any road opponent. Montreal has had great success in their new stadium. And although they played this Wednesday (a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC in the first leg of the Canadian Cup semifinals), six regular starters (Di Vaio, Felipe, Arnaud, Nesta, Romero, Perkins) were on the bench against TFC and will be well-rested after a bye-week.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
The Past Week
The Fire’s home win versus Columbus was certainly a tale of two halves. While the first half saw decent, yet unremarkable play by Chicago (save for Patrick Nyarko, who was on a mission to win from the first whistle), the second half stats and chalkboards show us a team transformed:
Here’s a visual of the Fire’s most dominating offensive performance to date this season:
The most important number though? Under Frank Klopas, the Fire are 18-0-5 when they score first. And for the first time in 2013, they did. Have a look at the beauty that earned Chicago three points…
To sum up the victory, here’s Columbus manager Robert Warzycha on the Men in Red: “I can tell you one thing…we lost against the better team. They played much better than us, especially in the 2nd half. They created chances. They played to win, and they deserved to win.”
Cheers to that indeed.
After their 1-0 shutout of the Crew, a few Fire men earned some weekly accolades…
- Austin Berry is a member of Sports Illustrated’s MLS team of the Week.
- Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Jeff Larentowicz, and Patrick Nyarko are all on the MLS Castrol Index Top 20 this week. Of all teams, the Fire had the most representatives on the list. What’s the Castrol Index, what does it measure, and how? Get the low down here.
- Austin Berry is a member of the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week.
Berry was also nominated for MLS Defender of the Week, but the pundits forgot about his counterpart #6. That’s right folks, Jalil Anibaba was as good (and perhaps better defensively) last weekend. Sure, Berry had a shot on target and assisted on the winning goal, but his header on the latter came off an exceptional throw-in from Anibaba.
Check out their respective heat maps and you be the judge:
Without a doubt, the Columbus win should be savored (especially considering it’s only the Fire’s second of the season), but we shan’t rest on our laurels, right?
Fire homegrown player and Bolingbrook, IL native (represent!) Victor Pineda was invited to the USMNT U-20 April camp. The young Yanks will travel to Turkey in June for the FIFA U-20 World Championships. Good luck, kid.
Sebastian Mila transfer rumors swelled this week, only to be later dismissed by owner Andrew Hauptman. If you want the news from Poland, click here and here. All in all, a deal for Mila makes little sense unless the Fire want to deal or bench Chris Rolfe. Besides, Chicago needs back line depth and a striker. Mila is a CAM. Fugetaboutit.
And speaking of Fire transfer rumors, here’s the latest one, this time out of Italy. Apparently, SS Lazio striker Alessandro Di Mario is interested in a one-year loan to Chicago. Let’s hope he’s not a fascist. FORZA ROMA!
Continuing with the international theme, it seems Marco Pablo Pappa Ponce (remember him?) wants out of Holland. I’m not surprised. Marco Van Basten is a hard man. Marco Pappa is a soft boy. I wrote last season that Pappa would be in for a rude awakening at Heerenveen, so none of this comes as a surprise. And P.S. Fire fans, he ain’t coming back to Chicago any time soon, so don’t even think about it.
Sherjill MacDonald apologized to the team for his poor attitude and prima donna-like behavior last Saturday after Logan Pause and Wells Thompson had to hustle him off the pitch as time ticked away on a then scoreless draw.
In the locker room after the game, I asked Pause about the incident. As usual, he offered a forthright and fair assessment. But the official quote sheet on the club’s website didn’t publish his full statement. Here’s what was omitted:
Pause: “Maybe I was a little more frustrated than I wanted to [be]. I wanted to make the point that those seconds are valuable when it comes down to it and we’re pushing the game. It was 0-0 at the moment. It is what it is. It happens all of the time. If you guys [the media] were any closer [during games], you could see countless times of that happening in different scenarios.”
Fair enough, but the above illustrates clearly that the Fire captain, despite making amends with MacDonald soon after the incident, did not appreciate MacDonald’s selfish, juvenile behavior while the Fire were hunting for a winning goal during a derby match in front of their home crowd.
The pressure is getting to MacDonald. I suspect he’s not mentally equipped to be the lone man up top in Klopas’s scheme.
Remember that sequence in the Chivas USA game where the Fire morphed into a 4-3-3 and scored their first goal of he year? MacDonald worked up top with Santos and Nyarko, looked confident and dangerous, and assisted on Nyarko’s goal.
I wrote earlier in the season that MacDonald suffered from a crisis of confidence. And I’ll say again that it’s the gaffer’s job to work with his lone DP on this, to get the most out of him, to help him get his mind right. But perhaps they’ve already decided to unload him during the summer transfer window anyway, so any extra effort on the coaching staff’s part to help MacDonald may be a waste of time and thus render my point moot. Only time will tell.
What’s the moral of the story? Perhaps the aforementioned 4-3-3-ish tactic is a good plan B if the Fire need to press and score. Otherwise, expect more of MacDonald alone up top, as Klopas shows no signs of abandoning him despite his underwhelming performances.
In a blow to an already thin back line, Wells Thompson got hit with a one-game suspension for his tackle on Agustin Viana during the Columbus game. This is a B.S. call by the league. Sure, Wells came in hard and fast, but he went for the ball and certainly meant no harm.
Here’s what Wells had to say for himself immediately after the game: “[Referee Chris Penso] told me ‘I might’ve gotten this one wrong.’ He maybe could’ve given me a red card. It was a 50/50 ball. The angle…I tried to pull out a little bit but I wasn’t trying to hurt the guy. I’m glad. It could’ve been a lot worse. Was it bad?”
Thompson’s suspension guarantees Frank Klopas will go with his eighth consecutive different starting XI in as many games on Saturday in Montreal. As such, expect Mike Videira to get the start at right back. Videira played admirably there at Kansas City in March.
Finally, this from Friday morning:
IMFC Gut Check, from back to front, by 514 FC
Troy Perkins, as usual, will have the woodwork on lock-down. If his sheet is tarnished by a goal, it’ll more likely be attributable to the back line than to TP himself.
As for that back line, we expect Jeb Brovsky to provide his usual consistent but not extraordinary performance on the left. Hassoun Camara will earn us defensive AND offensive points for our MLS Fantasy roster on the right flank. It’s the centre that is uncertain.
Matteo Ferrari is injured and Alessandro Nesta is playing only his second match since returning from injury. Karl Ouimette is coming off a dismal performance in the Canadian Championship against TFC’s B-team. We’ve lost a little confidence our homeboy, we can only imagine how he’s dealing with it.
Bernier as the lynchpin between the midfield and defense will be solid as always. A good value pick for your MLS Fantasy roster as well because he is involved in so much of the play.
The midfield is where Marco Schallibaum has the most depth to work with. We’ve been seeing Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud, Felipe and Andres Romero starting so far. However, the latter two have not produced to their potential and we’d like to see Schallibaum shuffle the midfield up a bit to see if a different midfield quartet can do a better job of servicing Marco Di Vaio up front.
Marco Di Vaio has had a better start to 2013 than he had when he joined the club midway through the 2012 season. With 3 goals, he’s certainly on track to meet his personal objective of 10 goals in 2013.
Apart from finding this objective a tad unambitious, our bigger concern is our lack of depth up front. One injury to Di Vaio and we’ll be relying on Andrew Wenger for finishing. Despite his promising talent, Wenger hasn’t played enough minutes under both Marsch and Schallibaum to develop into a consistent threat.
Overall, we had a great pre-season and start to the regular season, but it seems like the group has failed to rise to the challlenge of their last two opponents, SKC and Crew. Also, on Wednesday an Impact XI consisting mostly of first-team subs and reservists suffered an embarrassing 2-0 loss to TFC in the first-leg of the Voyageur Cup semi-final. The fans will certainly still have a bad taste in their mouths come Saturday, we just hope the first-team has made the necessary adjustments from the last 3 matches.
In summary, this one is a toss-up for us. You probably have a Canadian coin somewhere between the cushions of your couch. Dig it out and flip it!
Nos amis Roberto and George, aka 514 FC, bring la passion de football de Montreal. Follow the boys @514_FC
Sparky’s Sizzling Questions
Patrick Nyarko on Montreal and building on the second half vs. Columbus…
If Patrice Bernier is taken out of the equation and unable to build and distribute from his defensive midfield position, does that give you more of an opportunity to get behind Montreal’s back line?
“With Chris and Mac, we can come up with something whereby one of them is going to be able to get behind their back line. We know they’re not the fastest, but they’re very smart, experienced defenders. Chris Rolfe is very quick. When he needs to get there, he will. Mac is very, very quick. And so I think we’re going to do it in such a way that we’re going to keep rotating, especially the front four. The wide guys are going to be looking for more diagonal balls in behind. But it all starts with getting and maintaining possession in the midfield.”
“We saw against Columbus, if we can keep possession we can create good opportunities. It starts with ball possession, being patient, and not ending up [with a] mentality we’ve had a couple times on the road [to] just sit back and hit on the counter. I think we should go in there knowing we’re confident, that we can play with them.”
“It’s very tough up there, but we feel confident we can get a result. [We’ll] just stick with it and find our advantages. With the smart players we have on this team, as the game develops we can figure out where the advantages are and keep hitting those spots. As I said, [Montreal] are not that quick, but they’re very smart. We’re going to come up with a scheme where everybody can maintain possession and get in behind them.”
Do you expect to build on the second-half intensity and attack you guys showed against Columbus instead of, perhaps, trying to counterattack against a counterattacking team?
“Yes. Absolutely. We’ve shown we can do it. It’s just about confidence. Our coaching staff’s challenged us to try to take [the same intensity] on the road and see if we can build consistency. This is the challenge to the guys.”
“It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to play an extremely smart game. We’re not going to leave ourselves exposed on the road and concede a lot of goals. We’re going to be extremely patient, weather the storm the first 20 or 30 minutes, and then settle into our game and try to play with a team near the top of the East. We have the guys to do it.”
Logan Pause on “turning a corner,” Montreal’s spine, Marco Di Vaio, and Chicago’s wing play…
Does it feel like you guys turned a corner after that second half last Saturday?
“We’ve strung together some pretty good results. We’re building on our last group of games. Getting a shutout over the weekend continues to move us in the right direction. The second half versus Columbus is arguably the one of the most complete halves, one of the most complete performances we’ve put together.”
Tactically, Montreal’s strength is its spine. Talk about Felipe and Bernier. What are you and Jeff Larentowicz working on to handle those two players?
“We know they’re spine is strong, even with Di Vaio up top, Felipe, Davy Arnaud in the middle, and then Bernier sitting in front of the back four – that’s where a lot of their attack is. Bernier is a really strong holding midfielder who’s able to distribute.”
“With the help of Chris Rolfe dropping underneath, I don’t think there will be too much grey area in terms of the matchups and how we’re going to move. We know that Felipe and Davy Arnaud also like to make deep runs out of the middle, so we’ll have to be ready for that. And then Di Vaio is a guy who’s constantly sitting off the shoulder of the defender.”
“It’s not just Jeff and I. It’s a collective effort, even including Chris Rolfe – an attacking player – to bring him in to help us, and help from the center backs also.”
On catching Montreal Striker Marco Di Vaio offside:
“We’re not going to try to hold a high line, trying to perform the offside trap, especially when you have a guy like that [Di Vaio] who kind of teeters the line, you don’t want to put it in the hands of the referees to make those kind of split-second decisions, you know, whether he’s a yard onside or a foot onside. We know there are going to be times where he’ll be running into offside positions where we don’t need to just drop, drop, drop. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to try to look to get him offside.”
On exploiting Montreal on the wing:
“Regardless of who we’re playing, that’s Patrick’s bread and butter – getting behind and making life miserable for outside backs. That will be no different this weekend of trying to get him involved. The more that we can win the ball in good parts of the field and get the ball to guys like Patrick and Joel, and even Chris Rolfe in those pockets, the better we’ll be offensively.”
Frank Klopas on road play, roster issues, and transactions…
On the challenge of building upon the second half of the Columbus game:
“Every game is different. I think the second half was good. I think we worked hard defensively. On the road, you start from that. When you defend well and keep a clean sheet you always give yourself opportunities to win.”
“From a mental standpoint, over ninety minutes, you’ve got to defend well, you’ve got to stay compact, you’ve got to be organized, be good with the ball. I think everything starts from there, to have a good mentality. There’s no difference in Montreal. You’re on the road, it’s a good team.”
On injured defenders Arne Friedrich and Steven Kinney:
“Kinney might be [out] longer [than Arne]. [With Arne] there’s always a hope. Everyday. That’s all you can do.”
*NOTE: Friedrich was in street clothes at training Thursday, accompanied by therapist Thomas Fennewald.
On contingencies if Friedrich doesn’t come back:
“We have to look at them. It’s difficult to get [other players] now. Our window’s closing next month [May 6th]. We’ve got to be looking at guys within the league. I think at some point [Arne] will be back, but you always have to [think of the] ‘what if?’ I think with Kinney also being out (a long time), we’re looking at all situations. We have to do it now so we’re not [left] reacting.”
Is the new MLS intraleague loan policy helpful?
“It’s good. I think it depends upon the age [of the player]. 24 or whatever. It’s still, though, about which players are available. Is it a young guy who’s still two years away from helping you? In our situation, we’d have to get someone who we feel is going to push the other guys, who’s going to come in with the quality that if something happens, he can step in and play.”
What about a package deal where the Fire could loan a player age 24 or under in return for an older player?
“Yeah, you could do that. It’s a situation where, if you have depth in certain spots, you can work something out from both sides. And it would be good for the younger player because he could get more playing time. It’s a good thing. It just depends upon the needs of different teams. We’re exploring that too.”
Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact
Saturday, April 27th at 3pm cst!
Live broadcast on NBC Sports Network
La radio en espanol: 107.9 FM La Ley en Chicago.