Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. DC United #2

Will young Jalil redeem himself this weekend? (photo: 1000goals.com)

Will young Jalil redeem himself this weekend? (photo: 1000goals.com)

OTF’s Scott Fenwick and Luis Perez, Jr. of DCU 4 Life come together to ponder how exciting 8th place vs. 10th place truly is…

With lowly DC United in town, Chicago Fire is damned if they do and really damned if they don’t. No one will be the least bit impressed with another home win versus a team that’s managed two wins and eight goals in 19 games. On the flipside, if the embattled Ben Olson and his troops manage to pull even a point out of Toyota Park this Saturday night, the little hope that remains in Fire Nation this season may be lost for good.

Three points against the league’s doormat are a must for the Men in Red, who have cooled off after a six-game MLS unbeaten streak, and now find themselves eight points off the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on Houston. After two consecutive losses to Sporting KC and Vancouver, the Fire now sits on a 1-7-3 record against teams currently in playoff position. To get a shot at MLS Cup, you’ve got to be able to beat good teams. So far in 2013, Chicago’s done it just once.

Rumors of a new, young Designated Player are afloat. Apparently, an attacking player from the Southern Hemisphere is signed and sealed, with delivery imminent. Good news? Maybe. Unfortunately, the Fire’s track record with South American DPs has left much to be desired. The club must brace itself for a backlash from its fanbase if its new man turns out to be another Rafael Robayo, Federico Puppo, or Alvaro “El Flaco” Fernandez.

Word on the tweets is this guy’s got a chance to rep his country in World Cup 2014. He’s also got two awesome Spanish nicknames that translate well into English. Stay tuned…

A Look Back to Vancouver

Earlier this week, Jefe Crandall over at chicago-fire.com pointed out that last Sunday was first time the Fire hadn’t conceded a goal in the first 17 minutes of a game since June 8th vs. Portland. That’s cool I guess. You’ve got to admire Jeff’s effort to dig something positive out of the Fire’s 3-1 loss.

But here’s my question: How many times has Chicago conceded first in its 18 MLS contests to date in 2013? Answer: 15.

Lord help Fire Nation.

The loss at BC Place also moved the Fire’s almost three-year winless streak on turf to ten games at 0-8-2. Luckily, one Fire man, Joel Lindpere, didn’t make excuses about the plastic stuff.

“We played a great first half, but for us it doesn’t matter if we’re playing on turf or grass, I mean we played a very good first half, we had to realize in the second half a lot of our players didn’t have the legs after spending so much time attacking in the first. We should’ve played a little smarter, kept possession for a little while, hold back and play smarter.”

Ah yes.

The key words here folks? Two that sum up the Fire’s season? Play smarter.

Unfortunately though, the Men in Red played right into Martin Rennie’s hands. Vancouver lured Chicago into a false sense of confidence as it pressed and moved its line higher and higher in the first half. Then, unsurprisingly, the ‘Caps hit the gas in the second half and relentlessly attacked a Fire side that was all out of sorts and unable to adjust to Vancouver’s tactical shift.

Have a look at the average positioning charts:

fire avg. positioning at van

Fire, defending to the right. (image: espnfc.com)

van avg pos vs fire 2013

Whitecaps, attacking to the right. (image: espnfc.com)

The gaping hole between Fire centerbacks Austin Berry and Bakary Soumare tells the story of this match, as Vancouver forwards Kenny Miller and Camilo Sanvezzo are all but parked inside of it.

#9 Miller is just about even with #4 Soumare and #22 Berry, while #7 Camilo is well behind both Fire defenders.

Right wing/forward #26 Corey Hertzog is behind Chicago left back #28 Sean Francis, and #13 Nigel Reo-Coker is even with Francis and (supposed) defenisive midfielder #20 Jeff Larentowicz.

Look at how spread out the Fire’s back line is. Anibaba’s out on an island, and was ineffective at providing service in the attack. Vancouver (like most teams) was content to let Anibaba push the flank and give him space because he usually does little with it.

Going forward, the Fire would be better off to employ a 4-4-2 diamond wherein Anibaba stays back to provide more coverage in the right midfield, the left back (Gonzalo Segares or Francis) has license to push forward into the attacking third, and Larentowicz stays back to provide more defensive cover (middle/left) so Alex can get forward in attack.

The double pivot that Klopas employs hinders Alex’s ability to get involved in the offense. Why? Because when Larentowicz bosses forward (as he’s apt to do), Alex must pivot back and cover. You may recall that Alex was at his most dangerous last season when he operated underneath the striker as a CAM in a 4-2-3-1. A diamond 4-4-2 is certainly different from the latter formation, but again, it plays to Alex’s strengths.

Also, as in the SKC match a week prior, a tell-tale sign of defeat lies in Chicago’s second-half possession numbers. Just look at Vancouver’s overwhelming second half advantage:

chi v van poss

(image: MLS golazo)

Finally, it’s worth noting the Fire’s road record dropped to 1-5-2 after its loss to the Whitecaps.

How They Stand in the East

(image: mlssoccer.com)

(image: mlssoccer.com)

Three points is a must this weekend, as Chicago is eight points off fifth place with a game in hand on idle Houston. With a home win versus DC, the Men in Red will pull within five of the Dynamo, then head down to the Oven at BBVA next Saturday night with an opportunity to close the gap to two. Then, on August 3rd, the Men in Red will travel to Philly, who will likely will be within striking distance if the Fire has taken four or six points from its previous two games.

On the flipside though, if the Fire can’t manage five or six points from its next three games, its playoff chances will look decidedly bleak. Now is the time to rise, and a dominating performance at Toyota Park this Saturday night against United should give Chicago needed confidence as it prepares for two meaningful road games.

Tactics, Starting XI, & Injuries

As OTF’s Stephen Mangat noted, there’s no reason Klopas shouldn’t simply throw his boys out there and have them go mano y mano with their opposing counterparts. United is awful, so no over-thinking. Just play ball.

READ: Know Your Enemy – DC United #2

Expect Klopas to go with his usual double-pivot 4-4-2 versus DC:

fire 442 alex larentowicz

After hitting the pitch in a reserve match earlier this week, El Wolverine Logan Pause looks set to return to the eighteen this weekend. Hopefully, the Fire can manage to secure a lead and bring Logan on for 30 minutes or so to protect it in the second half.

Daniel Paladini will be unavailable for selection after receiving an additional one-game suspension from the league for his reckless challenge on Sporting KC’s Dom Dwyer two weeks ago.

Bench prediction: Kann; Francis, Jumper; Lindpere, Pause; MacDonald, Amarikwa

“Oh No, Not Again” by Luis Perez, Jr.

D.C. United continues to struggle on the offensive end with only two goals scored in the six MLS games it’s played since the last time these two clubs went at it on June 2nd. Defensively, seven goals were conceded in that stretch, which isn’t terrible, but it certainly looks worse when the ball isn’t going into the back of the opponent’s net — at all.

Saturday’s game (and frankly, the rest of them) isn’t crucial for United, as it’s out of playoff contention for good. With all the acquisitions and trades made lately, it looks like DC is preparing for next season. That said, the hope is new and old faces will gel in time for its next (and only) meaningful game — another trip to Chicago on August 7th for a U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

Lately, United seems to have learned how to deal with the high pressure teams have put it under. How? Coach Ben Olson does it by applying some pressure of his own early in the match. The new energy introduced by youngsters Casey Townsend, Conor Shanosky, Taylor Kemp, and Ethan White has allowed DC to start with more aggression and pace. Unfortunately though, it ends when the team gets scored on due to its inexperience.

(photos: dcunited.com)

(photos: dcunited.com)

There are no concerns in goal with Joe Willis taking the helm while Bill Hamid is away on Gold Cup duty, but I don’t think Chicago can say the same without Sean Johnson.

Kyle Porter returned this past week and will hopefully will be back in the starting lineup. He played well against Chicago last time around.

Nick DeLeon is coming back from injury, and will likely be in the 18. Sainey Nyassi has shown improvement, which is a good thing because United can make things happen when the wings provide service into the area.

With all the personnel changes and experimentation going on, it’s hard to predict a starting XI for United. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine

On an unfortunate note, the majority of the youth players who have done so well for United lately are being shipped to USL affiliate Richmond Kickers on loan.

Finally, as far as Dwayne De Rosario is concerned, my question is: WHERE ARE YOU?!

Vamos United!

Luis Perez, Jr., a.k.a. Harlem Knite, is one of the real fans behind the DCU 4 Life podcast. Follow him @HarlemKnite

Chicago Fire vs. DC United
Saturday July 20th at 7:30pm cst
Live TV broadcast on Chicago’s My50
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

Tickets still available here

#cf97 Nation

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