Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) at Montreal Impact (1)
OTF’s Brendan Carr brings you a meditation on mediocrity…
The script before the match seemed to be more important than the result. It was the battle of the sweater vests, as the two Franks, Yallop and Klopas, faced off on the Stade Olympique carpet. Coming into the match, the Fire were winless on turf, with an astounding record of 0-9-3 since mid-2010.
Obviously, the storyline focused on the Fire facing former gaffer Klopas, but more importantly, neither side had won a match this season, perhaps making Saturday’s a must win for both sides. Montreal looked destined to win, as they led MLS with goals from set plays, while Chicago had conceded the majority of their goals from set plays.
After another draw though, how much are the Fire really improving? At this point last season, after six games played, they had four points. Now, they have five. Slow and steady wins the race? Not exactly.
Chicago has drawn five matches on the trot, so it’s safe to say they are playing a bit timid and more cautious than last year. Unfortunately, copious draws do not get you into the playoffs. The Fire look tough to beat, but they struggle to win.
Heading into this season, it wasn’t fair to expect Mike Magee to equal his 2013 output. Now, he’s being marked tighter, and it’s harder for him to find space in the box. Lately, some have criticized the MVP for his tendency to drop back, receive the ball, and look to distribute. But Magee can’t really be faulted because his midfield is not providing the service he needs to thrive. Magee knows Quincy Amarikwa’s strength, pace, and effort make the latter a persistent threat, so he’s taken to providing for his fellow striker.
The problem is not in the striking department, rather, it’s in the midfield. So far this season, Alex has shown yet again he lacks the consistent creative presence needed to be a quality number 10. The Brazilian shows glimpses of efficacy, but not enough to pose questions to the opposition. As he showed in Montreal, Alex is better suited as a number 8, tracking back to clear for the not-so-quick Jeff Larentowicz.
Speaking of Larentowicz, there is no doubting his attitude or professionalism. Though spirit alone does not win games — ability does, and he seems to lack it. To his credit, against Montreal, Red once again showed his prowess as a threat on set piece plays, as his header back across the box off Shipp’s corner led to Chicago’s lone goal. But overall, Larentowicz lacks that cool, controlling, visionary presence a team needs from its holding midfielder.
I’ve often compared Larentowicz to Chelsea FC’s John Obi Mikel. Like Mikel, once Red receives the ball, he has a tendency to look for the square option or backward pass. Certainly, it’s important to keep the ball and not force it forward, but the holding midfielder role is not only about shielding the central defense and resetting the run of play. An effective holding midfielder is also a marauding force in the middle who makes piercing runs at the opposition’s back line. Unfortunately, Jeff Larentowicz lacks that ability.
The good news from the trip to Montreal is the Fire kept Marco Di Vaio off the score sheet. The bad news is Jack McInerney scored for the fourth time in five matches against the Fire. The young striker is proving to be a thorn in Chicago’s side, much like former New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman once was.
After five consecutive draws, the issue at hand seems to be a tactical one. Playing four in the middle means the Fire is bound to get carved up, but playing four spread out spells even more trouble. If Yallop insists on continuing to employ a 4-4-2, he must condense the middle of the park by pinching his outside mids in and play a diamond, not a flat version of the classic formation.
Harrison Shipp has shown he’s Chicago’s most creative midfielder, yet he’s been placed on the wing. This is a tactical error. Shipp does not have the pace to play wide, but does have the vision and technical skill to play as the number 10 in central midfield.
Against Montreal, the Fire struggled to get the ball under control, as the terrible turf increased its bounce and pace. That said, the artificial surface may have actually helped Chicago. The Fire’s outside backs are not the quickest in the league, so when the Impact tried to thread their passes past the backs, their outside mids could not catch up.
In the end though, the goal allowed can be blamed on the centerbacks. Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado were too far apart and pushed up too high. Chicago is not quick enough to play a high line, and Soumare once again failed to show needed discipline in this regard.
Yet another draw for Chicago leaves us scratching our heads in frustration. Frank Yallop failed to change the game tactically like he did last week against Philadelphia, which put the Fire in a position for a comeback win (only to be thwarted by a poorly-taken penalty kick).
After this weekend’s draw against, arguably, Major League Soccer’s weakest side, will Fire Nation accept the status quo, or will it pressure its club for improved results?
Right now, the Fire do not look like a playoff side. However, play has improved. The talent exists to compete in the postseason and fans do have reason to remain optimistic. The question is: How patient are we?
Brendan Carr is an obsessed supporter of Chelsea FC and Chicago Fire, aspiring historian, and college soccer player who may or may not have any idea of what he’s talking about. Follow Brendan @brendanc23