Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick and Dive Maria’s Don MacArthur bring you a match preview that will leave you wanting to hop a last-minute plane to beautiful North Cascadia…
Chicago Fire is officially at the halfway point of the MLS season with 17 games played (6-8-3). I hate giving grades, but for the sake of posterity, I’ll give the Fire a C-. If the Men in Red could have salvaged a draw at home last Sunday in the big game versus SKC, I may have bumped them up to a C.
Despite Sunday’s disappointing result, it’s hard to say the Fire’s season isn’t on the upswing. But with two (possibly three) reliable veterans (Paladini, Segares, Pause) unavailable for the trip to Vancity, and a confident, attacking ‘Caps squad waiting, this weekend’s fixture poses a significant challenge for a Chicago team that has yet to prove it can consistently compete with and beat MLS’s top sides — hence, its 8th place standing. Add to that the fact the Fire hold MLS’s longest winless streak on turf at 9 games (0-7-2), and Sunday’s is a tough ask indeed.
Moreover, after their nine-game unbeaten streak across all competitions came to an end, and while they’re in the midst of a jam-packed summer schedule, one can’t help but wonder if last Sunday’s result is a sign the Men in Red have leveled off. Problem is, they can’t yet afford to if they want to make the playoffs come November.
Lately, an uncharacteristic Fire weakness has resided in between the pipes. Sean Johnson’s on USMNT Gold Cup duty, so Paolo Tornaghi’s put on the gloves for the Men in Red. The result? Overall (including the 1-4 loss to Chivas in March), the Italian international is sitting on a 1-2 record with GAA of 2.67.
Non va bene.
Here’s Frank Klopas on Tornaghi after last Sunday’s loss:
“He wasn’t inexperienced last year when he stepped in and played.”
Question: Did the gaffer suffer heat stroke last Sunday?
Tornaghi was a rookie last year. He’s played in five MLS games in two years. Sorry Frank, but I’m not buying it. Somebody get Klopas an IV — straight to the brain.
At any rate, while he’s looked shaky and out of position at times, Tornaghi’s back line (with the exception of Segares) hasn’t done him much favors with (at times) sloppy play. In the spirit of fairness then (or until he gets benched for Alec Kann), I’ll reserve my evaluation of the young Italian until he finds his way back to the bench. In the meantime, I’ll hope for the best.
Set piece defending has been the Fire’s Achilles heel in 2013. This week, MLSsoccer.com’s Anthony Zilis reported that Chicago has given up 12 goals off dead ball situations so far this season. Nothing can explain this except poor coaching. There are ways to drill the squad and mitigate its glaring flaw. No excuses here. Enough is enough.
Here’s Klopas’s response to the problem cited above:
“I think before the ball goes out we have opportunities to stop plays. [We could] maybe make better decisions with the ball, but when you do give it up everybody has to focus and concentrate and just stick with their assignments.”
What the hell does this mean?
Is he purposefully not saying anything but the obvious? There is zero accountability in his answer. It’s as canned as canned can be. This type of response is typical Klopas-speak and frankly, I’m tired of it.
And speaking of being tired of things, if he hadn’t made it clear enough already, Sherjill MacDonald has grown weary of the Fire. You, dear reader, probably know this already. However, if this is news to you, have a look at OTF’s response to Sherjill MacDonald’s declaration to the media this week that he essentially doesn’t care anymore.
Moving on, let’s have a look at the Eastern Conference table:
Encouragingly, the Fire have two games in hand Columbus (on a bye), and Red Bull (vs. Montreal). Chicago has one game in hand on 5th place Houston, who travels to 6th place New England this weekend.
The preferable result for Houston/New England is a draw, which would put the Men in Red in a position to close the gap by two points on both teams if they can manage a win at Vancouver. There’s no real threat from the bottom (TFC & DCU), so the Fire finds itself looking up at the moment, fighting to rise.
Starting XI, Tactics, & Injuries
Generally, I’m not confident in Chicago’s chances for success against a 4-3-3. However, Vancouver’s is no standard version of this tactical formation.
Whether or not the Fire can keep up with the ‘Caps will depend upon its wings’ and fullbacks’ ability to get forward on the flanks, exploit the space Vancouver’s formation allows (click above), and work in tandem with the central midfielders to hold possession and work the ball forward. Route One football may work, however, if the Fire can dispossess the pressing ‘Caps in its own half, and then quickly bomb balls forward to Magee & Rolfe on the counterattack.
Patrick Nyarko is of particular concern at the moment. Playing hurt, he was half the man he usually is versus Sporting KC last Sunday. As a result, not only did the Fire not threaten at all on the right (zero shots from the right flank and inside the box on the right side), but Nyarko’s (and later Lindpere’s) inefficacy on the wing allowed SKC left back Seth Sinovic to own his entire side of the pitch and lead his team in OPTA events.
Here’s the lineup I expect Klopas to roll out this Sunday:
Daniel Paladini will not make the trip after his reckless challenge on Dom Dwyer last Sunday earned him a straight red card. Unfortunately, it was announced Saturday that the MLS disciplinary committee tacked an extra game onto his suspension, so the Fire’s midfield spark plug will also miss the 7/20 contest at home vs. DC United.
Gonzalo Segares will stay at home this weekend as well, suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Regarding Logan Pause, he returned to practice as a neutral this week after battling a sacroiliac joint strain, but it’s unclear whether he’ll make the trip to Vancouver. I assume he won’t.
Expected bench: Kann; Videira, Jumper; Lindpere, Thompson; Santos, MacDonald (Amarikwa).
I put Quincy Amarikwa in parentheses above, hoping Frank Klopas will have the good sense to leave the dishonorable, passionless Sherjill MacDonald at home.
“Goals Can Solve All Ills” by our man in Vancouver, Don MacArthur
Vancouver is a team that has faced a myriad of obstacles this season (especially over the past month), yet they’ve somehow managed to leap over all hurdles in their path. Center back Andy O’Brien went down with a hamstring injury on June 8th, which initially looked to be a devastating blow — especially considering Jay DeMerit has been out injured since the first game of the season. Luckily, Honduran youngster Johnny Leverón has stepped up to lead the back line.
The same week as the O’Brien injury, starting left back Alain Rochat was traded to DC United, further crippling the defense. The Whitecaps also signed a new #1 ‘keeper, David Ousted, a move that should’ve shaken the confidence of Brad Knighton, but Knighton responded by having the game of his life in net last weekend and led Vancouver to its first-ever Cascadia Cup win (2-0 vs. Seattle). All in all, Vancouver should have sunk to the basement of the Western Conference in recent weeks, and yet the opposite has happened.
The reason for the Caps’ success has been their ability to score goals. Their 1.61 goals per match is second best in MLS. Camilo and Kenny Miller have been the league’s most potent attacking duo in recent weeks, scoring a combined ten goals since the June 8th match. Even without Russell Teibert on the right wing (away on international duty), the forwards have continued to click. Camilo scored a beautiful free kick last week in Kansas City, and Miller opened the scoring at BC Place last Saturday versus Seattle.
Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie has not used 2013 signing Daigo Kobayashi in his intended #10 role, instead opting to have the ball fed through to Camilo and Miller by committee, with midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker and Gershon Koffie, and even the wingbacks, Y.P. Lee and Jordan Harvey, joining the attack. When the defenders do go forward, they often leave the back line exposed and vulnerable to the counter attack, which could be exploited by Mike Magee and company.
When Harvey and Lee do get caught out of position, midfielder Jun Marques Davidson, who sits in front of the CB duo, is responsible to cover. Despite his best efforts, the Sounders were able to run through the Caps’ defense time and again last weekend. Reo-Coker has been playing a bit ahead of Davidson, but look for the Englishman to play more of a defensive role, in an effort to prevent Magee from getting any clear chances on goal.
While Vancouver has looked unstoppable over the past month, the Fire could get a road result by exploiting its defensive frailties and limiting its forward duo, Camilo and Miller.
Chicago Fire at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Sunday, 6:00pm cst
Live TV broadcast on Chicago’s My50
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago