Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) vs. Houston Dynamo (1)

An ugly tackle to go with a less than pretty performance by the Men in Red (photo: uk.eurosport.yahoo.com)

An ugly tackle to go with a less than pretty performance by the Men in Red (photo: uk.eurosport.yahoo.com)

OTF’s Scott Fenwick witnessed the Moffat Bomb that netted the draw and left Fire Nation with that losing feeling…

When you pack it in with a one goal lead you, pardon the pun, play with Fire. And certainly, when you fail to adjust quickly to your opponent’s changes while holding on to a one-goal lead and fail to finish your scoring chances, you’re asking for bad news. Unfortunately, both those things happened at a hot, steamy, sparsely attended Toyota Park on Sunday afternoon, as Chicago Fire dropped a needed two points to visiting Eastern Conference foe Houston Dynamo in the 90th minute.

Could it be that the botched Mariachi version of the Star-Spangled Banner on Hispanic Heritage Day was a bad omen, a harbinger of a job half done? Maybe. Superstitions aside though, I’d like to think that two less-than-strategic second half substitutions and an inexplicable change in tactics doomed the Fire. Frank Klopas is now 1-2-5 when he goes head-to-head with Houston’s Dominic Kinnear, who, for whatever reason, has the upper hand on his counterpart more often than not.

Through 45 minutes, Chicago had the home crowd feeling confident. Aside from an early defensive lapse by Bakary Soumare, and an occasionally threatening Houston counterattack, the Fire had the best of their opponents, who looked a step behind and were content to absorb pressure. Uncharacteristically, the Men in Red dominated possession in the first half and played an attack-minded game in Houston’s end of the pitch, testing goalkeeper Tally Hall with a number of quality chances. Chicago was certainly the livelier side and looked well-rested.

Alex starred on Sunday afternoon and continued his soild play for Chicago (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Alex starred on Sunday afternoon and continued his soild play (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Eventually, the dam broke, as Mike Magee twisted a corner kick into the area off center back Bobby Boswell’s head and into the back of the Dynamo net for an own goal. 1-0 Fire, and it seemed as if the day might go the home team’s way — especially after Chris Rolfe escaped with a yellow card after an ugly, reckless challenge on Houston’s Eric Brunner in the 40th minute. Rolfe will be lucky to avoid suspension if the MLS Disciplinary Committee has a second look at his foul.

After a sleepy, uneventful start to the second half, the tide began to turn in Houston’s favor. Dilly Duka, who had played quite well, came off for Patrick Nyarko — another classic Klopas substitution for its own sake. Shortly thereafter, Kinnear made a tactical shift to three forwards and went with Cam Weaver for Warren Creaville in the 66th minute. Houston, looking for a goal, opted for attack-minded tactics and took control. Kinnear made yet another offensive substitution with the speedy Andrew Driver for Giles Barnes in the 77th minute, injecting further life into his heretofore lackluster side.

The following infographic shows how the Dynamo were able to wrestle control of the match following their two second-half personnel changes:


Fire vs. Dynamo Possession Intervals (image: MLS Golazo)

As the tide turned during the last half-hour, Frank Klopas inexplicably decided to pack it in while his team clinged to a one-goal lead. It’s puzzling. If your team is having success in attack, why switch it up? Why hunker down and let your opponent run at you? Why not try to gain possession and pressure the byline instead of dilly-dallying in the midfield? To be sure, the Nyarko and Juan Luis Anangonó (70′, for Rolfe) substitutions surely weren’t solely defensive in nature, but their’s was a counterattacking, slow-moving posture.

Magee had a look in the 73rd minute, but the far post got in the way of a two-goal Fire lead. Anangonó almost opened his account in the 77th, but volleyed wide. After that, it was two banks of four for Chicago and nail-biting time. Unfortunately for Fire Nation, the gamble to defend during the final 15 minutes backfired.

After Klopas weakened his squad with his final substitution (Lindpere for Alex, 84′), a surprising mental lapse by Patrick Nyarko cost his team a needed two points. Nyarko’s failure to man-mark Adam Moffat — an astounding sequence in which he simply watched Moffat run into the box and blast a Corey Ashe back-heel pass past Sean Johnson — may prove decisive when the 2013 regular season is said and done.

Certainly, as the regular season winds to its close and the playoff window shrinks, someone other than Mike Magee must step up and score goals for the Fire. Magee’s scoring touch has eluded him of late, as he hasn’t put one in the back of the net since August 3rd. Reasonably, Chris Rolfe should be expected to pick up his strike partner’s slack. Unfortunately though, Rolfe’s lackluster 2013 campaign continues. As in Chicago’s previous game vs. Sporting Kansas City, Rolfe couldn’t manage to finish an open look at goal that would’ve contributed to a more comfortable two-goal margin.

The magic's subsided a bit, so somebody needs to lend Mike a hand. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

The magic’s subsided a bit, so somebody needs to lend Mike a hand (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Among other things, when it comes to Rolfe, Frank Klopas’s obstinance is hurting his team’s chances to win when they need to most. Rolfe’s numbers don’t lie:

  • Minutes = 1789
  • Goals = 4 (4/14 at Houston; 7/3 vs. San Jose; 7/20 vs. DC United (2))
  • Assists = 0
  • Shots/Shots on Goal = 58/16
  • Goals/90 Minutes = 0.20
  • Scoring Chance % = 6.9

Surely, it’s time to start Anangonó and give Quincy Amarikwa more minutes as well. And as ineffective as Maicon Santos (who?) can be, his numbers are still better than Rolfe’s when you account for the difference in minutes played. Taking the argument for more attacking prowess further, it’s time to abandon the two holding midfielder set and insert Alex or Daniel Paladini at the top of the midfield in a 4-4-2 diamond. The presence of Cacha Rios has made Jeff Larentowicz redundant. A 4-3-3 would be worth trying as well.

Criticism of the Fire aside, credit to Tally Hall for his Man of the Match performance. A lesser goalkeeper surely wouldn’t have been able to keep his team in this match and allow it to escape with a point. And to give further credit where it’s due, Nyarko’s gaffe aside, Chicago put in a solid defensive effort.

Sparky did good work too (photo by Caroline Reckler)

Sparky did good work too (photo by Caroline Reckler)

In summarizing the result, Frank Klopas’s “Sometimes, that’s the way it is…” post-match commentary epitomizes the Fire’s 2013 campaign thus far. Instead of demanding more, expecting to win, and taking responsibility for failure, Chicago’s head man simply shrugs his shoulders into mediocrity, hoping his team will catch breaks. Trying hard isn’t good enough. You’ve got to make smart, meaningful, and deliberate decisions that put your team in its best position to win at all times. You’ve got to be able to counter and have answers for your opponent. Time’s running out.

A road game vs. the Sounders is next on the docket, which doesn’t bode well for the Men in Red. Chicago hasn’t won a game on turf in three years (0-9-2), nor ever in Seattle. Luckily for the Fire, Seattle will be without Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Brad Evans, all of whom will be on U.S. Men’s National Team duty for Concacaf World Cup qualifiers.

Unluckily however, Frank Klopas will not have the services of Cacha Rios and Joel Lindpere, both of whom will be playing with Uruguay and Estonia, respectively, during Chicago’s next two fixtures. All in all, the Fire will be fortunate to come out of the Emerald City with a draw. Then, a quick turnaround to Toronto for a Wednesday night matchup from which the Men in Red must take three points.

Be sure to tune in to this week’s episode of On The Fire Soccer Radio, as Brian Smith and I will discuss and breakdown Fire vs. Houston and see what’s in store for Chicago with a mere nine games left to play. Look for the show’s release this Tuesday night and find it on iTunes, Stitcher, or Podbean.

Scott Fenwick founded On The Fire in 2012. Co-host of the On The Fire Soccer Radio Podcast, Scott also contributes to the Guardian’s (UK) MLS fan previewsThe Cup.usPickles Magazine (UK)and is America’s #1 Rapid supporter.

8 thoughts on “Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) vs. Houston Dynamo (1)

  1. I thought Duka was playing really well, but at the end of the first half I observed Duka breathing hard and it appeared his legs were feeling heavy. In my opinion, Duka was subbed because he was tired. Nyarko is a solid player with pace and was the correct substitution.

    We win games by scoring goals and the role of a forward is to create and/or finish those goals. Chris Rolfe is putting himself in positions to score, this is great. He’s a proven goal scorer in MLS, more so than Magee, this is great. (CR: 1 goal every 3.52 matches MM: 1 goal every 4.96 matches) At age 30, he probably has a couple years left, this is great. We want him on our team. However, the one v keeper misses the past two weeks by CR are heartbreaking and unacceptable. Each remaining game for the Fire is critical. FK should keep Rolfe in the starting lineup and give him the first 45 at Seattle. If he’s ineffective, give Anangono the stage for the second half. JLA has looked dangerous in his limited playing time so far. In other words, we can’t keep CR on the pitch during a playoff push if he’s not scoring or playing well while we have a wildcard like JLA available.

    I disagree with you Scott about changing our starting formation. We dominated the first half and should have been up 3-0 with the game in hand at halftime. If Magee or Rolfe finishes their breakaways there would be no questioning our team’s structure at the beginning of the match. I am critical though, of FK not adjusting our tactics to shut down Driver as he was running circles around our players on the right side of the pitch. From the time of Driver’s entrance in the 77′ until the HOU goal they continuously fed the ball to the right side. Many of the HOU chances created started by Driver being allowed to go up 1v1 versus our defender and subsequently beating him. After Driver blew by us the first time, FK needed to realize this was HOU’s new tactic and the Fire’s weakness. I was squirming around in my seat those last ten minutes as I watched Magee and JLA camped out upfront while Driver looked like CR7 out there. The Fire needed to put another player out on that wing to double team Driver and provide support to our DEF. We didn’t need two players up front while winning 1-0 at home with ten minutes left before we take the three points.

    Big game against Seattle, can’t wait to see how we bounce back.

  2. Could not agree with you more. I just do not understand the tendency to just sit back on a one goal lead. There is an old cliche that “da Kid” apparently has never heard of : “the best defense is a good offense” – and it just happens to be true! Nothing will strengthen the defensive side or our game than a dangerous and potent offensive threat.

    True to form “da Kid” retreated and weakened our offensive threat and consequently allowed Houston to go into full blown offensive mode. It was sickening to watch.

    I am more convinced than ever that coaching (or lack of) is the cause of much that has gone wrong this year.

    There is really no excuse for not locking down those 3 points. The Fire has gotten away with this tactic a couple of times this season – but they finally ran out of luck. And It really angers me to see a good effort go to waste because the coach obviously does not have faith that his side can take the game to his opponents. Instead he throws the towel in and tries to sit on a one goal lead. How embarrassing!

    Sometimes my family must think I’m nuts because I often start mumbling to myself. On Sunday you would have heard me mumbling, “Nothing good can possibly come out of playing the game in front of our goal, Nothing!” Unfortunately I looked like a genius when the whistle sounded to end the game. How sad.

  3. I can only come up with two options to explain the tactical ineptitude on Sunday.

    1) Klopas has no idea what he’s doing. None. Would any other coach in MLS have made those subs? Unless Alex and Dilly Duka were begging for a rest, taking them off the field was an inexcusably stupid decision that directly contributed to Houston’s late goal. They were the Fire’s two best possessors and distributors on Sunday. I can’t count how many times Alex expertly extracted the ball from a Houston midfielder, or how many times he and Dilly weaved in and out of traffic to move the action far, far away from Sean Johnson.

    When Klopas took them out, he immensely weakened the Fire’s midfield. Joel Lindpere is not going to win many balls. He’s not going to juke past anyone. Klopas HAS to know this. Without Alex and Duka’s creative aggression, the possession advantage went to Houston. Without attacking Tally Hall, the Fire let Houston kick the ball around Sean Johnson for far too long not to expect a lucky goal like Moffat’s. Bunkering down like that puts all the pressure on the Fire’s exhausted back line in the extreme heat of midday. It was a stupid, stupid move, and the Fire paid for it with two points lost.

    2) Klopas can’t be an effective head coach when he’s still acting as informal technical director (and still trying to prove his technical director signings prior to being coach). Think about it. There’s a conflict of interest. A technical director wants his handpicked players to start. A coach wants (read: SHOULD want) the most effective 11 guys out on the field. Klopas is trying to do both and he’s shooting himself in the foot. It’d be one thing if Amarikwa, Santos, and Jumper didn’t have goals or assists. But they do. It’d be another thing if Rolfe or Lindpere or Soumare were consistently producing. But they aren’t.

    It’s a recipe for disaster.

  4. As I’ve said before, I do not believe he’s smart enough to be successful. We’re talking about a guy who told me last year, in essence, that tactics aren’t that important. Not ironically, he told me this on the eve of last year’s final regular season game — the draw that concluded the Fire’s backward slide into the 2012 play-in game vs. Houston. During said slide, it was apparent to most that he was being outcoached.

  5. Pingback: MatchDay Memory–Summer 2013 Part Four: Labor Day Weekend | Soccer Nomad

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