Breakdown: Fire vs. RSL

Dread submission (desert

Dread submission (desert

T.J. Zaremba has fun with heat maps, despite last Saturday’s result…

In making my prediction for the Fire’s matchup versus Real Salt Lake, I optimistically predicted a draw. The Men in Red had been able to draw against just about everyone during the campaign so far, thus I held an inkling of hope. However, this was a Real Salt Lake team ranked in the top five, if not top three in the league, while the Fire ranked closer to the bottom among the various power rankings. Since results in MLS can be unpredictable at times, I disregarded disparities in perceptions, perhaps to my own detriment.

Tactically, Frank Yallop showed why he is already the greatest Fire manager named Frank. He put his overmatched team in its best position to win. His tactics allowed RSL to win the possession battle and counted on his players to counterattack with quality. For the first 30 minutes, this strategy worked and the Fire found themselves up 2-0.


Possession advantage though 30′

Throughout the time period above, RSL controlled the center of the park.  Like my 8th grade science teacher taught me in terms of chess, if you control the middle of the board, you will control the game. This game was no different. When you look at the dominance in the middle by Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales versus Jeff Larentowicz and Benji Joya, you can see why Chicago’s 2-0 lead was tenuous at best.


Beckerman and Morales heat maps

Big Red

Larentowicz and Joya heat maps

After RSL got back into the game in the 72nd minute with a goal, it felt like only a matter of time before the comeback would be consummated. Then, the question became,”Could the Men in Red (and blue) hold on for a draw?”

The answer was “no” when the Fire decided to become generous hosts and its back four took up the following mode of defense:


A classic Wanker-4-2?

Results aside, there are a few individual performances that must be looked upon as positive so far in this increasingly lost season.

One of them is Mike Magee. For the first time all season, he seemed to be playing alongside his striking partner, as opposed to being slotted behind him. This gave the Fire more of a traditional 4-4-2 look as opposed to a 4-4-1-1.

Here’s Magee’s heat map from the New England game 2 weeks ago:


Magee vs. Revs

Compare that to Magic Mike’s imprint on the game last Saturday:


Magee vs. RSL

Versus RSL, Mike was more forward and on the left flank. As such, his was a stronger, more threatening mode of attack than in any other match so far this season.

From my seat at Toyota Park, it often appeared that Yallop made the change many had clamored for, which was to put Harrison Shipp in the #10 role, as opposed to left winger. When in the center, the rookie showed flair and skill in distribution. However, because the tactics were 4-4-2 (and not 4-2-3-1) with fullback Greg Cochrane pushed high and Shipp drifting inside, the left flank was wide open for large stretches, particularly in the first half.


Shipp vs. RSL

And finally, there is Bakary Soumare:



Follow OTF Soccer on Twitter @OTFSoccer


T.J. Zaremba was BarnBurner #110 and 1998 second-half season ticket holder in Section 8 of pre-mothership Soldier Field. After over a decade on walkabout, with a handful of guest appearances, he returned in 2011 and has been a regular (when his commitment to Uncle Sam allows it) at Toyota Park with his wife and the Hamster. Follow T.J. @TJZaremba

One thought on “Breakdown: Fire vs. RSL

  1. Soumare may be the most confounding defender in MLS. The Fire desperately need a reliable leader at centerback, a calm conductor type. Oh how I wish Arne Friedrich’s body didn’t fail him.

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