Breakdown: Fire vs. Sporting KC

Back in PanenKa form (photo:

T.J. Zaremba wades through the muck of Chicago Fire’s ugly win over Screamin’ Pete’s Sporting Club…

The Men In Red are one late game meltdown versus Real Salt Lake from having taken nine points from last season’s top three MLS teams in their last three games. The question is, “How have they done it?” The answer is simple: Frank Yallop is utilizing his personnel in the best possible way.

It appears the Fire is becoming a dangerous counter-attacking team.  Based on the action areas and possession over the past three games, this becomes clear.

images courtesy of &

Fire vs. RSL 5/3 (images: &

After the Real Salt Lake game, I thought the numbers above reflected nothing more than the visitors’ superior quality. RSL owned the game completely, especially in the middle.

images courtesy of &

Fire vs. RBNY, May 10th (images: &

images courtesy of &

Fire versus KC on May 18th (images: & 

My previous thoughts on the RSL game notwithstanding, when the past two weeks are factored in, ceding possession and looking to counterattack appears to be a deliberate plan set up by the Gaffer.

The results speak for themselves. Two goals against each team that competed in the MLS Cup Final last year, and five goals against the current Supporters Shield holder.

Coach Yallop has been utilizing his smaller, athletic, speedy attacking players against the typical slower and taller defenders that occupy most of the starting XIs in MLS.

Sometimes, unfortunately, this contrast of speed versus size leads to a complete hack fest, such as occurred last Sunday. 

Fouls, fouls everywhere (image:

For Sporting, it was to prevent the counterattack early, while the Fire needed to foul to take bigger players off the ball.

For a few weeks now, I have repeated this team’s best chance at success is to move Harry Shipp into the number 10 role being filled by Benji Joya. Based on the production of each, this would make sense.

Joya has looked overwhelmed as the CAM. His production versus KC shows it.

Overwhelmed in the middle?

Joya: Overwhelmed in the middle? (image:

Against RSL, young Joya’s shortcomings made sense. There may not be a better tandem in the league that dominates the center of the park like Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales. However, against a Sporting KC side without Graham Zusi and Oriol Rosell, Chicago needed more from Benji.

Thankfully, both Magic Mike and Holy Shipp filled the gaps in the offensive midfield. As his distribution shows, Mike was (again) clearly more withdrawn than a typical forward.

Magee covering #9 and #10 role

Magee covering the #9 and #10 roles (image:

And Harry Shipp was everywhere…

Harry Shipp is everywhere

Harry Shipp, ubiquitous (image:

Although the latest game plans have helped the Fire find a way to be successful in attack, it may prove a disturbing trend in the long run. Placed in the middle of the park, Benji Joya must be more productive than an outside midfielder and withdrawn striker.

Tactics aside though, the Men in Red earned another badly needed three points against a top side in the East.


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

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