FuegoCast #80: The Chaos is Real

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s 3-2 home win against New York Red Bulls, review the recent Player Insanity move, Gregg gives up talking soccer to talk to give an update about the wrestling, preview the weekend’s game against Orlando City, and take a quick look at the CONCACAF and UEFA Champions Leagues.

Also, Sara and Joey T make their triumphant returns to the lineup, Sara returns with bloodlust flowing, Gregg keeps his crew in line, someone in the panel deserves a yellow card for driving while unmuted, Joey and Gregg give Wednesday night’s referee a new nickname, Sara calls out Young Steve Young’s driving ability compensation, the gang work the bleep button to death, Sara goes off on a tangent about school, Gregg gets excited for confetti and can’t stomach the national anthem, Sara keeps introducing herself to the show and later contemplates hygiene of pregnant women, Joey gets a new nickname, and Nick is drinking himself into oblivion for having to deal with the audio and yellow card edits.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Sara Corona, Joey “Orange Cassidy” T
Producer/dead from editing: Nick Fedora

TRT: 54:26

Download: Fuego Ep. 80

Defensive Breakdowns: Red Stars Late Game Collapses

Alright Red Stars, we need to talk. Look, you were doing so well throughout the season, especially without your national team players away at the World Cup, but now with the end of the season in sight and playoffs within reach, it’s time to look at something that’s really bothering me (besides the embarrassing goal against Portland). One win from the last seven games is bad enough, but dropping five points from three goals conceded after the 80th minute in that span is criminal when chasing first place and building momentum for the post season. Let’s take a look at what’s going wrong.

Keeping Calm Under Pressure

Let’s start all the way back to July 25th when the Red Stars were on their way to earn another three points against Washington Spirit to add to the gap atop the standings. Chicago held a 1-0 lead after a Christen Press opening goal in the 30th minute and attempted to close the game out. Let’s take a look at Vanessa DiBernardo who finds time and space with the ball to keep valuable possession alive. Red Stars captain Lori Chalupny shows for the easy ball, while Press makes herself available, likely for a give and go behind the defense, with Sofia Huerta occupying empty space as the secondary release. However, DiBernardo’s eyes are locked on a deeper, longer range target.

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This is the first critical mistake and where inexperience shows for DiBernardo as she releases for Arin Gilliland as Francisca Ordega quickly closes down the space and fights for the ball. The Red Star defense should still be in decent shape outnumbering the Spirit attack six to three should they lose possession, although league leading goalscorer Crystal Dunn (navy blue #2) all alone in the middle of the frame should cause concern.

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Ordega wins the ball from Gilliland and the second ball battle in midfield against Chalupny giving the Spirit an opportunity to counterattack. The webcast direction fails us here as we only see Amanda DaCosta immediately rushing toward goal with Christine Nairn supporting to provide a delayed run at goal. We can’t see how the other players react to the change of possession.

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Here’s where the next critical development for the Red Stars happens as Nairn lines up a long distance attempt at goal from around the same spot Press scored earlier roughly 25-30 yards out. The camera angle is too tight for a clear picture and too fast to get the exact frame I wanted (Thank you for having a slow motion option, MLSLive), but Nairn fakes out Danielle Colaprico’s last ditch slide tackle to block the attempt. With a wider camera angle, we may have been able to see how these three things developed:
1. The effect of DaCosta’s run, if any, dragging the back line out of position.
2. Colaprico defending the center of the midfield without cover as Chalupny remains behind the play after losing the 50-50 ball.
3. DiBernardo not dropping into the midfield in Chalupny’s place after Ordega releases the pass to Nairn.

Regardless, Colaprico going to ground without cover is an ill-advised risk. Merely closing down the space may not have been enough at that distance away from the shooter to thwart the danger, but losing an all in bet from a desperate position prompted the scrambling Red Stars centerbacks to double down on the next shot attempt.

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With Nairn ready to release her real shot, both Julie Johnston and Samantha Johnson close her down leaving space behind them right in front of the goal. Ideally, Johnson would close down with Johnston covering, as goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc cheats toward her near post and Johnson would eliminate the far post angle. But with the Spirit attack keeping its momentum, there’s no time to decide, and it’s better for both of them to react rather than neither of them.

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The ball deflects off Johnston fortuitously to Dunn, who manages to find the space occupied by the centerbacks for a clear look at goal. Gilliland does a great job sticking with Dunn deny space for the shot, and even gets a piece of it, but it unfortunately manages to be a deflection that beats LeBlanc at her near post.

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This sequence began with DiBernardo making a high-risk, long distance pass back to the defensive third when easier, safer options away from goal available. Taking care of the ball is absolutely critical to managing close games late and giveaways in the defensive half put immense strain on the tired defense. The Red Stars did well to scramble after Gilliland lost the ball, but the chain reaction had already started and a dangerous attempt at goal became inevitable.

Keeping Track of Wide Danger

This match against Kansas City FC comes the week after the collapse against Washington. This being a home game and after the burn of a late goal the week before, one would expect a better performance in the latter stage of the match. Unfortunately, that was not the case again.

So we see Kansas City take a throw-in late in the match with the Red Stars forming a defensive shell around Heather O’Reilly who receives the throw without immediate pressure and Lauren Holiday making a run to the corner for a pass down the touchline.

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Julie Johnston pressures Holiday as she catches up to the through ball and everyone else follows the play completely abandoning O’Reilly. One of the players from the defensive shell needs to stay behind to track one of the most dangerous players on the team and a USWNT veteran.

This sequence is framed so poorly it is hard to see what is happening in the box. This isn’t a provocative stylistic framing choice like on Mr. Robot (highly recommended viewing if you aren’t already watching, BTW). Anyway, we can’t see the movement developing in the box or if a side has a numerical advantage. We do see Frances Silva making a run towards goal, though.

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O’Reilly receives the pass with too much space allowed by the Red Stars midfield. She will have plenty of time to touch, look up, and pick out a target. Again, it’s too hard to tell who is marking whom, but the Red Stars’ centerbacks aren’t marking anyone. Johnston is still out by the corner after defending Holiday and Abby Erceg is floating around atop the six-yard box.

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By the time O’Reilly attempts the cross, no one is standing in front of her and the goal and the nearest defender is still three yards away. Meanwhile, Sarah Hagen starts her run to the far post.

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Hagan wins the header at the far post as she loses her mark and beats the defender, who had to slide over to cover, at the far post. This is a perfect cross to the top of the six-yard box right in front of goal. The type of cross O’Reilly can make all day with no pressure at all.

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When goals like this happen, we often look at the defender’s marking or the goalkeeper’s decision of whether to come off the line, but these issues would not come in to play if the midfielders properly tracked the opposition, especially one of the most dangerous players on the field.

Step Up and Stay in Line

Our last late goal to look at comes from last Sunday against the same Washington Spirit as league leading goal scorer Crystal Dunn nets the winner in the 92nd minute. This lost result would send the Red Stars down to their current position in third place behind Washington and eight points behind league leaders Seattle.

This sequence begins with a low-percentage long ball from the Spirit’s defensive third that the Red Stars defense should easily recover. However, Dunn’s speed puts pressure on Michelle Lomnicki, so instead of an easy recovery and pass to the goalkeeper to regain possession, Lomnicki has to put the ball out of touch conceding possession to the Spirit in their attacking third.

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The defense recovers quickly and appears to be in position to defend the throw-in. It is taken quick and immediately passed back to Dunn. Lomnicki closes down Dunn immediately and Arin Gilliland leaves her marker to double team Dunn. Meanwhile, we see only one Spirit attacker in the box attentively marked by Taryn Hemmings.

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Dunn attempts to power through the double team as Amanda DaCosta makes a run in the box. Abby Erceg tightly marks Spirit attacker Ngozi Okobi with Hemmings closer to goal and ready to clear away a far post cross.

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The Red Stars defense drops deep to prevent any dangerous runs behind the line, but concede all the space at the top of the box. Dunn knows if she can get to the top of the box, she can get a dangerous shot off. At this point, Gilliland has to put pressure on Dunn to stop her, or at least make her pass the ball where the organized defense can intercept. Erceg, however, breaks the defensive line following Okobi’s run instead of letting Okobi run offside.

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Gilliland does apply pressure, but it’s not aggressive enough as Dunn easily outruns it and continues her dribble. Melissa Tancredi is a peach of a forward who tracks all the way back to apply further pressure on Dunn’s shot. Unfortunately for the Red Stars, Okobi’s run works as she drags Erceg completely out of position opening a huge window through which Dunn can shoot.

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Tancredi is too late to block the shot (nice to see the effort from a forward, though!), and Karina LeBlanc is very late to cover the far post. All while Dunn dribbled centrally, LeBlanc stuck tight to her near post, possibly screened by her defenders, and reacted far too late to the shot. As for the shot itself, sure enough, right through the huge window vacated by Erceg. Dunn did all the hard work, but Okobi is the unsung hero for opening the space for the shot.

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With only three games left of the season, the Red Stars should still qualify for the playoffs, but the battle for the top position they were winning before these dropped points has been long lost. Thankfully, the Red Stars play two of the last three games at home on Sunday, August 23rd in Lisle and Sunday, September 6th at Toyota Park. Go support your Red Stars as they will have hopefully fixed the problems leading to these late game collapses.

FuegoCast #79: All About the Cups

The gang returns from another hiatus to review Player Insanity: 2015 Summer Edition, the 2-0 Brimstone Cup home win against Dallas, offer criticism to Harry Shipp’s form, preview Friday’s away match at Portland and Wednesday’s huge US Open Cup Semi-Final at Philadelphia, catch up with our beloved Chicago Red Stars, and quickly round up some MLS, CONCACAF Champions League, and Liga MX action.

Also, Nick calls in from the 405 with terrible audio quality, Rudy calls from what sounds like the bayou, Gregg sounds pristine, Nick argues the semantics of certain formations to add more defenders, the gang discuss the disturbing trend of awful defending in MLS that will surely kill Nick, Gregg adopts a Liga MX team, Rudy and Gregg discuss more wrestling, and Rudy shows Gregg the Alan Gordon spread.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelist: Rudy Gomez
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 73:07

Download: Fuego Ep. 79

FuegoCast #78: Breaking the Sounders Barrier

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s first ever win against Seattle, preview the home and away series against Columbus, review the League’s weekend action, talk about the prime filth fest that is the CONCACAF Copa de Oro, look at the MLS All-Star Game lineup, and give a shout out to our beloved Red Stars.

Also, Rudy makes wrestling references, Nick watches games at Pep Boys and mourns the loss of his car, and Gregg coins a new nickname for a certain CONCACAF team.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelist: Rudy Gomez
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 62:04

Download: Fuego Ep. 78

FuegoCast #77: Fire and Freedom

The gang is back to discuss the Fire’s 3-1 U.S. Open Cup home win against Charlotte Independence, preview Friday’s game at Houston, analyze the new Core Player rule, find possible Mexican internationals for the Fire, review some USWNT World Cup, and review the Quincy Amarikwa trade.

Also, Gregg eats fajitas, Elle has particular musical choices, the gang discusses Chris Ritter’s bird violence, Nick and Elle are (still) broke, Gregg does a reverse Donald Trump, Rudy can’t do math, Nick doesn’t mind Canadians, then the gang endorses the women’s game, talk more wrestling, give a hotel endorsement, and give a fond farewell to now retired FuegoCast Legend Jonny Steele.

Enjoy your Fourth, everyone.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Elle Harrer
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 55:34

Download: Fuego Ep. 77

Breaking Down the Breakdowns: vs. Charlotte

Hello again fans, I’m back to write about more defensive breakdowns. Let’s take a look at Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup win in which our Men In Red conceded a fifth minute goal.

Navigate the Learning Curve

I really wanted to take break down this goal because it is another sign of a developing defense with youngsters Matt Polster at center back and Chris Ritter in the midfield. I haven’t seen much of the team this year because of my overwhelming work schedule, but I already broke down a Matt Polster mistake from the season debut against Los Angeles and wanted to look further at another hard knock lesson. This may seem like I’m being harsh on the kids highlighting another mistake, but it’s honestly quite the contrary. We’ve all been encouraged by Polster’s play this year and seeing him and Ritter log more minutes on the field will reap long term rewards, especially if they learn from situations like this.

So let’s establish where everyone is positionally. We have, right to left, Lovel Palmer at right back, Polster and Adailton at center back, and Greg Cochrane at left back with Ritter and Matt Watson in the central midfield and Sean Johnson back in goal.

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Here we see Polster aggressively step into the midfield from his position on the backline to intercept a pass. Well done, son.

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Unfortunately, his interception goes directly to Paolo DelPiccolo who quickly outlets to Jorge Herrera to start the counter attack. With Polster out of position and beaten, the back four becomes a back three with Palmer and Cochrane pinching in to cover Adailton.

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Adailton does well to stop the immediate counter attack as Ritter and Polster both drop back to cover the empty space Adailton vacated when stopping the play. The fluidity of the play sees Adailton at right back, Polster and Ritter at center back, and Palmer applying pressure to the ball.

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Charlotte retains possession of the ball and now Alex Martinez finds time and space to pick his head up to make a play. We see Herrera dropping into the midfield with no one around him and Tomasz Zahorski on the inside of Cochrane’s shoulder calling for a long ball put in the huge gap between Cochrane and Polster. This is where the unfamiliarity of the defense and inexperience of Polster and Ritter shows itself.

A decision has to be made, and quickly, at this time: Should Ritter or Adailton close down Herrera? Adailton was closer to Herrera and Ritter was in position to provide cover at center back during the retreat, but Ritter starts returning to his midfield position leaving the heart of the defense completely vulnerable. Either Ritter has to stay in position to cover allowing Adailton to close down, or Polster has to slide over to close the gap between him and Cochrane allowing Adailton to return to the defensive line. The defense is now off balance over committing to the near side with an attacker in an advantageous position over Cochrane and Andrew Ribiero on the far side starting a run to the weak side flank. Cochrane would have been able to address Ribiero’s run if he had Ritter or Polster next to him to track Zahorski.

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Zahorski receives the through pass and attacks the goal with Ribiero well behind the defense, and offside, but available for an easy square ball tap in.

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Of course, I don’t like seeing defensive mistakes, but these are the kind of mistakes I classify under “acceptable growing pains” of our future generation. Show the kids the tape, teach them, encourage them, and this kind of problem will happen less frequently. Nothing about this was careless or lazy or from a veteran who should know better. It’s a sign our boys still have much to learn and will continue to progress as long as they see meaningful game time.

But still, shuttle runs, fellas.

FuegoCast #76: Panelists in Cars Talking Soccer

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win against Louisville City, quickly review the team as a whole, update the other Open Cup scores, preview next weekend’s home game against D.C. United, and relive the Open Cup penalty shoot-outs, and bookend the show with the transfer news of Jean-Pierre Gingac to Tigres.

Also, Gregg returns his patented rolling start, Rudy calls from his car and Gregg apparently can’t use the internet.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelist: Rudy Gomez
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 55:17

Fuego Ep. 76