FuegoCast #47: Turf’s Up

The gang returns to talk about the Fire’s two wins on turf, a 3-1 US Open Cup win at Atlanta and the great 1-0 win at New England, talk Player Insanity with the recent signing, preview the game against Philadelphia, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Elle did not make the lineup this week, Stephen confuses his soccer journalists with his Fire wingers, Rudy observes Quincy Amarikwa’s goal scoring enthusiasm, Nick educates the gang on microphones, Gregg calls out a fan about the recent signing, Stephen adds another chapter of Chicago Fire Open Cup folklore, and Nick is aghast at the gang’s lack of television culture.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 51:22

FuegoCast #46: Fuego Coast to Coast

The gang returns after some needed time off to discuss the Fire’s 1-1 draw against Basura Kansas City, look at the recent player movement in Player Insanity, preview the US Open Cup game against Atlanta and offer predictions, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, the gang expands across the continental United States as Nick calls in from his new sunny Los Angeles digs, Stephen discovers new music for the podcast, Elle describes Mad Javier spot on, Stephen remembers a drink special from years ago, Elle comes up with a filthy name for new Fire forward Matt Fondy, Elle and Rudy earn yellow card edits, Elle figures out what’s in Nick’s porn folder, and Stephen almost dies in the bonus section as the Legend of Mad Javier grows another chapter.

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

TRT: 63:01

FuegoCast #45: All over the Map

The gang returns after a much needed week of travel to discuss the Fire’s 3-2 home loss to Seattle, quickly review the games against Columbus, Los Angeles, and Colorado, preview the US Open Cup game against Pittsburgh, throw out some predictions, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Elle reviews the Greek tragedy play she saw Saturday night, Nick coins a catch phrase for the rest of the season, and Stephen enjoys the high life.

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

TRT: 59:39

Breaking Down the Breakdowns: at Columbus

Yep, I’m back which means the Fire defense conceded more goals last weekend. Both clubs were missing players on the backline, but Columbus had their full compliment of attacking players to put the Fire defense to the sword. Let’s see who earned some extra shuttle runs this week.

Limiting Counter Attacks

Chicago lost the possession battle to Columbus this weekend by an alarming 59-41% continuing the distressing trend. Playing loosely aimed long balls to opposing defenders won’t help reverse that trend and leaves the defense susceptible to counterattacking teams that know how to find their danger man quickly in space.

This sequence begins with Jeff Larentowicz attempting to play a long diagonal pass to Dilly Duka. The pass goes directly to Crew leftback Chad Barson and Columbus starts another dangerous attack after already just coming close once and getting caught offside on another less than ten minutes into the game.

As you can see from the screen cap, there are at least six Crew players between Larentowicz and the ball. The attack is so disjointed that when possession is lost, half of the field players are already defeated and the defense are at an immediate numerical disadvantage.
1 Finlay Goal 1

Now we see Barson’s pass to Justin Meram beating five players in an instant. With Duka forward as the intended target, he is in no position to put immediate pressure on Meram meaning someone must leave their position to close the attacker causing the defense to lose shape.
1 Finlay Goal 2

Larentowicz leaves the center of the field open to close down Meram, which is certain death considering that’s Federico “The Lesser” Higuain’s favorite spot to collect the ball, turn, and face goal. This time, though, Higuain is already in the midfield and can take a layoff from Meram in stride with no one to challenge him. Getting out of this situation unscathed looks very unlikely, but some clever positioning from the backline can still seal off passing lanes or at least delay the inevitable.
1 Finlay Goal 3

With Higuain facing goal with the ball at his feet and still no one directly in front of him to challenge, Ethan Finlay starts the run behind the defense. At this moment, Greg Cochrane hesitates as he has a choice: tighten up the backline or track Finlay’s run. It is absolutely critical for Cochrane to retreat facing the middle of the field to cut off the through ball and to hold the offside line.
1 Finlay Goal 4

Larentowicz closes down Higuain but it’s too late. Higuain releases the pass, Finlay has the momentum to beat Cochrane who decides to track Finlay’s run leaving a huge gap between himself and Patrick Ianni. The pass bisects Ianni and Cochrane, though I have to think Ianni could have done something to get a foot on the ball as it went by.
1 Finlay Goal 5

I also have to think Cochrane could have done a little more to put a foot on the ball before it crossed the line. It’s hard to judge reaction time, but Ianni and Cochrane were too close to the final pass and shot to score to not question if a little more effort could have prevented this outcome.
1 Finlay Goal 6

Fans always appreciate when their players wring out one more drop of effort whether it’s on the attack or defending. That one last ditch effort can be the difference between saving and conceding a goal.

Who Wants It More?

The “Who wants it more?” question is an old cliche we’ve all heard at practice since the grade school years, but, as we’ll see here, it really does apply to the big boy games too. We’ve seen Patrick Nyarko win the battle of Who Wants It More many times for us, most recently against New York, so it was difficult to watch when Jairo Arrieta out-worked Ianni in the lead up to Columbus’ second goal.

Of course, even a goal like this still has it’s own technical and tactical breakdown which is what I attempt to illustrate, it’s just that the critical moment where the Arrieta wins out is not from a defender making a wrong decision, missing mark, or a product of a spacing problem; rather, the breakdown culminates in the opponent mustering the effort to overcome the defender.

Still, there is work for Columbus to do to get to that situation and it originates with a heavy touch from Quincy Amarikwa in the box that unluckily bounces right to Hector Jimenez who initiates the counterattack by finding Tony Tchani is space around him.
2 Arrieta Goal 1

Tchani traps the ball with Larentowicz the only Fire player around him in a position to challenge. The problem is, Larentowicz has been man marking Higuain throughout the game and must decide whether to close down Tchani or leave him with space to make a pass while tracking Higuain. It’s a split second decision that must be purely instinctual and fully committed or else space will open up for both Crew attackers.
2 Arrieta Goal 2

Larentowicz decides to track Higuain, but his attention remains on Tchani while Higuain looks to find space for himself. Steven Kinney also retreats but he focuses his attention on Tchani instead of Higuain also.
2 Arrieta Goal 3

Higuain finds the space he wanted while Larentowicz flounders in no-man’s land never legitimately challenging Tchani nor accurately tracking Higuain or passing him off to anyone else. Kinney, still retreating from his attacking position can not immediately challenge Higuain either forcing Ianni to make the same decision Larentowicz had to make: close down the ball (Higuain) or track the run (Arrieta).
2 Arrieta Goal 4

Ianni easily put himself in position to recover Higuain’s pass but slowed down as he approached the ball. Arrieta ran through Ianni to win the ball and charged at goal. Not much to discuss here tactically; Ianni made the right decisions and put himself in position to make the defensive play but just didn’t follow through.
2 Arrieta Goal 5

This defensive lapse reminds me of Juan Agudelo’s goal from last year when he muscled Larentowicz off the ball to score.
2 Arrieta Goal 6

For years the Fire have lacked killer instinct to close out tight games, bury weaker teams through an onslaught of goals, close down crosses, and now make the easy defensive plays. I don’t really know the answer to fixing this problem besides shuttle runs. Lots and lots of shuttle runs. Double for Ianni this week.

Breaking Down the Breakdowns: vs. SKC

I’m back with another tactical breakdown this week and thankfully there was only one goal to breakdown giving me time to catch up with Sunday night TV watching Selina Meyer, the Silicon Valley gang, Don Draper, John Oliver, and the Lannisters. HBO is where it’s at on Sunday night.

Speaking of the Lannisters: Sporting Kansas City. The Fire played them on Sunday afternoon and predictably conceded a goal. Unfortunately, the old problem of defending set pieces returned missing another opportunity to record their first clean sheet since October 19 against Toronto.

The important part of defending set pieces is holding the defensive line and recognizing how the attack sets up. In these first two screencaps, you’ll see the difference between a successfully defended set piece and the set piece that resulted in a goal.

Track the Deep Runs

Look at this first screenshot. All of SKC’s aerial targets are bunched up in that one group inside the big blue oval with Benny Feilhaber aiming his cross for the small blue oval. The Fire defenders have an easy time sticking their marks since the SKC attackers have no momentum to move past them.
1 Setpiece Clearance

Now look at this one. We see roughly the same allotment of defenders to attackers but the difference is Dom Dwyer (blue #1) starts deeper, gets a running start at the defense, and runs between Fire defenders that are already marking men. Lovel Palmer (red #2) is marking Kevin Ellis (blue #3), Patrick Ianni (red #5) is marking Chance Myers (blue #5), and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (red #4) is keeping an eye on Jacob Peterson (blue #4).

Dwyer’s run works because he runs away from Jeff Larentowicz (red #1), the one player available that can pick him up and through the occupied backline to the spot where the ball should be. Quincy Amarikwa is in good position to force Feilhaber to make a perfect cross, and unfortunately, Feilhaber makes the perfect cross.
1 Dwyer Goal 1

Dwyer’s run should look very similar to this heartbreaker. Notice the space Bobby Burling has to attack the ball from a deep position.
1 Burling Goal 1

As Feilhaber is about to strike the ball, Palmer recognizes Dwyer’s run and forces Larentowicz to pick up Ellis. Unfortunately, Palmer’s momentum pulls him away from goal as Dwyer streaks by and Larentowicz picks up the goal-side Ellis too late. In the other battle, Myers charges past Ianni to the near post. Peterson retreats from his mark to make a late run reacting to Feilhaber’s cross.
1 Dwyer Goal 2

Feilhaber curls the ball around Amarikwa and hits the target. Hurtado just misses the clearance and there are three SKC attackers in prime position to finish the cross. Also, Myers finishes his run to the near post uncontested to clean up any rebound or finish any headed pass across the six. There are nine Fire defenders inside the 18 and only four SKC attackers, all of which beat their marks. This is unacceptable set piece defending. Shuttle runs for everyone. Double because it’s against SKC. Triple for the man markers.
1 Dwyer Goal 3

More Determination on the Wings

Here’s a continuing pet peeve of mine from last year: lack of determination defending crosses from the wings. Applying pressure on a cross is the minimum defensive effort I expect from a winger. Blocking the cross would be great, winning the ball would be awesome, but making life difficult for the attacker is all I really ask for.

The sequence starts off well with Patrick Nyarko hustling to drop back and defend the left wingback Igor.
2 Dwyer Miss 1

Igor cuts back and faces the across the field. Ideally, Nyarko would force Igor to stay wide limiting the space into which to dribble and forcing a longer cross or pass to a dangerous area. However, Igor now has the entire field to work with and an easy pass available to him. Nyarko can still defend this play rather easily, though.
2 Dwyer Miss 2

One can assume Igor’s strong foot is his left as he operates on the left side of the field so Nyarko can close down that space forcing Igor to pass or cross with his right foot limiting his accuracy. Also, Palmer is in a good position providing cover if Igor cuts back again to the outside and beats Nyarko or to close down the easy pass.
2 Dwyer Miss 3

Instead, Nyarko holds his position allowing Igor to take yet another touch to set up his next move. Notice the ocean of space and the huge window in front of Igor. This kind of defending will get you razzed in a Monday night league game, let alone against one of the top teams in the MLS Eastern Conference. Nyarko has the speed to gamble a little bit defensively and still be able to close down an attacker or get in position to cover the fullback should he get beat.
2 Dwyer Miss 4

Nyarko never even attempted to close down Igor, which opened the Filth Dimension in the Fuego Box. Dwyer makes his run at goal and Igor sends his cross through the window. This is an after practice training ground play at this point.
2 Dwyer Miss 5

It’s all over but the finish now. Luckily, Dwyer hits the post. Extra shuttle run for you, Patrick.
2 Dwyer Miss 6


The back four had a much better game against SKC not allowing many chances through the run of play. The wings continue to be an area of concern for me. Keep an eye on the wingers and the space they allow to cross. Against teams with dangerous crossers (like Real Salt Lake), this will continue to ruin clean sheets for the Fire defense.

FuegoCast #44: A Spotty Victory

The gang returns to discuss the “Magic Middleit” spot kick brace in a 2-1 win over a short handed Sporting Kansas City, still try to figure out where the clean sheets are, preview the Columbus game, offer predictions for Saturday night’s match and the stretch until the World Cup break, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Matt Watson gets a new nickname (“The Vegan Cleaver”), the gang gets their hypothetical trades on, discuss hairstyles for True Marty Party, analyze the running style of Velociraptors, predict the promotion race between certain recently relegated Italian and English clubs of interest, and notice Lovel Palmer’s gangster paradise hairdo.

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

TRT: 48:54

FuegoCast #43: Hot Shipp

The gang is back to talk about the Fire’s first win of the season, a 5-4 result at New York, critique the Fire defense, touch on the Grant Ward arrival in Player Insanity, preview Sunday’s home game against the dreaded Sporting Kansas City, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Nick calls for his Bad Girls, Rudy propositions an alternate line of work for Quincy Amarikwa, Elle has unpleasant words for SKC in the preview for this weekend’s match, Stephen knows his cable TV advertisements, Elle provides analysis on Stephen’s stamina, Nick displays his bloodlust in the predictions section, Gregg creates a new word that almost kills Nick, Elle cracks herself up over a Freudian slip, the gang responds to Aurelien Colin’s injury in real time, and Gregg gets his dance moves down.

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

TRT: 59:13