Breaking Down the Breakdowns: at San Jose

Alright, this is an enormous undertaking. Let’s make this as quick as possible since there’s so much to get to.

One of the observations our very own Stephen Piggott made in his tactical preview was to take advantage of the transition from defense to attack and keep Yannick Djalo contained. Well, we saw the opposite of that last week as all five of San Jose’s goals were from catching the Fire defense out of position with Djalo getting a goal and two assists.

Lost in Transition

This first screen cap illustrates Lovel Palmer getting forward and unleashing a shot on goal. Palmer has amped up his aggression in both his defense and his forays forward and his game has vastly improved as a result. This is a good attempt at goal as he has the space to take a shot with no other attackers around
1 Salinas 1

He tries this again two minutes later, only this time there are four Fire attackers in the box and Jason Hernandez steps up to close down the space. Palmer hesitates as his chance to shoot is gone and none of the Fire players are making hard runs to get into threatening positions. Instead Palmer floats a weak cross in the box to no one in particular.
1 Salinas 2

Victor Bernardez emphatically heads the ball clear so well it starts a counter attack that already defeats seven Fire defenders. Now it’s Shea Salinas vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for the loose ball and Hurtado must at least contain Salinas or risk Salinas and Chris Wondolowski taking on Bakary Soumare (both right of frame) in a 2v1 situation with Gonzalo Segares still recovering.
1 Salinas 3

Hurtado blocks the pass to Wondolowski but no one in red is in position to collect the second ball or close enough to challenge Yannick Djalo who recognizes the counter-attack is still on. This is the first of a few unlucky bounces that directly favored San Jose on the night.
1 Salinas 4

Salinas chases down the long ball that seemed destined to go out of bounds and cuts inside. Hurtado hustles back but defends the wing like a centerback failing to cut off the pass to Wondolowski and the angle for Salinas to cut to the inside. This is the first of many conundrums in which Hurtado finds himself throughout the night. Does he close down Salinas without cover in a 3v3 situation or react to the attacker’s next move with a positional disadvantage?
1 Salinas 5

Salinas bears down on goal and clearly wants to move to his favored right. Wondolowski shows for the ball, which Hurtado calls out. Soumare is in decent position to provide cover but can’t get too close in case he must close down Wondolowski should he get the ball. Jeff Larentowicz catches up to the play but does not hold a defensive position yet. Segares positions himself well to close down any of the three attackers.
1 Salinas 6

I don’t know what Soumare is attempting here but it doesn’t look good. Salinas shoots through the gap in into the upper corner of a net. Helluva shot from Salinas.
1 Salinas 7

When the Bounce Doesn’t Go Your Way

Much of the defending in the second half was greatly reduced to desperately recovering from disadvantageous position. Still early in the second half there was reason for Frank Yallop to push the game for the tying goal. However, on a smaller field like the one at Buck Shaw Stadium, this often backfires when the ball doesn’t bounce your way as we see here.

Sam Cronin sends a long ball forward for Atiba Harris that Segares does well to anticipate and clear away the danger. Unfortunately, much like the first goal, the clearance lands right to Shawn Francis who immediately finds Djalo in space who already has a pass lined up to exploit the out of position fullback.
2 Harris 1

The pass goes right by Soumare and the defense initiates scramble mode. Harris charges at goal and the defense must reshuffle. Segares is already out of the play because of his failed clearance. Soumare is chasing the play after closing down Djalo. Larentowicz has to recover from midfield after finding space for a pass in the attacking transition. Hurtado must make another difficult decision of closing down the ball or track Wondolowski who is so good at losing defenders through his attacking runs. Palmer must catch up to Salinas charging at the far post.
2 Harris 2

Once again Hurtado does not cut out the cutback angle most likely to compensate for the lack of speed against Harris should Harris run directly at goal. Wondolowski slows his run at the top of the box to collect the square pass from Harris and to exploit the space left open by Hurtado and Palmer.
2 Harris 3

Wondolowski shoots as the Fire defense collapses the space. Once again, they are a half step too late and Wondolowski’s shot threads the needle. Meanwhile, Larentowicz follows the play ball watching, Harris follows through towards goal, and Segares is nowhere to be found after giving up on the play.
2 Harris 4

Sean Johnson makes a great save and Harris is the only player near the ball to follow up while the Fire defenders stand and watch. This is absolutely infuriating if you’re the manager or one of the fans to make the away trip.
2 Harris 5

Cutting out the Mistakes in Midfield — As a Defender

This third goal here really illustrates the frustrations of the night and was the worst goal to take. Coming back from 2-0 down is not impossible but the mistake that caused the third goal really took the wind out of the Fire’s sails.

Soumare is positioned to win the ball with no one around to challenge. This is less of a 50/50 ball and more Soumare’s ball. However, as Soumare approaches the ball you can see he gets his body mechanics all wrong. He leans back as he approaches the ball in a weak stance instead of leaning into the play in a strong stance.
3 Wondolowski 1

Predictably, Soumare loses possession and here we go again. Harris gains possession of the ball and bursts forward, Djalo advances to create a 3v2 as Segares pinches in to close down Harris and Hurtado marks Wondolowski.
3 Wondolowski 2

Wondolowski receives the pass from Harris and again Hurtado must close down the ball without immediate cover. Segares and Larentowicz hurry back well to provide cover and mark Djalo on the far post, but Hurtado recognizes that cutting out the cutback angle on this occasion is unnecessary as Wondolowski likely won’t cut back into the retreating cover.
3 Wondolowski 3

Here’s something that confused me, though: where exactly are Larentowicz and Segares going? As Wondolowski slows waiting for Hurtado to lose balance or commit to a challenge, it appears no one helps Hurtado or marks Djalo on the far post. 3 Wondolowski 4

This view here gives us a better look at Segares’ positioning. He’s in the spot a center back needs to occupy to clear away a centered cross or a cross to the back post, but it doesn’t help the immediate danger of Wondolowski 1v1 against Hurtado. Soumare and Larentowicz are too slow to retreat for either…
1. Soumare to take Segares’ spot letting Segares cover Hurtado or…
2. Larentowicz to cover Hurtado.
3 Wondolowski 5

Wondolowski does an incredible job chipping the ball over Hurtado’s leg and to the far post. Really, there isn’t much more Hurtado could have done.
3 Wondolowski 6

Ball Watching and Lazy Recovery

To continue the Bakary Soumare power hour, look at how this routine goal kick and 50/50 ball turns into a lightning fast goal. There’s not much to break down here other than Soumare’s lack of concentration rears its head again.

Hurtado actually wins this 50/50 ball against Wondolowski, but again, the ball bounces right to an Earthquakes player. Djalo collects facing goal but the Fire are positioned well and have a 4v2 numerical advantage.
4 Djalo 1

However, Djalo completely whiffs his first touch and must scramble to gain control the ball. This pulls Soumare in to close down leaving a gap in the back line. Meanwhile, Salinas moves up and Cordell Cato races forward to exploit the space in front of him. The defense is tight, with the exception of the gap created by Soumare, and still retain a numerical advantage as Alex and Matt Watson sniff around for a loose ball.
4 Djalo 2

Here’s where the problem comes in: As Cato collects the ball on the right drawing in Segares, Djalo darts into the open space Soumare leaves open as he ball watches. One of two things need to happen at this moment:
1. Soumare needs to retreat to his position on the backline to mark Djalo.
2. Hurtado and Palmer have to recognize the danger of Djalo in that open space and step up even with Segares to trap him and Salinas offside.

Option 1 is much more preferable as it mandates Soumare return to his original position and isn’t dependent on two players interpreting the situation in the exact same way. Another alternative would be if Larentowicz abandoned his zone to cover Soumare’s ball watching mistake, but you can’t do everything for everyone else.
4 Djalo 3

Cato lobs the ball into all that open space and Hurtado’s like, “Guys, what the fuck?” as Djalo leaves everyone behind to finish the play.
4 Djalo 4

There really isn’t much Johnson could do here. Another extra shuttle run for Soumare.
4 Djalo 5

Getting to Know You

Until now the defenders have caused the vast majority of the mistakes, but now we see the Larentowicz and Matt “The Fondler” Fondy get their signals crossed and cough the ball up in midfield.

I suppose this is only normal for teammates still learning to play with each other but communication is critical and would help prevent Fondy and Larentowicz from going after the same ball. In this screencap, Fondy’s position is that of a defender as he recognizes too late that Larentowicz will claim the ball. I can draw a solid blue arrow toward the ball to signify a player in position to defend Larentowicz and it would make sense. Instead, Fondy needs to start running toward goal to open up the midfield for Larentowicz to touch and pick out a pass.
5 Cato 1

Larentowicz’s touch gets away from him and he’s now tangled with Fondy over possession of the ball. Instead of someone calling out for the ball and the other getting away from the play, they hold each other up while Djalo swoops in, closes them both down, and eventually robs Fondy of the ball. This is thoroughly embarrassing Monday night pick-up stuff. Extra shuttle run to Larentowicz and Fondy for not taking the initiative to communicate.
5 Cato 2

Djalo runs into the space, Watson closes down the ball, and what else do we see? Well, I try to keep a cold, analytic, emotionless tone throughout these recaps, but we see Bakary Soumare goddamn motherfucking ball watching again. Flat footed too. These are basic principles of defending and Soumare has failed yet again. Hurtado is probably thinking, “Dude, I’m tired of covering your mistakes tonight,” as the ball rushes into open space behind the defensive line.
5 Cato 3

So here we go again. Wondolowski receives the ball in space, Salinas charges toward the penalty spot, and everyone in red chases the play. Segares is on a dead sprint to catch up to Wondolowski.
5 Cato 4

Out of nowhere, Cato rushes into the box and collects a pass from Wondolowski deflected by Segares. I know Cato is a quick guy, but he runs past the Fire centerbacks as if they were standing still. Hurtado has run out of hustle at this point.
5 Cato 5

Cato recovers well from the ball taking an unexpected bounce off Segares and strikes mid-air. Palmer still tries to close down the shot but he’s too late. Good effort from Palmer who was the best defensive player on the night whose only mistake leading to a conceded goal was sending in an aimless cross right before halftime.
5 Cato 6


The final result on the scoreboard was a disgraceful sight for those of us at the game and Bakary Soumare turned in one of his worst performances in a Fire uniform yet. If this was a 5-a-side performance from someone in the cage at Humbolt Park, I’d ask them to play forward in the next game. I feel for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado who had to repeatedly cover the center of the defense while Soumare made mistake after mistake. I mean, this is how bad it got during the lead up to the second goal.
Soumare nutmeg

Shuttle runs. All week. With games at home against Vancouver and Columbus coming up, I expect clean sheets. No excuses.

FuegoCast #48: Gamble’s Fallacy

The gang returns to discuss the controversial 1-1 home draw against Philadelphia, the recent signing of Razvan Cocis in Player Insanity, preview the absurdly late San Jose match, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Nick is away shepherding kittens, Elle tries to tone down the filth, Elle figures out Dilly Duka’s alter-ego, the gang get creative about their player acquisition policy, Stephen earns a yellow card edit, the gang contemplates Nick’s cuddle and huddle quality, Elle offers an arousing prediction, and the gang bids a proper farewell to recurring podcast character Jonny “Hard As” Steele.

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

TRT: 56:43

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.