Fire

Notes from the rewatch: David Accam against a high defensive line and MIchael de Leeuw's little things

Notes from the rewatch: David Accam against a high defensive line and MIchael de Leeuw's little things

The Chicago Fire won a sixth straight game at Toyota Park on Saturday, beating Atlanta 2-0.

The consensus from the Fire was that it wasn't the prettiest game or performance, but the Fire made some adjustments to Atlanta's style. The Fire limited Atlanta's chances in possession despite giving the visitors most of the time on the ball, and were able to create chances on the counter by beating Atlanta's high defensive line.

Here's a look at how David Accam created those chances against the high line, and what happened after, and a deeper look at Michael de Leeuw's willingness to do the little things.

Playing against Atlanta’s high line

As expected, the Fire were unable to win the midfield battle against Atlanta. The visitors controlled possession throughout, but didn’t have the killer instinct in front of goal with the team’s top two scorers, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, coming off the bench.

Atlanta’s possession style also includes a high defensive line. Playing a high defensive line against a team featuring David Accam is a risky move, and it burned Atlanta.

Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense on a number of occasions. After have a majority of the possession in the last four matches and seven of the last nine, Saturday’s game showed the Fire have multiple ways to beat teams.

David Accam’s chances

Once Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense it was a bit of a mixed bag. The Ghanaian had four quality counterattack chances and only one of them led to a shot on goal. The one that did lead to a shot was the opening goal.

In the 24th minute he passed to Nemanja Nikolic in the box when it appeared he should have shot it himself, which was the first of some questionable decisions. Five minutes later, though, he got it right.

The goal was a bizarre sequence because it looked like the opportunity had passed once Atlanta’s defense recovered, but Accam did well to not force something and wound up with a very high percentage shot for Luis Solignac.

In the second half, Accam just missed connecting with Nikolic with a centering ball when the Hungarian couldn’t reach the pass after sliding for it. Accam could have played it earlier and let Nikolic do the heavy lifting in the finish. Instead Accam tried to do the work for him and give Nikolic a tap in. Nikolic wasn’t in position for the centering ball that Accam played.

In the final 10 minutes of the match Accam had another 2v2 situation with Nikolic. He tried to pass this one, but maybe could have been more aggressive off the dribble.

Other than the goal, it seemed no matter what Accam decided it wasn’t working. Still, he was able to create four quality chances and converted one. On another day, the Fire will need him to be more efficient, but the upside for the Fire is that he was in position to create those chances.

Michael de Leeuw getting credit for the little things

How does a forward win man of the match without a goal, an assist or even a shot on target? Michael de Leeuw showed how on Saturday.

The Dutch forward wasn’t involved in either Fire goal and didn’t have many scoring chances. However, he did a lot of dirty work.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and coach Veljko Paunovic both said it wasn’t a pretty performance from the Fire. In order to win a game without a pretty performance, players will have do the little things well.

De Leeuw did a lot of those little things and got some recognition for it.

After moving from an attacking role to more of a midfield role, including some time on the right side as opposed to his more familiar central position, de Leeuw has played better.

“It’s a different role and of course I have to adjust,” de Leeuw said after the match. “In the beginning I was not playing very well. I think I’m playing very well now.”

De Leeuw completed 15 out of 21 passes and none of them created chances, but he was credited with five ball recoveries, two clearances and an interception. It probably wasn’t a man of the match worthy performance, but perhaps it was along the lines of a lifetime achievement award from the voting fans who have appreciated the little things de Leeuw does.

He wasn't one of the four Fire players named to the MLS Team of the Week, a week which featured only three matches to pick that team from. Nikolic, Accam, Schweinsteiger and Joao Meira were given credit along with Paunovic as the coach.

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.