Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Fire flip a switch in the final half hour against Seattle

Notes from the rewatch: Fire flip a switch in the final half hour against Seattle

The Chicago Fire picked up a big win against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

It wasn't a win against a rival, or even a conference foe jockeying for playoff position. It also wasn't against a full-strength team playing well.

It was big because of the way it happened (a three-goal margin with plenty of action both ways) and who it was in front of (a soldout crowd and a national TV audience).

Despite the temporary euphoria Fire fans left Toyota Park with on Saturday, the players and coaches on the team admitted it wasn't a complete performance. The Fire were largely outplayed in the first half and caught some breaks to go into halftime tied. Seattle hit the crossbar in the first five minutes and the Fire were fortunate to be given a retake on the penalty kick that Nemanja Nikolic eventually scored.

Coach Veljko Paunovic talked about adjustments the team made at halftime that made the difference. Here are some notes on that as well as Drew Conner's tough assignment against Joevin Jones.

Rotating up front

Paunovic said the halftime adjustment of moving from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 played a key role in turning things around from the first half to the second half. Seattle had more than 60 percent of the possession in the first half, but the Fire had the edge in possession after halftime.

The biggest difference between the two formations was having Dax McCarty line up as the lone defensive midfielder, meaning he takes a more central role. Clint Dempsey scored Seattle's goal by drifting a bit into midfield to receive the ball and had free space to step into a shot. That's the area the Fire were trying to cover with the subtle formation change. It also freed Schweinsteiger to play a big higher up the field in a more neutral midfield role as opposed to primarily positioning for defensive purposes.

 

That change helped clear things up defensively, but the attack remained similar. The Fire's four attacking players, Nikolic, David Accam, Luis Solignac and Michael de Leeuw, were swapping positions frequently throughout the match.

Accam was on the right wing the first 12 minutes and then went back to his usual spot on the left wing, swapping back with Solignac. Accam and Nikolic did shift around with Nikolic drifting wide and Accam moving into the center as well. Michael de Leeuw began centrally and moved more to the right wing in the second half before getting subbed out.

The combination of having four attackers and having them swap positions allowed them to cause some chaos in Seattle’s defense. Throw in McCarty and Schweinsteiger being able to quickly change the point of attack, something the Fire didn’t always do well last year under Paunovic, and the free-moving attackers were able to take advantage when there was an opening.

It’s also worth noting that Seattle was without stud centerback Roman Torres and was playing a regular starter in the central midfield, Cristian Roldan, at right back.

Maybe on another day Seattle’s defense could have coped better with what the Fire threw at them, but they were not able to do so on Saturday.

Tempo change after halftime

Another shift after halftime that came as a result of the Fire's adjustments was the tempo of the match. Both teams had nine total shots at halftime in a back-and-forth 45 minutes.

The Fire had extended periods of possession in the first 15 minutes of the second half, but the only shot of the second half before Accam's goal in the 60th minute was an off target effort from Clint Dempsey. This was a drastic change from the first half.

The Fire methodically picked Seattle apart on the second goal. Schweinsteiger started the play with a first-time lofted ball that hit Conner open on the right to switch the play. Conner, de Leeuw and Schweinsteiger combined well to unlock Seattle’s defense. This goal opened the tempo of the game right away.

In the next 20 minutes after the goal, the Fire had five more shots, including the third and fourth goals. Matt Polster and Jonathan Campbell subbed into the match and the Fire went to a 5-3-2 that was another tactical change.

"It made it a little easier to play out of the back and exploit some of the wide spaces, which made us get into their half a little bit easier and create chances,” Polster said.

Drew Conner vs. Joevin Jones

After a tough matchup in LA for his first career start, Conner went up against arguably the league's best left back going forward in former Fire player Joevin Jones. Jones toasted Conner twice in the first five minutes to create chances near the box and set up a shot for Nicolas Lodeiro in the ninth minute, which Lodeiro badly scuffed, when Conner backed off to respect Jones' speed. It was an ominous start, but Jones didn't get forward much after that.

It wasn't exactly Conner's doing as much as cover and adjustments. The Fire having more possession in the second half certainly helped.

In terms of 1v1 defending, it wasn't a bright spot for Conner, but most right backs in the league have trouble staying with Jones. The positive sign for the Fire was the ability to adjust and cover for Conner when the first 10 minutes showed that was needed.

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.

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

Normally when revisiting games there are trends or performances that stick out, but the most notable plays from Sunday's Fire win against Philadelphia were the goals.

Here's what stood out from the four goals that were scored from open play in the Fire's 3-2 victory.

Nikolic gives Fire early lead on long ball

Believe it or not this pass was a direct assist on the first goal of the game:

Brandon Vincent is barely beyond his own penalty box when he launches one for Nemanja Nikolic. The ball bounces three times before Nikolic gets his first touch on it. His second touch is a goal.

The pass itself is nothing special and a defensive error plays a part, but it's hard to believe a pass from that far back can result in an assist.

Philly’s first goal is a chain reaction

On the first goal for Philly, the play begins when Matt Polster is caught way too high in press. Philly was building out of back and Polster, the Fire's right back, pressed well past midfield to win a ball and didn't.

When he doesn’t win it, the ball falls to Fafa Picault behind him on the left wing. Next it's off to the races for the Union.

Center back Johan Kappelhof moves wide to cover for Polster and defend Picault, who makes a nice switch to Chris Pontius after the Fire appeared to be getting back in position. C.J. Sapong beats Joao Meira, who a minute before shook off a leg injury that forced him to have a significant limp after the match. Sapong probably had the edge in the first-step department at that point to get some separation. Kappelhof had to try to slide it away because Picault was waiting at the back post for a tap-in.


The Fire had a chance to recover, but it all started with Polster getting caught too high up the field.

Union string passes together to take lead

A Dax McCarty turnover gave Philadelphia possession and the Union combined passes for an impressive team goal. First it was eight straight passes before one was broken up, but Philadelphia immediately regained possession and connected 12 more passes. After an initial cross is headed away, the second pass after that is Haris Medunjanin chipping a pass to Alejandro Bedoya for the goal. Just an impressive team goal from the Union, even if goalkeeper Matt Lampson made things easier for Bedoya on the finish by coming off his line too early.

Nikolic shows his instincts for game-winner

As for the Fire’s third goal, just watch Landon Donovan and recently-fired New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps explain what happened:

(Note: The video appears to be down for some reason even though it's still linked on the homepage of MLSsoccer.com. The gist of it is that Nikolic did a great job delaying his run to find the space that set him up for the goal as opposed to crashing the six-yard box and being more tightly marked.)