Fire

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

sad-djordje.jpg
USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

The Fire have been doing a lot of losing lately, but Saturday's loss to Minnesota was another level of disappointment.

Considering the match was at Toyota Park and Minnesota was winless on the road, the Fire's 2-1 defeat was almost undoubtedly the worst result of the season.

There isn't much new to say about the game either. The Fire made defensive lapses that have occurred more frequently of late and struggled to score against a team willing to defend deep in its own zone.

Djordje Mihailovic made his second start, Bastian Schweinsteiger tried to be more influential and the Fire's second-half rally ended up not being much of a rally. Here's a look at all three of those things.

Mihailovic's second start

In Mihailovic's first start in Montreal, he seemed to have a hard time getting involved. He drifted around the midfield without finding a consistent purpose or role within the attack. While the 18-year-old still wasn't a focal point in his 45 minutes on the field against the Loons, Mihailovic was more active.

He was credited with three shots, all of which were blocked. Only Nemanja Nikolic tallied as many shots for the Fire in the first half.

There were a pair of occasions when Mihailovic went down looking for a foul, but could have fought through and maybe had another chance. Namely in the 11th minute, Mihailovic had a shot blocked but was able to win it back by continuing to pressure the ball. He then played a 1-2 with David Accam at the edge of the box, but went down just outside the box and didn't get the call.

The sequence showed good aggression by Mihailovic to get a shot off, his willingness to work hard defensively to win balls in advanced positions and his technical ability to play a 1-2 with Accam in tight space. However, the final product wasn't there.

By design, Mihailovic won't be a major part of the Fire's attack as long as Dax McCarty and Schweinsteiger are on the field. Everything goes through those two at first so Mihailovic has to work to get in positions to be more impactful. Mihailovic completed 21 of 25 passes and drifted all over the field to get on the ball.

Schweinsteiger's more attacking role

Given how the German superstar has been used more recently, it's easy to forget that when Schweinsteiger arrived in Chicago, coach Veljko Paunovic said he wanted to use Schweinsteiger as high up the field as possible. That lasted for a little while, but Schweinsteiger has dropped deeper and deeper the past few months, sometimes even being used as a sweeper.

Part of that more recently is likely due to injuries to Fire defenders. Schweinsteiger playing deeper can improve the organization of the defense while the personnel has been thrown into some chaos.

Against Toronto at times and throughout the match against Minnesota, Schweinsteiger played in a more attacking role than he has in a while. It wasn't due to the Fire trailing either. He was very active from the start of the match, completing all 11 of his passes in the first 10 minutes and starting a pair of attacks with quality passes.

Nearly two-thirds of Schweinsteiger's passes (40 of 62) were attempted from beyond midfield and he assisted on the Fire's only goal. He tended to drift to one side or the other while McCarty continued to sit deeper and patrol the middle.

Also of some note is that Schweinsteiger had two shots. After his laser last week against Toronto brought the Fire back into that match, he had a couple more cracks against Minnesota. The interesting part is that in his first five games with the Fire, Schweinsteiger totaled 12 shots. In the 17 games since, Schweinsteiger has combined for 11 shots.

Schweinsteiger doesn't need to be taking shots to make a difference in a match, but that stat is telling in how he has been used more recently.

The lack of a rally

It didn't take a second viewing to recognize the Fire struggled to put shots on target against Minnesota. The Fire had just four, and two of those came before Minnesota took the lead in the 36th minute.

Typically teams put more pressure on goal when losing, especially in cases like Saturday when the team chasing the game has a much better record and is at home. The Fire had nearly 58 percent of the possession and did total 20 shots, an impressive number, but few of those shots seemed likely to score.

"If it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games,” McCarty said after the match.

The Fire simply couldn't break down Minnesota's defense. The only goal came on a counter. The ball was near the Fire's endline and 12 seconds left it was in Minnesota's net after Schweinsteiger had sprung David Accam for the goal.

There's nothing wrong with scoring on counters, but it further shows the Fire's struggles in the last month or so to score through extended stretches of possession like the team was doing earlier in the year.

Even more concerning is that after Accam's goal, Minnesota actually had a majority of possession. Instead of showing nerves or a lack of confidence, the Loons were able to gain more control of the ball to run out the clock and limited the Fire's opportunities. The Fire's only shot after Accam got the score to 2-1 was Michael de Leeuw's impressive, if not desperate, bicycle attempt in the 89th minute.

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

bradley-us-fail-pod.jpg
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

nikolic-1017.jpg
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.)