Notes from the rewatch: Why couldn't the Fire break down Orlando?

Notes from the rewatch: Why couldn't the Fire break down Orlando?

Sunday's goalless draw between the Chicago Fire and Orlando City was a weird one.

The Fire played with a man advantage for more than an hour and were up two men for nearly a half hour. So why couldn't the Fire get the goal needed to get the victory?

Orlando's resolute defending and organization was obviously essential to that, but what could the Fire have done differently?

Here are some notes on the Fire playing against a deep defensive line and how the team looked for the 25 minutes of even strength play.

The game before the red cards

From an outside perspective, the downside to Orlando receiving two red cards in the match was that it took away the chance to evaluate the Fire against a good team. The Fire have played good teams this year, but the team's current unbeaten run implies the Fire have improved.

Orlando is in the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and has a strong home record. If the Fire were able to get a result against Orlando when it had 11 men, that would have been a significant milestone.

Instead, there was only 25 minutes of solid evaluation. The Fire did have a majority of the possession in the first 25 minutes and did create a pair of good chances. David Accam got free after a defender fell and had a hard shot saved in the 14th minute. In the 20th minute, Accam and Nikolic combined in the box, but Nikolic could only get a soft shot on target.

Orlando was letting the Fire have possession, but was also pressing high up the field and did create a few dangerous turnovers. Over 90 minutes it would have been interesting to see the dynamic play out of the Fire controlling the ball, but Orlando pressing to create chances off turnovers in the Fire's half.

After the first red card

After Rafael Ramos was sent off, Orlando obviously stopped the high-press. The Lions still had moments of extended possession, but there weren't many.

For the most part, Orlando was looking to launch long balls to Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas. Larin got a shot off of one of them, but that was Orlando's only shot the rest of the match.

After the second red card

Once Antonio Nocerino was sent off, it was all-out defense for Orlando. A tired Rivas got subbed off for Kaka just before the red card and Larin was subbed off a few minutes after it.

The long ball threat was gone and the Fire now had to break down eight defenders staying tight to the box. This wasn't a good matchup for what the Fire like to do in the attack.

While David Accam likes to dribble at defenders in 1v1 situations, his speed was mostly negated by the tight space. Nikolic's desire to stretch a defense's offside line and his movement and runs in the box also don't apply against a team sitting that deep.

The Fire's lack of aerial threats was also a problem. David Arshakyan replaced Accam in the 76th minute to provide that size in the box.

On top of that, the Fire were without Juninho, whose ability to take shots from distance could have come in handy when the Fire needed someone to try something other than a cross into the box.

Arturo Alvarez subbed on as someone who can shoot from distance and create his own shot. He had a few shots, but none were on target.

Matt Polster's sliding shot that went off the bottom of the crossbar in added time was the only shot taken from inside the box that came from a decent angle and wasn't blocked.

After the second red, the Fire totaled 19 balls sent into the box, either a cross, a corner or a low centering ball. That was what Orlando gave the Fire and it showed why. None of those low percentage chances led to goals or even shots on target.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's role without Dax McCarty

With McCarty away with the national team, Schweinsteiger filled in as the point man to build possession for the Fire. Typically, McCarty drops between the two centerbacks and will make the first or one of the first passes as the Fire build out of the back.

Schweinsteiger took that role on Sunday. He dropped deeper, but wasn't pressed defensively because of the red cards. This meant some of his passes were further from goal.

Perhaps having Schweinsteiger try to make the assisting pass instead of setting up players to make assisting passes would have helped break down Orlando. Either way, look for Schweinsteiger to take a similar role Saturday against Atlanta with McCarty still gone.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves


Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home


Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

And they're off.

MLS Cup finished just last night with Toronto completing arguably the best season in league history, but the offseason doesn't wait long to get going. The Fire took advantage of Sunday's short trade window before Los Angeles FC's expansion draft takes place on Tuesday by trading Arturo Alvarez to the Houston Dynamo.

Alvarez, a Houston native, gets to go home and could finish his career with the Dynamo. The Fire received a second-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Alvarez, 32, made 55 regular season MLS appearances with the Fire in two years. He had five goals and nine assists in 2016, leading the team in assists. This past season he saw his minutes get nearly cut in half although he did regain a regular spot in the team towards the end of the season and finished with three goals and two assists.

“Arturo had perhaps his two best years wearing our red and we appreciate all that he gave to our club,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the team's statement. “We saw this as a chance to allow him to return home while opening up his minutes for some other players.”

The question is which players Rodriguez is referring to. Alvarez played primarily at right midfield, frequently cutting inside with his dangerous left foot. Two players come to mind as possible fill-ins already on the roster: Daniel Johnson and Brandt Bronico.

Johnson was the Fire's first-round pick in the 2017 draft and showed flashes of ability, but dealt with injuries through much of the season and made eight substitute appearances totaling 125 minutes. He is a wide player, but was the opposite of Alvarez, typically playing on the left and cutting in on his right foot.

Bronico was the 2017 third-round pick and made only four sub appearances adding up to 53 minutes played. With such limited action it was difficult to gauge whether he could be a wide midfielder or should be played centrally. Either way, with Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic out for the first few months of 2018 with ACL tears, both Johnson and Bronico will have opportunities the way the roster is currently constructed.

More news is due later today with the expansion draft set for Tuesday. The Fire will announce the 11 players they are protecting. Homegrown players (Drew Conner and Mihailovic) won't need to be protected. The Fire have 17 others players that will be eligible for the expansion draft.