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.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.