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Know Your Enemy: Chicago Fire – Meeting the First, Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

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The second half of the preview for TFC's upcoming opponent, the Chicago Fire, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses and highlighting some points of interest

Plenty of options for Chicago, but lots of decisions still to be made
Plenty of options for Chicago, but lots of decisions still to be made
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Part One looking over their lineup and form was posted earlier

The Tactics

As discussed in part one, this season's rendition of Chicago is a team that has yet to find it's form. Any time a club brings in that many players there will always be a period of transition, a certain measure of disjointness as the new arrivals and those in place come together.

That said, there are plenty of concerns that Toronto will be faced with on Saturday.

Should Shaun Maloney indeed be rested, as prophesied, the primary threat will come in the form of Harry Shipp, who has been involved in both goals the Fire have scored this season.

He scored the consolation goal in San Jose, drifting off the back-side of the defenders in search of a lane to goal before getting on the end of a Joevin Jones pass to slip a finish underneath keeper, David Bingham:


And it was his left-sided corner kick that picked out Adailton at the near-post for the winner against Philadelphia:


The first goal is more exemplary of what Toronto will have to specifically be wary. Now in his second-year in the league, Shipp has shown himself to excel at finding those pockets of space in the attacking third, and is adept at finishing chances – his goal from last season, against Seattle, is a perfect example of his knack for finding the gaps, working in tight confines, and producing.

Whether he begins centrally, or on either flank, Shipp will look to go at goal on angles, evading the central presence of centre-backs or defensive midfielders, as such Toronto will need to have alter performances from the full-backs – who will tuck in to add cover – as well as midfielders, either forcing him wide, or tracking back to provide extra pressure and assist in the shutdown.

So far this season, as Shipp goes, so go the Fire.

Frank Yallop has deployed the attacking midfielder in a variety of positions – paired centrally with Maloney against Vancouver, having started on the left against LA, and on the right against Vancouver and Philadelphia.

He was particularly effective against Philadelphia, where Jones stretched the width from the left and the underrated running and passing of Michael Stephens helped create space within which Shipp could operate.

As the second goal above shows, set-pieces can be a factor in this match. Toronto has not looked great defending crosses – especially from open play, as Javier Morales' pair of assists last weekend – and Chicago has plenty of potential targets and both Shipp, as per Adailton's goal, or Maloney can provide the service.

Were it not for a fantastic save from San Jose keeper, David Bingham, Eric Gehrig would have equalized with a bullet-header off of a Maloney corner kick:


TFC must do their best to limit set-piece chances and to close down crossing opportunities, while doing a much better job of tracking runs than they did in Salt Lake and Columbus.

Shipp is one concern, Maloney another, but the third is a threat with which some members of TFC should be familiar: former Red, Quincy Amarikwa.

The tenacious MLS journeyman has found a comfortable home in Chicago and has transformed himself from irregular substitute to a starting nuisance. His finishing has yet to come round this season – he scored a career high eight goals in 2014 (more than he had in his previous five seasons combined), but it is his tireless work-rate that crafts chances and creates space for his teammates to exploit.

There is no clip available, but one play in particular against San Jose was the perfect illustration of Amarikwa. He hustled to close down Ty Harden, who dallied momentarily on the ball, forcing a turnover and allowing Amarikwa to burst towards goal. His ambitious dipping chip sailed just over the bar, but the chance was entirely of his own making.

Toronto will have to be very wary of his pressing; they must take care to move the ball quickly and effectively, lest they be caught as did Harden.

As with the chip, Amarikwa has an eye for the audacious. No play is ever impossible for him; that makes him unpredictable, so expect the unexpected. For example, this tight bicycle attempt against Philadelphia should likely have led to a penalty kick, as his second touch struck the arm of Ethan White on the goal line:


One final cautionary note, Chicago, with Amarikwa, Kennedy Igboananike, and David Accam, have plenty of pace in their attack. Toronto's back-line is not as spry as one may like.

Exploitation

While those risks are many, on the other side of the ball, prospects look a little brighter for TFC, as there are plenty of shortcomings in the Chicago defenses to be exploited.

For some reason, Yallop opted not to completely reinforce his back-line. Yes, Adailton and Gehrig were brought in, but still Jeff Larentowicz, a midfielder by trade, has been forced to stay in the centre-back slot that emergency thrust him into last season.

Add to that the new faces alongside the out-of-position captain, and the back four has looked terribly fractured through four matches.

It is perhaps excusable in the first match of the season to lose focus for a moment, but the failure in both threat recognition and coverage that led to Robbie Keane's nightcap in the opener was atrocious. Credit to the Irishman for finding that space, but woe upon Larentowicz, who collapsed towards Omar Gonzalez' ball, leaving the pocket of space that Baggio Husidic to knocked down the ball into for Keane to finish:


Toronto's attack is yet to click, but that exact play is the sort of thing one can envisage Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco pulling off in time.

What that played showed was the problem of putting a long-seasoned player into an entirely new position. Larentowicz' instincts as a midfielder is to put pressure on the ball. But as a defender he occasionally must concede possession in order to maintain coverage – no doubt a delicate balance.

That same focus nearly proved troublesome against Philadelphia as well, when Larentowicz was caught stepping up to Fernando Aristeguieta, who dropped into midfield, pulling the wandering centre-back with him, allowing Maurice Edu to charge past him onto the end of a through-ball:

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Edu wasted the chance, rushing his shot with eyes grown wide at his fortune, but should Altidore, Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, or Robbie Findley find that same space, perhaps they can do better.

Further compounding those concerns, Chicago has also been very error prone at the back and those mistakes have proved costly.

LA's opener, the first goal of the 2015 MLS season, came off the boot of Jose Villarreal, but not until a weak Larentowicz clearing touch deflected off of Palmer, who was far to close to him teammate anyways, to fall into the path of the LA striker, in the space that Palmer should have been watching, thereby gifting a free chance at goal:


Palmer himself was largely at fault for Vancouver's late winner, as his brutal headed clearance fell to Steven Beitashour streaking into the right-side of the box, who then picked out Octavio Rivero in that vacated space on the left to stroke home the decisive goal:


The crucial aspect to that plays was the full-on, deer-in-the-headlights panic that the back-line fell into, focusing so much on the ball that they once more missed the obvious threat lurking behind them – a costly error in attention.

As if that were not enough, goalkeeper Sean Johnson, on the verge of the US National Team in his sixth year in MLS, is a touch gaff prone himself. Both goals by San Jose could be viewed as the direct result of his mistakes.

On the first he went walkabouts, wandering out to punch a Matias Perez Garcia corner kick, only to miss and find himself well out of position to factor in preventing Fatai Alashe from nodding in from the doorstep:


For the second he stayed on his spot for another Garcia set-piece, but spilled the save on Clarence Goodson's header, allowing Harden of all people to arrive and clean up the mess with his first MLS goal:


There is an overwhelming moral to the story of weaknesses in the Chicago defense, and it is a refrain that this preview has echoed repeatedly to a TFC side looking to spark their attack. Get into those positions and good things will happen.

Keane was there, holding up at the top of the box, to create space for himself. Villarreal was in place to profit from the earlier Chicago mistake. Beitashour made that run into the area from his left-back slot to be in position to collect the errant header, while Rivero ghosted in off the back-side to be an option. Alashe was perfectly placed to get the final touch on the doorstep and Harden followed that attempt into (and out of) the hands of Johnson.

Get there and be ready.

Luke Moore was inches away from getting on the end of an unexpected Ashtone Morgan cross in Salt Lake, after Morgan forced a turnover out of Tony Beltran and swung a ball towards the back-post. And Giovinco should have capitalized on a Morgan ball in against Columbus, that squirrelled off the foot of a defender, freezing him and the keeper with the loose ball begging to be put into the net. Had Giovinco committed, Toronto would have had a goal and perhaps a glimmer of a chance at a draw.

BREAKING NEWS: Word is out that Johnson missed training for the Fire on Thursday with a reported eye abrasion and may not be available for Saturday. Should that come to be, Jon Busch, a veteran keeper and long-time servant of San Jose will take up his spot.

Busch has already seen one match worth of action this season, as Johnson missed their home opener against Vancouver with an arm infection. Well acquainted with the league, Busch was brought in to back up this season after his contract expired with the Quakes. Even without Johnson in goal, the point of following in chances and getting into dangerous positions still stands.

With both teams possessing attacking threats and each still composing their back-lines, do not be surprised if this one has some goals in it.

Points of Interest

Last Meeting: September 13, 2014        Chicago 1 – Toronto 1


The two clubs last met in September of last season, drawing 1-1 in Chicago, not without a bit of controversy as Gilberto's potential winner was ruled out by one Mr. Dave Gantar for a phantom shove on Bakary Soumare in the dying minutes.

Lovel Palmer gave the hosts the lead in the 11th minute, meeting a Sanna Nyassi corner kick at the near-post. Jeff Larentowicz would squander a chance to seal the result when his penalty kick, after Joe Bendik took down Grant Ward in the Toronto area, was saved by the TFC keeper. Substitute Dwayne De Rosario would breathe life into a poor performance, levelling the match in the 89th minute, setting the stage for Gilberto's stoppage-time winner, that was cruelly denied.

The teams met three times in 2014, each ending in a draw. The September 1-1 in Chicago preceded by a 2-2 in Toronto and another 1-1 at Toyota Park in March, the one where Luke Moore was sent off for an apparent elbow on Chris Ritter.

The two have met nineteen times in MLS play over the years, Chicago winning eight, losing three, and drawing another eight.

The Fire are unbeaten in the last eleven encounters, dating back to a 4-1 TFC home win in May of 2010. Goals from Nick LaBrocca (wind-assisted), O'Brian White, and a Chad Barrett brace bookended a Logan Pause strike for the visitors. Six of those matches have ended level.

Toronto has never won in nine matches in Chicago (the Fire have won four of those games), but have taken points from their last two visits.

Enjoy the Match.