With the World Cup Break, Chicago Has Work To Do

The Chicago Fire need to find ways to improve after the World Cup break
by Kiran Balan   |   Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ladder 97 – column on Chicago Fire & the Chicagoland area soccer scene.

The Chicago Fire head into the World Cup break currently sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The position in the standings is very deceiving seeing that the Fire still have 2 games in hand compared to most of teams in the conference.

As of now, the Fire are averaging exactly 1 point per a game with 14 games played so far. The first half of the season has not been kind to the men in red. With a record of 2-4-8, the Fire will have to use this World Cup break to get healthy and reenergized while also concentrating on fixing some fundamental problems that has characterized their play during this season.

But the team is by no means out of the MLS playoff picture, and that any ideas of scraping this season should be thrown out immediately. The team has all the right pieces to create a winning team.

With a bit more time off to rest and recover and while also working on fixing preventable defensive errors, the Fire can definitely turn their slow start to the season around.

Time to get healthy

The Fire have had a very tough schedule down the stretch heading into the World Cup break, with 3 games in 7 days there were a lot of heavy and tired legs for the team. 

The team was also contending with a host of injuries through out various points in the season, and as a result they have not been able to put together the best starting 11 for quite sometime. There have been pockets of brilliance shining for the Fire, please see Harry Shipp and Quincy Amarikwa for details. Yet soccer is a team sport, and you have to have some continuity of lineups on a week-by-week basis.

Last year’s MLS MVP, Mike Magee, has been out of the starting lineup for the past 4 games as he tries to overcome a calf strain. Pacey winger Patrick Nyarko is still recovering from a medical procedure to remove a bone spur in his left ankle and no official timetable for his return has been announced.

Because of this, the Fire have lacked creative spark and attacking presence with these two players going down injured. Coach Frank Yallop has also introduced rookie midfielder, Chris Ritter, into the starting XI. Although he has performed very well and showed his strength on the ball there is still plenty for him to learn moving forward. Match that with a defensive back four that changes more often than not, and you have a team that lacks team chemistry and that will struggle against stronger more disciplined teams. The Fire will definitely want to use the World Cup break to help key players get back to match fitness and shake off any lingering injuries that they might have.

Defense wins championships

The Fire have only produced 1 shutout this season, and problems defensively have cost the team an invaluable amount of points this season. Poor marking and awareness off set plays are really to blame. But the team does have quality defenders — Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are very strong centerbacks, but a lack of playing time together his really hurt the balance in central defense. They are by no means the best the league has to offer, but it’s sometimes better to have 2  centerbacks that can play off each other and work well with each other than 2 top class centerbacks that have no chemistry with each other.

A lack of understanding between players can also hurt the goalkeeper as well. At left back Cochrane did a great job deputizing for the injured Gonzalo Segares, but Segares is the deserved starter. He too is just coming off a major injury layoff so this World Cup break will do him a lot of good and help bring some experience and veteran leadership to this new look back four. Lovel Palmer has been the most consistent defender for the Fire, and heading into the second half of the season he will be looked upon to continue his good form.  The back four will definitely want to stay healthy and work hard in training, because with out a confident and consistent back four, the team will have no shape going forward.

There is still plenty of work to be done for the Chicago Fire, and while much of this World Cup break should be an actual break to get back to fitness, it may be good for the team to work on shoring up the defense and finding the back of the net. Goals off set plays have hurt the team and goals from our strikers would definitely give us a winning edge. One thing is for certain, the Fire need to find a spark heading into the second half of the season.

NEXT UP: July 2 — Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois. 8:30 p.m. EST, My50 Chicago, La Ley 107.9.

Kiran BALAN

Nationality:
USA
College:
Illinois State University
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire
Club Foreign:
Chelsea
Columnist for his hometown MLS team, Chicago Fire. When he’s not flying down the left wing for ISU FC or in a pick-up game, he can be seen watching the beautiful game. A die-hard Chelsea and USMNT fan, he is keen to growing his soccer knowledge.
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