Match Preview: Chicago Fire at Chivas USA (Home Depot Center)
Friday, May 4 (ESPN 3)
Tactics is at once the easiest thing to comment upon and the most difficult thing to get right; I would venture that this is an absolute truth for pundits. For managers, the axiom is a little iffy. A manager can see a string of luck, good or bad, that overrides any tactical tweaking or consistency. On the bad side we see Aron Winters experiencing this every day in Toronto and Peter Nowak getting an earful every week, while on the good side Ben Olson is quietly making a case for manager of the year, Peter Vermes is mining gold, and people still think Sigi Schmid is a grandmaster and not some high-rent Hans Backe. The point is, tactics for the supporter and pundit is a vast arena of speculation, one that demands engagement but where you can’t honestly expect to ever be right. Too many variables. But tell that to the sport betting crowd.
After last week’s loss to Seattle, Chicago is angry. The match at Toyota Park went all wrong, even though there was a whole lotta rightness about it. Marco Pappa is coming into form, and he’s getting a passion for play. We’ve seen this in the last couple of matches and if it continues the team will rise as well. A goal from a corner against Seattle made the loss less painful on paper. For those who watched the game, Pappa’s corner (which should be Goal of the Week with no argument) felt like it should have been his second amazing goal of the match. His first volley was disallowed by the referee claiming an offside Dominic Oduro obstructed, though this call (among other on the night) is dubious. What hurt was that Chicago looked the better team for a good portion of the match but just couldn’t set fire to flames. Seattle is too good of a team to leave unharmed, they will come back to hurt you if you fail to take advantage of the upper hand.
Sean Johnson had another match where his decision making in the box turned out poor, a fumbling that allowed ever-so-slowly moving striker Eddie Johnson draw first blood. As the match came to a harried conclusion, Jalil Anibaba was red carded (something MLS notified him of a few days later) on the last tackle of the game which then bled into a on the pitch scuffle between both teams. The fallout from this was that league cash-cow Seattle will have their full complement of players for their midweek match while Chicago will go into Chivas on Friday with Anibaba and manager Frank Klopas suspended.
There is the danger that Fire supporters will seem more than a bit petulant about last week’s match and certainly the Sounders’ Army will experience the rectitude that can only be felt by those of the hip, affluent Pacific Northwest . But there is a legit point to be made in the quality of the refereeing and MLS Disciplinary Committee’s parity failure.
Regardless, focus is now on Friday’s match at Chivas USA. The Goats have quickly become an afterthought: diminishing quality of play, diminishing fan support, and diminishing league interest. No one considers a match against Chivas to be anything other than a rigorous training match. If you lose against Chivas, it’s not because they upset your squad, it’s because the squad decided not to play at full strength or was experimenting with tactics. This is a sad fact, Chivas needs to relocate to become relevant again, and, if we must have a second Los Angeles team, it should really be the LA Blues (currently in the USL).
Last week Chivas got to experience Colorado’s gradual shift from their 4-3-3 experiment to the traditional 4-4-2 pay dividends in their 4-0 thumping of the lowly goats. Colorado’s tactical change doesn’t bode well for Chivas because they will be facing a similar tactic with Chicago, only one that’s faster and more creative. Austin Berry will step in for Anibaba and supporters have to feel confident he’ll do just fine. Berry, Hunter Jumper, and Tony Walls are all new Fire defenders who have been training hard and playing well in the reserves. Even with Cory Gibbs out, Arne Friedrich still settling in, and sophomore Anibaba suspended, Chicago have the necessary depth to deal with Chivas. Much like the match against Toronto, Chicago has to be favorites for this one although both supporters and players are hoping for a decisive win.
Written by Daniel Casey. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @winslowbobbins.