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Match Preview: Chicago Fire vs. Minnesota United FC

by on 25 August 2017

With playoff hopes looking extremely slim, now appears to be the time for Minnesota to pull on the lab coats and start experimenting. The team has restocked its shelves over the last month with a glut of midfielders and a couple of defensive options. It is time to begin thinking beyond just this season and look for what pieces are worth keeping and how they might fit together in the long term. The good news: they might be hitting the right team at the right time. Chicago has lost five of its last six and many of those losses have come by embarrassing score lines. Is this the week the Loons break through on the road?

Recent form

Chicago L L L W L +12
GD
1.64
PPG
Minnesota L L W L D -21
GD
0.92
PPG

Previous meetings

Chicago and Minnesota have never met in MLS play but have had a on and off soccer history since the days of the original NASL. The Chicago Sting would occasionally play the Minnesota Kicks in NASL play and were grouped together in NASL’s Central Division in 1981 before the Kicks folded. Some lower league dust ups, such as the 2009 Open Cup victory by the Thunder over the Fire’s PDL team and the Minnesota-based “Fire SC” loss to Chicago-based AAC Eagles in the 2011 edition of the tournament. As Minnesota United, the current club travelled to Chicago for a 2013 preseason friendly, which it won, and also in a preseason tournament in Portland in 2016 where the Loons suffered a 4-0 loss.

Officials

Referee Kevin Stott
Assistant Jeffrey Greeson
Assistant Kyle Longville
Fourth Juan Guzman
VAR Dave Gantar

Kevin Stott is MLS’ most tenured referee, having debuted in 1996 and overseen 309 MLS matches. Stott has given the fewest fouls among referees with at least ten games this year (20.5) and is well behind the pack in yellow cards per game (2.1). This is all pretty standard for Stott, who has been consistently last in both metrics over the last six years. Hopefully the bitter blood feud of a rivalry week game can be contained by a strong game manager like Stott.

Roster report

Minnesota United
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Joseph Greenspan (concussion) – Out
F Christian Ramirez (hamstring injury) – Questionable

Chicago Fire
M John Goossens (ankle injury) – Out
GK Jorge Bava (elbow injury) – Out
D Brandon Vincent (quadriceps injury) – Out
M Daniel Johnson (knee injury) – Out
M/D Matt Polster (knee injury) – Out
D Joao Meira (undisclosed injury) – Out
D Matej Dekovic (adductor injury) – Out

Tactical outlook

It was with a heavy heart that I trudged toward the conclusion that perhaps Minnesota United could be a better counterattacking team than front-footed, possession based team last week. The road performance against Seattle might have clinched that opinion.

Some of the difference between the Loons’ first game against Seattle and their second game can be attributed to playing at home versus playing away. Some of the difference can be attributed to game states: Seattle plays more conservatively with a big lead in the first game than without one in the second. Finally, Seattle simply had a worse night last week than they did earlier this month. Still, the tactical shift was clear, and it clearly produced better results.

In the first game against Seattle, Minnesota made 510 total passes and completed 81% of them. The team sounds like tiki taka until you look at the passing chart among Minnesota’s starting defenders:

Every successful and unsuccessful pass made by a Minnesota United starting defender in game one against Seattle.

The defense contributed many of these passes, and many of them were simply impotent passes horizontally in the defensive half as United tried to figure out a possession oriented way to pick the lock on Seattle. It never happened.

By contrast, this last week, United made only 347 total passes and completed just 72% of them. The mode of activating the offense from the back, however, shows the intention:

Every successful and unsuccessful pass made by a Minnesota United starting defender in game two against Seattle.

Gone are the hesitant passes across the middle, feeling for the right seam to break an attack. When possession is gained, the ball is moved straight forward, swiftly (the length of these passes demonstrating the counterattacking speed they were going for), and the team seemed all too ready to spray a few more errant passes for the chance to beat a Sounders team on flat feet.

The result of the strategy was that Minnesota only took three fewer shots this week despite making over 150 fewer passes, and the attack was even poor in game two; better finishing and positioning and the picture looks even rosier.

There are lots of statistics that bear out that United played a much more efficient second Seattle game than first, but my favorite one is this: the Loons didn’t ship four goals this week.

The short version of it all is this: Minnesota gained a huge boon in defense by making it a priority, but really did not lose much in the attack as a result of the choice. On a better night, with a little luck, and against someone other than the hottest team in the league, that counterattacking play might be enough to earn some wins. It isn’t Heath’s preferred strategy, and it can be a white knuckle experience for a fan, but there just might be a net gain with that shift in focus.

How will it play out?

Against a high-powered attacking offense like Chicago, and on the road, Minnesota probably will end up bunkering out of sheer necessity whether or not Adrian Heath gets all his coaching ideas from reading my articles. Chicago will pepper the defense with attempts. Whatever the final score line, United fans should temper their nerves of steel for this one.

Chicago will win if…

If Chicago can open up a cramped United defense, it has the talent to make the most of its chances. The problem is that this offense is great when running straight at a defense with just four in the back, but is much poorer when opposing teams park the bus and create overloads in the zones around the goal. Solve that problem, and Chicago can get back on its feet.

Minnesota will win if…

The Loons need to finish the chances they get, and they need to figure out how to defend a set piece. All the bunkering and improved defensive positioning in the world is meaningless if the opponent will just earn goals off a dead ball and a momentary lapse in reason.


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  • nomadic loon

    A request for help on this one…if anyone has the regular season results between the Thunder and Chicago Stingers in 1995 & 1996, please post. They met often, but I can’t find the results.
    The famous National Soccer League of Chicago has been around since the early 1900s featuring dozens of long-standing local teams that still play today. One of the teams was the Ukrainian/Hansa Lions who had a pretty good player by the name of Willy Roy. In 1967, Willy Roy was the coach of the Spurs, Chicago’s first top division pro team and played at Soldier Field. Another pro team, the Chicago Mustangs, played at Comiskey Park. Both teams only lasted a year with the Spurs heading to Kansas City, and the Mustangs dropping to a lower division.
    In 1975, the Chicago Sting joined the NASL, and with Willy Roy as their coach from 1977-1986, share notoriety with the Cosmos as being the only teams to win the NASL Championship more than once. In spite of their success, attendance was never good in Chicago. Both Soldier Field and Wrigley Field struggled to get 10,000 fans to a Sting game. The Kicks won 7 of 13 games against the Sting from 1976-1981, and the Strikers took 2 of 3 games during the 1984 season.
    The Thunder-Chicago relationship started when the Thunder were an amateur team looking for pro opponents. In 1990 and 1993 they played outdoor games against the NPSL indoor league’s Chicago Power (and won both games). In 1995, the Stingers entered the USISL Pro League and were in the same division as the Thunder. I can’t find the regular season results, but can confirm the Thunder beat the Stingers in both of their playoff meetings. In 1996, both teams were again in the same division of the USISL Select League but results of their matches are unknown. The next year, the Thunder moved up to the A-League and Minnesota-Chicago soccer meetings became rare.
    The Thunder had a couple of US Open Cup wins against the Chicago Fire Reserves (PDL) in 2005 and 2009. In 2012, the NSC Stars had a double-header friendly losing to the MLS Fire, but tying the PDL Fire Reserves on the same day! The NASL Loons won a friendly in 2013; and lost a friendly in 2016, against the MLS Fire.
    So very unofficially, Minnesota has 16 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie (really need the 1995-1996 results.) Go Loons!

  • nomadic loon

    i’m not a big jamie watson as a sideline reporter fan, but he did a great job with 4 hours of soccer talk on 1500 KSTP. i have to spread this out so it goes through the crazy 55.1 monitors: http (colon slash slash) www(dot)1500espn(dot)
    com (slash) mackey-judd-ondemand (slash) … then pick thursday’s show.
    i really miss northern pitch when i didn’t have to sanitize!

  • Troy Kadlec

    This is another game where we need to work around the strength of the opponent’s midfield. Keep Bastian pinned deep and moving side to side or he can punish you right up the gut. I’m hoping Kallman is a go as we seem to be a much better team when he’s anchoring the center.

    Regardless of who starts up top, please, please play two forwards and shift Molino out. I’m still an advocate of us trying the 3-5-2 as you can get Nicholson, Finlay and Molino all on the pitch and keep Ibson and Cronin deep. It puts 5 in the attack and 5 in the defense and you can shift where the game takes you. Until we have a real #10, we will struggle in the 4-2-3-1, but that’s what we’ll probably play with today. It only works when Ibson is flawless or the opposing midfield doesn’t push up the middle in numbers.

    I don’t think the 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 is much of an option as we don’t seem to be able to sort out the midfield with Ibson paired with anyone other than Cronin.

    I don’t expect us to win today unless our finishing takes a big step up or we use 2 forwards.