VANCOUVER, CANADA - AUGUST 7: Daniel Paladini #11 Chicago Fire runs with the ball while being pursued by Peter Vagenas #33 of the Vancouver Whitecaps during the first half of MLS Soccer on August 07, 2011 at Empire Field in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
1. Are we too predictable? Time for a formation change?
When asked about whether fatigue was a factor in last Sunday's loss to the LA Galaxy, Frank Klopas was having none of it. "They have four days to recover, if you can't recover in four days then maybe you should retire," stated Klopas. The players may not be tired but the formation that the team has relied on is looking a little jaded, if not predictable. Both LA and Houston clearly knew the Fire's plan coming into both games and were able to neutralize it without many problems. The tactic of playing Oduro up front on his own with Rolfe behind him in the "Grazzini role" can be very limited and problematic. For one, Chris Rolfe isn't best equipped to play in the hole but I will address this later in the preview. Secondly, Dominic Oduro is the kind of striker that needs a partner to play up top with him. Dom likes to make runs behind the defense and plays off the shoulder of the last defender. His first touch is not good enough to hold the ball up consistently, a requirement for any lone striker. With that in mind, a move to a two striker formation from the start would be a welcome switch. Playing with two strikers would not require major tinkering with the starting eleven, something we know coach Klopas is not fond of. A striker partner for Oduro would take a lot of the pressure off him and free him up to do what he does best, making defense splitting runs and taking away defenders, creating space for advancing midfielders. A cheeky switch of formation is a worthwhile risk to take against Vancouver who come to Chicago to play their fourth away game in ten days.
2. Alex yes, Rolfe no:
As I alluded to in the previous point, Chris Rolfe has been playing as the creative attacking midfielder in place of the departed Grazzini. Both Houston and LA were able to stop Rolfe from creating too much from this position, mainly by being overly physical or double teaming him. A natural replacement for Rolfe in this position would be Alex who is yet to start since joining the team. Playing Alex in the hole would allow Rolfe to move up front to partner Oduro but, again, that would require a change in formation. Alex has shown a lot of promise in his short spell with the team and I would much rather see him get a chance to prove himself from the start against Vancouver, especially with the big game against New York on the horizon. With Pappa being out, Frank Klopas may not have to change the formation, playing Rolfe on the wing and allowing Alex to play in the middle. If this ends up being how the Fire line up Saturday night, it will be the third position Rolfe has played this season even when it was made clear at his resigning press conference that he was going to play "up top."
3. Vancouver's high back line - Oduro could be licking his lips
In the midweek game against Toronto, I noticed that Vancouver deployed a high back line. Understandably, Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson aren't as speedy as Oduro but the high line caused quite a few problems, especially in the first half where Johnson found himself in 1v1 situations on more than one occasion. One could argue that Vancouver were caught high after giving the ball away in midfield but as a unit, they tended to push up when in possession. Vancouver would be very foolish to continue this tactic against the Fire and Oduro, who has torn apart teams that try to play a high line against him. For the most part, teams have tended to remain deep in an effort to stop Oduro from getting behind. This was most famously used by Seattle in the US Open Cup final last season. That being said, if the Fire force Vancouver to turn the ball over in midfield or if Vancouver decided to chance their luck and play a high line, Oduro could be in for a good day.
4. Barry Robson: Pirlo in disguise?
I know a lot of people will scoff at this title but Robson has impressed me in the few games he has played this season. Known as a tough tackling midfielder, Robson has another weapon in his arsenal - the ability to pick a pass. Against Toronto he played a brilliant through ball for Mattocks for a 1v1 situation which resulted in a goal. Robson was given space by the Toronto defense and his pass made them pay. This is not the first time he has made a pass like that this season and the Fire need to be fully aware of this ability. In the absence of Le Toux and Chiumiento, Robson's offensive contribution will be key for Vancouver and the Fire will need to look to stifle that.