Chicago Fire technical director and head coach Frank Klopas has put together a team that fits a certain style. This Fire squad is designed to exploit wide open spaces with their speed. The team benefits most when referees keep their whistle at their side. When a game becomes more free flowing, Chicago becomes more likely to catch the other team out of place and burn them on the counter attack. This strategy fits Toyota Park's spacious 120 yards by 75 yards layout and the results show. Where the Fire once did not enjoy a significant home advantage, the team has averaged 1.54 points per game at home and just 1.09 points per game on the road since 2011.
Sunday's game against the Portland Timbers was played at the tiny Jeld-Wen Field (110 yards by 70 yards) and that showed too. More on this and the game after the break.
Both teams came out with some good chances early on. Portland opened the scoring with a Eric Brunner scorcher in the 19th minute of play. The Timbers had a long corner kick that Hanyer Mosquera headed back into the center of the box. Kris Boyd moved the ball toward the goal and then Brunner slammed it past a helpless Sean Johnson in net.
As the Fire have five times before this year, they scored a goal of their own in response. Marco Pappa intercepted a pass outside Portland's box and looked to get the ball in the box. Pappa's kick looked like a shot but it found Jalil Anibaba's foot and Anibaba slid the ball into the Timbers' goal to equalize the scoring at 1-1.
The only other score in the game belonged to Portland in the 51st minute. Sal Zizzo sent in a corner kick that Boyd gently redirected with his head. The ball then hit off Logan Pause and went into the Fire net as an own goal. The Portland 2 - Chicago 1 score was all she wrote and it was very frustrating to watch.
Referee Silviu Petrescu made frequent but inconsistent foul calls. Perhaps the Fire had more erroneous calls go against them but all teams face that from time to time. The larger problem was Petrescu's frequent whistle prevented Chicago from getting into their rhythm. Portland was able to constantly regroup and maintain their shape. Add in the small field and it was just a nightmare scenario the Fire couldn't find a way to wake up from.
It will be interesting to see if Klopas mixes up any tactics when Chicago travels to Houston's tiny field on July 3rd. The only change I noticed today was Grazzini received a lot more balls on the wings. That might have been out of space necessity though. I thought Dominic Oduro being taken out of the game in the 60th minute was a nod to the fact that his speed was being nullified by the small space (Oduro is rarely taken out before the 80th minute let alone the 60th) but he reportedly hurt his hamstring and wanted to come out.
Chicago has now been outscored 6-3 at Jeld-Wen Field and I for one am very happy that a regular season stop won't happen there again until 2014.
The Fire will look to bounce back this Wednesday at Toyota Park. The game against FC Dallas begins at 7:30 PM CST. Portland and Dallas are both averaging about a point per game. The difference is Portland is 3-2-1 at home while Dallas is 0-4-1 on the road. A loss to Portland yesterday is an acceptable speed bump in my opinion where as a tie Wednesday would be a minor disappointment and a loss would be a travesty.
Chicago Fire 1 - 2 Portland Timbers
Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; Dan Gargan (Orr Barouch, 81'), Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares; Logan Pause © (Rafael Robayo, 68'), Pavel Pardo, Marco Pappa; Sebastian Grazzini; Dominic Oduro (Federico Puppo, 60'), Patrick Nyarko
Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Hunter Jumper, Daniel Paladini
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Mike Chabala, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner, Steven Smith; Franck Songo'o (Sal Zizzo, 46'), Diego Chara ©, Lovel Palmer, Rodney Wallace; Darlington Nagbe (Jorge Perlaza, 67'), Kris Boyd
Substitutes not used: Joseph Bendik, David Horst, Eric Alexander, Kalif Alhassan, Mike Fucito
POR - Eric Brunner (assist) 19'
CHI - Jalil Anibaba (Marco Pappa) 40'
POR - Logan Pause (OG) 52'
POR - Mike Chabala (caution) 45'
CHI - Patrick Nyarko (caution) 45'
CHI - Gonzalo Segares (caution) 48'
POR - Sal Zizzo (caution) 79'
CHI - Sebastian Grazzini (caution) 80'
CHI - Austin Berry (caution) 85'
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Assistants: Darren Clark, Kevin Duliba
Fourth Official: Paul Ward