The Chicago Fire had a handful of chances to put Saturday night's game on ice. In the second half alone, the Fire had five shots within the penalty box - one shot was blocked; two shots were goals; and two dinged the frame of the goal. After Mike Magee hit the cross bar on his penalty kick, Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan brought up Mike Magee's quote from the beginning of September after the Fire's deflating home draw to the Houston Dynamo: "The soccer gods have a way of punishing you."
And punished the Fire were. While the Fire wasted so many chances at the back of the net, Montreal mustered a paltry 4 shots total in the second half. Only one shot was taken inside the box and that one shot was the only one on target.
This is some strange sort of limbo the team finds itself in. The Fire have tossed away 5 points after the 86th minute this month, yet, despite the unfortunate results, are still within reach of a playoff spot. It is like the team is stuck in a kind of soccer purgatory.
With four games left in the season and only three points back from a playoff spot, the Fire have some control over their own destiny. One more last minute slip-up and the Fire's fate could surely be out of their hands.
Getting Off On The Wrong Foot
One of constant criticisms of Frank Klopas over the past two seasons is that he is unable to make tactical adjustments during the game. He has made changes that did not work, changes that were to late in the game and changes that have incited a collective "WTF?" from the Fire faithful. On Saturday, Frank made two adept lineup changes at halftime that sparked the Fire attack to life and nearly won the game.
Unfortunately, the changes needed to be made because the lineup Frank trotter out to start the match was a bit too conservative. The Logan Pause and Egidio Arévalo Rios partnership did not entirely work in the center of the midfield. Logan stuck to the left side while Rios stayed to the right and neither player truly got forward into the attack. Between the two players, Rios got forward the most, but it was obvious that he was not completely comfortable in the role.
With neither center mids getting forward, here is how the first half of passing looked like:
ABOVE: Fire's passing - 1st half
The Fire were stuck trying to work down the flanks, leaving a big hole in the center of the midfield. This sort of situation leaves the Fire too predictable (à la last week against the Columbus Crew) and easy to contain. Out on the left, Dilly Duka was not looking like himself and had a pretty forgettable performance. Over on the right, Patrick Nyarko was able to find some space down the wing, but was unable to put in any quality crosses.
When the Fire can not get service up top to Juan Luis Anangonó and Mike Magee, Magee will start dropping deeper into the midfield (à la last week against the Columbus Crew, again).
ABOVE: Magee's passing - 1st half
This can not be where Klopas wants to see his star striker, lingering far from goal making back passes and layoffs. Magee needs to be closer to goal where he can take shots and create chances for other players. In a way, I would argue that Magee dropping deeper into the midfield makes Anangonó less effective.
Fortunately at half time, Klopas saw this conundrum, and he swapped out Logan Pause for Alex.
What A Difference A Midfielder Makes
With Pause off and Alex on, the dynamic in the midfield changed. Rios was more than happy to lay deep in the center of the midfield and do what he does best. Alex played in a more advanced role and gave the Fire some offensive support in the center of the field.
ABOVE: Rios and Alex's passing - 2nd half
Along with the Alex for Pause swap, Frank Klopas also switched out Dilly Duka for Chris Rolfe, who tucked inside and helped with creating from the center of the field:
ABOVE: Rolfe's passing - 2nd half
With Rolfe and Alex helping generate offense in the center of the field (together they created 3 key passes), Magee was free to do what Magee does best and play closer to goal instead of needing to drop all the way back to the center circle.
ABOVE: Magee's passing - 2nd half
In the second half, Magee had a key pass (not including one from a corner kick) and 4 shots (not including the penalty kick), 3 of which were from inside the penalty box. Compared to the first half, Magee had no key passes and 3 shots, 2 of which were from long distance.
Setting The Tone
When the Fire came out of the locker room for the second half, Chicago had 77% of the possession during the first five minute interval (to the 50th minute) and continued to hold 60% of possession during the second interval (55th minute). This was because the Fire came out and smothered the Impact defensively.
ABOVE: Fire defending - opening 10 minutes of 2nd half
In the span of those opening 10 minutes, the Fire had 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 clearances and 12 recoveries. Over the final 35 minutes, Chicago would record 9 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 clearances and 26 recoveries.
Marco Di Viao - The Lonely Italian
Without Felipe Martins, the Montreal Impact's offense can really struggle. The last time Montreal came to Toyota Park, Felipe came on as a second half sub and gave Montreal a spark. With Felipe out on suspension, and the rest of the Montreal midfield essentially disappearing offensively (Andrew Wenger and Justin Mapp in particular), Di Viao was spending a majority of the game far away from goal much like Magee had early on. Through the entire game, Di Viao was only able to take 3 shots with his goal being the only one on target.
ABOVE: Marco Di Viado's passing - Entire Game
Montreal was never really able to get much going on offense. They were unable to complete any of their 10 crossing attempts, and Davy Arnaud had the lone completed key pass for Montreal in the entire game (64th minute). Arnaud also had the assist on Di Viao's goal in the 25th minute. That is how you starve a striker like Di Viao. Although, it is hard to tell if the Fire starved Di Viao or if it was self-inflicted.
ABOVE: Montreal Impact's passing - Entire Game
Above is Montreal's passing for the entire game. There seems to be a pattern were the team just boots the ball up field when it get to the attacking third in hopes that Di Viao can work his magic. It's fairly one dimensional and predictable. It is a real shame the Fire dropped two points to this team.
Montreal has 5 games left and is only 4 points clear of the last playoff spot. They have to play away to the Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy, which are not going to be easy trips. They also have to host the New England Revolution and the Philadelphia Union. That is not an easy schedule to end the season with and it is entirely possible that Montreal could miss the playoffs this year.