The Fire host the Vancouver Whitecaps for their home opener on Saturday. Both teams come to this game having notched an L last weekend. The loss for the Fire was simple - they were outplayed by LA at the champ's home field. The Whitecaps loss was a tale of two halves.
The Fire struggled against the Galaxy tactically on both sides of the ball. On offense, playing a 4-4-2 diamond midfield made for very bad match-ups and little space. Also, playing both Shipp and Maloney inside provided neither player with the space necessary to create. LA's constant high pressure made it difficult for the Fire's attack to maintain possession. On defense, LA consistently exposed the space on the wings and the lack of pace at outside mid. Too much space, too much time, too many looks and too much quality for the Galaxy. Result: Galaxy 2, Fire 0.
Caps struggle after TFC drops off
The Whitecaps loss to Toronto was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Caps were the better team because they came out in a high pressure 4-2-3-1. TFC played right into that plan by playing a 4-4-2 diamond, much like what the Fire employed against LA. The Reds made a bad situation worse on defense by pushing their back four up the field in an effort to compress the space the Whitecaps had available to play.
Vancouver took full advantage of all of that space on the wings. Kekutah Manneh's pace on the left and the combination of Pedro Morales with Steve Beitashour overlapping on the right ripped the TFC defense apart. By the end of the first half, the Caps had at least six quality chances yet only scored once. Tied at one at halftime, Toronto took a deep breath and made the tactical change to drop off defensively - instead of pressing up to take away space in front of them, they laid back deeper in their half to deny the space behind. This change accomplished two things: First, by playing deep they took away the wings, eliminating the 'Caps preferred attack route; and second, it allowed Toronto to slow the game down with the ball, forcing the Caps chase the game. That done, Toronto was able to expose both Vancouver center backs, who were at fault on all three TFC goals. Final score: TFC 3, VWFC 1.
So what should the Fire do?
So which tactics should the Fire employ to stop the Whitecaps? If David Accam is still not available, then no to the 4-3-3. Let's be aggressive here - time to stop playing for ties and start playing for wins. The Fire should come out in a flat 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2). In the back, start Jones at LB, Adailton and Larentowicz at CB and Palmer at RB - the presumptive starters, in other words. In the midfield, start Shipp on the left, Polster and Stephens at CM and Maloney on the right. On attack, this allows both Shipp or Maloney to pinch inside to allow our outside backs to overlap yet give both mids plenty of space in which to control the tempo of the game.
In the front, time to pair Igboananike and Guly do Prado - one needs to play tall and be the holding striker (Guly) while the other uses his speed to either push the Caps back or play the long ball into the corners. On defense, drop into our defensive third to invite the Caps to slow the game down - which will expose their back four to our counter attack.
For the Fire to come away with a two or three goal victory on Saturday at Toyota park, we need to slow the game down, spread the game out and frustrate the Whitecaps for 90 minutes.