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That Final Bit of Tinkering: Tactical thoughts on SKC v Chicago

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Which will win the day - SKC’s consistency or the Fire’s experimentation? Both sides have embraced fluidity in the midfield

From a tactical viewpoint, Sporting Kansas City have been the most predictable team in MLS. Sporting head coach Peter Vermes has been building his team around his 4-3-3, high-pressure, up-tempo style since he took the job in KC. After some brief flirtations with other systems, this season’s edition of the 4-3-3 has only seen minor player movement - early in the season Ben Feilhaber was cast in the DM spot but in the last several games he has been moved to one of the AM spots while Servando Carrasco was slotted in at DM. Since Carrasco has been suspended for the game on Sunday, the Fire should expect to see Benny in the DM spot. The probable starting 11 for KC this weekend looks like this ...

Nemeth and Zusi are the wingers and provide the width in attack, Dwyer as striker stretches the defense and is available to be played over the top. Espinoza and Nagamura fill-in on the counter and maintain possession in the midfield, Feilhaber shields the back four while distributing the ball and deJong or Anibaba fly up the wings to provide service into the box. For the Fire midfield and defense, this game will provide the toughest tactical test of this young season.

Fire settling into a groove

If SKC have been predictable, our Fire have seen plenty of different formations with different players in different positions. Coach Yallop invested all of the preseason and the first two or three games experimenting with formations - with players - with styles - and those investments are starting to pay dividends. As Sean Spence outlined here and here, the Fire’s offense is a 4-2-2-2 with Polster and PlayerX shielding the defense, Accam and Shipp playing opposite outside mids, Maloney slotted as playmaker, and Guly as the hold-up striker.

Playing David and Harry on opposite wings succeeds because it unbalances the opponent’s defense. If Shipp has the ball on the left and the defense slides over to close down space, a quick change of field puts Accam 1v1 against an overmatched LB. If David has the ball on the left and the defense slides three players over to pressure and cover, both Maloney and Shipp have plenty of space to strike at goal, to play 1-2 or to push the ball wide right for an overlapping Gehrig to cross into the box. Shipp and Accam changing wings throughout the half keeps the defense on the back foot. The Fire’s tactics have evolved to put our best attackers into situations in which they can showcase their specific talents, nd the results have been three wins in a row.

For the Fire faithful, there are several questions to be answered on Sunday:

  1. Who is PlayerX this week since Watson is suspended?
  2. Does Gehrig keep the RB spot - or has Palmer shown better form in training and earned the start?
  3. Has Guly solidified his hold on the striker position or is it QuincyTime at kickoff?