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A Host of Uncertainties: Tactical thoughts about Fire v Real Salt Lake

Which tactics should the Fire employ to take the game to RSL without David Accam?

At this point in the season, it's time to change the structure of our weekly look at the Tactical approach of our Fire and their opponents. Let's expand our discussions by reviewing the success of the tactics employed during the last game as well as a preview of the tactics for the next game. One of the reasons to discuss things tactical is to examine one's strengths in order to build on them as well as expose one's weakness in order to "fix" them - or at least minimize them.

Last game: Deserved a draw, got a loss

Last week at Sporting Park, the Fire continued to use their 4-2-2-1-1 tactical arrangement with Polster and Ritter as the 2 in the 4-2 while the 2-1-1 of Accam-Shipp-Maloney-do Prado carried over from the last game. For the Fire on defense, the 4-2 worked well for most of the first 75 minutes as the Fire's back six closed down space, clogged the passing lanes and either tried to maintain possession or played the ball over the top to David Accam on the wing. For the Fire on offense, the -2- worked very well for David Accam as he was able to spread the field and use his pace to get behind Sporting's defense. If Accam or his teammates made better use of the ball in the attacking third of the field (or AR2 flagged the obvious 2nd yellow card foul by Sinovic) the outcome should have been very different for the Fire.

SKC lined up in their 4-3-3 tactical arrangement with Mustivar holding down the DM spot of the midfield behind Feilhaber and Espinoza while Zusi, Dwyer and Nemeth started as the top 3. For KC on defense, the trio in the middle were able to deny both Maloney and Shipp space and time on the ball while pressuring Polster and Ritter to hurry their service to DoPrado or Accam. On offense, SKC's midfield triangle maintained ball possession and made Polster and Ritter expend buckets of energy chasing the game - which caused their failure to track Nagamura into the penalty area on the game winning goal.

Clearly the Fire tactical game plan worked well enough to earn them a point on the road playing in one of the most challenging parks in MLS - but failure to finish their chances and the inconsistent whistle in the center tipped the final result to Sporting Kansas City.

This game: our Fire host Real Salt Lake

On Saturday at Toyota Park, the Fire line up against a Real Salt Lake team in a transitional year - a new coach experimenting with a new tactical formation at one of the most consistently competitive clubs in MLS. In the last four games, Coach Cassar has played a 4-3-3 twice (a 0-1 loss to Vancouver and a 1-1 tie with San Jose) or a diamond 4-4-2 twice (a 0-0 tie with LA and a 0-4 drubbing by New England).

Looking deeper, both 4-3-3 formations were played against opponents who were also playing 4-3-3 while both diamond 4-4-2s were played against other formations - one formation was a 4-2-3-1 (New England) and the other was a 4-4-2 (LA). On Saturday, does RSL bring on the 4-3-3 because they expect our Fire to come out in a 4-3-3 OR do they revert to 4-4-2 diamond because they expect our Fire to play something else ... like a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1? Does Coach Cassar try to be reactive on the road and guess the Fire's formation - or does he try to be proactive and come out in the new-look 4-3-3?

Our Fire will be without the pace and strength of David Accam on Saturday (because his hand-flick into the face of Jalil Anibaba was red card worthy to referee Jose Carlos Rivero - insert your own scathing rant as you read this). Early in the season - before David Accam was healthy - Coach Yallop used the diamond 4-4-2 (that in a loss), the 4-1-4-1 (two losses), and the flat 4-4-2 (a win). Since David has been available, our Fire have used the 4-2-2-1-1 three times, winning twice.

Since it's a home game for our Fire on Saturday, conventional wisdom says Coach Yallop should pick a tactical formation to set the tone, pressure RSL, and dictate the play. Do you think the Men in Red should continue to use the 4-2-2-1-1 with Joevin Jones in place of David Accam and Lovel Palmer at LB? Do you think our Fire should go back to a 4-1-4-1 with Shipp and Maloney at the inside AM positions?

Does the Fire coaching staff have a different tactical formation which can better play to the strengths of the players they have available and are in good form in training? Voice your thoughts in the comments section below.