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MTL v CHI preview, MLS #30: How will the Fire play under Bliss?, game notes, & more

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A look at his last interim work, two short years ago in Columbus, plus game notes

AHHH! AHHHHHHH! TRIGGER WARNING!
AHHH! AHHHHHHH! TRIGGER WARNING!
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Bliss is that guy you've been introduced to six times whose name you cannot recall. He's the guy who's worked down the hall for eight months who gets introduced as a new hire. In Fire land, we've seen Brian Bliss around a lot, but we don't know much about him.

Which makes this evening's match in Montreal (kickoff at 7 p.m. CDT; broadcast on My50 Chicago, stream on MLS Live) a bit of a coming-out party: Tonight we meet Brian Bliss. Tonight he shares his ideas about the game with us, implicitly. And we will over-react to them, positively or negatively - it's what supporters do!

What we might see

Bliss was an interim head coach for Columbus after the firing of Robert Warzycha, going 4-4-0 in eight games with a team that had previously lost something like 400 games in a row.

With that Crew side, he stabilized a nervy group with a few personnel and tactical decisions which have remained unchanged in two years since: He put Columbus in a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani; he fielded an attacking midfield of Federico Higuain, Ryan Finley and Justin Meram more often than not. The team responded by winning four out of five to roar into the playoff picture. (Of course, coaching records are seldom that uncomplicated; that same team lost three straight to end the year, including 0-1 losses in each of the teams' last two home games, finishing eight points back of the Fire side that got Frank Klopas canned.)

Of course, the 2013 Crew are not the 2015 Fire, but there are similarities. It's not hard to imagine Bliss returning to the same formation that steadied the ship in Columbus in 2013, like this:

Their are several advantages to lining up this way: This formation puts every player in their favored position. It allows Polster to solve for possession with intelligent cover nearby. It frees Shipp from the creative shackles that come with flank defensive responsibilities. It empowers our lovely all-African front line to really run at people.

Another possibility - and what I'd do if I were to mind-control Bliss for a few crucial minutes before game - is pull Razvan Cocis for Mikey Stephens. Stephens' appearances are the only occasions the Men in Red have seemed likely to keep the ball in 2015, and a midfield triangle of Shipp-Stephens-Polster is very young, very sharp and very Chicago. They might have to grow together a bit in a way the Polster-Cocis tandem doesn't, which could be anethema to guy looking to remove the 'interim' part of his current job title. But if he's looking at it with his Technical Director hat on ...

It goes without saying that merely putting 11 circles on a field of green cannot represent the fluidity and situational complexity of soccer. How they line up is interesting; whether the players use that structure to construct coherence with and without the ball is where Yallop was found wanting, and where Bliss will be judged (harshly, even unfairly, it must be said. Five weeks?). Are the Fire hard to play against? Do they have a plan to keep the ball? Do they win many battles of will? How do they manage their weaknesses?

Other healthy(ish) names not listed in this group are Gilberto, Mike Magee, Matt Watson and Greg Cochrane.

- Gilberto's fighting injuries, and his history with them isn't promising, so I always guess 'out' if he's not clearly 'in,' and he's not.

- Magee is still not match fit after a year of rehab, re-injury, and more rehab; he could start, but hasn't shown incredible form in short substitute appearances.

- Watson could start at central midfield or right back, but seems settled into a role as a Swiss Army knife spot starter.

- Cochrane has gotten physically overwhelmed on the flanks - Montreal's right-sided players are very quick, from Ambroise Oyongo forward.

Rotation: A game again on Saturday means some thought will be given to resting folks. Maybe that's Magee's first start? Maybe this is? Who knows. Polster is almost a lock to play, since he missed the last game through yellow-card accumulation and will be gallivanting off to help the USA win a spot in the Olympics very soon.

Or it could be a different formation together. Or a different reality. There's nothing to play for, and anything's possible! Bliss brings back the W-M. Hauptman names himself new #10, sets up three goals in 4-1 rout.

The opposition

Well, they've got Drogba. {shudders} {vomits} I mean, for f--k's sake, TRIGGER WARNING, Impact. Little help here. We've all still got Drogba PTSD symptoms. Dude's now on every feed, all the time. (Or was. Thank Zoroaster for Robert Lewandowski.)

Drogba's exuberance and brilliance has had a sharpening effect upon a talented roster that had fallen blunt during a long MLS campaign. Ignacio Piatti's slashing outside-in playmaking, Marco Donadel's probing through balls, and Dilly Duka's spiky combinations have all found better outcomes since the Ivorian legend took the field. Montreal's emphasis on lightning counters remains, along with a shrugging disinterest in keeping the football. The Impact are among the more-direct teams in the league.

As the Fire have demonstrated repeatedly this year - scoring three goals in each of their previous two meetings - this is a defense that can be had. Of the potential starters in Montreal's front four, only Drogba could be considered a decent defensive player, and at 37 he's not going to chase and harass a whole lot. Chicago should be able to keep the ball if they wish to; will they break the bang-it-somewhere-around-Accam habit?

What I'll be looking for

How do the Fire want to play? This is game one of the 2016 preseason, so I'm not overly concerned with outcomes. What are they trying to do? How do they want to play? Are there any obvious double-binds (pressing hard while sitting deep, for example) that signal tactical incoherence?

Who wants this? Who's emotionally tough? Let's face it - 2015 has been a potent, poisonous cauldron of awfulness for those of us who love the Chicago Fire. This city has always valued toughness, grit, endurance - who will crawl up out of that cauldron, shake off the bile, and show us some of those things tonight?