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Something’s Got To Give: Fire vs Toronto FC, MLS Week 25 Preview

It’s do or die for the Fire this week. Can our fortress withstand what could be its greatest enemy: Sebastian Giovinco?

MLS: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact
The two starting homegrown players walk out before the Montreal game Wednesday.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

This is quite the pickle now. Just when Chicago finally truly feels on top of the world, everything starts crashing down. This has been an ongoing feeling ever since the Gold Cup break. In fact, you could even see a bit of it against Portland if you go that far back, but let’s focus on the now. Right now, we appear to be stumbling right into an injury crisis, with Brandon Vincent still out and now Matt Polster and João Meira looking unlikely for Saturday. We need to take a strong look at our opponents, who still top the league and now leave us at 3rd place in the East.

Toronto started this season very slow, picking up a single win in their first six. Then they ran into us, who, much like a newborn calf, were trying to find our footing with Schweinsteiger. Suddenly, the week after I dropped him from my fantasy team, Giovinco exploded back into his old self, setting them off on a highly impressive six-game win streak. Recently they’ve appeared near unstoppable, but I took some time to find a way to make them stoppable. But first, here’s some clips:

Vs NYCFC 7/30

Vs DC 8/5

Vs Portland 8/12

Jiggly’s Gameplan

This is highly unprecedented in my previews, but I’m going to do away with my usual format for just this once. This is the most important game of the season and I gave up my whole night to study Toronto’s team, going through highlights for every single game they’ve played this year and every single game we’ve played this year. So excuse this change of format as I try to explain how we can get these 6 points:

How to Defend vs. Toronto

First thing’s first: PAY ATTENTION!!! That’s one of the biggest themes with defending this team. They like to challenge the width and pull the entire defense to a side only to switch up play to the guy cutting in behind everyone. Don’t fall for this. Keep your width and look out for the runs. Toronto has shown to be very good and finding smart runs. Unlike most teams where the run is usually won by the player fastest off their mark, Toronto has worked on finding the openings in defenses to turn defenders around. This also makes opposing CBs lose track of a couple of very important players, specifically Giovinco and Altidore.

On the subject of Giovinco, when he backs up into space, CLOSE HIM DOWN! Giovinco is the most dangerous player in the league and we need to make sure that he doesn’t go off on us just because you think that forming a wall in front of him will work. In fact, he isn’t even troubled by walls. That’s why we also need to watch ourselves on fouls. We do not want to give him the chance to put an easy one up into the top corner. And just because I’m focusing in on him quite a bit here, doesn’t mean you should forget everyone else. There’s still a whole extra offense there that needs handling, including the US’ number one, Jozy Altidore. Just make sure that Giovinco doesn’t get enough room to make a move.

How to Attack vs. Toronto

Here’s where things get a bit murky. There’s a lot of footage of Toronto schooling other teams for me to figure out where we need to defend them, but there is very little evidence of defensive mistakes. Then I dug for it and found quite a bit of stuff to do. First, we need to be a whole lot quicker. Yes, our style is a sort of high pressure system that uses possession to move out of the back, but that’s not going to work against Toronto. In fact, most goals against have come from turnovers in the midfield while their wing-backs are occupied. This means utilizing Accam for those quick changes and pushing hard for those turnovers. Not only that, but we need to throw a ton of numbers at them.

Toronto utilizes a three centerback system with wingbacks. Unlike that one other team that I talked about recently that just sort of collapsed into the box, these guys keep their shape, so really it’s a two-tiered defense. Luckily, the wingbacks make plenty of forward runs, leaving just the three behind. Sending up a lot of players on the break definitely makes us hard to cover, but it also rips up the back-line. My example is their early June 3-0 loss to New England:

You see how the Revs attack would be able to rip away two of the CBs far enough from the third to allow space to pass into. You can also see how they move quickly from turnovers in the midfield. Sure, this was a while ago, but maybe teams just haven’t been able to get that same sort of jump on them. It’s high time to do it to them.

It’d also be great if we could convert on set pieces, but that’s probably dreaming to much.

How to Properly Apply a Band-Aid to the Fire

There are plenty of issues with this team at the moment that I’d love to get into, but right now we need a quick one-night-only fix to try to pull ourselves back up. We can’t do much about goalkeeping and we’re lacking up to three starters Saturday, but there is one upside: Jonathon Campbell. I know that sounds like me trying to shove young players in your face, but if we want someone to solidly mark Jozy Altidore, he has to be our guy. If you remember early last season, he was one of the bigger reasons why we didn’t give up a goal for a long time (that and overly defensive tactics). His biggest standout performance was marking Kei Kamara, silencing him for the entire game. If there’s anyone who can take on the physical assignment that is Altidore, it needs to be Campbell.

My other note is that the Fire need to be more aggressive, specifically Basti. Recently Mat Doyle put out an article about how the reasoning for our collapse is because of teams figuring out the way Basti positions himself; but I feel that’s only part of the reason. You see, when you look at Basti’s positioning during the run and right now, he hasn’t been moving himself into the attack enough. Sure, there’s some defense stuff involved, but really we’re missing out on some lethal passing. Speaking of lethal, that’s what we need to be. That’s the aggressive nature. We’re being too technical and Basti staying back is a part of this. In order to beat Toronto we need to move very swiftly to get past that three man back-line.

Projected Lineups

Chicago Fire

Toronto FC

How To Watch

Kickoff: Saturday August 19th, 7:00PM CDT

TV/Streaming: CSN-Chicago, MLS Live

So can the Fire grab onto their Supporter’s Shield life-line? Or will the dreams of “worst-to-first” slip away with Canada’s team? Tell us what you think in the comments. Also, tell me what you think of the extra special version of “Three Keys”.