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Words About Shapes: A Blighted Age of Wonders

Radiohead on shuffle while I contemplate the ‘Actually’ Guy

MLS: Sporting KC at Chicago Fire
Too often, Basti looks like all the traffic in Zone 14 is gettin’ him down.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s times when I’m reminded of the wonders of the age we’re currently in. I sat down to write this after asking Google to play a shuffle of everything by Radiohead, and that’s going right now.* That’s the kind of thing my friend PJ would hypothesize in 1998 after, I dunno, eating mushrooms or something - “Dude, no, I’m serious, it’s coming - like a library but online, every song, every movie, ever, just type it in … it’s coming … you ever really look at your hands, man? Like, really look?”

Yet here we are, two decades on. PJ is a global tech trainer, and the lucid dreams of his younger self have emerged all around me: I type it in, it comes on - age of wonders.**

Alongside the wonders, inevitably, come the unintended consequences, some salutary, many less so - a generation riven into self-immolating motes of consumerist narcissism, for example. Or, even more distressing, the omnipresence of ‘Actually’ Guy.

‘Actually’ Guy exists to pick around the edges of an idea. His religion is Bad Faith. His arguments are passive-aggressive emotional button-pushing jujitsu. And he can post like this all day, every day - while you’re working, while you’re sleeping, while you’re trying to ignore the existence of ‘Actually’ Guy - usually painting your silence as confirmation of his, the ‘Actually’ Guy’s, essential rightness.

Kids, let me tell there was once a glorious time when the ‘Actually’ Guy, in order to exercise His Fundamental Rights to the speechifyin’, would have to endure the social stigma that attaches to just talking over people until they give up, sit mute and wait for you to go away, usually by being actively socially shunned thereafter. There wasn’t a community of ‘Actually’ Guys Online who’d hurr-hurr at each other’s ‘Actually’ caltrops. As a result, most of them would grow out of it.

I’m not sure that’s happening any more. So - Radiohead on my Chromecast; ‘Actually’ Guy in my mentions …

Can’t get past me, I’m stuck in the future

Shit ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

The hovercraft’s cool but the air’s so putrid

- ‘Call Ticketron,’ Run the Jewels

System overload

DISCLAIMER: Speculation below is based upon insufficient data, and may represent nothing more than a childish extrapolation from one-time events. So, basically, don’t bother posting that in the comment, ‘Actually’ Guy.

We’ve got very little to go on in terms of game-footage of this first-team group for the Chicago Fire, so these are more observations and wild guesses than real tactical insight.

Basti’s not ‘a 10’

Look, I was dazzled at times by Basti’s play on Saturday, too. I’m not trying to take anything away from his tactical astuteness, his quality with the ball, his willingness to shoulder whatever burden the game throws at him - Bastian Schweinsteiger is still the best player on this roster by a wide margin. But he’s just not a guy who’s going to consistently receive and move along the ball in the central attacking areas of the pitch, and asking him to do so will make him less of a factor.

I’m sure he’s willing to try - but it will be at the cost of consciously side-stepping his instincts, rather than trusting them. Since Basti’s arrival, it is in those magnificent footballing visions that the Fire’s best play has been created. How can we ask him to remove his thinking that half-step from the now and imagine what-ifs constantly, while also asking him to suppress his instinctual positioning preferences, honed over thousands of hours of competitive play?

If the Fire want a creator in Zone 14, they should have bought one. Shackling Basti this way makes everyone worse.

The Fire want to keep the ball

Even in the moribund first half, the Men in Red seemed eager to move into the split-wide possession variant of their basic 4-3-3 shape, with the wingbacks swept forward and Dax playing between the wide-set centerbacks. This puts reliable passers at all three of those backline positions and sets up a midfield just filled with mobile triangles; it is the basic formula for possession football with a four-man backline in the pressing era. It should look familiar - the Fire played exactly this way during their swaggering unbeaten run last season.

The evidence against this as Chicago’s preferred basically comes down to one data point: The selection of Tony Tchani alongside Dax McCarty. Tchani covers an enormous amount of ground and wins some balls easily that other people simply couldn’t - but his first touch, vision and passing deftness all make him the weak link a possession team can’t afford.

Dean and Sanchez weren’t that bad

Don’t blame Christian Dean or Richard Sanchez for this loss.

The Fire roared back by playing an exaggeratedly high line and disrupting Sporting’s ability to play out of the back, a high-risk, high-reward strategy that not only led to the game’s five-goal denouement, but nearly led to it being a blowout loss. The Fire side that celebrated its short-lived lead was exhausted from playing the previous 35 minutes of the first league game at a feverish tempo.

Add in the fact that each is being asked - as their first seasons as starters - to play a very demanding version of their position. Dean is moving smoothly into the high-risk position of ‘passing-hub defender’ recently vacated by Joao Meira - remember how much we’d all freak out over Joao’s positioning? And how it turned out that he was supposed to play in the half-space in front of defense when in possession, and still cover his own ass, which is basically impossible? Yeah. Same deal. Sanchez, meanwhile, is being thrown in behind an ungelled backline and asked to play sweeper-keeper.

This is a long season. If these long-term bets on young talent pay out, the Fire will have cornerstone players for years in key positions. If they don’t - welp, sorry, Basti; we wasted your last year because we didn’t want to spend money.

*Although, ‘Creep’ as the second selection, Google? Really? It feels like you’re just phoning this in. Two decades of my search history. C’mon. Do better.

**Yes, I’ve looked, really looked, at my hands.