One of my favorite soccer-related quotes comes from Bill Shankly. “Football is a simple game complicated by idiots.”
I’m not saying Veljko Paunovic is an idiot, but he and Nelson Rodriguez sure as hell have made it complicated for themselves trying to solve fairly simple problems to start the season.
If you had browsed the #cf97 hashtag around Twitter or read HTIOT the first couple of weeks of the season, it was clear the loan of Raheem Edwards, with a gaping hole at left back, made no sense. International spots aside, LB was a need and the Chicago Fire handcuffed themselves.
Edwards finally made his season debut after a half hour on Saturday and provided an immediate spark, scoring a goal and shoring up the left side of the backline at wingback. It was an obvious answer to a clear problem.
There was a second major problem that surfaced on Saturday, one that also has an obvious answer. I mentioned it last week, but I’m going to double down on it because Seattle just gave the rest of the league the blueprint for breaking down the Fire on Saturday. Dax McCarty needs a better counterpart in the double pivot, and the Fire need to recall Mo Adams to fill the void.
Paunovic has deployed Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty as the two holding central midfielders the first three weeks of the season, trying to screen the backline and let his CB stay home to provide cover to the outside backs. In its most simple form, putting two players in this pivot allows you to always have one player screening the backline as the other presses the ball when it is on their half of the field. Without getting into the tactical nuances of how a double pivot can or should work, the key is that your CB should be able to stay home, and your holding midfielders do the dirty work in front of the backline.
Why has this become a problem for the Fire? Let’s look at the first goal on Saturday. Specifically, watch the relationship between Johan Kappelhof and Schweinsteiger. (Skip to 0:30.)
The ball starts on the left side of the field, and Schweinsteiger needs to be sliding in front of the two CB’s, killing anything that comes through the spine of the team, but isn’t there. Kappelhof passes Ruidiaz into the middle of the field, but Basti hasn’t rotated quickly enough centrally to cut the entry pass to the Sounders target man. Kappelhof realizes this too late, Ruidiaz has a free turn and Basti doesn’t provide any urgency in a back press as the ball finds Morris 1v1 out wide.
Kappelhof can’t recover quickly enough as the ball is squared across the six-yard box and Rodriguez has a tap-in at the back post. Giving the opposing number 9 time and space to turn, especially against a team that has wingers like Seattle, is asking to get punished. Kappelhof knows this, and realizes Schweinsteiger isn’t dealing with Ruidiaz as he comes to check to the ball.
This same pattern leads to the second goal. (0:49.)
Again, ball is on the left side of the field, but Kappelhof bites as Ruidiaz checks into the midfield early in the sequence, leaving space in behind that Morris recognizes, and exploits. Hasler lets him gets inside— exactly what you’re taught as an outside back not to do Day 1— and from there, a winger of Morris’ quality will kill you every time.
The Fire need another destroyer type central midfielder that is willing to put in the work in front of the back line. If Paunovic elects to use the second half of Saturday as a jumping off point for the future set up for the team, you need someone next to McCarty to help him cover the width of the field defensively.
It’s Mo Adams.
If Paunovic decides to deploy a double pivot, Adams has to be in the XI. Loan a different international because they need to get him back on the first flight from Memphis after what we saw on Saturday. That means Schweinsteiger moves, either to the bench or in the back. My guess is that we will see more of the three CB look that we saw in the second half, where Schweinsteiger drops as the third CB.
Either way, the Fire need a second midfielder who can help screen the back line, especially as we get further in to the season with a 31-year-old Dax McCarty. Use Mo. Please.