In his on-field interview after the loss against last place FC Cincinnati, Chicago Fire captain Dax McCarty pointed out that they “just have to clean it up a bit in transition moments”. The comment got me thinking about how FC Cincinnati gets dangerous in transition moments and about why transition moments are an easily exploitable phase of play in general.
With the topic of transitions on my mind I went into the Columbus game with transitions as something to watch out for. McCarty didn’t seem impressed with those moments against Cincinnati, so I wanted to see how they dealt with those situations against a different team. It was…not great.
First it’s important to know why these moments of the game can be so important that they decide games. Transitions create situations where there is high potential for the opponent to be disorganized. In a non-transition moment, teams disorganize opponents by creating overloads or exploiting a 1v1 mismatch. Both can force opponents to shift their defensive shape and leave space open.
Transitions are ready-made packages that have the open space there for the taking. Going from attack to defense or defense to attack requires teams to change their shape. Attacking will be more spread out and defending will be more compact, so the moment that possession flips can either lead to or stifle a successful counter attack.
Here are some of the transition moments from the past two games that show how the Fire were hurt in transition:
The first one is of Dax McCarty squashing a counter attack before it begins. If Kekuta Manneh gets past Dax, Cincinnati has a 3 v 2 situation on their hands. Both Fire fullbacks are pushed up, but when the ball is turned over the Cincinnati wingers end up goal-side of both fullbacks. McCarty does what good defensive midfielders do and prevents Manneh from running directly at the centerbacks.
The second clip is of FC Cincinnati’s game winner. It’s hard to watch, but unfortunately it is a perfect example of the slim margins that come with these transition moments. Djordje Mihailovic takes a big touch, which forces Johan Kappelhof to step up, and when he misses the tackle Fanendo Adi has a ton of room to line up for the game winner.
The last clips are of both goals Columbus scored. The first goal is a bit similar to Adi’s game winner in that there are a few 50/50 balls that the Fire lose out on, and losing those creates the space in front of the defense for Eduardo Sosa to drive into. In soccer there is always a snowball effect when space opens up. In this instance Brandt Bronico steps to Sosa, which gives Luis Argudo a free run into the box.
The equalizer is the most disappointing of all of these moments. It takes Columbus 3 passes and only 6 touches to move the ball 80 yards and score. The worst part about it is that it’s a relatively slow transition from Columbus, but it’s a slower transition from the Fire. There is never enough pressure put on the ball, so every player on has as much time as they want to put the ball exactly where they want it. With each pass they bypass another line of Fire players until the ball is in the back of the net.
The struggles with transitions are concerning because it’s something that should be ironed out by this point in the season. The team isn’t gelling or learning how to play with one another anymore, that time has passed and it’s time to just be more cohesive.