As the time ran down on the nine minutes(!) of stoppage time on Tuesday morning, I couldn’t help but smile. The Fire had just won their first game of the MLS is Back Tournament, the game was exciting and a few things caught my eye. Here they are in this week’s What We Learned.
This Tournament is Looney Tunes
Before we get to the Fire, I want to take a second and look at the tournament as a whole. Under any other circumstances, this would be the most fun American soccer thing in a long time. I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve watched, and the results have been downright crazy. Take FC Cincinnati for example. in their opener, they fell 4-0 to the Columbus Crew in a performance that would generously described as awful. Then earlier today, they beat an Atlanta United team that despite not having Josef Martinez, was at least expected to make it out of the group stage. In fact, the four tournament favorites (Seattle, Toronto, NYCFC, and Atlanta) have only earned two points between them. Orlando City, on paper one of the worst teams in the league, are on top of Group A on goal differential.
This tournament should not be going on, and I’m going to keep saying that until I’m blue in the face. But, the entertainment value of the tournament has been high, and it tells me that 2020 would have been one of MLS’s craziest years to date.
Mauricio Pineda is Going To Be A Star
I generally make it a point to, if not ignore hype trains, make sure to have a seat close to the door so I can bail quickly. In my near decade of covering the Fire for this website, I’ve seen a ton of players come into the squad with a lot of smoke behind them and either fail to live up to expectations (Benji Joya, Matt Ward) or never be given a chance (Colin Fernandez, Joey Calistri),
However, with that being said, we here at Hot Time are all aboard the Mo Pineda hype train. His goal and assist against the Sounders was a perfect illustration why. When most of the work and subsequent credit for the first goal has gone to Robert Berić, and rightly so, Pineda’s ball from the touchline was perfect. It left Xavier Arriaga in no-man’s land, freezing him up so Berić could run on to the ball for the breakaway. Pineda’s game winning goal was exactly what you want to see from a center back off of a corner. He was hanging around the back post exactly where he should have been. And when the ball got through everyone else, ya boy calmly finessed the ball passed Stefan Frei into the back of the net.
My biggest fear with Mauricio is that success is going to come so early so fast, the book will be written on him and he’ll flame out much in the same way Austin Berry did. However, if he keeps improving defensively and can continue to give you value going forward, there’s a very real chance he can become one of the great Chicago Fire defenders.
Robert Berić is Scoring
When the Fire signed Robert Berić as their main striker this winter, I was really concerned that this was going to be a flop. He hadn’t scored double digit goals since he left Rapid Wien for Saint-Étienne in 2015, and his numbers have been trending downward. I am glad to say then, through three games, I was completely wrong.
His goal to take the lead against Seattle put him at two goals scored in three games, giving him a fantastic start in an unprecedented season. For most of my time covering the Fire, I’ve never been really sure where goals were going to come from on a day in/day out basis. It’s highly unlikely that Berić can keep up his goal per game pace, but it’s nice to see that he can put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis. If he can keep putting the pressure on the defense like he has been, the Fire have a shot at winning this thing.
The 3-5-2 ain’t it, chief
For all that went right for the Fire against the Sounders, their set up and formation was not one of those things. Their standard attacking plan was unable to do much of anything against Seattle’s defense, especially in the second half. The wing backs were largely silent with Frankowski only able to push up high in space a few times in the first half, and the left-hand side of Bornstein and Navarro (who came on at halftime) weren’t that effective either.
This formation also puts more pressure on the center backs, which gives more teams more opportunities to take advantage of Francisco Calvo’s swings in quality and Mauricio Pineda’s inexperience. I’d like to see a more traditional four defender set up going forward to push Frankowski upfield and stick Gimenez deeper as a proper CDM to help out the CBs.
With Wicky wanting to play with both Berić and CJ Sapong up top, that means a diamond 4-4-2 would probably be the easiest solution, but with the personnel the team have at the moment, I still like sticking Sapong on the left wing and leaving Berić up top by himself.
So that’s what we learned from the Fire’s 2-1 win over Seattle.