The Chicago Fire came out against Inter Miami with a different formation, a different lineup, and got a different outcome. Here’s what we learned from the Fire’s 1-0 victory over Inter Miami.
Luka Needs to Play
He scored the winning goal, won our Man of the Match award, and he did it all in 30 minutes. Luka Stojanovic proved Saturday that if he isn’t the heart and soul of the team, he should be. I understand why his minutes have been restricted so far. He’s come back early from major knee surgery and taking a cautious approach to his workload is good for his long-term health and his ability to be productive for the club. However, when you put in the effort he has— three goals and an assist in 305 minutes (a little less than three and a half games), you’ve essentially stamped yourself as Most-Important-Player-On-The-Team. And the organization needs to recognize that.
This is not to say that he needs to start every game. Like I said above, he’s still recovering from surgery. Sometimes he can only go 30 minutes and needs to come off the bench as he did against D.C. but he has at least appear in every match if the team wants to win games.
After acknowledging that, then the question then becomes how do they platoon Luka most effectively? Fabian Herbers seems to have helped. His more conservative play kept the Fire in control of the game where they would have given up possession and while he had a quiet second half, he was hardly a disaster. The emergence of Brian Gutierrez as a creative force also helps, as Luka won’t have to deal with the creative load all by himself, giving him a chance to pace himself during games. Whether it’s 30-minute super-sub appearances or 90 full game starts, Luka has to play if the Fire are going to be competitive this season.
Wicky Hasn’t Lost Them Yet
One of the consequences of the last two weeks was the fanbase starting to question whether or not Raphael Wicky was the right man for this job. While one game isn’t enough to give up a full answer, we now know after that performance against Miami that his players are still willing to play to his and his coaching staff’s game plan. The tactical switch to the 4-3-3 worked out well. They were able to control the tempo of the game and chose when to accelerate and when to pull back and cool off, and the three central midfielders with a single pivot in Alvaro Medran in the 6 role. Oftentimes, he played so deep he was almost at the same level with the defense.
The change to a single pivot provided three differences in making the Fire play better. First, it gave them better distribution out of the back. One of the Fire’s biggest problems was trying to start attacks with passes from defenders who were making it easy for the opposition to read and steal the ball before the buildup would have a chance to start. By playing Medran so deep, he can start attacks from the back without screwing up the midfield shape, and be a better passer than Calvo or Omsberg have been.
The second thing it does is simplify the defensive assignments, creating fewer opportunities for miscommunication on late runs from midfield. It gives the defensive midfielder a bigger responsibility in the space to be sure, but the positives of partially eliminating the communication problems of the last two games was judged to be worth it over the negatives of potentially creating odd-man situations. They were correct.
The third thing it did was give more cover to the center backs when the wingers pushed forward on attack, almost turning into a third CB and having the formation become a 3-6-1 from a 4-3-3. This helped the Fire control the action and make sure most of it took place within Miami’s half of the pitch. It also helped on the few times Miami was able to break away by still having a player to disrupt attacks without having to rely on too many professional fouls from chasing down counter-attacks.
It must be said that this may have been a one-time thing. Miami didn’t provide adequate pressure to move the Fire off their game like the Red Bulls and Union did. Phil Neville’s side were content to let the Fire dictate the pace, and were caught off guard several times. Next weekend will be the real test to see if this change can work against someone else, but for the week, the game plan worked and proved to some extent Wicky still knows what he’s doing.