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Whatever you call the Chicago Fire’s new system, Johan Kappelhof is a fan

After scoring nine goals and conceding just four in the last three matches, it’s a safe bet the Fire are sticking with the 3-5-2. Or is it a 5-3-2?

SOCCER: JUL 07 MLS - Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire FC Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Soccer is a fluid game. It’s what makes it beautiful. A lot of times, we try to boil down the game into formations to help us better understand what’s happening, but soccer is typically far more complex than just three simple lines.

Such is the case with the Chicago Fire. After a dismal, 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati that was a low point of the last two seasons, head coach Raphael Wicky installed a new system that has revitalized the Fire. They have two wins and one draw since the change, scoring nine goals and conceding just four during that stretch.

So is the system, which deploys three centerbacks and two wingbacks, a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2? It’s actually both, depending on the location of the ball and the other team, which is why Wicky says it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

“When we have the ball, it’s a 3-4-3, 3-5-2, and when we don’t have the ball it’s probably a 5-4-1 depending on where you defend. If you defend in your own half, you defend with the back five. If you go and press higher, you normally defend the back three or back four. So call it whatever you want,” Wicky said with a laugh.

Veteran centerback Johan Kappelhof says the system has given the team a confidence boost, making the back line feel a lot more stable. After battling for time at both centerback and in defensive midfield this season, the Dutchman has been right at home on the right side of that back three. But, he doesn’t care what you call it, either.

Johan Kappelhof at training this week
Chicago Fire FC

“This system, you can’t like —you can call it in the way you want it,” Kappelhof said. “You can call it five or you can call it three. Some teams play this system more like three in the back and the wingbacks attacking very high and more. Depends, also, like how you want to put pressure and how you analyze a team. That’s the way you can say three or five.

“But I like to say 5-3-2, and like in attack, you have the three center backs for the control and then you have one —plus one midfielder,” Kappelhof continued. “And then the wingbacks, they can attack, so that’s a tool for us to create chances to score more.”

Unless Wicky gets crazy, the Fire will test the new system on the road for the first time this Saturday (7:30 p.m CT, WGN-TV/CFFC Live) against a very good Nashville SC side that’s only lost once this season. It means Kappelhof and company will get to face a couple old friends—former Fire captain Dax McCarty, and striker CJ Sapong, who has two goals and one assist on the season.

“it’s a very good squad,” Kappelhof said. “They have a good team. They are a hard-working team. So we have to get the same, you know, the aggressiveness we’ve shown in the last three games. It starts with winning your duels and that’s what we did better the last three games, winning our personal duels and fighting for each other as a team, you know and then the chances and the opportunities will come.”

TV: After a national TV appearance on UniMas, the Fire are back on WGN-TV and CFFC Live on Saturday. Arlo White is gone on NBC Olympic duty, so Tyler Terens is back with the play-by-play call alongside Tony Meola. The two had been calling Fire road games off monitors in Chicago because of the pandemic, but they’ll be on hand in Nashville, and at all road games for the rest of the season, if things go as planned.