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Off-Ball Runs Can Make or Break the Fire

Jhon Duran’s runs are A big reason for his and the Fire’s success.

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about off-ball runs. They’re arguably the most important thing an attacker can do in a sequence, aside from the act of scoring a goal. They are the primary way players impact the game— not everyone can have the ball all at once. And having a player who’s good at them can be the difference between creating a scoring opportunity and having to pass the ball back to reset the offense. Good off-ball runs can detach the back four from the midfield, creating gaps in between them for creative players to get on the ball, or even detach defenders from each other, keeping a player onside and keeping what would otherwise be a turnover a goal-scoring opportunity.

In the two games he started last week— the loss against Columbus and the win against TFC, Duran was masterful at this. We know about his runs that got him his breakaway goals, but it wasn’t just those. Especally against Toronto, it seemed as if he was everywhere all at once, confusing the defense and making sure Brian Gutierrez and Chris Mueller had room to operate free of most pressure. And when TFC created pressure from other places, those off ball runs turned into onball runs. Two of those turned into yellow cards for the opposing defenders, and two of them turned into goals.

Kacper Przybylko, on the other hand, has not been good. One of the ways runs at the back lines pressure defenses is that they force them to defend a runner instead of the ball, creating cracks in the shape and communication. To do this, though, you need to make your run seem dangerous and run toward the goal. In one big instance, Przbylko was caught running away from it.

Part of Przybylko’s issues stem from the change in phelosiphy from Philidelphia to Chicago. In Philly, Jim Curtin often runs 2 striker formations, and when he doesn’t, he always tries to create opportunities with 2+ targets available up top. The Fire have tried to do some if this too in transition with Shaqiri pushing up with Kacper and defending with two banks of four, but it isn’t often enough where you can say that Przybylko isn’t the only player up top. Running away from the goal isn’t fooling anyone and the defenders, while not ignoring him per see, can just note his position and recover if they need to, because even if the Fire do get a pass sucessfully to him, he has such a low percentage chance to score that it’s easy enough to get back in position while Przybylko has to adjust himself. There’s no danger in a center forward making runs 10 yards wide of the net to the goalline.

It isn’t just the goals that make me and others want Jhon Duran to start over Kacper Przybylko. Its all the other stuff he does as well. Duran gets what Ezra wants to do tactically up top, and he has the better skillset to do the job at the moment. This is not to say Przybylko is bad, although he is struggling. He’s just not equipped to do what the team needs him to do to win games... and with the Fire playing themselves into the playoff race with a six point week, they need to win all the games they can.