When reading Matt Doyle’s Armchair Analyst column over at the mothership, I came across his thoughts on the Fire after their win over Vancouver.
I’ll point out again that while the personnel has changed a bit (youngsters like Jhon Duran and Brian Gutierrez are playing a bigger role), the Fire aren’t doing anything drastically different than what they’d been doing over the first four months of the season. They’re just stepping on fewer rakes at the back and seem to have better, more cohesive talent up top.
Is this true? Have the Fire really not changed the way they’ve been playing over the last 4 months and It’s just been finding the right personnel to come in and finish the job? The answer turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
The Fire’s major tactical change this season came with the arrival of Chris Mueller. He gave the Fire a legitimate threat out wide where they didn’t have one before, and gave their attack some focused intent. But that’s not really why they started winning, although it was step one. The emergence of Guttierrez and Duran has been, and they’ve thrown in the biggest wrinkle in their attack.
Gutierrez and especially Duran have added a vertical threat. The Fire can now go over the top of defenses, something they haven’t been able to do with Przybylko or even Chinonso Offor in the lineup. As we saw against Toronto, teams who aren’t expecting or repaired for the counter-attacks over the top are going to be crushed by Duran’s speed and power. And if they do stop it, his power and intelligence can create for his teammates so he doesn’t even have to score, as shown against Vancouver.
Gutierrez gives you the audacious creativity and flair that is not only crowd-pleasing but also effective at beating defenses. This is going to be an unfair comparison, especially because Guti lacks the nastiness and attitude of the player I’m about to name, but one of the things Clint Dempsey was praised for was his willingness to just try stuff. With the ball at his feet, Duece was capable of just about anything. Defending him was difficult because he could just as easily pass around you as run through you, and it was 50/50 as to what he would choose to do. Guti has something similar going on. He can just as easily put a move on you as back heel or flick the ball to a runner or make the simple pass. He’s already difficult to defend and if he can keep improving, he may be impossible to play honestly.
So have the Fire drastically changed? Yes and no. They’re playing largely the same possession with purpose style that they have been trying to play, but with the additions of Duran and Gutierrez, they have added dimensions that fundamentally change how teams have to defend against the Fire. From that perspective, the Fire have been drastically different.