Chicago Fire FC is back home for two matches this week.
With the 4-1 road defeat to Orlando City on Saturday behind them, here’s how Fire head coach Raphael Wicky and his team will hope to get a result when Tab Ramos and the Houston Dynamo visit the comfortable confines of Soldier Field on Wednesday night (6:30 p.m. CT | WGN, ESPN+).
The Fire have implemented a stingy press since the MLS is Back Tournament began in July, and we’ve seen it create chances far up the field.
Robert Berić hit the crossbar following one of the many turnovers they created against Orlando on Saturday night.
Minnesota United did something similar in their 2-2 draw with Houston last Saturday, and created a lot of forced (and unforced) turnovers in the Dynamo’s defensive third. Those led to a number of clear-cut chances, including their opening goal from Kevin Molino.
Houston’s outside-backs - Zarek Valentin and Adam Lundqvist - pretty much have the green light to get forward. This can leave centerbacks Maynor Figueroa and Kiki Struna stranded in the back if the ball gets turned over. I saw a number of occasions in which the Houston midfield didn’t seem interested in a full sprint to get back behind the ball. Minnesota took advantage of that by having their own midfielders and wingers make runs in behind the Houston back line to create quick 4-on-3 and 3-on-2 situations on the break.
Chicago will have the chance to create similar numerical advantages if they can win the ball in the middle of the field and play out of the initial pressure quickly. Expect a lot of balls won by Gastón Giménez that will have the potential to turn into counters going the other way.
While Houston enjoy getting forward and can be exploited if they turn the ball over, they can be just as dangerous if they are clean in possession and get Valentin and Lundqvist involved in their attacking moves.
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the first half last weekend and seemingly had complete control over the game. Outside of a few Darwin Quintero half-chances, Houston didn't look as dangerous as their opponents in the final third. Fast forward to the second half and they were a completely different team -- the team that has only lost once since returning from the MLS is Back Tournament.
When they play the way they want, Matías Vera is controlling the tempo and switching the point of attack as the lone holding midfielder in a point down (two attacking central midfielders), 4-3-3.
Memo Rodriguez, Vera and Darwin Cerén will sometimes look flat in the middle of the field and bunch up together. This looks to be by design to create acres of space out wide for Quintero and Ariel Lassiter and, of course, the aforementioned outside-backs.
Once the ball gets out wide in these situations, both Lassiter and (particularly) Quintero, have the quality to beat defenders 1-on-1. They both play inverted, so they can cut into their favored foot and attack with the option to pull the trigger.
It will take a lot of communication from the Fire back line and midfielders to deal with this movement, and Chicago will need to make sure to not fall asleep and get sucked into the trap that Minnesota fell victim to over the weekend. In the second 45 minutes, Quintero started to ball out, Lundqvist and Valentin were camped out in MNUFC territory, and they ended up scoring twice to draw with a spirited come-from-behind effort.
THE DARWIN EFFECT
While the drama surrounding the end of Darwin Quintero’s tenure with Minnesota might have been a bit Kardashian-esque, there is no denying his football brilliance.
He single-handedly brought Houston back into that game against his old mates last weekend with a cheeky, chipped effort after a failed clearance and a free kick that hit the crossbar and was headed home by Figueroa. Quintero, a former Club América standout in Mexico, scored 21 goals and had 20 assists in 57 appearances for Minnesota and is already off to a flying start in his first season with Houston with five goals and six assists.
He is incredibly clever on the ball constantly taking touches to set defenders up for a back-heel or a step-over that creates room for a curler. His first touch is deft, he has a lot of pace, and he’s never bashful when it comes to attempting (and sometimes completing) the spectacular.
Sort of like Nani with Orlando City, if there is one man you want to have an eye on at all times through the game and don’t want to give a nanometer of space to, it’s the Colombian Quintero.
Normally, after a track-meet sort of performance we saw from the Fire on Saturday night, I would say the next match will be a bit more tamed and defensive-minded.
That just simply won’t be the case come Wednesday night. The way Houston plays doesn’t equate to that type of fixture. It’s borderline reckless at times from the Dynamo when it comes to throwing numbers forward, and one mistake in possession leads to clear-cut chances.
The Fire will have their hands full with all the numbers and talent that Houston possess, but will also have plenty of opportunities. A positive result will come down to whether or not they can finish those chances off.
Fabian Herbers -- who missed Saturday’s game due to yellow card accumulation -- will be available again for the Fire. The German seemingly can’t help himself under the bright lights of Soldier Field, with two goals and an assist produced in the Fire’s first three games back at the venue.
Forward CJ Sapong is getting closer and closer to match fit and can help late in games. Robert Berić is enjoying his first goal-scoring streak in his Fire tenure with finishes in two straight matches. At some point, the bounces will HAVE to start going Chicago’s way.
I understand that luck is the residue of design and you get what you deserve in this game, but there have been an extraordinary amount of balls that have literally and figuratively bounced the wrong way from the Fire point of view. Wednesday is the night they start bouncing our way.