Forward Progress?

Freddie Ljungberg's goal against San Jose was the tenth score by a Fire forward this season.  An incredibly low total considering that several forwards throughout the league have easily eclipsed that total by themselves.  A look at the league leaders shows that some of the top finishers aren't exclusively just forwards. Dwayne DeRosario, Sebastian LeToux, Chris Wondolowski, and Omar Cummings are all flexible and talented enough to have seen considerable time playing on the wings while still being comfortable and effective enough to perform up top. 

 

The Fire's leading goal scorer is Marco Pappa with seven, the last of which came on August 1 in Los Angeles.  Pappa also leads the team in shots taken by a wide margin with 50 (Brian McBride is a distant second with 29) and many of those have been low percentage long distance bomb attempts.  By comparison Kei Kamara is fifth in the league with 75, a whopping 50% more than the Fire's team leader.  Soccer is not a stats driven sport like baseball or basketball where numbers are easily quantifiable but a deeper look at the productivity of the forward position for each MLS team exposes some interesting angles that need to be considered when planning for next season. 

The table below shows the total number of goals scored by forwards for each team in descending order from most to least.  The second and third columns list the total "goals for" and "goals against" for each side over course of the entire season to date. 

 

Team

Forward Totals

GF

GA

Player Totals

Colorado

25

37

27

Cummings 12, Casey 11, Akarikwa 2

FC Dallas

22

39

22

Cunningham 11, Ferreira 7, Rodriguez 4

Columbus

21

35

29

Barros Schelloto 8, Lenhart 6, Renteria 4, Garey 2, Mendoza 1

Real Salt Lake

21

41

18

Saborio 10, Espindola 6, Findley 5

Los Angeles

19

40

22

Buddle 15, Bowen 2, Magee 1, Gordon 1

New York

19

35

27

Angel 13, Ibrahim 3, Henry 2, Kandji 1

Seattle

17

34

31

Montero 10, Nkufo 5, Levesque 1, Noonan 1

Kansas City

16

29

31

Kamara 10, Bunbury 4, Wolff 2

San Jose

15

28

28

Wondolowski 12, Glen 1, Johnson 1, Geovanni 1

Houston

15

36

46

Ching 7, Oduro 4, Weaver 2, Ngwenya 1, Landin 1

Chivas USA

14

26

36

Braun 9, Chijindu 1, Santos 1, Galindo 1, Gordon 1, Maldonado 1

Toronto FC

12

28

34

Barrett 7, Santos 2, White 2, Ibrahim 1

Philadelphia

12

32

44

Mwanga 7, McInerney 3, Moreno 2

New England

11

29

47

Shilawski 5, Stolica 3, Boggs 2, Dube 1

Chicago

10

31

35

McBride 4, John 3, Carr 2, Ljungberg 1

DC

8

19

42

Allsopp 5, Cristman 2, Moreno 1

 

As previously stated players such as Omar Cummings and Chris Wondolowski are among the league leaders in goals while also playing out wide as required by their managers.  Switching between the wings and an advanced position has not affected or deterred their ability to find the net and finish chances when presented with them. 

 

There's nothing wrong with a talented midfielder leading your team in scoring if your side is a balanced and cohesive unit capable of causing damage through numerous weapons/players fully competent and capable of ensuring that quality chances are not left begging.  The Columbus Crew has successfully employed a team concept with Guillermo Barros Schelloto acting as the catalyst without designated player additions for the last several years.  Real Salt Lake discovered the team first formula and used it to propel them to an MLS Cup victory last season.  The addition of a talented finisher in Alvaro Saborio has pushed them to new heights this season in pursuit of the Supporter's Shield.  Jeff Cunningham's goal scoring exploits have received much of the attention in Dallas but the addition of David Ferreira in 2009 as a play making forward is truly what makes Schellas Hyndman's system work.  Ferreira has scored seven goals himself while providing thirteen assists. 

 

There is no set formula for achieving success in MLS or soccer in general.  It's evident and painfully obvious that employing talented players who can finish is a common trait of each and every team currently in playoff position.  That's not exactly a huge revelation and it's no coincidence that teams at the bottom of this table are on the outside looking in.  Granted, forwards can be rendered completely ineffective without quality service and a weak midfield but the Fire possesses a fairly talented young midfield with Pappa and Patrick Nyarko on the outside.  Some of the pieces are in place.  It's also possible that Nery Castillo could fill the "Ferreira" role for the Fire as a playmaking forward if he ever rediscovers the form that earned a multi million dollar transfer fee in 2007.  Of course that's a big "if" and part of the gamble that Frank Klopas rolled dice on when acquiring Castillo on loan this summer. 

 

While Klopas needs to address the back line this offseason with the immediate futures of CJ Brown and Wilman Conde up in the air, a true classic finisher is still something the Fire sorely lack.  Brian McBride was supposed to be that player when he was acquired in 2008 but he has not been the same since undergoing surgery last season and has quite honestly been a shadow of his former self for some time now.  McBride's departure opens up a considerable amount of salary cap space that can be used to fill that void.  Whether or not that player is of the "DP" variety (Juan Pablo Angel, Roque Santa Cruz, and Ruud Van Nistlerooy are big names that may possibly be available) or someone like Saborio who Real Salt Lake acquired on loan from Swiss FC Sion for the bargain salary of $120,000.00.  Either way, reluctance in the final third has been a huge problem this season and new blood is a necessity. 

 

In terms of scouting and player acquisitions, Klopas will have some help this offseason.  Former assistant coach Mike Jeffries has been re-hired and will soon be officially named as the team's Director of Player Personnel.  Jeffries will serve as an advance scout and player development assistant reporting directly to Klopas. 

 

Klopas also gambled on the acquisition of former Fulham forward Collins John.  Coming to the Fire with a bit of a reputation as a problem child who hasn't fulfilled the promise shown at the start of his professional career, John has struggled with a stomach illness and some harsh criticism surrounding his training habits.  Although John has apparently been a good teammate and has somewhat redeemed himself in the eyes of his coach with an improved effort in practice the results simply have not been there. 

 

Among the questions that will arise in November (assuming that defense, central midifield, and Freddie Ljungberg's status are also areas that will be addressed) are who will actually put the ball in the net?  Who is going to step up and be the man when a goal is needed?  Who will confidently step up to the spot and bury a penalty kick when called upon?  That player isn't on the roster yet.  The team is in need of a serious upgrade at the forward spot if 2011 is going to be an improvement on 2010. 

 

Soccer is not baseball but numbers don't lie. 

 

 

Filed under: 2010 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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  • It is easy to say fire the coach if they have so many holes on that team. Collins John was supposed to be their version of Saborio but instead he has become a huge bust in terms of his productivity. Now, Mike Jeffries is in charge in terms of scouting young talent in the college ranks and outside the US. Somebody that will bring a presence to aid Klopas on different players that will contribute to this team. In order to be successful in a league, every team must have a forward with some speed that has the capability to finish. Bringing Angel will be a good thing for the Fire but he has a flaw that teams must be careful with. Age and injuries could be a factor for Angel because he complained of back problems due to the field turf when he played in Giants Stadium. Next year, this is the time for Castillo to prove that he belongs in a Fire uniform in the long run and a quality MLS player. The Superdraft is deep for forwards, expansion draft, youth academy and transfer window will be open. The stats don't lie but I hope MLS coaches don't breakdown stats into sabermatrics like baseball. Sabermatrics has ruined sports in terms of putting lineups and judging a mathematical formula that blends into sports. Can anybody imagine soccermatrics...UGH!!!

  • IMO its not so much a question of finishing (tho the fire did have big problems with that early in the year) its a problem of getting shots on goal, or even any shots at all.

    the fire spend a lower % of time in the attacking third than other teams . an even lower % of time creating chances, and even worse in taking shots. sometimes they are trying to hard to look for that perfect shot instead of just firing at the net - who knows, maybe the goalie will misjudge it, or he may slip, the ball may rebound, or the shot may just find an unexpected hole in the defense.

    but you need more than 1 player in the box, and you need some support outside the box as well, and we just havent seen that this year

  • In reply to CountChocula:

    I think that's a symptom of the overall problem...they just don't have that player who will look to score first when the opportunity arises.

  • In reply to cesba:

    Saborio has ten goals of the season

  • In reply to cesba:

    if you watched the open cup final tonight it was clear that both teams where in a different league than the Fire. The players coming off either bench would be starters for Chicago. I doubt Banner, Carr, or Lowry would make either open cup squad never mind start for them. The Crew brought on Mendoza, who is better than any forward we have and he got 10 minutes or so. We are just not very good, De Los Cobos or not, and need a near complete overhaul in the off season. It's hard to think of 11 worth protecting from the expansion draft.

  • In reply to CountChocula:

    I blame the coach for our problems up front, he never allowed any forward to get into a rhythm, even claiming John did not play well after his great performance against LA. Strikers need confidence and sometimes a great striker lacking confidence will flail around. You ride the hot hand, and a coach has to try to make a player hot, but anytime it looked like a guy was getting somewhat comfortable in a position he would get benched or pulled. It also did not help that we never went with John and McBride up top, maybe that would have been a better combo. McBride is simply not very good alone up top.

  • In reply to milicz:

    John and McBride enjoyed some success together years ago at Fulham but they appear to want to occupy the same role at this stage in their careers. The brief glimpses that we have seen of the combo hasn't produced much of anything. I don't think we've missed anything with these two together up top.

  • In reply to milicz:

    Kenny Cooper has had a hard time in second divisions of Germany and England. He escelled in MLS though (I can still remember how good the last 2 goals he scored against us were). The Fire should offer to make him a low paid DP. Van Nistelrooy is doing to good in Germany to come year, but Raul isn't having the best of times with Shalke.

  • In reply to fire1020:

    Cooper is an interesting thought, although FC Dallas would still hold his rights I believe.

  • In reply to cesba:

    Van Nistelrooy signed a 18 month contract in January 2010 that means his contract will expire at the same time as Clearnce Seedorf.

  • In reply to fire1020:

    i dont know very much about soccer, or the fire, if it was needing a lefty in the bull pen or a 25 homer guy, thats different...it just felt like we were getting guys no one else wanted for one reason or another

  • In reply to milicz:

    so celt,,,is next year a rebuilding year? i think it should be.

  • In reply to bert:

    Bert, That made me smile. I know, stating the wetness of water. I think what i really meant to say was that for all the emphasis put on the coach, and I am not impressed by him either, we are just very poor in our starting 11 and squad.There seems to have been quite high expectations but player for player we are indeed one of the worst teams in the league. Given the owner's willingness to spend money that should be temporary, but only if we get things right immediately. Any major errors with DP's etc, and we could be rebuilding for years.

  • In reply to bert:

    Speaking of forwards.....Chris Rolfe is still out with an injury in Denmark
    http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/american-exports-rolfe-tracy-suffer-injury-setbacks

  • In reply to cesba:

    no surprise...Thorrington and Rolfe are the D.L. Boys.

  • In reply to bert:

    thanks g,,,,you know i wonder how chris is doing,,,thx

  • In reply to bert:

    ive had a bad hamy,,,,you can rehurt it by simple walking up stairs

  • In reply to bert:

    Maybe our forwards will score 3 against Columbus.

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