Our guy Martin Tomszak is back with another US Open Cup match preview.
What Are They About? Charlotte Independence
Deja vu. The Chicago Fire find themselves facing another lower league club in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open cup as they take on the USL expansion side Charlotte Independence on Tuesday. Chicago is on the back of a midweek loss to league leaders D.C. United and a weekend off. Players and fans will hope that the Fire will not need 120 minutes to get a win this time around as they have a quick turnaround for MLS action on Friday. Charlotte, however, has already downed MLS opposition (beating New England in the last round) and will not roll over easily.
Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): D-W-W-L-D
Previous Match: 0-0 draw away to the Richmond Kickers (abandoned at half time due to weather).
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2; Hunter Gilstrap; Jack Metcalf, Ben Newnam, Mechack Jerome, Bilal Duckett; Enzo Martinez, Raphael Cox, Jack Thompson, Andrew Ribeiro; Caleb Calvert, Ryan Finley
Strengths: The Charlotte Independence find themselves sitting in 8th place in the USL Eastern Conference standings, just three points outside of a playoff spot, and have played two or three games less than the opponents ahead of them in the standings. That’s not a bad achievement at all considering this is the first year that the team has been together. While they had a rocky start, they have only lost two of their last nine league matches, and only two of the last twelve across all competitions. Clearly there are some positive aspects to this team that need to be examined.
Tactically speaking, Charlotte is very well organized and this has a lot to do with the fact that former Fire assistant coach and player personnel director Mike Jefferies has the reins. While you can read up on his Open Cup legacy elsewhere, it is sufficient to say that Jefferies understands the landscape of North American soccer and can get the best out of players. It is no different with the Independence. He has the team set up in a 4-4-2 that seems to take a diamond shape in the midfield but also has fluidity depending on the situation that the team finds itself in. This formation best suits the players that Jefferies has at his disposal and Chicago is likely to see the same attack minded “nothing to lose” mentality that knocked New England out of the cup.
At the core of the team, quite literally, is Jorge Herrera (no, not the lead singer of the punk band “The Casualties”). Herrera is a Colombian born midfielder that started plying his trade among some of the Colombian Primera’s big guns, including Santa Fe and Atletico Nacional, before moving to Huracan in Argentina. His time in South American soccer really molded him into a traditional number ten and he continues to serve in the role of “Enganche” for Charlotte where he has been almost exclusively since 2007. Not only can he find a perfect pass and hold up play, but if you count his stint with the previous Charlotte incarnation, the Eagles, he has scored 50 goals in 152 appearances. A goal roughly every three games is not a bad stat to have for an attacking midfielder. His skills and attacking threat were on full display against New England as he controlled the midfield throughout 90 minutes and provided the match winner with a beautiful volley from just outside the box.
Another player to watch out for is Enzo Martinez. Speed and quick feet are attributes that compliment a left sided attacking player and that is exactly what Martinez brings to the table. Most of the action comes down the left for Charlotte which means that whoever starts at right back on Tuesday will need to be on their toes. New England made the mistake of starting a weakened line up in the last round and Martinez made Jeremy Hall look silly at times. He also tore up the Battery’s and Riverhound’s defenses in league competition earlier this month, playing a key role in both victories by providing an assist against Charleston and seeing a powerful shot saved but eventually tapped in by Tomasz Zahorski..
The attack minded play continues with the forwards. There has not been a consistent starting pair up top for Charlotte which alludes to Jefferies’ ability to adapt to opponents. Calvert and Finley have proven that they are speedy on the ball and close down play quickly as well, while 6ft 3in Zahorski (who has 13 caps and one goal for the Polish National Team) can serve as a target forward and is dangerous in the air. If Jefferies has done his homework on the Fire he will likely start Finley and Zahorski side by side to stretch a typically slow Fire center back pairing, while also taking advantage of an inability to deal with crosses.
Goalkeeping: Preferred starter John Berner is out for two months after being injured in the third round of the Open Cup. The coaching staff didn’t trust youngster Jacob Lissek and quickly loaned in Hunter Gilstrap from the Carolina Railhawks. He has not had the most solid performances in the net to say the least. A blooper highlight reel can be made from his last few matches, the stand out of which was a comical mishandling of what appeared to be an easy catch off of a corner into his own net against Charleston. Apparently no one has told him that he can catch shots and crosses instead of parrying them back into open play. If he continues this form, the Fire strikers could have a field day on Tuesday.
Defending: You can copy and paste this section in from the last Open Cup preview. Jefferies utilizes a midfielder at right back, which is great for an attacking style of play but does little on the other side of the game and the center backs look like they can be replaced with training dummies to better effect. Yes, they rallied to close out the match against a second string New England but Chicago’s speed and Harry Shipp’s service will likely prove too much for a characteristically bad USL defense.
Prediction: The Fire NEED to keep going in the Open Cup so they’ll find a way to win it. Chicago 2-0 Charlotte. Shipp and do Prado.