Martin Tomszak takes a look at the Fire's opening foray into the 2015 US Open Cup competition. Needless to say, the Fire need a win.
What Are They About? Louisville City FC
It’s that time of year again! No, the Fire have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs… It’s the start of Chicago’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run. After losing to New England in MLS action, Chicago will welcome Louisville City FC to Toyota Park on Tuesday in what promises to be a special night. The Fire will be looking to capture their 5th Open Cup and the journey begins against an in form USL side that should not be discounted easily.
Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-W-D-D-W
Previous Match: 2-0 loss away to Rochester.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2; Scott Goodwin; Sean Reynolds, Austen King, Tarek Morad, Adam West; Aodhan Quinn, Juan Guzman, Collin Fernandez, Nate Polak; Sidney Rivera, Matt Fondy
Strengths: It might seem a bit strange to be describing the “strengths” of a third division club coming up against a MLS side, but this notion quickly dissipates when you look back at the last few matches that Louisville has played. While the third tier may not offer tactically superb or easy on the eyes soccer, it does provide a lot of raw energy. The squad seemingly lines up in a 4-4-2 (Polak is listed as a forward on the roster but tends to drift out on the right wing if he starts, while Rivera tucks in slightly behind Fondy who serves as a target forward) and tries to keep a high tempo right from the first whistle. Expect this to be the case on Tuesday as well. With the odds seemingly stacked against them there will be a “nothing to lose, let’s go for it” mentality from the start.
This high tempo style of play results in quick counter attacks, usually down the right hand side with the preferred right winger Kadeem Dacres, followed by crosses to the target forward. The best examples of this can be seen in their recent 2-0 and 3-0 wins over Toronto II and FC Montreal respectively. Rivera has shown that he is clinical in the air and can put away a nice volley when presented with the opportunity. Fondy, who struggled with the Fire, has reemphasized that lower league soccer is more his forte with four goals in his last four matches. Even the defenders have found themselves on the score sheet by connecting on the crosses whipped in from set pieces.
While they utilize the flanks well, Louisville has also shown that they can drive at the heart of the defense right down the middle of the pitch. Dacres and Fondy have quite the chemistry going and have put together a few tiki taka-esque interchanges this season. Granted, they aren’t up against world class defenders, but they have shown glimpses of something special. When you add the fact that Fondy will be looking to silence a crowd that often criticized him, the extra spark might produce an interesting result.
Lastly, the tactics implemented by coach James O’Connor also include quickly closing down the opposition in their own half. This has led to the forwards knicking a few goals off of sloppy back passes or catching the opposition’s center backs in possession and then tapping in from within the eighteen. While the Fire will hope that their veteran defenders won’t be prone to such mistakes, they cannot take Louisville lightly or there could be a shock in the cards.
Weaknesses: As fun as it is to play up the strengths of Louisville, the fact remains that they are a USL side. While the growth of the beautiful game in the U.S. is a great thing to see, it is undeniable that the level of play in the lower leagues is not up to par. These previews have often criticized the lack of inspired defending in MLS. Well, USL defenders make the likes of Adailton and Larentowicz look like Sergio Ramos. The shining highlight of this came in Louisville’s last match against Rochester when Quinn picked up the ball just outside of his own eighteen yard box, looked up and passed it directly to an opposing forward, who himself exhibited the USL’s lack of quality by missing a tap in.
Defenders constantly ball watch and react to plays after they are set in motion rather than reading the game. Louisville often has sequences where they have eight players defending in their own box but allow the opposition time enough on the ball to knock it around the eighteen a few times rather than being ruthless and regaining possession or clearing their lines. It is almost like watching the park district kindergartners in their first interactions with soccer, waiting around for the other team to make a move. Rochester’s second goal last week was evidence of this lack of conviction in the back third, with the ball pinging around the box while Louisville’s players all waited around for someone else to do something before the ball was buried into the back of the net. The only thing missing from Louisville’s comedy of errors was circus music playing in the background.
The goalkeeping for Louisville hasn’t been anything to write home about either. In their “derby match” against St. Louis two weeks ago, Goodwin failed to boot out a back pass from his right back resulting in a tap in for St. Louis. This along with a few seemingly harmless attempts from distance that have managed to trickle in this season and a couple of PKs caused by sloppy tackles from the keeper leaves a lot to be desired for Louisville between the posts. Tuesday’s match, more than any other, is THE opportunity for Chicago’s forwards to be clinical.
While the attacking style of play was commended earlier, it must also be said that there have been egregious errors made by the forwards and midfielders when it comes to finishing. Fondy may have four goals in four games, but he arguably should have had seven or eight. Missed tap ins, whiffs in the box, skying shots, and trying to make another pass when a shot is needed have continued to plague him in the USL. Against better defenders, we are likely to see the Fondy of old.
Prediction: This is a must win for Chicago. Absolutely no excuses, their MLS form must be ripped up and thrown away. Chicago 4-0 Louisville. Nothing less is acceptable. Who cares who the goal scorers are? This competition is about the crest on the front of the shirt, not about the name on the back. As a note, Collin Fernandez has been recalled from his loan to Louisville City and will be available for the Fire.