While Drogbawatch continues the Fire will attempt to advance to the US Open Cup semi-finals against Orlando City. A win will pit them against the winner of today's Philadelphia v New York Red Bulls contest on August 11 or 12.
Martin Tomszak takes a look at Orlando City in the latest match preview.
What Are They All About? Orlando City SC Open Cup Edition
This is it. When the Fire host Orlando City on Wednesday in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Quarterfinal, they will be staring in the face of a season defining moment. To say that the match is a must win is an understatement. After an absolutely embarrassing week of soccer against Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew, which featured two consecutive losses, the Fire need to make a statement in their midweek match up. Let’s face it, the chase for the playoffs is most likely over. Needing at least ten wins and a few draws from their final fifteen matches to go beyond the magic 50 point mark that has typically led to playoff births when they have only been able to muster five wins from their first nineteen is a tough task indeed.
The Open Cup offers Chicago a way to salvage some history, some pride, and some dignity this season. The competition has always had a special place in the hearts of supporters and players alike, something that the organization would be smart to resurge this week. It won’t be easy with Orlando publicly making the Open Cup a priority as well, and as a result fielding full strength squads in their cup run. Chicago will need to dig deep, deeper than they have all season. This is more than just a match for the Fire and the fans of the club will hope that it is given its due diligence.
Orlando Form Guide (Last 5 Matches across all competitions): L-L-D-W-W
Previous match: A 2-0 home loss to NY Red Bulls
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1, Hall; Ramos, Collin, St. Ledger, Ashe; Ceren, Higuita; Neal, Kaka, Rivas; Larin
Strengths: The Chicago Fire will host Orlando for the second time this season, having lost at home to Kaka and company back in June. Chicago took the lead twice in that match only to fall 3-2 courtesy of two Adailton own goals and a sublime finish from rookie of the year candidate Cyle Larin.
A majority of the strengths section last time out revolved around Kaka being the complete DP package that Orlando had hoped for. Unfortunately for Fire fans, this has largely remained true over the last month as he continues to serve as the engine for both the team on the field and the club off of the field. The use of a 4-2-3-1 formation was also discussed with specific attention to the use of attack minded midfielders as the “2” rather than defensive anchors. This all culminated in a high energy, fast paced attacking strategy that was able to channel through the middle of the park, as well as utilize the flanks when necessary. Clogging the midfield and pressuring Kaka early was the suggested tactic but Chicago just couldn’t manage it. The strengths section today will attempt to focus on previously un-discussed material and current form.
Momentum: While it may seem counterintuitive to say that a team with two consecutive league losses has momentum, it bears a second look. The match against NY cannot be examined simply on paper. A wonder strike from Sacha Kljestan and a questionable early red card left Orlando with an uphill battle. They managed to make a true match of it by retaining equal possession despite being shorthanded, outshooting NY 15 to 10, and being a few wonderful Robles saves away from stealing at least a point from the high flying Red Bulls. The killer blow came in stoppage time when Orlando was pressing high up the pitch and the players themselves were quite gassed. Result aside, it was an encouraging performance.
The loss against Dallas came amidst a Kaka suspension, injuries, and international call ups. Orlando will hope to have put the worst past them as Aurelien Collin and Sean St. Ledger return from injury and recover fitness, while Darwin Ceren and Cyle Larin get back into the swing of things after returning from Gold Cup action. They will also take a boost from the fact that Chicago is dealing with an injury crises and perhaps more importantly, a crisis of confidence.
Orlando has to be relishing the fact that they will be Chicago’s first major league opponent in the competition, with the Fire barely scraping by against Louisville and needing an inspired performance from Mike Magee (who will likely miss Wednesday’s match) to get past Charlotte. Orlando themselves ousted a strong Columbus team from the competition in the last round and will happily accept a much weaker opponent in the quarterfinal.
When you add the fact that Orlando can become the first expansion side since Seattle (2009) and the second since Chicago (1998) to win silverware in their first year with just three more victories, you have to think that it gives them an extra spark.
Weaknesses: 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006,? That should be printed on the locker of every Chicago Fire player before Wednesday’s match. The biggest weakness that Orlando has on Wednesday is a Fire team with absolutely nothing to lose, and the sheer weight of history associated with the competition in Chicago. If the players are up for it, the magic of Cup competition might come through. However, magic is not quantifiable so let’s look at some tangible shortcomings for Orlando.
While the momentum caused by a spirited display and the return of players may in fact be present, the harsh reality is that Orlando also hasn’t won a competitive match in about a month. Their last victory came over the Crew on June 30th in the previous round of the US Open Cup. So while the Fire aren’t exactly world class opponents, Orlando SC is in a bit of a rut. This form is largely tied to Kaka’s performances in the last few matches and if the Fire can replicate some of the tactics utilized against him recently, a result is in the cards.
For example, in the match against New York, Felipe and McCarty were all over Kaka the entire match, closing him down quickly, cutting off his passing lanes, and even doing so without fouling him once. In addition to this, the back four were weary of Kaka at all times and Sacha Kljestan was clearly instructed to track back and help cover on a few occasions. Kaka finished the match without a single shot registered. This mentality is a must for the Fire from the beginning of the match.
The loss against Dallas was arguably due to the absence of Kaka. Orlando visibly lacked creativity and statistically speaking, it showed as well. Without Kaka they managed just 84 passes in the final third, and only 53 of those reached their mark. When you compare this to the 147 passes, 103 completed in the final third during Orlando’s last league victory against Colorado in which Kaka featured prominently the reliance on the midfield maestro is evident. Let’s keep looking at the losses that Orlando has accrued this season.
As pointed out in the first preview of Orlando, the matches that they have lost so far have interestingly come against teams that utilized two holding midfielders and strong armed tactics against Orlando. Vancouver, Columbus, Toronto, and DC had taken full points against Orlando up until that point of the season, and since then Montreal and the aforementioned Red Bulls and FC Dallas have joined the list. Interestingly enough, they have all started two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 to negate Kaka’s impact. Is this coincidental? Maybe, but given that teams which tried a flat four midfield, a diamond midfield, or even a “3” in midfield have failed, probably not…
He has a team leading 9 goals in regular season play and another in the Open Cup, but examples like those above show that he is stoppable. Whether Frank Yallop adjusts his tactics accordingly remains to be seen but it would behoove him to instruct the starting back line and midfielders to carry around cardboard cutouts of Kaka everywhere they go in the days leading up to the match, just for some extra practice.
Conceding Goals: Last time out, Orlando had trouble defending crosses and was a bit slow in transition; conceding 5 goals in their last three while failing to win doesn’t look much better. The newly returning center backs haven’t looked on the same page even when they have been in full fitness this season. They’ve look slow, out of sync and second best. Speed kills so Fire supporters will be hoping that Igboananike, Nyarko, Accam, Jones, and Palmer all see significant minutes for Chicago.
Schedule Congestion: It is not easy to play six games in twenty three days even with a full and healthy squad. Orlando will do so with all the previously mentioned injuries and missing players when they step out onto the Toyota Park Pitch Wednesday before heading away to NYCFC this weekend. Their players and fans will be left wondering why they played a midseason friendly against West Brom last week if they do lose this one.
Prediction: The Fire have only ever lost one Open Cup match in Illinois (23-1-1), this one won’t be two. There is no other option. Chicago 2-0 Orlando.
Section 8 Chicago is planning a Gonzalo Segares testimonial match on July 25. Proceeds from the event benefit Urban Initiatives. Click here for more info.
The Fire U-18's recently won the US Soccer Development Academy national championship and will be honored at half time of the match against New England on that same day. Segares is coach with the Academy and he will also be honored for his contributions to the club.