The Fire will finally induct all-time leading goal scorer Ante Razov into the Ring of Fire during a half time ceremony. That is preceded by a meet and greet with Razov tonight at the Globe Pub. It's probably the last highlight of the 2015 season that will be worth remembering.
As for the match, Martin Tomszak takes a look at the Fire's once bitter rivals.
What Are They All About? New England Revolution
At the beginning of the season the Chicago Fire Soccer Club set the lofty goal of making the playoffs to determine whether or not their season would be a success (further comments about the history of Chicago’s presence in the playoffs will be left to your imagination). Well, in a league where the expanded playoff format of the 2015 season means that more than half the teams make the post season, Chicago was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-2 loss against Toronto last Saturday. To make matters worse, the club tied its record for most consecutive losses with five, and they could break that record this coming Saturday as the New England Revolution visit Toyota Park with the hope of clinching their own playoff spot.
Historically this matchup has been a heated rivalry with both sides causing upset and heartbreak for one another. The clubs are now on opposite sides of the table but the affair should be a spicy one none the less. Will the Fire play the role of spoilers or will New England ensure that the Fire set another unwanted record?
New England Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): D-L-W-W-W
Previous match: A 1-1 draw at home against Philadelphia
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Hall; Caldwell, Jones; Fagundez, Ngyugen, Rowe; Davies
Strengths: New England makes writing a “strengths” section pretty easy. This is the third time that the two sides have met this season and in both of the preceding previews we have discussed the quality of the Revolution’s attack. The front four have dominated the midfield all season and their finishing has been good across the board. Even the most ardent Fire supporters have to admit that watching New England play is usually fun and they can expect Jon Busch and company to be tested in this match. Highlights from the last five matches and some statistical analysis will reinforce this dominance and remind Chicago what they are up against, let’s take a look.
Pass and Move: While this is often something you hear from British broadcasters it is actually applicable in the case of New England. Most teams that the Fire have faced this season have a passing rate of 325-350 passes per match and somewhere around a low 70% completion ratio. Over the last five matches New England have averaged 447 passes per game, a statistic that would have been much higher if you leave out the anomaly of the match against the Red Bulls, and they have a pass completion ratio of 78.5%. New England absolutely dominated possession in three of those matches with the exceptions being New York, roughly 50/50, and at Toronto where TFC usually controls possession stats. No matter how you look at it this Revolution side loves to have the ball, and they prefer it in dangerous areas with most of their control coming in the attacking half. Quick passing sequences that involve multiple players are a hallmark of this New England side.
Even when playing on the counter, they like to get multiple players involved in the sequence. In the match against the Union, Jermaine Jones gained control of the ball in the center circle before a break that included four players and five passes before Lee Nguyen was taken down in the box for the penalty that lead to New England’s lone goal.
Inside, Outside, Any Side Really: New England’s ability to break on the counter alongside their ability to control possession and build up play means that their goals have come from virtually everywhere. Set piece danger man Lee Nguyen has been superb at lofting free kicks and corners into his teammates for simple tap ins and has shown he can do so from live play as well. Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez are comfortable with playing down the winning or cutting inside leaving opposing wingbacks constantly second guessing themselves. Even Jones and Scott Caldwell, the anchors of Jay Heaps’ 4-2-3-1 have shown that they are not afraid to drive up the center of the pitch with the ball or making late runs into the box, ensuring that at times the front four is a actually a front six.
Their tactics and style of play have resulted in the fact that New England’s top six goal scorers are also their top six assist providers. Davies, with nine goals, and Nguyen, with ten assists, are the only two true stand outs which means that New England’s chances and goals can come from anyone. Praise must also be sent Jay Heaps’ way as he has truly engrained the system in his players’ heads. Throughout the season New England has been plagued by injuries, international call ups, and suspensions. However, aside from a strange five match losing streak they have remained pretty consistent in the way they play and in their results. The Revolution are a true headache for any opposition going forward.
If Chicago wants to get anything from this game they are going to have to dig in and win the midfield battles. Without Matt Polster, Brian Bliss will need to find a central midfield combination capable of disrupting the Revolution. Michael Stephens and Razvan Cocis seem likely to get the call. Whoever starts on the outside of the back four will also have to have a superb performance, Palmer is the likely RB and it may be smart of Bliss to take a look at putting Joevin Jones back in the starting lineup to deal with Rowe.
Form is Everything: New England will come into this match knowing that a point is good enough to stamp their ticket for the playoffs. However, successful clubs know that a playoff appearance is not the goal, it is the standard. In a league where form down the final stretch is everything and deep runs in the playoffs start with consistency in the last few weeks of the regular season, the Revolution will be looking to make a statement against Chicago. It could get ugly for the Fire on Saturday.
Weaknesses: Luckily for the Fire, New England also makes writing a “weaknesses” section easy. In fact, most of the league has the same problem…Atrocious defending. Seriously, if you have access to quality center backs MLS would make you very rich. New England’s woes all come from the ever repeating lack of man marking, following up on late runs into the box, finger pointing, ball watching, allowing time and space for opponents in their box, etc. We feel like we’re highlighting the same weaknesses week in and week out no matter who the Fire are facing.
What’s funny about the situation for New England is that their center backs both come in at around 6 feet in height and still can’t manage to deal with crosses. It doesn’t help that the front four don’t often feel like tracking back, or that the outside backs often find themselves brain farting and mistaking themselves for attackers, but it has resulted in New England conceding 42 goals this season. That’s the third highest of any of the twelve teams in playoff contention. Chicago will take solace in the fact that the Revolution have an away goal difference of -14 and will hope that the trend continues on Saturday. New England’s plan to score more than they let in is obvious when looking at the stats, but it could be a dangerous tactic against a quick Chicago side.
The Rev’s collapse against Montreal highlights all of their defensive problems. New England fans will talk about bad luck on the goals given up but upon closer look we beg to differ. On the first goal Andres Romero is wide open on the left hand side to receive the initial pass that starts the Montreal counter. Jeremy Hall was late in covering back after a foray forward and allows Romero to cut inside as if he wasn’t there at all. He plays it centrally for Johan Venegas as Steve Neumann applies a bit of pressure causing him to dish it off to Ignacio Piatti. In that moment Neumann backs off to regain defensive shape, but there is no one there to help him cover the now open Venegas. Piatti smartly dishes it back to his open teammate who lobs the ball to the far post. Yes, it takes a deflection off of the late arriving Neumann, but there were errors all over the defensive third to get to that point so bad luck cannot be blamed on that play.
Neumann was again caught out of his defensive depth against a twisting and turning Piatti who almost made it 2-0 from an attack straight down the middle which resulted in a shot that just skimmed past the top of the bar. The second did come eventually as Didier Drogba had a shot from distance on a free kick that was deflected into the net. Bad luck? Maybe. But the initial foul on Drogba by Chris Tierney was absolutely needless because he had cover and Drogba had very little support. A bit of communication or better positioning would have avoided the situation entirely.
The last goal in the 3-0 loss came from a simple pass by Drogba and a neat finish from Dilly Duka as Hall couldn’t keep up with the winger after pushing up too far on an attacking play just moments before. If Chicago click in the final third and Harry Shipp lives up to that number ten role, it could be a good night for the Fire.
Prediction: This group of Fire players and the interim coaching staff simply cannot allow a club record setting sixth consecutive loss. This match may not mean much on paper but look for Bliss and Pause to set the tone for how the Club should play at home. Win, or draw, take your pick but this one won’t be a loss. If we have to pick let’s go with a draw: Chicago 2-2 New England.
Filed under: 2015 Regular Season