MLS is back tournament has announced its return from 8 July 2020 with the change in the format. Six groups are made up with group A consisting of six teams and other five groups with four teams each. Top three teams from Group A and the top two teams from Group B, C, D, E, F advance. Also, the next three highest-ranked teams in the group stage based on points total advance to the round of 16. Here we will look at the tactical preview and some tactical analysis of Chicago Fire SC from group A and the two teams Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers from group F in Major League Soccer.
Chicago Fire SC
Chicago Fire had an unforgettable season last year with finishing eighth in the east and getting eliminated in the fourth round of U.S open cup. Luckily it’s a fresh start for new-look Chicago Fire as they return to Downtown Soldier Field. They have changed in the ownership with the new owner Joe Mansueto taking the control. They have hired Raphael Wicky the former Atletico Madrid player as their new manager who will look to change some tactics. In spite of all the changes, the things did not start well for them in the 2020 season. In the two matches they have played this season they lost one and had drawn one. Although the new format and having time to regroup fans would be hoping for some positive results. We will have a look below at some key transfers made.
In: Luka Stojanovic an attacking midfielder is brought in to create depth in the squad. The young winger Ignacio Aliseda is roped in to play at the wing on the opposite side of Przemysław Frankowski. He will have a lot of expectations as he comes as a young designated player. Further to add to the good attacking power they have brought in Robert Beric who has played in Ligue1 . He would be playing as a striker expected to score goals and lead the attack. He is signed as a designated player.
Out: The major blow to Chicago fire is the departure of one of their experienced player and leader Bastian Schweinsteiger whose guidance and leadership skills will be a hole to fill out. Another key player to depart is Nicolas Gaitan who had a wonderful 2019 season with the Fire recording highest assists for them. There was one more key departure in the midfield with Dax McCarty leaving as well.
In both the games they have played this season they played with 4-3-3 and they are not expected to start any different going further. The wingers they have on the wide areas and the full-backs who play high on the pitch it is expected that they will try to dictate the play through wings.
In terms of defence after the analysis of the squad it looks that they will go with the same defence with which they started with their 2020 season. Though there might be some changes in the midfield. Mauricio Pineda has made a good start to the season and will be expected to start the first game after the restart as well. He needs to be constantly performing and be fit as there is Gaston Giminez who would be challenging him for the position. Giminez can also be expected to start in a match as the fatigue is expected to come into play. The newcomer Aliseda would be constantly expected to come in as substitute replacing Djordje Milhailovic in the left-wing. There will also be competition among Luka Stojanovic and Alvaro Medran for left midfield position.
Chicago Fire is expected to adopt a more direct style of play through the wings. They had second-most crosses into the penalty area in the two matches that were played for 2020 season.
Here in the above picture even though Chicago player circle had options short passes nearby to his teammates he plays long down the left-wing. This gives an example of their tactic of direct play through flanks.
The Pivot will play a very vital role in Chicago’s defensive tactic. As the full-backs will play high on the pitch the single-pivot will have to drop back to create the last defensive line till the full-backs trackback mainly during the counter-attack. He will also have to close the gaps in the middle of the pitch when the team drops down while defending.
The Chicago Fire pivot is marked with a black circle. He moves towards the open space to press the opposition fielder who is looking to make run inside. As a result, the opposition player highlighted in blue circle is left unmarked. The player who plays the role of single-pivot will need to be careful about such situations.
The group they are in consist of LAFC, LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers. It would not be wrong to say they have a tough task ahead to qualify for the knockouts. Houston Dynamo did not have the best of the season in 2019 finishing 10th in the western conference and failing to defend their U.S open cup title losing to Minnesota United in the round of 16. As a result, they roped in the new Tab Ramos the former United States Men’s National team legend. It is quite known that Ramos will give more chance to youngsters compared to their previous coach. Dynamo’s made some significant changes during the winter.
In: They brought in Darwin Quintero to strengthen their attacking power. Quintero was the top scorer for Minnesota United for last two seasons. Further, they also roped in youngster Marko Maric at the goalkeeper position as the two goalkeepers Joe Willis and Tyler Deric who started last season were gone. They also signed defenders Victor Cabera, Zarek Valentin and centre back Kyle Adams to strengthen their defensive unit. Cabera was traded for Romell Quinto. Dynamo conceded record 59 goals last season and Cabera and help them to improve this unwanted record.
Out: The major loss to them was the retirement of DaMarcus Beasley whose leaderships skills would be tough to replace.
The recently brought goalkeeper Maric is expected to start as a man defending the posts. Adam Lundqvist and the recently roped in right-back Valentin are expected to start in the wings with no changes expected in the centre back positions. The only pivot would be Vera who would be playing a crucial role if Dynamo is to win matches and keep clean sheets.
In the right-wing Albert Elis it is expected that he will make it in the starting 11 after getting injured before the restart. Also, Tommy McNamara has not made the greatest of impacts in the right-wing in the two games he started in 2020. They are expected to go only with one striker in the front Mauro Manotas who will wait in the box for the crosses to be delivered by Christian Ramirez and Elis. Quintero is also expected to start in few matches as he can also play as an attacking midfielder bringing firepower to the attack
Dynamo’s attacking tactic seen from the previous season is to build from the back. The two centre backs go wide and the pivot drops back. This creates various options for the goalkeeper to pass the ball. It can be seen here even though there are three Sporting Kansas players in their defensive third the Dynamo goalie still has the option to pass the ball to his right. The ball is then passed to their fullbacks who play high up on the pitch. Their tactic is expected to put the crosses in the box from the wings.
It has been seen that Dynamo pressure up high on the pitch. This can give results but if not done correctly it leaves the team vulnerable at the back. In the picture below it can be seen how Houston pressure the opposition in their defensive third. This, as a result, creates an open space marked in black square and eliminates three of Dynamo players through this pass.
Kansas midfielders receive the ball and dribble forward. The ball is then passed forward eliminating the second line of Dynamo’s defence.
In the above picture where the attack continues from the first picture shows how once the pass is through the second line of defence it creates a dangerous 3 v 3 and an opportunity to score a goal for the opposition.
Portland Timbers had quite a season with ups and downs. They started poorly not winning any of first six games last season but improve and won next three consecutive games. Timbers also had seven-game unbeaten home streak but ended up winning only eight and losing five of 17 home games. They qualified for the playoff but lost in the first round of playoff against Real salt-lake. Timbers made it to the semifinals of the US open cup losing to Minnesota United. Though they had an average season they had some locker room issues. Brian Fernandes who was having quite a good season for them as the striker and was bought in the latter half of the season started missing some late-season practices. Later in the offseason, the team terminated his contract. This means there was a loop in the striker position.
In: As a result, they brought in two strikers Jaroslaw Niegzode and Filipe Mora with the hopes of scoring some goals for them at front. Further the younger brother of Diego Valeri, Yimmi Chara who plays as a winger and will be crucial for them as Timbers prefer to play wide. Dario Zuparic was roped in for centre back position to bring depth in the squad.
Out: The major loss along with Fernandes was the departure of Valentin whose presence on and off the pitch made a difference.
They are expected to start with 4-4-1-1 formation. This is the formation they have gone within most of the last five matches. Stuart Clark their reliable goalkeeper is once again expected to start the match between the posts. The experienced centre back Dario Zupriac is expected to start with his partner Larrys Mabiala. There are a lot of people competing for a right-back position in spite of Valentin’s departure. Though Jorge Moreira is expected to start at that position Chris Duvall and Darion Asprilla would be knocking on the door. On the left side Jorge Villafana is expected to start. The talented youngster Marco Farfan can be expected to start in the later matches of the group stage.
At the wing the recently bought Y.Chara along with the experienced Sebastian Blanco can start. In the centre midfield, Diego Chara and Cristhian Parades are the players expected to make the cut into the playing 11. Diego Valeri who is the winning goal scorer from the last match against Nashville SC is highly expected to start as an attacking midfielder. There will be a competition among Mora and Niegzode to start.
Their major attacking tactics this season seem to play from wings. With Chara and Blanco at wing and Mora as the centre forward opposition lookout to control them through wings. Their full-backs would be possibly looking to overlap the wingers to put crosses in the box. Further, their striker would look to play high on the opposition defence to run between the last line of defence in counterattack situations.
The above picture shows the example of how their striker would be looking to run between the defence in counterattack situations. Here Valeri lobs the ball to Fernandes who runs behind the defence to receive the long pass and creates a dangerous 1 v 1 situation against the opposition goalkeeper. This type of positioning will be expected from Mora or Niegzode whoever plays as a striker.
In defence whenever the opposition has the ball mainly when defending after having the lead the team drops down. All the midfielders will drop down in the final third. Further for the pressing strategy they only press in certain areas of the pitch. For example, in the below picture It can be seen there is not a movement to pressure the player with the ball. Once the ball crosses the line of final third the team starts to press. Until then they will allow the opposition to come to their defensive third.
They also compact the middle of the pitch which creates space on the wing for the opposition. If the opposition full-back plays high on the pitch they can try to exploit the spaces in the wing by overloading the flanks.
As MLS restarts from 8 July it would be interesting to watch how the teams adopt the new format and the consistent games they need to play in a short span of time. Further, the depth of the squad will play a major role in the progression of the next round due to fatigue and tiredness.
The new-look Chicago Fire might need the time to settle down with new management and ownership. The major question marks is their defence and it looks difficult for them to progress through the next round.
Portland Timbers have the depth in the squad in midfield and attacking areas. It is their defence majorly the centre backs performance which will decide if they go through next round. While Houston Dynamo has brought some firepower in their attack in the off-season, there are some questions about how the midfield will set up.