I know this much: Chicago is loaded. That is to say they have talent in the first eleven as well as in reserve right now. In reviewing the Chicago Fire’s two matches one gets the sense that they are enjoying their football and can come at you with a number of attacking options.
Analyzing their match against New England is not as useful as one would hope due to the early red card. However, we do know this: the Fire will attack and will attack with a number of players. Blanco is the danger man, with Frankowski and Barrett lurking in the box. Thrown in Mapp, and Rolfe, and you get the picture. The formation appears to be a 4-3-3 but one could argue that Rolfe plays underneath creating 4-4-2. Either way Chicago is coming at you with numbers. Blanco and Mapp get a lot of freedom, switching sides, so tracking them becomes somewhat difficult. In fact, I think Mapp can be just as or maybe even more dangerous when on the right and cutting in on his favored left foot. Blanco is Blanco. He likes to drift into spaces where he can buy himself some time. Given time, he can be lethal. He likes to shoot from anywhere, but his passing is the real threat and has been superb at the start of this season. Rolfe is more direct, looking to run at players and then combine if he can commit the defense.
The match in Oakland will seem like an exhibition and not quite a home game yet for the Quakes. Blanco will undoubtedly attract a large and vocal following. San Jose needs to remain composed and once again try not to get caught up in the moment.
My keys for the Quakes remain pretty much the same as I noted before the LA match. San Jose must possess the ball. Failure to do so will allow Chicago too many chances. The Earthquakes must keep their shape! Against the Galaxy I felt the team pressure started way too high, opening gaps for LA to expose. Against the Fire, sit in a little, connect some passes and find a rhythm. Possession creates confidence and wears the opponent down, sometimes pulls them out of their desired shape. Ramiro Corrales must remain in front of the back four. I felt he was trying to do too much in LA. Whomever plays the central attacking midfielder role must get on the ball. I didn’t realize Grabavoy was on the field until thirty minutes in last week.
To get a result against Chicago the Earthquakes need to keep their shape when defending as well as when they attack. (I know, broken record.) In addition, Chicago can be caught in transition. What that means is, because they enjoy going forward they can be pulled out of shape. Blanco won’t run back and defend, Rolfe likes to get forward occasionally dribbling himself right into pressure, Mapp drifts out of the game sometimes thus leaving the back four to handle the Quakes' attack. If we see Chicago fouling quickly in their own end, they are aware of the danger. If San Jose can win the ball, distribute quickly, hopefully to a forward that has found a way to isolate himself, the Quakes can nick a goal.
It is still early in the season and we can’t be too quick to judge, but this match should give us all some insight as to how the team is going to try to play this year. Hopefully we can bury the ‘expansion’ excuse and go back to being the Earthquakes.
(Tim Hanley is a former assistant coach for the Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, and L.A. Galaxy.)