Harry Shipp

Chicago Fire 2017 Season Preview by Mike Fotopoulos

If it were truly possible to tank in the Major League of Soccer, the Chicago Fire have been making a valiant effort to test that theory in recent seasons. What was once only considered gross incompetence has been given a shiny veneer of professionalism with the addition of Nelson Rodriguez in 2016. By proceeding to sell everything that wasn’t nailed down for various forms of GarberBucks, the roster began to resemble the closest thing to a full rebuild that the club has desperately needed since the waning days of the Blanco era. The remaining question, as has always been the question in the annual reshuffle of the Men in Red, is will this process actually succeed? Is it even a process at all? If a team fails in the suburbs, does anyone even notice?

There is, however, cause for hope. Piles of league money, in various shapes, sizes, and colors, has slowly turned the roster from a collection of aged out journeymen and long-term projects to…a slightly more cohesive group of journeymen and slightly less speculative projects. The mysterious departure of Harrison “Don’t Call Me Justin” Shipp aside, the outlines of Rodriguez’ plan has been to build prudently through the draft and complement with a very specific type of experience. Everything outside of this, every scrap of dead money, wrung out to sale for as much as he can grab.

Dax is after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: MONTREAL IMPACT by Benjamin Harrison

The 2016 Montreal Impact will be eager to discover whether they can sustain the late season form that propelled them into their second playoff appearance in MLS. There’s hope in the rumor-defying return of Didier Drogba, who carried the team to a 7-1-1 record in his nine starts (scoring 11 goals) to close 2015. Nevertheless, five of those wins came at home, and three came against Colorado and Chicago. Mauro Biello imposed relatively few changes to the roster in his first offseason as head coach, likely indicating some confidence that the changes made last fall are sustainable.

2015 in review

ASA’s 2015 season preview of the Impact projected a position roughly between the cellar and the last playoff seeds – a fair summation of the team’s performance before Biello took over at the end of August. A defensive overhaul cut 14 goals off 2014’s abysmal total of 58 – third worst in the league – with new arrivals taking charge of the defensive midfield and all four positions along the back line. Laurent Ciman (CB), Marco Donadel (DM), and Ambroise Oyongo (RB) arrived perhaps with the greatest fanfare. 23 year-old Angentinian centerback Victor Cabrera, on loan from River Plate, seized the permanent starting role alongside Ciman in late June, and the Impact allowed only 18 goals in his 16 starts from that point.

Before Drogba’s arrival, Montreal’s offense was susceptible to stagnation, overly reliant on the individual skill of Ignacio Piatti in the attacking midfield. Neither Dominic Oduro (poor in distribution) nor Jack McInerney (terrible at everything else) was able to present a consistent threat from striker. Oyongo produced little to show for his promise as an attacking fullback. Dilly Duka and Andres Romero provided only modest support from the attacking midfield. Despite the defensive improvement, the Impact remained at a negative GD before the late season surge.

A look at the goalkeeper and defense after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: CHICAGO FIRE by Tom Worville

Here we go again, another season of MLS and another season preview of the Chicago Fire and how things “might change” and how this “could be their year”. Usually these statements are made in reference to them reaching the playoffs, but I’m just hoping this year they aren’t left at the foot of the table come October.

To put it bluntly, the Chicago Fire were terrible in 2015. The last game of the season summed up their entire year. Lackluster defending, toothless attacking and, ultimately, a defeat to the New York Red Bulls meant they finished the year with just 30 points: less than one point per game and the worst total in the whole league.

Looking at the overall league table, the Fire had the joint leakiest defense in the league with NYCFC, conceding 58 goals (a massive 1.7 per90) but a decent attack, scoring 43 goals (1.27 p90). The sheer number of goals conceded meant that they had the worst goal difference in the league (-15) something that the team will no doubt be looking to rectify this year.

See their Elo rating after the jump:

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PWP: Chicago lights up New York while Montreal feels the Impact of Sporting KC by Drew Olsen

As noted in my headline, the Chicago Fire simply lit the fireworks with the youngster Harry Shipp leading the way; good for him and well done, son!  As for the new leader in Montreal--and ex-Fire coach--things weren't quite as rosy. You'll recall early last week I published this article on MLS Coaches - showing statistics, not pure speculation, on which coaches have teams that aren't performing to standard in MLS at this time.  Frank Klopas was one of those Head Coaches mentioned, and sadly his team was the only team in the bottom four of that list who didn't win this past weekend.

Mark Watson did with San Jose, Frank Yallop did in the obvious thriller in New York, and Wilmer Cabrera saw his Goats absolutely stun Colorado.  Sooner or later the wheat will separate from the chaff.

But back to Chicago.  They didn't take the PWP Attacking Team of the week by much; Sporting KC was a close second while Cabrera and the Goats were 3rd best and New England rounded out the top 4 with that blowout against Seattle.

PWP Attacking Player of Week #10 - Harry Shipp - surprised?  Not likely, for only the second time this year my PWP Attacking Player of the Week was the same as the MLS Player of the Week... as odd as it may sound I take pride in my PWP Players of the Week not matching those from MLSSoccer.com.

PWP ATTACKING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

A busy day for the young lad, and almost too much information to go into my standard PWP Player of the Week.

That said Sporting KC got back on track with another smashing win against Montreal.  And while they scored three goals what stood out most was their smothering defense; a leader in helping that effort was my PWP Defending Player of the Week; Chance Myers.

PWP DEFENDING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

Duly noted that some players had some superb passing statistics in this game; here's a diagram of all the successful passes for Sporting against a hapless Montreal side... and even more intriguing is this diagram (also from the OPTA Chalkboard) of all the unsuccessful passes by Sporting.  WOW!  Not sure I've ever seen so sparse a chalkboard as that for unsuccessful passes!

In looking at the defensive side of the pitch Montreal offered up 45 total passes in the Sporting defending third - of which nine were throw-ins... in the area here (just atop the 18 yard box) Montreal had 5 unsuccessful passes and 3 successful passes with two of those successful passes being throw-ins.

Moving on... So this week who's top and who's not in Possession with Purpose after 10 full weeks of play in MLS?

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

As a reminder, the top five Western Conference teams in the End-of-Season PWP Composite Index were the top five Western Conference teams to make the Playoffs.  In addition, the top five Eastern Conference Teams in the same Index were the top five Eastern Conference teams to make the Playoffs.

Last year's Champion has finally reached the top spot; will they be able to hold on?  I don't know, but still-unbeaten Real Salt Lake has shifted from 7th to 4th this week.

Columbus is starting their painful drop while Seattle, LA, and FC Dallas hover, and New England continues to push higher.

What is unique about this Index is it's not influenced by the "next bright and shiny object" syndrome.  Teams will fade and teams will push higher, but not on a whim; I hate whims...

With respect to the bottom teams in this Index - there is no question that the worst performing team in MLS is Montreal.  I'm not sure how anyone can consider their pathetic team output - across all categories measured - anything other than worst.  

Chivas got a notable win, but one win does not a streak make - falling a bit further this week was Toronto - moving from 6th worst to 4th worst.  Are some other teams in MLS catching on to that 'mistake driven' football that Nelson might be working towards?

Hard to say, but with some MLS stars moving off to prepare for the World Cup, there will definitely be important lineup change, and possible some big changes to this Index in the next six weeks.

In closing:

Another busy week coming with the Canada Cup Championship plus two more games for Sporting and Philadelphia.

Two diagrams for your consideration:

PWP ATTACKING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This is the Cumulative PWP Attacking Index after week 10.

Note that the separation between the top attacking team (FC Dallas) and the 10th best attacking team (Vancouver) is 2.4984 - 2.3365 = .1619.  So when you see the overall Composite Index there really isn't that much that separates the tenth place attacking team from the 1st place attacking team...

However, small movement is still expected given that a number of teams will be without some key players for at least 5 weeks - we can hope for more for the USMNT's sake.

PWP DEFENDING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This information reflects how well the combined opponents of these teams performs in the Defending PWP.

In looking at the diagram what the last place team offers is that the opponents of Chicago Fire, by and large, possess the ball, pass the ball, penetrate with the ball, take shots with the ball, and score with the ball more than Chicago does... if that trend continues it is likely that Chicago will have a very poor record by the end of the season.

In considering Philadelphia for a minute - they are in the bottom half but they are not being dominated by their opponents - sometimes games won and lost or drawn end up being more about a single mistake or... multiple mistakes as opposed to poor team performance.  It's data like this that tells me, as an analyst, that Hackworth has a reasonable system and plan - its' just not working because something on the pitch is broken.

I think many would offer that is the same case for Portland this year - most know that 5 points were lost due to PK's early this year, and perhaps three points were lost this past Sunday when some players simply forgot that they were soccer players and instead decided to be ball watchers...

All for now, Chris