Welcome back to Jiggly’s Guide to Strategy. We had a hiatus last week due to personal reasons, but we’re back now with another weekend of the Chicago Fire looking like a good soccer team for once. Except, last week Jiggly’s All-Stars actually lost in what ended up being a tactical battle. After the Whitecaps realized that the Fire would sit back all game, they put just the slightest bit of pressure on and Chicago fell apart. But that was last week. Let’s look to the future now.
Over the course of the week leading up to this game, there was a single very unexpected thing to happen: Megumin got called up to the US national team. For clerical reasons, she is Japanese, but I gave her American citizenship so that I wouldn’t get screwed over by dumb MLS roster rules. And I guess she’s gained enough recognition to get her first cap alongside another youngster looking to get his first cap: Christian Pulisic. Clint Dempsey was dropped from the squad in order for this to happen and nothing of importance was lost from it. Aside from this strange situation that I will keep you all posted on, Vigne is injured for this game and Komi-san seems to be completely fit to start.
Last week was a horrifying hiccup that shows how important strategy actually is. This Chicago Fire team isn’t meant to play defensively. They want to attack. Last week I insisted that I wasn’t using a 4-4-1-1. This week, I’ll show you what a real 4-4-1-1 looks like.
It’s simple, it’s sturdy, it should get the job done. While for the specific archetype of the “lone striker” could also go to a poacher, I think that Komi will serve better here. Also, Ami did fuck all in the last game so I’m not gonna just reward her for that stinker. The first thing you should notice is that this is pretty much last week’s “Galaga Formation,” but the holding midfielders have been pushed up some. If you think about it, if you have wide players who are receded enough to cover towards the center, it’ll allow the central midfielders the freedom to move back when necessary.
Because we have a clear strength in the center of the pitch with those three towards the center, we should obviously exploit that. Possession is a numbers game. The reason why I had Megumin starting over Rui isn’t because Megumin is now primed to be a USMNT legend, but because of the “look for overlap” instruction. Tohru has speed, Megumin has that ability to cut in and shoot. There’s no need for the defensive winger. Really, this is a truly balanced formation so there’s not much I feel like doing to specialize it much more. So let’s see what our opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes, have for us.
As I’ve said countless times, the 4-2-3-1 is the standard go-to formation for most teams in the world, especially in MLS at this time. Before we move on I have another fun Chicago Fire fact: #9 on San Jose is Chad Barrett. He is infamous with Fire fans for constantly hitting shots up into the top row while playing in Chicago. Maybe we’ll see a bit of that if he comes on.
Well, that was pretty simple and straight-forward. Chad Barrett did make it onto the pitch, but didn’t do much. Anyway…
This is the sort of stat-line that I love because it shows that you don’t need to dominate possession to dominate a match. Look at those shot numbers. But, it didn’t look like a domination. First of all, both goals came from dead-balls. Ichigo’s 48th minute goal was off of a free-kick and Ami converted on a penalty she drew in the 71st. But although it wasn’t a perfect win, I think this is a good opportunity to show an example of what “meaningful possession” is.
The other day when my ETU team lost in the Prospect League, I saw that we had the ball more and got worried. Having a lot of the ball means nothing unless it’s in a dangerous position. So I asked to see this for that game: The Action Zones. In our game here, almost 20% of all possession was held by the Fire in the San Jose third. That means that much of the possession held by the Fire was held in a dangerous area. The ball was barely in the Fire’s own third. An even more jarring image is this:
That is San Jose’s own heat map. It is not for the feint of heart. I apologize for not giving a trigger warning. You can see that big red splotch in the Earthquakes’ box, right? That shows how often they were on the defensive. They barely touched Chicago’s box. That’s why we lost the previous game. If you don’t keep up the pressure, then it gives the opponent a chance to move forward on their own.
This is the Chicago Fire’s heat map. If you remember before the game when I said that exploiting the middle would be important, you can see how that played out. The team spent most of the game towards this specific part of the pitch. If you remember, they also did something similar against LA in the first game of the season.
All-in-all, this was a simple win for a simple formation. There’s nothing wrong with not being fancy about your tactical set-up and this 4-4-1-1 proved it. My only real problem was that Komi-san appeared to be unable to put anything together in this game and ended up being pulled around the 61st minute. Then again, a win is a win and that shouldn’t worry us, right?
Anyway, come back next week to see if we over-complicate things again. We probably will.