On Fire – or can’t hold a Candle… are Chicago burning at both ends?

Last year the Chicago Fire were within inches of making the Playoffs – and like it or not they sacked Frank Klopas who then moved on to the team that beat them out of the Playoffs – Montreal.

Why Montreal sacked their Head Coach is unclear.

Given the importance so many teams place on making the Playoffs it’s hard to imagine a team booting a Head Coach who got them there.

But this article isn’t about Montreal – been there – done that awhile ago and will visit them again… for now the heat-lamp turns to Chicago, who also fired their Head Coach last year…

There are two other teams that have had roughly the same bad run as Chicago, the aforementioned Montreal and a previous subject of my analysis – Houston Dynamo.

The Dynamo have made it pretty clear (at all levels of management) that new personnel are needed to right the ship – that remains to be seen.

So how about Chicago?

As far as I can tell there are no major new signings and no rumors that I can find – perhaps others know differently. (NOTE:  Sanna Nyassi was just obtained in a trade for Dilly Duka).

Given that, and my habit of analzying team performances, here’s the ugly picture on Chicago this year (compared to others in MLS) and where the gaps may exist.

Kickoff – Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Index:

Third worst in MLS, in overall team performance, on both sides of the ball – only Chivas and Houston are worse.

Bottom line here is that Chicago are:

  1. Near the bottom of the League Table (measuring qualitative results) and…
  2. Near bottom of my Composite Index (measuring quantitative results).
  3. If you’re a Chicago Fire supporter be prepared for some pretty harsh numbers as additional analysis gets offered below…

Working from the back – forward – Defending first…

Here’s the Defending Possession with Purpose (DPWP) Index for starters:


First things first:

Chicago are the worst in team performance when it comes to overall defending – in other words the combined results of their opponents in Possession, Passing Accuracy, Penetration, along with creation of Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored is last; this Index does not measure Points garnered in the League Table.

In terms of racking and stacking the Six Steps measured, one by one, Chicago yield the third highest amount of Possession, to their opponents, of all teams in MLS (55.43% per game).

Now possession, alone, is not a single indicator that tells the whole story but it does give an indication if a team can at least offer up the appearance that they are controlling the flow of the game.

With respect to Opponent Passing Accuracy:

They are actually pretty good in this area compared to others; all told opponents average 75.66% in passing completion rates but let’s take a quick peak at a slightly different angle.

How Chicago compares in the percentage of ‘unsuccessful passes’ across the Entire Pitch versus within their own Defending Final Third:



There they are in the top five…

PCT OF OPPONENT UNSUCCE3SSFUL PASSES FINAL THIRD  WEEK 21And there they are again – 2nd best in MLS.

The takeaway here is that the opponents are not having a great success in passing but the overall team defending is still the worst!

So are Chicago on the tail end in yielding Shots Taken per possession/penetration?

Nope – they are 4th lowest in ceding Shots Taken per penetration at 17.31%.

How about Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken?

Bingo…  of all the teams in MLS, Chicago are 2nd worst in allowing Shots on Goal per Shot Taken ( 39.24%) only Philadelphia is worse.

But wait – there’s more…

When it comes to Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal they yield a stunning 43.24% success rate to their opponents; the worst in MLS and a full 11% points higher than the MLS average.

When I did an evaluation of Houston the other day – it was this category that stood out as being one of their better defending categories.

In essence, what this meant was Tally Hall was actually doing a very good job, as the Goal Keeper, compared to their back-four and defending midfielders.

So for Chicago I see a few things going on that are leading to their downfall in defending within the Final Third:

  • It would appear that the Fire are trying to play some sort of zonal marking system that looks to disrupt the passing channels but doesn’t do a very good job of putting the defenders in a position to clog the 18 yard box against Shots Taken.
  • At this time Chicago are 8th worst in Shots Blocked.
  • If they are playing man-marking then they are very slow in responding.
  • Hence the higher than average number of Shots Taken that end up being Shots on Goal; more time… more space… more accuracy by the opponent…
  • The other primary issue would appear to be of even more concern – Sean Johnson just simply might not be positioning himself in the appropriate places given the higher than expected number of shots on goal that result in a goal scored.
  • Why else would that number of goals scored (percentage) actually go up compared to Shots on Goal?
  • Most teams see that average decrease from Step 5 to Step 6… at least most of the winning teams do.
  • Only five teams see that percentage increase; Toronto, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver, Montreal, and Chicago.
  • And to confirm – the increase is 4% – while the league average is -3.82% with DC United having the greatest difference of -15.13%.

In wrapping up the Defending side of the pitch:

Chicago cede possession and appear to do a solid job when it comes to applying pressure and closing down the passing lanes – unfortunately it would appear that when the opponent is successful in penetrating and taking shots they are usually on goal.

For me that translates to too much open space and too much time = i.e. poor positional play.

In addition – the defensive lack of vision in seeing their own weaknesses is also impacting their Goal Keeper; Sean Johnson’s save percentage is 59%; tied for lowest in MLS.

While some may scoff at this suggestion I would offer their back-four needs at least two new players with a bit more vision and speed in closing down gaps as they appear.

I’d also offer thoughts on the midfielders but it appears Frank Yallop runs a 4-4-2; at least the MLS stats indicate that.

But I’d be surprised if that were the case; my impression in watching Chicago was that Jeff Larentowicz played a single pivot CDM and not part of a double pivot tandem.

Others who follow the Fire more closely will know that better than me and may be able to add clarity here?

However viewed, I’m not seeing the addition of Sanna Nyassi as adding great value given what Yallop said in this article Nyassi was a similar player to Dilly Duka.

Now for the Attacking side of the pitch and APWP:

APWP INDEX WEEK 21Not quite as bad in attack, as a team, as they are in defending as a team…

Some bottom line numbers.

With their opponents averaging the third highest amount of possession it pretty much means the Fire average the 3rd lowest amount of Possession.  Usually a great indicator that a team is leaning towards a direct attacking style (or perhaps counter-attacking style) as opposed to a possession-base style.

In looking at Passing Accuracy; all told the Chicago Fire have the worst passing accuracy of any team in MLS.

In considering those first two indicators it really reinforces that the Fire are playing a direct attacking style; usually possession-based teams play shorter passes that are more likely to be completed – given the poor passing accuracy AND poor possession numbers that pattern matches other teams known for playing direct.

So while Frank Yallop might have appeared to veer away from Direct Attack in San Jose it certainly looks like he has had to revert back to that style given the player resources he currently has.

But before moving on to penetration here’s the overall passing accuracy numbers across the Entire Pitch and then just within their Attacking Final Third:



 Final Third…


Bottom of the League in both categories…

Wow; this team really has done a poor job in passing this season – and what’s odd is that level of passing accuracy should be correctable on a training pitch – more practice should help make these players more accurate.

If they don’t improve then the team should make them move…

So how about penetration, creation and finishing?

Chicago are in the top half for penetration – again – if they are playing direct attacking football then that is a likely scenario – especially with that poor accuracy in overall passing.

What’s happening is that instead of taking time and patience to move the ball up the pitch they are simply looking to hoof it and hope.

Wasn’t that the same approach Frank Klopas used last year?

And again – with a higher level of direct attack, and less patience in passing the ball, a direct attacking team will tend to take more shots – indeed – Chicago have the third highest number of shots taken per penetration.

That percentage increase also drives an increase in shots on goal – they are 6th best in converting shots taken to shots on goal.

But when it comes to shots on goal resulting in a goal scored they are 8th worst.

Clearly the attacking approach is not working – and if not for being awarded six Penalty Kicks (tied for 2nd most in MLS) it is likely that Goals Scored percentage would be near Houston, who’s at 20%.

In closing…

By the way… in checking Whoscored.com Dilly Duka’s passing accuracy was 74.3% and Sanna Nyassi’s was 75% – not much difference statistically either…

I’m still scratching my head why Frank Klopas was sacked and Frank Yallop was hired?

NOTE:   This is not to intuit that the sacking of Frank Klopas was not a reasonable path forward – I suppose what this really means is the replacement of Klopas with Yallop looks to mean that nothing has really changed between last year and this year…

Might that mean Frank Yallop gets the sack at the end of this year?  Probably not – I would have thought he will get at least one more year to sort out the team and shape it to his liking…

Perhaps others who follow Chicago Fire can add some thoughts here?  PS:  Thanks to @irishoutsider for adding some thoughts to help clarify 🙂

However viewed, the Fire are burning and not burning hot – it’s a cold burn more attuned to frostbite and the winter seen in the Windy City…

It will probably take a complete makeover to sort this team out; and given the general nature of the direct attack that appears to be employed I am very surprised Yallop has not brought in a target striker like “a” Lenhart or Gordon type guy.

LATE EDITORIAL CHANGE:  As noted the acronym for Chicago Fire Soccer Club is CFSC not CFFC – please forgive my old english habit of referencing a team as an FC…  future articles and analyses will be updated as appropriate.

Best, Chris

Retweets Appreciated.

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  1. Brian Howe Battle

    Great post. The fact that you’re not immediately familiar with the team means this data crunch has very little bias, but your conclusions are very close to a lot of Fire followers subjectively have concluded. Awesome job.


    • Chris Gluck

      Brian, Thank you for feedback and kind words! Great to hear the conclusions are reasonable to those, like yourself, who follow the Chicago Fire on a regular basis. 🙂

      Best Regards, Chris


    • Chris Gluck

      JT, Thanks 🙂 I will make that change for the future – please forgive my old English habit of referencing an FC as opposed to an SC.


  2. Ian Jindrich

    Yes, Jeff Larentowicz plays as a single, holding CDM even tho they are supposed to be playing with two CDM’s. I can confirm that from watching his positional play every match. That could be a major problem with the attack as well considering he is creating a HUGE midfield gap by checking to the ball in the defensive half too often. He usually ends up putting the defensive line under serious pressure and his passing decisions are poor overall- not attacking-minded in the slightest.


    • Chris Gluck

      Ian, Thanks for adding your thoughts – very helpful 🙂 Was concerned about that observation. In seeing that game the other day is it in the making that Larentowicz might convert to a CB on a regular basis?


      • Tomaz

        Re: Larentowicz

        I don’t think the intent is to play Larentowicz as a lone CDM, because it is well known he is not of that quality, but the player(s) he is routinely paired with (usually Alex) gravitate towards a more attacking position in middle of the field . This compounds the fact that the outside midfielders also tend to drift inward. There ends up being a logjam in the middle, leaving huge gaps on the wings and the area Larentowicz (and Alex…) is supposed to be protecting which other teams routinely exploit.

        The Fire recently signed Razvan Cocis as “Jeff Larentowicz[‘s] midfield partner” (per July 14th article on Chicago-Fire.com), which indicates that the Fire coaching staff is aware of the issue.

        In terms of Larentowicz playing as CB, I think it was either an indication of Yallop trying to let the CBs know that they are not irreplaceable even without roster moves or an indication that it was just a friendly so it may mean nothing. The more optimistic Fire fans may see it as an indication that the Jermaine Jones rumors are more than just rumors.


        • Chris Gluck

          Thanks for the heads up on Cocis being added – i just read the article – interesting addition and they would do well to close the middle down playing against Vancouver – they are not known for crossing the ball very much – average just over 16 per game on the road – which is the MLS average for road teams… Morales is very dangerous in the middle too… a bucket 4-4-2 would be a worthy approach (double pivot CDM pairing)…


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