Tagged: Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

I’ve heard rumor that the Chicago Fire are looking to add two Designated Players to their squad this off-season – in my view – it’ll take a whole lot more than that.

In my End of Season analysis here’s some statistics, key indicators and observations for your consideration.

In case you missed it – it should model my previous article on the Fire much earlier this year:  On Fire – or a Candle Burning at Both Ends.

After working through the info I’ll also offer my thoughts, for your consideration, on some changes that may need to happen to make this team more competitive.

To set the tone here’s my standard Index rating for Chicago (CFSC) compared to other teams in MLS:


Note where Chicago line-up in my Index – near bottom – alongside that team who was relegated (erh… disbanded).

If you haven’t seen this Index before here’s a link to some simplified explanations.

If you are a statistics type person know that the Index has a direct correlation to average points earned in the MLS League Table (without using points in the calculations) {R2} of .85.

Now for the Grist… points per game both home and away for Chicago this year.  

Chicago earned 1.06 points per game (PPG) this year – 5th worst in Major League Soccer.

Results like that when Porter came in to replace Spencer saw at least 14 players moved out (quickly) and eventually 9 new starters – is it likely the Fire JUST bring on two new DP’s?

When playing at home – the easiest place to play in MLS – their PPG was 1.35 – tied for 3rd worst in MLS.

They had four wins at home, 11 draws, and two losses.

In the big scheme of things – home teams in MLS this year won 151 games – out of 19 teams – the number of wins Chicago had at home represented just 2.65% of those victories.

When playing away from home – their PPG was .76 – tied for 4th worst in MLS.

In their ten losses they averaged .90 goals per game (GPG); in their 18 draws they averaged 1.11 GPG; and in their six wins they averaged 2 GPG.

All told they averaged just 1.21 goals per game – eight games with 2 goals, 1 game with 3 goals, and 1 game with 5 goals – shutout seven times with 17 games where only one goal was scored.

Bottom line here – they really couldn’t win at home or on the road.

Do you even want to know how things looked from a Goals Against standpoint?  Probably not so to simplify (save space) – their overall Goal Differential was -10, with it being a -12 on the road.

Now for the team Attacking and Defending performance indicators with the Defending PWP Strategic Index first:


For me this is where the real grist is offered on just how poor the Fire team performance was compared to others in MLS. 

In walking through this information will there be just one key indicator that spells out the reason for bad results, or will there be multiple indicators?  Let’s find out:

Opponent possession – 54.66% – 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 55.71% – at home 52.92%).

Pretty much either way you cut it the Fire ceded possession, either by design of by default.

Not a negative indicator, by any stretch, as many teams ceded possession and did well this year – but given the low PPG – it should be a concern that there may have been many gaps in this team besides one or two DP’s.

Opponent Passing Accuracy –  78.05% – 7th highest in MLS (in away games 78.76% – at home 77.33%).

So, with a good amount of possession the opponents also seemed to be pretty successful in completing their passes across the entire pitch.

What might help shape that opponent possession is this – outside the final third opponents averaged 82.67% passing accuracy – while inside the Fire, final third, they averaged 63.79%.

It would appear that the Fire, regularly, and systematically, in both home and away games ceded space outside their defending final third.

Unlike the Timbers, when they got their defense in gear, it did not translate to a lower goals against.

Given that, it would seem reasonable that there are more issues in the defensive supporting cast in the midfield as well as in the back four itself; more to follow.

Opponent Penetration per Possession – 20.90% – 4th lowest in MLS (in away games 21.86% at home 19.93%) both 4th worst in MLS.

Overall it would appear that a higher line was employed to try to minimize initial penetration – we have seen that tactic used by Hackworth (before being sacked) and by Porter (before realigning his defensive tactics).

In looking at both home and away games spread throughout the season it does not appear that the Fire changed tactics.

So keeping in mind the terrible Goals Against this year – this information continues to reinforce that even with minimal penetration the opponents were still able to put the ball into the back of the net.  

Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 17% – 6th lowest in MLS (in away games 18.41% – at home 15.58%).

In studying other teams this year – those that have higher passing accuracy percentages seem to have lower percentages in this category – intuiting patience in creating time and space to score goals.

What is intriguing here is that this same pattern showed itself with Philadelphia before they dropped deeper.  In other words – once penetration was gained the opponent wasn’t likely to lose it and a result of that shows taking more time to offer up a shot as opposed to systematically looking to hurry the shots.

I’d offer that if the opponent was hurrying their shots they would take them more frequently and be less accurate.  So were the opponents more or less accurate in putting their shots taken on goal?

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 38.76%- 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 37.95% – at home  39.58%).

It would appear that the opponents were more accurate…

As anticipated – based upon other team outputs – their defensive tactics (in probably playing a bit higher up the defensive side of the pitch) didn’t work.

Is that down to player selection, player availability, player talent/skills or the Head Coach?

Hard to say – but in considering the length of time Frank Yallop has coached in the MLS it would seem reasonable that some adjustments might have been made along the way like you can see with the Timbers in this article – or the Union in this article.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 37.18% – 3rd worst in MLS (in away games 38.53% – at home 35.82%).

So the tale of the tape is the Fire ceded possession outside their defending final third – appear to have played a high defensive line to try to minimize damaging penetration and while minimizing penetration it also opened up their defense for an even worse overall team performance.

That doesn’t even address what communication issues/tactical issues occurred between their Goal Keeper and back four.

In summation – like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the defending side of the pitch.  In my opinion they probably need two DP’s, alone, on the defending end of the ball and a completely new tactical approach as well…

That’s probably been pretty painful for the Fire supporters and I hesitate to offer up team performance in attack; but alas – this is an End of Season analysis – so chocks away on the Attacking PWP Strategic Index:


Not as depressing as the defending side of the pitch – but to be real here – they were 4th worst overall in team attacking.  

So without further ado how good were Chicago in the same categories against their opponents were against them?

Possession – 45.68% – 2nd lowest in MLS (in away games 44.29% – at home 47.08%).

As noted in DPWP; the Fire ceded possession, either be design of by default.

Given both home and away games are below 50% it is likely the Fire did not really alter their attacking style (like Seattle has shown) when playing at home versus on the road.

Again, not a negative indicator, but additional attacking performance information should shine more light on whether they altered their tactics playing in different locations.

It is interesting to note that their average (home) possession percentage against Houston was 56.23% – and even against DC United it was 53.86%.

So it does appear some tactical things were occurring in playing those two teams – whether that was driven by Chicago Or Houston/DC United it hard to say.

But I would offer that both Houston and DC United averaged less than 50% possession this year – so it’s not unreasonable to assume that the change in possession against those two teams was more a function of those teams and not the Fire/Yallop.  Others may have a different view?

Passing Accuracy –  74.03% – 2nd worst in MLS (in away games 72% – at home 76.07%).

So an increase in passing accuracy at home; in looking at total passes offered.

The difference in passing accuracy is pretty much down to the Fire offering up more passes outside their attacking final third.  In other words – their average passes in the attacking final third are the same for both home and away games.

Which means the increase in passing accuracy is attributed to passes completed in a less dangerous area – i.e. – those of smaller value.

I suppose it needs to be said here, first, a low passing accuracy usually means one to three things – the team looks to offer longer passes that are less likely to be completed – or – the team doesn’t really have the skilled players or head coach direction to play a shorter, quicker passing game.  For now I’d offer it’s a combination of the three without knowing additional information.

Penetration per Possession – 23.20% – 8th highest in MLS (in away games 23.29% – at home 23.11%).

Their percentage of penetration is pretty high here; mixing with Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, and New York.

So it would appear that the Fire looked to match penetration with the bigger boys in attack – that does seem to indicate that the attacking midfield was doing a pretty good job – but – it can also be deceptive as we know some teams looked to play a bit deeper in order to tighten space within their final third.

That deeper play results in the attacker having a higher percentage of penetrating possession at times.

Those better attacking teams were usually more accurate in their passing once they entered the final third – and that accuracy then translated to higher success rates in shots on goal and goals scored.  Meaning – they had forward talent to match the midfield talent in penetration and creation.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 20.48% – 3rd highest in MLS (in away games 17.45% – at home 23.50%).

Their home percentage was the highest in MLS – In considering outputs from other teams, this year, it would appear that the Fire were far less patient in generating shots taken given their overall penetrating possession.

Another factor here is the passing accuracy within the final third – for the Fire it was 61.28% (the 2nd lowest in MLS).

This information, coupled with a higher than normal shots taken per penetration, seems to support a more direct attacking approach – one that is less patient and more concerned about getting the shot off instead of taking a bit more time to create that extra time and space.

In looking back to my last observation, about having forward talent to match the attacking midfield talent, they might have that, but it would appear that the tactical approach to play more direct may have had more influence?  I suppose the lights will shine a bit better if their ability to score is higher…

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 35.95%- mid-table in MLS (in away games 37.02% – at home  34.87%).

The 34.87% is the 7th lowest in MLS – and that coupled with the lower than normal passing accuracy, plus the higher rate of shots taken per penetration seems to point, again, to a team playing more direct and taking less time on the ball.

In other words, (perhaps?)  the skill level of the players, or the tactical approach by the head coach, simply didn’t get the job done in putting shots on goal.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 29.55% – 8th worst in MLS (in away games 31.96% – at home 27.14%).

An intriguing piece of info here might be this – when playing away from home, they had 6% fewer shots per penetration, and they put more of those shots taken on goal (31.96%) and had a much higher percentage of scoring a goal based upon those reduced penetrations (31.96%).

That is a similar pattern to many good attacking teams – except when it came to actually scoring the goal…

All told, they also had the 8th worst Goals Scored on the road (1.12) – which could be reasoned to (perhaps again?) three things, either a poor tactical approach in looking to score more goals on the road – not having good enough players to execute the tactical approach of the head coach, or three – having the wrong tactical approach for the players on the team?

In Closing:

Like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the attacking side of the pitch too.

In my opinion they probably need at least one DP on the attacking end of the pitch to go with the two defending DP’s on the other end of the pitch.

This will cost money, big money – and I’d also expect to hear about 10-15 changes in the roster – a similar outcome to the Timbers a couple of years ago.

This (could) probably include a new goal keeper, three new defenders, two to three new midfielders and perhaps a new striker; for starters.

I offer the potential for a new Goal Keeper based upon considering the actions taken by Portland during the Spencer to Porter shift – there was a house cleaning of sorts and although Troy Perkins was a popular player – he was moved – and I think at that time, Perkins had  a better Save percentage then (69%) than Sean Johnson did this year.

Finally, in 2012 Sean Johnson had a 76% save percentage, in 2013 that had dropped to 70% – and this year it has dropped even further to 64%.

I wonder if the team makes up more ground next year by adopting a different tactical approach and trying to make better use of the talent they currently have.

And here’s a $4 Million Dollar question – if Yallop continues to play (apparently)  more direct, as opposed to the shorter, quicker passing game others are using exactly where is he going to get 2-3 DP’s who work more in a direct style attack than counter-attacking, quicker, shorter attack?

It’s my guess that the Chicago Fire Front Office did not expect, nor bargain, to have to completely rebuild this team under Frank Yallop.

And I’d offer they should have known something like this might happen given the poor run of success his tactical approach had in San Jose before he got sacked.

Best, Chris

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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

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