Top Stories

Fire’s new defense hoping to help team bounce back from forgettable 2010



FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Chicago Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos saw his team endure a mixed performance against the New York Red Bulls in pre-season action last Wednesday, but one aspect the second-year MLS coach was impressed with was the play of his new defense.

With a three-man backline that at times morphed into a four and five-man backline, Chicago drew 1-1 with a stacked and technically-gifted New York Red Bulls team. The defense may have given up a first-half goal, but that came on a pinpoint Joel Lindpere shot from about 22 yards out that crept inside the far post.

For much of the match, Chicago's new defense – which consisted of rookie Jalil Anibaba, new addition Cory Gibbs and Josip Mikulic – frustrated Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo and the rest of the Red Bulls' attack. The Fire defense and goalkeeper Sean Johnson also received helped from midfielders/wingbacks Patrick Nyarko and Gonzalo Segares.

"We have distcint players, different players," said de los Cobos of his defense. "This kid Jalil from the draft is a kid who has lots of potential and a bright future, but he needs to play in order to gain experience. But around him, he's got guys like Mikulic or Cory Gibbs, players with much experience that are helping him mature. I was very happy with the defensive effort from the team."

Making the stout defensive play even more impressive was that it came in a game where New York dominated much of the possession, especially in the first half. That disadvantage in possession didn't make much of a difference for Chicago, who was compact at the back and didn't give New York any clear cut chances.

The lack of goal-scoring opportunities frustrated the Red Bulls so much so that Henry consistently left Agudelo alone up top while he dropped to midfield to try and see more of the ball.

Henry's attempt to get more involved didn't work. He was subbed out after 59 rather ineffective minutes.

"It's just about us working as a unit and staying together," said Anibaba. "I felt like we did that pretty well for the most part, and we're just looking to continue to build on that."

Helping keep Henry quiet, as well as the rest of New York's other attackers, was Nyarko. When the Ghanaian midfielder wasn't busy keeping New York's defense on its toes with his dribbling and runs down the flank, he was breaking up potentially dangerous attacks. Nyarko demonstrated good defensive hustle and bite, and his motor was nonstop.

"The team chemistry is good," said Gibbs. "We have good young players and we have good people who can step in and play. I think we're solid defensively."

That's not to say the defense doesn't have areas in which it needs to improve. As expected, at times during the preseason, the defense has had its issues, issues that will need to corrected in time for the Fire's season opener against FC Dallas on March 19.

"It's starting out fresh as a whole new team," said Gibbs about the struggles the defense has faced during the preseason. "Lot of trial players and things like that. That's natural. But what I respect the most is that in three weeks we have jelled, and a lot has to do with Carlos the coach and activities and things like that and having us together all the time and I think it has paid off so far."

If the preseason match against New York was any indication of how those things have paid off and what will come for the regular season, Chicago fans can expect a defense that will constantly look different depending upon the game and situation.

Even with the defensive formation and tactics being expected to change from game to game, de los Cobos is hoping one aspect of his new defense remains the same, and that's how his three central players perform.

"Normally, we're working with three center backs," said de los Cobos. "I like to have players who can play tight defensively and who help us not lose our shape."

That will need to be the case if Chicago hopes to get back to the playoffs after missing out in 2010 with a 9-12-9 record.

The Fire's defenders don't seem concerned however, as they feel they have the potential to make a deep run this season if they live up to their potential.

"We could win (the MLS Cup). Any team could win it," said Gibbs. "Did anybody think Colorado would win it last year? No. Our first goal is to make the playoffs, and after that, it's just shooting high to win the whole thing."


  1. Feeling very pessimistic about this season. Top players are gone, de los Cobos showed no ability to change a game with tactics last season, and the captain and player of the year Pause is just awful. To my mind if you’re a midfield ballwinner with no playmaking skills I expect more than two yellow cards all year — go out there and scare some people. Expecting crowds to dwindle as the team has precious little charisma apart from Nyarko and maybe Johnson.

  2. and there it is. chemistry. That always wins out in the end. We only saw glimpses of that. I have a good feeling about this year. We may or may not make the playoffs but it’s going to be better than what it was before.

  3. Nyarko hasn’t scored when playing FW, but he’s a straight up all star on the wing. His concussion last year is the reason the team fell apart in the last 3rd of the year. Not having him on the field kills us.

  4. Don’t forget D Krzysztof Krol to that list. Mr Beef said “Nery – he himself said he was past his prime.” Nery is only 27 years old and the reason why he was a flop because he was lazy and refused to get into game shape.

  5. The last couple of years the guys haven’t played for the badge and looked out for each other. If a player on another team cheap shotted a Fire player there was no price paid for it. The players, even with CJ on the squad, didn’t play for the badge in a way we’re accustomed to. This combination of players, w/o any “stars”, has a chance to become a team of guys who play for each other. (Yes, you want the best players possible, and that eventually takes you to famous players, but chemistry trumps big names.) CdlC’s success with San Salvador was without “stars”- he got players to overachieve by playing together. If the chemistry gets better all season, we’ll be fine.

  6. I think everyone predicting a horrible season are going a little bit overboard. We have an extremely young and unproven team, and yes that’s usually a recipe for disaster. But thats exactly why we could surprise some people. The players we have want to prove themselves. With the bad eggs gone, I think this team will be extremely scrappy. Probably won’t be the most attractive soccer, but I see us staying competitive in every game. With the new Uruguayans and trialists up top, I would have to think at least one of them will turn into a viable option at forward. Plus with the new playoff structure, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. I’m going to throw it out there, the Fire will qualify for the playoffs this season.

  7. You said it all my friend.
    Only thing I would correct is that Sean Johnson has a big future ahead of him and Logan Pause is worthless (hustle does not mean much when you have no basic skill set).

  8. Have to agree. The fire are way under the cap and have not replaced several large salaries, Conde, Castillo, McBride, Llungberg, Thorrington and CJ Brown. Two south american forwards, a Revs reject and a draft pick seem to be it, and this after a song and dance while better teams were upgrading with better quality additions and long before the season starts. Klopas is talking about the summer window while the season starts in a few weeks and he has had 2 years notice that a rebuild was necessary. Nyarko , Pappa, Pause and possibly Anibaba are the only players above MLS average. This will be a long season for Fire fans, but I suspect a short one for De Los Cobos and Klopas who will not survive until 2012.

  9. Nery, Collins John, Conde and I’m going to throw in McBride.

    Nery – he himself said he was past his prime.

    Collins John – too busy at the night clubs.

    Conde – though very talented never was “part” of the club.

    McBride – As much as people don’t want to hear about it, McBride played for McBride while in Chicago. Though he wore the captain’s armband he never acted like it in the locker room. The majority of the time he was the first to leave the locker room after a game.

    I have a good feeling about this season. I am looking forward to seeing a true team effort for 90+ minutes.

  10. Kinney was good in the air… that’s about it… with the new additions I don’t see Kinney getting “his” spot back.

  11. His passing has always been stellar, and if he gets a little more bite in his finishing, he will be one of the best all-around players in the league. He already creates more plays than Pappa and now that he’s hustling on D, I think he will have a breakout year.

  12. nicely stated. Nyarko is an all around athletic freak; that has been evident even when his finishing and passing wasn’t all that stellar. If he can make improvements in those areas, you’re looking at an MLS all-star. For me, he was the MVP of the Fire last year (not saying much, but still…). So if his natural abilities are going to help him get back to support the defense, I’m all for it. During that NYRB preseason match, you could see it was working.

  13. ?? Nyarko is a winger. dlC has been playing a 3 man backline but that doesnt stop Nyarko from recovering and aiding the defense.

    His biggest weakness has been his shooting which he’s working on. His play out wide has been stellar and he’s got room to open up the opposing defense

  14. the departure of some bad eggs leaving the team is certainly going to help with the chemistry. Several main issues are going to have to be addressed in the upcoming months. 1. Will DLC keep a consistent lineup. 2. Ball possession. 3. the ability to score and defend on set plays.


Leave a Comment