Chicago Fire – Change for change sake?

According to the Major League Soccer standings the sixth best team in the Eastern Conference this past year was Chicago.

Not true for the purist – in head to head matches, strictly between Eastern Conference teams, Chicago was actually fourth best with 38 points, New York had 48, Sporting KC 47 and New England 42, while both Houston (35) and Montreal (37) had lower point totals.

It’s only when you add those games versus Western Conference teams that Chicago drops out of the top 5.

What’s intriguing is even with doing well against conference foes this year and just losing a tie-break with Montreal, to make the playoffs, they still sacked their head coach; many might argue that the Fire season was a very good season.

So how about the season and team performance, how did that go this year?

Compared to 2012 Chicago went from 57 points to 49, they had a +5 goal differential with 17 wins compared with a -5 goal differential and 3 fewer wins.  Pretty obvious team output dropped compared to 2012.

What about when looking at some team attacking performance indicators this year in comparison to the rest of MLS?

Overall, the Fire averaged 44.41% possession, per game, last year with an average number of passes completed totaling 325 and a passing accuracy of ~72%.

In comparison; the Yallop led San Jose team had 48% possession, with an average number of passes completed totaling 362 and a passing accuracy of 74%.

Conversely, Klopas’ new team, Montreal averaged 51% possession, with 411 passes completed per game and a passing accuracy of 78%.

Bottom line is Chicago was the least productive of those three teams and overall only Chivas USA had a lower average possession percentage of 44.16%.

Even more (or worse) is that Chicago had the lowest average total passes completed, per game, in all of MLS and the worst MLS passing accuracy percentage.

How about checking into their team defending performance indicators?

Unlike the turtle shell types in Montreal, who averaged the fewest defensive activities outside the defending third, the Chicago Fire were slightly higher than average when it came to pressing the opponent across the entire pitch.  All told they were 9th out of 19 teams (dead middle) in applying high pressure.

As for defending team activities in their own defending third; again Chicago was dead middle; meaning their defending team activities were average compared to all the other teams in MLS.

When looking at blocking shots the Fire back-four blocked more shots, per game, than any other team in MLS this past year; their team average was 3.68 shots blocked per game.

Two schools of thought on that – 1) is that the defenders found themselves out of position and had to make a last ditch effort to block a shot, or 2) their defenders had great anticipation.  I’m more inclined to believe it was #1 as opposed to #2; perhaps there are some other thoughts on this?

Last and certainly not the least is the number of goal keeper saves made versus shots on goal. Chicago Fire had the second worst saves to shots on goal ratio of any team in MLS (58.95%); only DC United was worse (57.32%).

In summary…

It would appear that the Chicago Fire attacking and defending team performance indicators actually showed worse than the bottom line results for Chicago this year.

Is it reasonable to offer that Klopas was extremely good at getting the very best out of a team that simply wasn’t blessed with talent?

Or, was it the direct attacking style of Klopas that led to the poor team performance indicators that eventually led to Klopas getting sacked?

Hard to say; but with Klopas moving on to Montreal and Yallop moving on to Chicago, from San Jose, it provides me a great opportunity to compare and contrast managerial leadership within the MLS and how those Head Coaches influence and impact attacking and defending team performance indicators.

In looking at San Jose last year they were 6th worst in possession, 7th worst in total passes completed and 4th worst in passing accuracy.  If keeping track those attacking performance indicators are almost as poor as Chicago.

What is significantly different are the team defending performance indicators; for San Jose last year they were the top team in applying pressure outside the defending third and were the top team in total defensive activities within their defending third.

Bottom line is their defensive performance was superb compared to Chicago.  So a reasonable offering is that ‘with Yallop arriving in Chicago their attacking scheme doesn’t change a whole lot but their approach in defense does’.

My expectation is that Chicago don’t change many of their players, if they do they add defensive grist, in so doing I would submit that the Fire make the playoffs next year.

Irony of ironies would be for Yallop to get Chicago into the playoffs next year while Klopas fails to get Montreal into the playoffs!

Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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