Fire eager to stress width, speed against Real Salt Lake

Dominic Oduro of the Chicago Fire

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Fire burned New England on the flank on Saturday night, and they’re looking to do the same to Real Salt Lake when they host the Western Conference powers at Toyota Park on Wednesday (8 pm ET, MatchDay Live).

Chicago, who saw speedy wingers Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko combine for their lone goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at New England, want to expose RSL’s narrow midfield by rapidly switching the ball to either Nyarko or Oduro on the weak side. 

Real Salt Lake often crowd all four of their midfielders on the same side of the field, leaving one flank relatively wide open. 

“They have a very strong midfield group and we just have to be very good with the ball and make sure we make good decisions,” Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “[We can’t] force the ball in the middle because they overload the ball side. We’ve got to be able to move the ball quick and look always on the weak side of the attack, because that’s where the space is going to be.”

Oduro and Nyarko, two of the fastest players in the league, are excited about the space they will likely see Wednesday night.

“Me and Patrick are looking for that little slip,” Oduro said. “Just a little bit and then try to penetrate that defense. They are really compact, they have a solid defense, but I think we’ll just be waiting for the right opportunity to strike on goal.”

Oduro and Nyarko aren’t the only Fire players looking to take advantage of the extra space on the wings. Outside backs Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba will also want to get into the attack, something Klopas worked with them on during Tuesday’s practice.

“It’s good to have the pace, especially if we’re able to switch the ball,” Klopas said. “But it’s not only [Oduro and Nyarko]. I think we have to commitment from our back players to make runs to create those numerical superiorities, those two-v.-ones, from deep spots.”

While Real Salt Lake’s narrow midfield should create opportunities for Chicago on the offensive end, it may cause them some problems in the back. There aren’t many midfields as dynamic as RSL’s, and the Fire will have to do a good job of eliminating their quick passing game if they’re to use Nyarko and Oduro’s prodigious pace to their full advantage. 

“A lot of it is communication,” Fire defensive midfielder Logan Pause said of defending RSL’s diamond midfield. “With how dynamic and how mobile they are you almost sometimes have to stay in your block as opposed to releasing out and opening gaps for them to run in.”

“I think they’ve got one of the best midfields in the league, if not the best,” he added. “It’ll be a great test and you’d be a fool to think you can completely eliminate them.”

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.  Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.