Possession matters? No longer a priority for surging Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – One quick look at the Chicago Fire and it’s easy to see they’re a team dramatically different than they were at the beginning of the year.

Possession is no longer the name of the game for head coach Frank Klopas’ team, who came out of the international break in June with a new lease on the season and a style that has fueled their run back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

The Fire, who travel to New England to take on the Revolution on Saturday (7:30 pm, watch LIVE online), won the first three games back from the summer break and have won 12 out of their last 19 games heading into the final two matches of the season.

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Chicago began to favor less possession beginning with that three-game winning streak, holding the ball for 40 percent of the game or less in each game, and that decrease in possession hasn’t stopped.

Before the break, the Fire held more possession than their opponents five times in 13 games, and held under 44 percent of time on the ball just once. After the break, they’ve held the ball more than the other team only five times in 19 games, and have had less than 44 percent of possession 10 times.

“In the past, it was more possession-oriented,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “Now, we want the result, and we go for it, as opposed to being patient.”

Holding less possession has, in fact, made the Fire a better team. They stay compact and force the opposition into making mistakes, most recently exhibited in two counterattacking goals against New York that led to a huge 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 6.

The Fire held possession just 43.6 percent of that game, and they’re actually 7-2-1 when they hold possession for less than 44 percent of a game since the June break. When they’ve held more possession than their opponents during that span, they’ve gone 2-3.

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That doesn’t mean, however, that they're playing more defensively. Some of their best offensive performances have come when they’ve been trounced in the possession category: a 3-1 win over New York on June 17 (40 percent possession), a 3-1 win over Houston on Sept. 2 (33 percent possession) and the win over New York two weeks ago, which effectively clinched their spot in the postseason.

“In the playoffs, it’s going to be all about who’s compact and takes their chances,” Nyarko said. “If we get into those up-and-down games, it’s not going to help us because we’re not a big team. Playing quick will be to our advantage.”