Goals remain elusive even as Chicago Fire's attacking initiative improves

Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire (May 11, 2013)

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USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – An attacking initiative has emerged for the Chicago Fire on the road this year, even if away wins haven't.

After sitting back and riding an organized, defensive game-plan to a tie against Sporting Kansas City on March 16, when the Fire were outshot 20-7 and outpossessed 72.8 percent to 27.2 percent, Chicago mustered some attacking gumption to register double-digit shots against Houston and Montreal before dropping both games.

“Since the first couple of away games, we go away and we're confident we can play with the home team and open up as opposed to just sitting in,” Nyarko said. “But the most important thing is staying in the block, staying concentrated, and not letting up through the whole game.”

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After starting 0-3-1 on the road against four of the league's top teams, the Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday (7:30 pm, MLS Live) for the second leg of a home-and-home, in-season series with a new attacking combination to go with that offensive initiative, which hasn't resulted in many goals.

Following their fifth shutout in nine games, Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko will likely start up top for the second straight game. While goals have been hard to come by, plenty of scoring opportunities have been wasted this season.

Last week, Nyarko hit the outside of the post and just missed finishing a cross from Rolfe in the second half, and coach Frank Klopas was happy with the new combo.

“I think they combined well,” Klopas said. “We created chances, now we just have to start finishing them. We looked at the last game also, and you look at the tape, you just kind of shake your head how we're not able to put those away.”

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The success of the Fire's strategy in their 0-0 tie in Kansas City, though, lay in their ability to limit breakdowns with the entire team focused on defending and counter-attacking. Against Houston and Montreal, defensive lapses killed Chicago's chances, and against Philadelphia last week, one missed assignment led to the Union's winning goal.

Going forward, the Fire's success will hinge on whether they can finish off a few those missed opportunities and fix those few late defensive mistakes that occur the team is focused on pressing forward.

“The second half, that's where we lose concentration and lose games,” Nyarko said. “If we stay concentrated with the way we play on the road, especially in the first half, not concentrated full defensively, pretty much flat-out staying organized. We do that for the large part of the game and then we break down.”