Can the Chicago Fire shore up set piece defense and make a playoff push?
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber was wide open as the ball bounced to him off of a long throw-in during the sixth minute of the Chicago Fire's 2-1 loss at home on Sunday, so he lined up his volley and placed it just inside the post.
It was the 12th time this season the Fire gave up a goal off of a dead ball, losing their marks in a scramble in front of the goal.
“We need to have the mentality of being the first to challenge for the ball and not let it bounce, and sticking with your marks – that’s just not for the first ball, but the second ball, too, and clearing it out,” defender Austin Berry said. “The older guys and leaders need to make sure everyone is ready to go, and I think we were. We just weren’t tight enough, just not sharp enough for the first 10 minutes.”
Despite Chicago's recent run of good form, Feilhaber's goal once again exposed a consistent weakness in defending set pieces for the Fire.
Those 12 goals have come in a variety of ways throughout the first 17 games of the year – from throw-ins, free kicks, corner kicks and second balls. There has been a constant stream of them throughout 2013.
Despite the fact that they've earned 83 corner kicks while only giving up 70, Chicago have only scored six times off of dead balls this season, excluding penalty kicks.
Still, coach Frank Klopas said he sees room for his club to decrease the amount of dead balls they've given up.
“I think before the ball goes out we have opportunities to stop plays,” the Fire coach said. "[We could] maybe make better decisions with the ball, but when you do give it up everybody has to focus and concentrate and just stick with their assignments."
The Fire have plenty of size in the back, but improving upon their set piece defense could loom large as the playoff race hits its crescendo.
“We've just got to be better,” center back Bakary Soumare told MLSsoccer.com. “If we're going to concede goals, we've got to make them work for it. We can't give up easy chances like that.”