BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The NBC Sports microphones stationed by the Chicago Fire bench during their 2-0 loss to the Montreal Impact clearly caught coach Frank Klopas shouting to Sherjill MacDonald to track back to become more involved with the Fire's possession.
The gap between second striker Chris Rolfe and MacDonald grew and grew throughout the game, and MacDonald became more and more isolated. But Rolfe doesn't necessarily think that was MacDonald's fault.
“We started to get stuck in our own half and, like the early games in the season, when we do that we can't get out of our own half,” Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com. “We can't hold it and we keep coming forward. Then I tend to drop back and Mac stays high and the gap gets bigger and bigger and we get stuck in our own half.”
Weeks earlier, goalkeeper Sean Johnson was vocal with defender Austin Berry when he followed Houston forward Will Bruin, who was tracking back, allowing Giles Barnes to run in behind the Fire defense. But that miscue wasn't necessarily all on Berry, either.
Gaps between lines have been an issue for Chicago, both offensively and defensively, in their losses this season. The issue will be especially prevalent against Philadelphia in the first game of a home-and-home series Saturday (1:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
With tricky Philadelphia forward Jack McInerney trying to wreak havoc behind the Fire defense and hold-up forward Conor Casey checking to the ball, defender Gonzalo Segares knows that leaving space between the defense and the midfield will be problematic.
“Those spaces are where guys like Di Vaio and Conor Casey will take advantage of and come and check,” Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “They'll have all the space and come and turn, and that's when it's the hardest. If we keep the lines closer, tighter, they won't find those spaces.”
Wells Thompson will be back at right back after returning from a red-card suspension, which means Logan Pause will be back to fill the space in the defensive midfield. Jeff Larentowicz will miss the game with a red-card suspension, but Daniel Paladini will be able to fill his spot as a versatile holding midfielder.
Without Pause playing his destroyer role, the two central midfielders had to decide when to go forward and when to stay back. With Pause back in his normal spot, the defensive midfield space will always be filled.
“With Logan, you know he's going to be the guy who's going to be deeper in the hole, and stay there, and obviously the other midfielder has to push up,” Klopas told MLSsoccer.com.
So both offensively and defensively, the solution to the Fire's biggest problem during their 2-5-1 start may be simple.
“We've got to be patient, we've definitely got to move as a big, big group,” Segares said. “From top-to-bottom, we've got to stay compact and as a unit.”