For the second straight week, the Chicago Fire came out and played a 5-3-2 from the start, and for the third straight week – they switched at halftime of Week 1 – it looks like that's their preferred formation. And as was expected when Veljko Paunovic took over this offseason, the whole thing is a work in progress.
Let's start with the good: Chicago squeezed a point out of Saturday's scoreless home draw against struggling Columbus Crew SC, and did it by playing deep and crowding the box. Columbus, more than any other team, relies upon service from the flanks to generate their chances, so playing three central defenders to battle with Kei Kamara made a lot of sense.
How much sense? Well, Kamara was held without a single shot on goal, which doesn't happen too often. And of the 21 crosses the visitors whipped in, only 4 connected – and all four were pullbacks to trailing runners rather than benders into the box. It was a good, smart defensive gambit that took away Crew SC's Plan A.
They did leave the door open on Plan B for a little bit, though:
Columbus lived in Zone 14 in this first 35 minutes of this one, taking advantage of a 5-3-2 that was really more of a 5-1-2-2 with neither Arturo Alvarez nor John Goossens dropping back to help Matt Polster, the lone "1" in that formation. You can see the overload created by some smart ball movement above, and Ethan Finlay's aggressive, direct run into the box deserved a better final touch.
Paunovic made a good adjustment in dropping Goossens back for the last 10 minutes of the first half, and then in sacrificing forward Kennedy Igboananike midway through the second half to go with a 3-6-1. That effectively turned Columbus's attack into exclusively hopeful launches into the box.
And now for the bad: Chicago's attack was non-existent. They attempted just 93 passes in the attacking third, and completed 57 percent of them (Crew SC: 193 passes, 75 percent completed). They took four shots total, and put just one on goal – it came off a turnover rather than any sort of sustained build-up.
Their first half was particularly bad, as they lacked any sort of presence in the middle of the field. It got better in the second half – and better still after the switch to the 3-6-1 – but they were summarily unable to put any sort of pressure on what's been an error-prone Crew SC central defense:
That they did, Patrice. And now the job for the Fire braintrust is to figure out how to replace him while building upon the defensive principles they've already established.
That's the work. It remains to be seen how much progress comes with it.