The Chicago Fire's 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., looked like any other preseason friendly: A bunch of players got time, not many were at top form and fitness was a bit of an issue.
Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find a sea change in the Fire’s strategy.
Chicago tested out a new 3-5-2 formation, starting Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic and Jalil Anibaba on the back line; Logan Pause at holding midfielder; Patrick Nyarko and Gonzalo Segares on the flanks; Daniel Paladini and Baggio Husidic in the middle; and Gaston Puerari and Gabriel Ferrari up top.
The Fire, who used a 4-1-4-1 approach for most of last season, have been working on the new formation the entire preseason. The three defenders play relatively narrowly, getting help from the wingers and the holding midfielder in the middle. The central midfielders are in charge of distribution and play a bit higher up on the field.
“It’s different than what we’re used to,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com after the match.
[inline_node:328738]“It involves a lot of communication between the midfielders and a lot more work for the midfielders but [head coach Carlos de los Cobos] thinks we have the personnel to do it and we’re doing what he wants.
"I think guys are buying into it; it hasn’t been easy but day-to-day we keep improving and hopefully we’ll eventually perfect it.”
The formation’s success is contingent upon the play of the three defenders and the two wingers. The back three has to play solid defense, marking tightly and winning their challenges. The wingers have to do a lot of running, tracking back to defend the sidelines and getting forward to provide crosses and support for the other attackers.
According to Nyarko and de los Cobos, both parties played well on Wednesday. They’ll need to continue to do so if the 3-5-2 is going to stick around Toyota Park this year.
“We are working on the new formation,” de los Cobos told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m working very hard with the players to do it so we don’t lose order and we become a good, solid team.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.