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Fire midfield needs a boost
by Ridge Mahoney, April 22nd, 2011 12:27AM

TAGS:  chicago fire, houston dynamo, mls


[MLS FRIDAY SPOTLIGHT] There are myriad reasons the Chicago Fire has lost three in a row heading into a home match with Houston on Saturday.

There have been goalkeeping gaffes by Sean Johnson, who coughed up a gift rebound in Portland during a 4-2 loss last week and was benched in a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy Sunday. The defending hasn’t been stellar as formations have been switched and some disjointed play in midfield is also to blame as head coach Carlos de los Cobos tries to instill a firm foundation to buttress a very potent attacking corps.

He is mulling changes in his lineup and he can start in midfield, where ex-Rev Mike Videira isn’t getting it done. A hard worker and fairly good tackler, he’s in that regard a paler version of Logan Pause, and he’s yet to provide the incisive passing that can link balls out of the back to the attacking elements. He’s looked overwhelmed at times this season and opponents are taking advantage by forcing interceptions and turnovers.

With the likes of Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves on the field, there shouldn’t be any lack of options when Chicago wants to get the ball forward. Videira managed just 12 appearances for New England in 2009 and 2010 before dropping down a division to AC St. Louis, which folded after last summer, and his lack of experience handling transition situations shows.

It isn’t just the speed of MLS action that is befuddling Videira and many other players like him during this early phase of the season. There’s more defensive guile in midfield, and balls played into what appear to be comfortable spaces are snapped up by fast-closing opponents. Maybe later in the season, when fatigue and summer heat slow down the pace of play, there will be more room, but at this point a lot of teams are squeezing those spaces effectively.

With the visit of the Dynamo, attention will be focused on players who changed teams a month ago, when Houston traded Dominic Oduro for Calen Carr. Oduro replaced Videira against the Galaxy as de los Cobos shifted to a more attacking lineup and he scored Chicago’s only goal as it tried to rally from a 2-0 deficit.

Yet the Fire needs to be better in midfield, where Houston fields Brad Davis, Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer to good effect. Being overrun in Portland and thumped by the Galaxy is evidence the central core has to be stronger.

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