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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Fire still striving to mesh on pitch

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- In the midst of a four-game winless streak and only one point in hand during April, the Chicago Fire are regularly deciphering their shortcomings to turn around a poor start to the 2011 season. The Fire hover near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 1-3-2 record, with Saturday's game at the defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids on the horizon.

Chicago's defense has been an obvious detriment to the team in recent weeks as the Fire have allowed 12 goals this year, which currently ties for second-most in the league. But the midfield also has been a growing point of concern.

In the Fire's most recent 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos made some changes to every line. That included the insertion of Libertyville native and center midfielder Baggio Husidic, who started for the first time this season. Husidic got the call over Michael Videira, though Videira eventually subbed for Husidic in the second half.

"Even though people criticize our center midfield for not being that creative, I think we have guys in there that on their day can do it," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "Baggio is an excellent passer with the ball from midfield, but we just need to get more possession out there. It starts from the back all the way up front."

It is unknown if Husidic will immediately be brought back into the starting lineup this Saturday. The 23-year-old University of Illinois-Chicago alum was a regular who contributed on the offensive end with five goals and three assists in 22 games in 2010.

"He's been a player that shows his ability to score some goals and add a bunch of assists," Fire defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "He's a box-to-box midfielder that can help not only on the defending end but help create things going forward."

"I think he's trying to gain his confidence back and his touch back," Nyarko said. "I was speaking to him before the [Houston] game and he's talking about how he hasn't played in a while and he didn't know how it's going to go and stuff like that, and I told him it was going to be fine. He knows how to play the game. It was his first game back [since the season opener], so let's see what the next couple of games hold. I think working himself back in, he'll be a dangerous asset for us."

Midfield shortcomings:
The Fire's production within the midfield has not been up to par this season, to say the least. The possession has not been strong. The creativity has been lacking. And that has led to some unattractive soccer during a winless streak.

"We obviously haven't had possession at most parts of the game," Nyarko said. "Either the center backs get under pressure and just whack the ball and not bring it up -- I have yet to figure it out. But it definitely shows in long periods of the game that we're not moving and not passing the ball along. I think that will come a long way to help us if we try to keep possession of the ball at most parts of the game. That's where we look the most dangerous, when we keep the ball on the move and try to create chances off of that."

"We're not getting the results, but that's not to say there are times in the game where we are putting some good soccer together," Pause said. "I think that's something we are focusing on, and some of that in time will take care of itself. We need to make sure that we're sticking with what we're doing, continuing to plug away and focus on the details, and hopefully the results will come."

Complementing front line:
The massive personnel turnover for a second straight season has something to do with things not meshing from time to time. But at some point the Fire need to create some regular flow between the midfield and forward lines to start digging out of this hole and string together some points.

In this past game, recent acquisition Dominic Oduro got his first start ahead of Uruguayan forward Gaston Puerari. Nyarko was on the same page with Oduro in terms of seeing eye-to-eye with passing and receiving the ball, but dependable Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves, who tends to drop back into the midfield, was not in sync with Oduro against Houston.

"Diego hasn't really had the time to play with him, and I know [Oduro] from a while back," Nyarko said. "He talked to me about how he likes to move and how he likes the ball to be played. I kind of looked for that, and being a quick player like myself, I know it's really dangerous to break defenses down.

"I think Diego builds a really great partnership with Gaston, and they know each other's movement and they try to play off each other a lot. I think a couple more games together -- and it all comes down to the lineup changes and all that -- [Chaves and Oduro will] get to know each other. Diego is a smart, clever soccer player. He's one of the best I've played with, and he'll learn the movements quickly."

Defensive compensation:
The Fire burned themselves in last week's game by falling into a defensive mode when they were clinging to a 1-0 lead. Preserving the win, rather than going for the win, had a trickle effect on every line. Several Fire players were noticeably worn out down the stretch, and the Dynamo tallied a second-half equalizer.

"I think we all shut down," Nyarko said. "I blame that a little bit on the mini-losing streak that we went on. We shut it down and tried to get that one-goal win. We all dropped back -- way back -- and we're just booting balls and they're coming straight back to us. When that happens, the forwards have a tendency of also dropping and not getting stretched out.

"We have to do a better job of pushing guys up and taking that risk, play like it's 0-0 instead of playing like we're 1-nil up."