Breaking Down the Breakdowns: vs. SKC

I'm back with another tactical breakdown this week and thankfully there was only one goal to breakdown giving me time to catch up with Sunday night TV watching Selina Meyer, the Silicon Valley gang, Don Draper, John Oliver, and the Lannisters. HBO is where it's at on Sunday night. Speaking of the Lannisters: Sporting Kansas City. The Fire played them on Sunday afternoon and predictably conceded a goal. Unfortunately, the old problem of defending set pieces returned missing another opportunity to record their first clean sheet since October 19 against Toronto.

The important part of defending set pieces is holding the defensive line and recognizing how the attack sets up. In these first two screencaps, you'll see the difference between a successfully defended set piece and the set piece that resulted in a goal.

Track the Deep Runs

Look at this first screenshot. All of SKC's aerial targets are bunched up in that one group inside the big blue oval with Benny Feilhaber aiming his cross for the small blue oval. The Fire defenders have an easy time sticking their marks since the SKC attackers have no momentum to move past them. 1 Setpiece Clearance

Now look at this one. We see roughly the same allotment of defenders to attackers but the difference is Dom Dwyer (blue #1) starts deeper, gets a running start at the defense, and runs between Fire defenders that are already marking men. Lovel Palmer (red #2) is marking Kevin Ellis (blue #3), Patrick Ianni (red #5) is marking Chance Myers (blue #5), and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (red #4) is keeping an eye on Jacob Peterson (blue #4).

Dwyer's run works because he runs away from Jeff Larentowicz (red #1), the one player available that can pick him up and through the occupied backline to the spot where the ball should be. Quincy Amarikwa is in good position to force Feilhaber to make a perfect cross, and unfortunately, Feilhaber makes the perfect cross. 1 Dwyer Goal 1

Dwyer's run should look very similar to this heartbreaker. Notice the space Bobby Burling has to attack the ball from a deep position. 1 Burling Goal 1

As Feilhaber is about to strike the ball, Palmer recognizes Dwyer's run and forces Larentowicz to pick up Ellis. Unfortunately, Palmer's momentum pulls him away from goal as Dwyer streaks by and Larentowicz picks up the goal-side Ellis too late. In the other battle, Myers charges past Ianni to the near post. Peterson retreats from his mark to make a late run reacting to Feilhaber's cross. 1 Dwyer Goal 2

Feilhaber curls the ball around Amarikwa and hits the target. Hurtado just misses the clearance and there are three SKC attackers in prime position to finish the cross. Also, Myers finishes his run to the near post uncontested to clean up any rebound or finish any headed pass across the six. There are nine Fire defenders inside the 18 and only four SKC attackers, all of which beat their marks. This is unacceptable set piece defending. Shuttle runs for everyone. Double because it's against SKC. Triple for the man markers. 1 Dwyer Goal 3

More Determination on the Wings

Here's a continuing pet peeve of mine from last year: lack of determination defending crosses from the wings. Applying pressure on a cross is the minimum defensive effort I expect from a winger. Blocking the cross would be great, winning the ball would be awesome, but making life difficult for the attacker is all I really ask for.

The sequence starts off well with Patrick Nyarko hustling to drop back and defend the left wingback Igor. 2 Dwyer Miss 1

Igor cuts back and faces the across the field. Ideally, Nyarko would force Igor to stay wide limiting the space into which to dribble and forcing a longer cross or pass to a dangerous area. However, Igor now has the entire field to work with and an easy pass available to him. Nyarko can still defend this play rather easily, though. 2 Dwyer Miss 2

One can assume Igor's strong foot is his left as he operates on the left side of the field so Nyarko can close down that space forcing Igor to pass or cross with his right foot limiting his accuracy. Also, Palmer is in a good position providing cover if Igor cuts back again to the outside and beats Nyarko or to close down the easy pass. 2 Dwyer Miss 3

Instead, Nyarko holds his position allowing Igor to take yet another touch to set up his next move. Notice the ocean of space and the huge window in front of Igor. This kind of defending will get you razzed in a Monday night league game, let alone against one of the top teams in the MLS Eastern Conference. Nyarko has the speed to gamble a little bit defensively and still be able to close down an attacker or get in position to cover the fullback should he get beat. 2 Dwyer Miss 4

Nyarko never even attempted to close down Igor, which opened the Filth Dimension in the Fuego Box. Dwyer makes his run at goal and Igor sends his cross through the window. This is an after practice training ground play at this point. 2 Dwyer Miss 5

It's all over but the finish now. Luckily, Dwyer hits the post. Extra shuttle run for you, Patrick. 2 Dwyer Miss 6


The back four had a much better game against SKC not allowing many chances through the run of play. The wings continue to be an area of concern for me. Keep an eye on the wingers and the space they allow to cross. Against teams with dangerous crossers (like Real Salt Lake), this will continue to ruin clean sheets for the Fire defense.