HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 13: A general view of the MLS, Fussball Herren, USA march ball on the field during the first half of the Major League Soccer game between the New York Red Bulls and Minnesota United on March 13, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire SOCCER: MAR 13 MLS - Minnesota United at New York Red Bulls Icon220332609

Toronto after a heartbreaking loss in the CONCACAF final had to recover and welcomed the next opponent, the Chicago Fire. They showed a really strong attacking game, which realised in two quick goals in the early stage of the match. However, Veljko Paunovic’s man was able to improve a little and they scored two late goals, thus save a point.

Chicago struggling to make chances

Toronto clearly dominates the first period of the game. They scored two goals and managed to cut the guests attacking attempts. Which was due to their pressing scheme. For much of the first half, they displayed strong defensive control in their 4-5-1/4-4-2 shape against the ball. Against Fire’s build-up, the home side was able to control the middle area and thus reduce the Fire’s ability to progress through the centre of the pitch. In some cases they only option was to reach the opponent’s half to use long balls.

Toronto often created an environment where they could reduce all the options and had instant access to all Chicago Fire players. In this phase, they used a man-oriented manner. The striker, Giovinco mark the ball-near side-back and the midfield line positioned fairly high to mark all the passing options. So, Ellis with the ball had to choose long balls to get through this defensive wall. However, these balls most of the time means for the Chicago to lost possession.

Furthermore, if they somehow managed to get through the pressing, they had a new task to find a free man and make changes. But Toronto’s man-oriented manner appeared in the defensive phase also. Again, Ellis had the ball, but there was no clear option who could receive the ball without heavy pressure. Now, it’s come to clear that the biggest advantage of man-marking is the immediate access the opponents.

After the first period, Chicago changed his formation a little bit in order to get control on the midfield. So, Schweinsteiger moved up to the midfield and formed a 2-5-3 shape while they had the ball.

Chicago Fire’s narrow shape could not deal with Toronto wing-focused attacks

As usual, Chicago formed a narrow shape. Especially the front three. Against what the line-up indicated, Katai mostly positioned in the forward line and Collier was, who dropped sometimes. Veljko Paunovic usually asks the last line (Collier, Katai and Nikolic) to maintain a centre position to keep the opponents out of that area and forced to the wings. You can see this below.

However, Toronto used this against the guests, because to was a common pattern that builds up in the right wing. Pass to the Auro and than Hasler or Giovinco. Their two goals were due to this. In the build-up, Chicago also used man-marking, for example, Adams marked Victor tightly and Collier dropped to marked Aketxe or Delgado. While Nikolic and Katai press the centre backs. But in the end, this was not as effective as Toronto used, because of the fact that home side could always find a way to escaping the pressure and advanced to higher areas. The most distinctive characteristic of Toronto’s game with the ball is their approach based on quick vertical progressions on the flanks, especially on the right wing. They often pass to the right fullback, then make a quick progress in the right wing as you can see below.

Again, they marked the midfield options and pressed the ball-carrier. it looks promising, until Bradley or Van Der Wiel pass to the wing, to Auro.

Then when they played out the press they found a lot of space in the half space. Because of the two wingbacks (Ellis and Vincent) had to drop to the defensive line to follow the Toronto’s wingers. Therefore, Adams and McCarty had to defend the horizontally the whole width of the pitch. Obviously, this was far to much space for the two midfielders. In this example, Adams followed Aketxe infield which open space for the ball-carrier. In the far side, Ellis had also had to move in more centre position to mark Osorio. Remain narrow giving the Toronto full-back more space to receive a ball. Thus they could influence the opponent’s positioning and open space for Morgan (fullback).

On a couple of occasions were in the first half when they could prevent the opponent’s progression or even get the ball back. For example this situation.

The key was Katai and Nikolic position, who used cover shadow to block the wings and therefore the outlet. Thus the only option for the possession side to pass back to the keeper and use long ball.

The large part of the second half the guests controlled the game. Although they were in possession, they were lack of making scoring chances. Which was due to their struggling to breakthrough Toronto’s defence. They did not use combinations that could manipulate the opponent’s man-marking defence. However, they had some minor success. In some situations, the way to progress was to targeting the forwards who dropped with long balls then layoff to the team-mates. As you see below, Katai and Collier moved deep around the halfway line, but the Toronto players followed them, therefore they were under heavy pressure when receiving the ball. In this situation, Schweinsteiger moved towards the ball to receive the layoff.

By the way, the German legend got a quite free role in order to take advantage of his great skills. So, he popped up everywhere to help.

Another improvement was the ability to stop the home side progress and attacks. In the second half, the Fire’s 5-3-2 shape looked much more effective and coherent. They were able to close down the wings much more times. For example Nikolic the Hungarian striker dropped to help McCarty and Collier also followed his man into the deeper area. McCarty movement was vital in this situation to prevent passes to higher Toronto players. He used his cover shadow to block the passing lane. Also noticeable Schweinsteiger position. He often moved to the front line to press the opponent.

Chicago worked a lot to get the equalising goal, they succeeded in the final minutes, but truth to be told none of their goals was from open play which is a big issue. And also a big mistake from the home side. Toronto after the 2 goals lead moved into a too defensive manner and they could not keep their lead.