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When you’re in need of victories, as the Chicago Fire have been this season, sometimes you need to change things up.
A personnel swap here, a tactical shift there, all done in the name of trying to pick up three points.
Against the Philadelphia Union last week, Fire coach Raphael Wicky opted to switch things up, going from the near-standard 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2 setup.
But Saturday night against Atlanta United, lining up in the 3-5-2 nearly was worth its weight in gold.
The Fire rolled to a 3-0 win at Soldier Field, picking up just their second victory of the season.
“I always want a team who can play with a back four or back five, and that’s what we have right now,” Wicky said. “But at the end of the day, that’s a shape, that’s the system. You have to put in the discipline, the work rate, the hard work, and that really doesn’t depend on a back four or back three or back five, however you want to call it.
“Today the team was very disciplined and they did a good job defending the spaces and did a good job in being aggressive.”
Designated player Ignacio Aliseda scored his first two goals of the season — both coming in the first half — and picked up an assist when Przemysław Frankowski added a third in the 58th minute.
Aliseda was deployed in a number of spots against Atlanta (2-3-6, 12 points), at times supporting striker Robert Berić or playing wide opposite Frankowski when the Fire (2-7-2, 8 points) occasionally shifted to a 3-4-3.
“I do enjoy playing in the middle more,” Aliseda said through a team interpreter. “I was a little bit behind Berić and a little bit on the left, a little bit in the middle or playing out wide with Frankie. But you always have to be ready to play whatever position (Wicky) puts you in and do it the best way possible.”
Switching to the 3-5-2 — or 5-3-2, depending on how it’s drawn up — is not new for Wicky. He made the same shift last season for the MLS Is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Fla., playing with three central defenders and two wide players deputized as wingbacks — players who float somewhere between a traditional fullback and an attack-minded winger.
Jonathan Bornstein, who had not started since the 2-0 loss to the Union in the fourth match of the season, returned to the starting XI playing as the left-most center back next to Mauricio Pineda and Johan Kappelhof.
The moves partially were due to a few key absences in captain Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) and designated player Gastón Giménez (Paraguay), who were away on international duty with their national teams.
Still, with the Fire looking to build some kind of positive run of form, a subtle change such as playing with a fifth defender, even in an attacking position, can make a seismic shift.
But so can a change in attitude, midfielder Álvaro Medrán said.
“It seems that the tactical change suited the team very well,” he said through a team interpreter, “but more than any technical change I think the change in attitude has been what’s really made the difference. Because when all the players are together, it makes a difference.”