Even as a hard, gritty snow falls like windblown sand in the faces of earthbound Chicagoans, it grows continually hard to deny that, with every day, spring is creeping ever nearer. For supporters of the Chicago Fire that feeling has accelerated over the past few days with the finalizing of several very large and important moves.
The team and front office have made such strides over the offseason that the air swirling around the coming season has recently been rather sweetly scented with an aroma of cautious optimism, but there were still some stray notes of uncertainty. There was the matter of the team's jersey sponsorship with Quaker, which expired at the start of the 2015 season. Then there was the matter of the lingering, will-they-or-won't-they dance between the club and Wigan Athletic midfielder Shaun Maloney who expressed interest in joining the club only to see negotiations stall. Finally, a television deal had yet to be reached or announced.
There was a time when the annual Major League Soccer SuperDraft meant something, to the league, to its constituent clubs, to its players. But somewhere after 2012 the wheels started to come off and things have shifted. The event had logos designed for it each year that echoed other leagues' All-Star events, and it was even broadcast on television, usually on ESPN2. Since the 2012 SuperDraft the event has been relegated in a sense, falling to ESPN News and ESPN3, with this year's being solely streamed live on YouTube; there hasn't been a new logo for the event since 2013. This is not to be construed as doomsaying, just that the event -- which took place this Thursday in Philadelphia -- felt like a labored gasp from a player allocation system wearing out its usefulness.
The prevailing wisdom regarding player development in soccer is that the academy is king, developing players fit to operate within a system that is tightly plotted from the club technical director on down. This approach is one that has born fruit in the past few years, as MLS clubs' academies have finally begun to see their products come of age and get signed to their club under the auspices of being a "homegrown" player. This gives an even greater sense of accomplishment for clubs, as they have not simply gone and bought the best players in the league, but carefully scouted and developed talent on their own.
Snow is a phenomenon often taken as a given in wintertime, but it really often relies on a rather specific set of circumstances falling into place before things come tumbling down from the skies. The conditions, from low-pressure weather systems to the presence of atmospheric particles that act as ice nuclei around which crystals form, are many and complex. So too, then, is the situation the same for Major League Soccer in the winter transfer season, that it relies on a confluence of events happening at just the right moment to produce something wonderful, though it can often end up ruining things just the same.
Take the MLS season, for instance, which is one of a handful of domestic leagues in the world that doesn't adhere to the FIFA calendar. That schedule, set by the sport's international governing body, sees a majority of countries leagues play their season from August to May, with several week-long breaks implemented to allow for international team play. MLS operates on a schedule that runs from March until November, and does not always allot space for international games along the way. More discussion on that will be had later, though.
There is something subtly nefarious about Major League Soccer's Expansion Draft, an uneasy air that hangs like the smothering silence, perfuming the moments directly following a fight. Are these apologies sincere? Will things ever be the same? This rankness occurs because the Expansion Draft necessitates that each MLS team specify the players on their roster they wish to protect and those whom they will leave vulnerable, potentially allowing them to be snatched away at random.
These moves are part of the business, surely, as players in the professional sports are a uniquely liquid asset when contract situations do not interfere. But for the soccer players in MLS, the Expansion Draft has a potent psychological effect, essentially placing them into one camp, valuable, or the other, expendable. That there can be only 11 protected from draft consideration means that several key players find themselves momentarily separated from their home side.
It has been said here before but it bears repeating that 2015 is going to be a big year for Major League Soccer. It will see the addition of new teams in Orlando and New York City, as well as attention-getting designated player signings like David Villa, Frank Lampard and Kaka. Quite simply the profile of the league will have never been higher. With such exposure comes a chance for teams around the league to cement their reputations, for this surely is the time for a host of new first impressions. Much like the pains a student entering high school will take to strategically position themselves anew, so too will the Fire have the ability to reframe themselves in the eyes of new fans.
Even before the postseason ended with this past Sunday's MLS Cup final, the Fire had made some moves which showed a desire to significantly rebuild the team. Shortly after the end of the regular season the team chose to re-sign only six players -- of a total 17 -- who were out of contract. Among the 11 who found themselves potentially on the outs included team mainstays Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare, though the team is open to negotiating new contracts after a new collective bargaining agreement is established. Both of last season's loanees, Benji Joya and Grant Ward, saw their loan options declined as well.
In a season bereft of high points, Friday night's game against the Houston Dynamo easily stands as the highest one for the Fire. It was already a game suffused with emotional weight, given that it marked the end of Logan Pause's storied 12-year-long career with the Fire, as well as the end of another year of underperforming despite having a solid lineup. Few could imagine the pieces falling into place as well as they did on the evening, creating a memorable moment to honor a team legend as he left the field, as well as imbuing the team and fans with a sense of positive momentum heading into the offseason.
For late October the practically summery weather seemed to telegraph the charmed nature of the evening from well before first kick. The nearly full stadium, many who had turned out specifically to send off Pause, were in spirits obviously buoyed by the occasion and the near-mint fall night. Chants and songs rang out as they are wont to do, though most had been tailored to honor Pause as he took the field sporting once again the Captain's armband, as he had done for many of the dozen years he had spent with the team.
There may not exist such a thing as a universal experience, but in Chicago the winter is the great leveler of all peoples. Perhaps only those residents of high rise buildings with heated garage spots are exempt from the ignominy of this greediest of seasons, showing up early and hanging around long after its welcome has been worn out.
With the winter comes that recurring tradition wherein a thick, calloused sheath forms around the hearts of Chicago sports fans, inuring them against the perfecta of both supporting their teams outdoors, in the cold, and having the team in question do precious little to justify enduring such conditions. This protective tissue is akin to the peritoneum, the membrane surrounding the vital organs in the abdomen, or like the fat of a confit, insulating against that which would otherwise spoil the contents. How else to explain the routinely disappointing Bears seasons compared to the number of fans willing to weather elements that are positively Shackletonian?
In my travels and experiences outside our shared shores I have stumbled upon a curiously cross-cultural drink that is, well, anything but cultured. To put it more acutely, it is something uniquely high and low class all in one go; the kind of proposition at which you might laugh or wrinkle your nose. At least until quaffed, when it washes over you in a giddy rush. This potable chimera goes by a host of names across a swath of countries: most famously it is called kalimotxo in Spain; bambus in Croatia and the Balkans; jote in Chile; and something quite ribald (which I dare not write here) in German. It is a drink so simple, made of equal parts of two liquids so common, that it is a shock it doesn't have more traction here stateside. I'm talking about the combination of red wine and Coca-Cola.
Call it what you will, but this blend, which I am loath to dub a cocktail, combines pleasures of both youth and adulthood into something sublime. Yet the entire time you're intimately aware of the components, they never transcend their original state, but then, they aren't supposed to. This is not a beverage particularly interested in subtlety. It is a party drink, to be enjoyed among friends and shared; to spread good feelings to those around.
It has been a week of ups and downs for our fair city's professional soccer club. Last night the Fire traveled to Tukwila, Washington to take on the ascendant Sounders in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a contest that has long been Chicago's specialty of winning. The club will unfortunately have to wait for next year's tournament, having been knocked out in stupefying fashion by the Sounders. Seattle need only capture the trophy once more to tie the Fire as the most dominant MLS team in the history of the Cup, having won it four times since 1998.
But before we get to the breakdown of that game, let us look back to Sunday night's home game, where the Fire took on the visiting Red Bulls of New York.
Earlier this week, supporters of the Chicago Fire felt an unfamiliar frisson of anticipation rush through their collective consciousness. It was a startling moment, rippling goose-flesh and drying saliva among many in the Greater Chicago Area. It all started with a tweet from MLS Transfers, quoting Alexi Lalas, which indicated that a deal was in the works to bring US Men's National Team star Jermaine Jones to the Fire. That this information was leaked less than 30 minutes before Chicago's Wednesday clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps -- a tepid 0-0 draw unable to provide even a modicum of intrigue -- seemed a calculated move, overshadowing the inaction on the field and sending tongues a-wagging. The number being tossed around was in the range of $3 million, a relative steal when a player of his caliber is concerned, but also a sign that owner Andrew Hauptman was serious about opening the vault door for the right player.
Jones, one of the biggest surprises on the US squad at the 2014 World Cup, would be the creative spark that the Fire currently lack in the midfield, bringing a ferocious competitive nature and real athleticism. As well he would be salve on the wound that came two weeks earlier when the Fire missed out on bringing DaMarcus Beasley back home, seeing him instead don the orange of the Houston Dynamo.
Last night's game was one rife with before and after. Frank Yallop, before becoming the head coach of the Chicago Fire, was the head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes. Marc Watson, before becoming the head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, was Frank Yallop's Assistant Coach. Jon Busch, before becoming the starting goalkeeper for the Quakes, was the starting goalkeeper for the Chicago Fire. Before the game, both teams were struggling against irrelevancy in rebuilding seasons, with Chicago sitting 7th in the 10-team Eastern Conference, having managed only 20 points over 18 games; and San Jose sitting in 9th place in the 9-team Western Conference, having earned just 17 points in 17 games.
Both teams, however, have seemed not terribly concerned about the speed with which they arrive at the after of their current situation. And before tonight this game would have looked like a bit of a cakewalk for the Fire, traipsing into Buck Shaw Stadium and nabbing 3 points from a team on what had already been a 5 game winless streak. Add to that the loss of San Jose player Steven Lenhart, a late scratch from the lineup, and the team looked to be playing from the back foot even before kickoff.
It has been nearly a fortnight since Germany's triumph over Argentina in Brazil, where they claimed their fourth title, their first as a unified nation, and became the first European team to win a Cup in South America. For those who followed the tournament closely this past month and a half consumed most, if not all, waking life, often stealing into the land of dreams along the way. Time seemingly slipped out of gear, running in slow motion for the length of the tournament, causing 30 days to feel easily 2-3 times as long. This can be chalked up to the volume of games played, which at one point was as high as four matches in a single day, but is also attributable to a phenomenon known as stress-induced slow motion perception. This persistent action and observation has had an effect not unlike that of being in a near-miss accident, or partaking in any other such adrenaline-surging activity.
The aforementioned phenomenon is one that we've heard countless times, where individuals recount that, during a time when their fight-or-flight instincts kick in, they experience the sensation that time has slowed down, whereby affording them the clarity that they would otherwise lack in an everyday situation. It has been debunked, alas, by Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman through some very interesting science involving devices known as perceptual chronometers and participants being dropped in free-fall from 150 ft. The basic idea behind the feeling of slow-motion lies in the amygdala, which ends up gathering much more information about the situation than usual. When the event is over the recollection of how time passed turns out to be skewed. Just as increasing the film speed on a camera causes the images to play back in slow motion, so too does the storing of these extra memories, rendering the recollection to last longer, each detail more pronounced.
The worldwide spectacle of the FIFA World Cup, the quadrennial celebration of the beautiful game of soccer is just days away. And while the sport is often dismissed here at home it is unavoidably growing in popularity in the past years. It has progressed from snaky, grasping tendrils seeking purchase at the start of the century to now, where networks are spending nearly triple what they had in years past to secure broadcast rights. The domestic game has never been stronger as it prepares to enter what analysts are anticipating to be its golden year in 2015, when it will debut its 20th and 21st teams in New York and Orlando, and begin its largest ever television deal with ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and Univision all broadcasting weekly matches.
But this is not just about the state of soccer in America, this is about the World Cup, the planet's largest sporting event. It is about the coming together of people from all nations to watch the biggest stars in the game, to gorge on the smörgåsbord of abundant narrative and intrigue. It is a time when the hopes of nations ride on the backs of just 23 men, and spirits rise and fall with their undulations. The World Cup is simply a month-long festival of the theatrics of sports, played on an incredibly macro level, soundtracked by the fierce tattoo of thudding hearts around the globe.
Consider the life of an athlete, the constant repetition of training, trying always to be better than you were the day before. The need to judiciously streamline your concentration, pruning snaking tangents of thought so as to keep focus in key moments. Such intense mental and physical discipline must come at a great cost, unless one is able to compartmentalize, keeping separate the spheres of life and performance.
This spartan lifestyle has indeed taken its toll on many of the world's finest athletes. Usually we hear about it when their tensions cause them to go supernova, exploding in colorful, public fashion. Less often are we privy to those whose cores collapse, imploding under the weight of impossible expectation. This is, it would seem, precisely what happened to Landon Donovan, of the Los Angeles Galaxy and the US Men's National Team, whose leave of absence from the sport in 2013 to refresh mentally may have ultimately cost him a trip to his fourth World Cup.
Among the evergreen criticisms one continually hears levied against soccer are those of scores being too low and that play on the field is slow. These concerns are usually largely superficial, dismissing the nuances of the game. It must be a similar subset of individuals who deride symphonic music as being a soporific affair, little more than an expensive lullaby in a well appointed sitting room. One is surely allowed their own tastes, though there are times when these sorts of decisions are rooted in one-off encounters or a general distaste for the unfamiliar. Put another way, I have loathed olives since the first moment I popped one in my mouth in 6th grade during an interactive segment on Homer's Odyssey, but of late I am want to order dishes in which they will be found in hopes that I will come to appreciate their characteristics.
And what characteristics there were on display this past Saturday when the Fire traveled to Harrison, New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls in an absolutely stunning game of soccer which saw both teams leave absolutely everything they had on the field. Sometimes the game rises to meet its detractors face to face, showing its speed and ability to devolve into a flurry of goals that is both exciting and stressful in equal measure.
In season two of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, scorned schemer Tyrion Lannister warns his sister Cersei that he will one day exact his revenge on her when she least expects it. The exact phrase that Tyrion utters is chilling, as he tells her that she will have to live the rest of her days in cautious dread. "A day will come," he tells her, "when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid."
This weekend's Chicago Fire game saw the Men in Red lining up against Real Salt Lake, who came into Saturday as the only unbeaten side in MLS after 8 weeks. It was precisely the kind of match that cultivated the selfsame air of cautious dread for Fire fans. Two teams with only one loss between them, but acres of space separating their individual results. The Fire missed out on the playoffs last year, while Real Salt Lake only missed hoisting the MLS Cup after losing on penalty kicks in the final. Chicago's record entering the game was 0-1-6, while Salt Lake had a record of 3-0-5.
Soccer has many emotional states, from chest-gripping anxiety to tear-streaming elation, but few are as complicated as the sour relief of a draw. It is a mark to show that your team is a worthy contender, but it also makes very clear that you're only so much of a contender.What is it about a draw in sports that is so frightening to Americans? As the saying goes, a tie is "like kissing your sister." Is it really so bad? Granted the phrase is a bit dated, initially attributed to Navy football coach Eddie Erdelatz in 1953, but it is still in use today. So do we really think it is akin to this act of familial frenching? In taking a look at a recent baseball game we can see that yes, the fear is real still. On April 3rd the Cubs played a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates for nearly six hours in search of a win. In fact, under the rules of Major League Baseball, a game may call it a night at 1:00am local time and resume the following day simply to avoid this deadlock. The longest game in MLB was played in such a scenario here in Chicago at Comiskey Park, spanning 25 innings, two days, and over 8 hours of play in total. And this is a sport which plays 162 games a year. So, like kissing one's own sibling, you say? Not nearly.
A draw is an interesting space, between win and loss, between agony and ecstasy, it is the purgatory of the sports world. And yet in the sport of soccer it is not only an acceptable result, but a strategically important one as well. This is because, unlike other sports domestic, there is not just a binary in place for a season record. For a win, three points are awarded, for ties a single point, and a loss results in zero points; standings are determined based on those point totals.
In these United States April is designated National Poetry Month, perhaps a cheeky nod to T.S. Eliot's denunciation of it as "the cruellest month," though too because no single month inspires as much introspection as that positioned between winter's abject brutalism and summer's all-encompassing hedonism. What more does the soul need than to sound its barbaric yawp as the western hemisphere transitions, shaking off the hoary frost of hibernation, pining for the summer past and spring to come. Flowers are yet but firm seeds, suffused with potential in the dusky loam; the rains fall, ceaseless and grey, upon a huddled populace; and Major League Soccer is like a toddler exploring an orange for the first time, struggling to get beyond the bitter rind, inside which lies a brilliant, bright treasure. Fingernails digging in hard flesh, the squish of juice underneath singing sweet, sticky songs of summers yet to come.
Which is to say that play is slow-going these days. Here in the city of wind, home to both the Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, we are especially suited to enjoy the marriage of these two art forms, often cherished the world over but little embraced at home. The obvious among us may come to the simple conclusion that they are linked because the sport of soccer, reductively referred to daily as 'the beautiful game,' is poetry in motion. It is not. In fact, that is a phrase that has long since lost all meaning by sheer dint of repetition, though American society has a way of doing that at an accelerated pace anymore.
If you were to taste the most delicious apple in the world, all crisp, juicy flesh, far beyond being the paragon of tart sweetness, what would you do? Would you not, after having savored every succulent bite, try to find a way to keep this flavor in your life? Surely, you might think, this is just as easy as saving the seeds from the core and planting them in the ground, your careful stewardship bearing literal fruit for the rest of your life and beyond. If you were to go to these lengths though, the apples you'd pluck from the tree would be a sour affront to your avaricious aspirations, a flavor far removed from the ambrosia from whose seeds it had sprouted.
This is due to the fact that apples are considered extreme heterozygotes, meaning that when they reproduce their offspring contain such wildly different DNA that they bear little resemblance to the parent. Because of this heterozygosity, an apple variety is only able to continue its propagation through the process of grafting, where a limb of a successful tree, the scion, is joined with a host tree, the rootstock, and over time the desired fruit will grow just as it had originally. In order for this graft to take, there must be a strong bond through which will flow the lifeblood of the tree and if this bond is not properly forged, the graft may die off.
It is perhaps too easy to look at the facts of a sporting contest, whether it be the final or box score, and form a point of view without having seen minute of the game in question. Why do we care so much for results? Does not a win achieved, but otherwise unearned, blot out a poor team performance? So too does a draw in what could have very easily been a loss. This is what was on display in our nation's capitol this last Saturday, where a hung-over looking Fire were able to pull level with DC United thanks to some late match heroics. The team seemed out of sorts, which could be attributable to the rainy atmosphere or the dire attendance at RFK Stadium, and hopefully this will have been a teachable moment for them.
Before the breakdown let's take a look at where the team was this time last year, shall we? After the first four matches of the 2013 season the Fire were facing some pretty dire straits, with a record of zero wins, one draw and three losses. They had been scored on nine times, and only netted one goal, which came in a 4-1 loss to Chivas USA. Their one draw had come off a 0-0 result at Kansas City. At present the Fire have a record of 0-1-3 (3 points). All of this is to say that if the result on Saturday, and to a larger extent the whole of this new season, leaves something to be desired, things are better than they were already last year and can only go up from here.
Cold weather, the Midwest's chief commodity behind indefatigable kindness, is little more than a burden to the citizenry but it can be a boon to its outdoor athletes. For soccer players cold weather prevents overheating when running the field, allowing the game to stay at a higher tempo for a longer duration. There are other aspects to this as well, such as the reduced coefficient of restitution between the ball and the players' feet, leading to better first touch; this also has the effect of playing long balls and high-velocity shots harder in equal measure, it should be noted. This bracing briskness can also catch a visiting side unawares, as seen in games like last year's SnowClasico, when the US Men's National Team played Costa Rica amid a blizzard in Colorado.
For the most part those conditions were on full display Sunday, as the Chicago Fire opened the 2014 season at Toyota Park. Though temperatures had been on the rise since the mid-week, late Saturday night saw a steep decline and even snow accumulation, making for a chilly game day in Bridgeview. The cold seems to bring out something extra in fans as well, and they came out in force; despite the below-freezing weather there were 16,228 on hand to kick-off the 2014 season at home. With those factors at play, the Fire were able to grind out a 1-1 draw against last year's Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls, improving to 0-1-2 but still searching for the form they seized upon last year.
The ceaseless march of time has been a perennial topic for reflection and lamentation in literature and art. This is beyond understandable. For as the wheel of time turns, we find ourselves oscillating between three extremes: either wishing time would slow down, so that we could hold onto a present moment longer; that time would hurry up, so we can get to the next of those moments we'd like to savor; or, wondering where all of those moments have gone. In Western art we see this represented through works of memento mori, paintings and sculptural objects meant to remind the viewer of the inevitability of death, that life is something to be cherished and well-lived.
In sports there is such a prevailing sense of immutability with star players that they seem to be exempt from time. In the prime of the Michael Jordan era, the notion that he might one day cease playing for good was a near impossibility for the mind to conceive. The fact that a sports star continues to be a person, even when their faculties for consistent production have left them, is something hard to deal with as well. This is because the story surrounding them becomes so much larger than the truth of the person at the center, and to see the narrative die long before the person, it can be immensely disheartening. Its like Superman somehow being killed, but Clark Kent living on.
Following the the growth of soccer in America can feel like speculating on the fortunes of Silicon Valley start-ups. Trying to divine what will catch on with the country at large can be maddening. The shifting desires of consumers aren't easily distilled into numbers and analytics, leaving concepts that seem a sure bet to wither, where odd ideas often flourish. Look no further than Pinterest and Twitter as examples of services that seemingly few were clamoring for before their debut, but their universal presence in daily life shows the genius-level foresight of their creators.
Recently Major League Soccer received perhaps the most heartening news of its young life, when ESPN published the results of a survey indicating that there were as many young fans following MLS as there were interested in Major League Baseball. This, if you're watching the growth of soccer in America, is quite a heartening signal that this start-up has legs. In time, this survey suggests, the league will grow into something with the kind of ubiquitous acceptance afforded other sports in America. MLS is something worth speculating on, it would seem.
The first game of a sports team's season has so much riding on it that the product on the field can often seem irrelevant, the only thing of import is the outcome. If the team had ended the previous season on the skids, then a loss is seen as proof of futility right out of the gate, whereas a win is taken with a grain of salt, and without much hope allotted for the remainder of the season. The same can be true for a team that appears to have all of the necessary parts in place to dominate at the season's outset. If they are to win, this is further proof of their unstoppable power, surely a sign of good things to come. Meanwhile, a loss can signal Titanic-style panic; here we have placed our faith in something that looked unsinkable on paper, but on the field it proves mightily fallible.
The fact of the matter is that the first game of the season has little consequence behind it, even for a team like the Fire who missed out on last season's playoffs for want of one more regular season win than they ended with. Sunday saw the Fire open the 2014 losing 3-2 to Chivas USA out in Carson, California, but it isn't cause for alarm. That the Fire dropped 3 points on the road is lamentable, but there are bigger takeaways than this to be seen.
The onset of another season of Major League Soccer is not something to be taken for granted. The league, entering its 18th season this weekend, has tallied fewer anniversaries than the average, non-polydactylic human has fingers and toes. These are rare, despite being annual events. For fans of American soccer each successive season serves to further cement the league's status, showing that it is not a fluke, and that it will soon become a permanent part of the sporting firmament. It is how I imagine The Blueprint 2-era Jay-Z must have felt: putting out work light years beyond where he started, respected by those in the know and yet still about a decade away from universal cultural acceptance.
For Hova, as it were, that ascendancy alone would have plateaued were it not for his marriage to Beyonce, a superstar pairing which further legitimized the status of both artists. If one is to look forward, MLS has two such weddings on the horizon, adding a similar jolt of cross-cultural appeal and interest. These are, of course, the coming franchises in New York and Miami, which will usher in a new era of wealthy, internationally recognized teams—Manchester City & the Yankees—as well as former stars—David Beckham—taking serious interest in the growth of the sport domestically. Now is the time for the league to have its 'Crazy in Love' moment, where it loudly proclaims, with new-found confidence in its talents, that it has completed its growth from near-miss to can't miss.
In 2012 when the Chicago Fire were campaigning for Austin Berry to be named the MLS Rookie of the Year, mocked-up cereal boxes featuring his face and statistics were sent out to members of the media. This was as much a move done to highlight Berry as to showcase the newly-forged partnership between the team and the Quaker Oats Company, and as such they used one of Quaker's cereal boxes.
It is now oddly poetic to look back at these promotional materials, to see Berry looking the very quintessence of a defender: stoic, impregnable, a statue of a sportsman; for today he is a Fire player no longer, traded to the Philadelphia Union for allocation money. There is innate truth, humor, and a wry sadness to be found when viewing this through the crooked lens of time. Using Life as the cereal of choice must have seemed sound at the time, an evocation of the vim and vigor on display in Berry who made the transition from college standout to first team mainstay remarkably easily, but now it is like laughter echoing from another room. The revolving door that is professional sports has been pushed, but then, such is Life.
In a romantic relationship there comes a time when individual identity recedes and the partners forge ahead as a unit. A hallmark of this comes when, eventually, you find yourself swapping out singular pronouns for plural; when the I and my become we and ours. This is a move met with some degree of consternation in circles masculine, where individuality is to be protected above all else. Man is, after all, an island, if you practice selective reading. Yet in the world of sports, as we are told ad nauseum, there is no capital I individuality. It is surely nowhere to be found in the word team, and even less in fan. We becomes the most natural expression to escape your lips when speaking of your team. The truth about being a fan is that you are entering into a relationship with your team, with its players, its front office, and all attendant properties.
The business of American sports today is all about romancing the fan. In this era of time-shifted television consumption, live sports are the one commodity which command real-time viewing. The NFL alone held 34 of the 35 top watched programs for the fall quarter of 2013. As such, higher and higher production values are applied, and coverage has been maximized. We have also been conditioned such that we expect to see teams and players operating at the zenith of their talents. Teams in the top three leagues in America--the NFL, MLB, and NBA--are virtually peerless on the world stage. The games we witness today define the highest echelon of their sport, something which is hard to overstate. Records are set and re-broken in dizzying fashion.
The Chicago Fire participated Wednesday in a weighted lottery between 3 teams in MLS for the ability to sign United States Youth National Team player Benji Joya and emerged the victor, signing him on a one year loan. Joya, a 20-year-old midfielder played previously with Santos Laguna of Mexico's Liga MX, brings an interesting perspective to the team, having forgone the collegiate route to sign with one of the top clubs in Mexico. Joya has also been a fixture in the National Team picture, having started nearly every game in his time with the Under-20 National Team, even serving as captain for last summer's CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Joya's career for Santos' senior team was relatively short, just four appearances over two years, but it is clear from his time with the National Team that he is a player of significant talent, and is just getting started professionally. He could be an impact signing for the Fire in 2014, but that will be contingent of whether or not he can get minutes. He will be vying for a spot in a midfield that sees all four of last year's starters return, so initially expect to see him come in as a second-half substitute. According to a piece by Brian Sciaretta in the New York Times, Joya's strength is as an attacking right midfielder, a position which has been occupied at times by Patrick Nyarko. Nyarko has a great deal of speed, and can slot in at forward as well, but with the return of 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee and Designated Player Juan Luis Anongono, one has to imagine Nyarko will see more minutes in the midfield.
All of this is to be tempered though, by the fact that head coach Frank Yallop will have the opportunity to rethink the team with regards to positional depth in the coming weeks while the Fire complete pre-season training in Ave Maria, Florida, and that we could see a very different-looking group of players taking the field come March 8th.
To truly love sports is to love narrative above all else. There are other factors at play, to be sure, from the social to the statistical and beyond, but the syrupy essence of the addiction at its core is the story. Without this there is no rivalry, no comeback, no underdog. Each and every sporting contest can be viewed by a party unaware of the narrative, this much is true -- just look to the Cubs bleachers in the summertime -- but to actively consume it, and be consumed by it, is the thrill of the pursuit.
Scarcely is that more true than with the sport of soccer. It is famous for its simplicity -- the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, as the saying goes -- because of which there is much room for the narrative to ferment, creating drama, intrigue, and anticipation. This is that most potent of brews which, when drunk, does not satisfy the drinker and only serves to make one thirst for more. And with this being a World Cup year, the time is nigh for a bender.
After winning only two of their first ten game, the Chicago Fire have been quietly turning their season around with a 5-0-2 undefeated stretch. While 8th place in the Eastern Conference isn't where anyone thought this team would be during the offseason, the team has done extremely well to get back into playoff contention. Just as the disastrous start could be attributed to the loss of a couple of key players through injury, the turnaround started with two new signings: Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee. Both have ties to the Chicago area.
When Chris Rolfe shanked an early penalty kick in Sunday's game against New York, it looked like Fire fans were in for another long afternoon. Thankfully, a sneaky header from Daniel Paladini and two late goals from new striker Maicon Santos gave Chicago their first win of the season.
It's been an unexpectedly bad start to the season for the Fire. There was every reason for optimism. Despite a disappointing first-round playoff exit last season, the core of last year's team stayed together and a few key additions made their midfield look much more competitive. Then the Fire lost three of their first four games, only managing a lucky 0-0 tie with Kansas City to avoid four straight losses.
The Fire's return to the MLS playoffs lasted only a little more than 90 minutes. Wednesday night, in front of a home crowd, they lost 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo in a single elimination game to finish their season. It's a very disappointing end to a season that was so full of promise that it was easy to forget it was actually a rebuilding year. The focus of the off-season should be to keep the core of players together and get them a little more prepared for playoff soccer.
The playoffs are about peaking at the right time and the Fire didn't do that. I'm not sure if the Fire went winless in three games all season, but 2012 ended with a loss to New England, a tie against DC, and the loss to Houston. In the opening 20 minutes against Houston, they didn't quite look sharp enough for the playoffs. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson had too many nervy moments, they weren't as quick in the tackle as Houston, and though they managed to get behind Houston's fullbacks, they were too hesitant in executing their chances.
While they spent most of the season at the top end of the Eastern Conference, a poor finish to the regular season saw the Fire back into the playoffs with a fourth place finish. The team now hosts a tricky single elimination game against 5th seed Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Toyota Park.
While Houston hasn't exactly lit up MLS this season, it is a tough playoff draw. They made a run to the MLS Cup Final last year, and have a squad full of players that know what they are doing in the playoffs. Their manager, Dom Kinnear, has coached in big games and knows what it takes to win in a one-off occasion. Another advantage they have: when they played this weekend they already knew they'd finish in fifth place. They didn't care about winning, rested some starters, and aren't coming off the same kind of disappointment as the Fire.
For a minute, it looked like the sky was falling. A tough loss against Kansas City, followed by a demoralizing home loss to the Philadelphia Union had the Fire looking over their shoulders, in danger of missing out on a third consecutive playoff birth. The Fire responded by rolling up their sleeves and putting on a perfect road performance with a 2-0 win against a star-studded New York Red Bull team to clinch a playoff spot just in time for their 15th anniversary celebration.
The theme from the players going into the game was "back to basics" and it certainly showed on the field. The Fire closed down space on New York quickly, chased every loose ball, and defended from every position with an intensity that was only matched by coach Frank Klopas, who might have covered as much ground in the coach's box as the players did on the field - an impressive feat considering Frankie was wearing dress shoes.
While the Chicago Fire didn't necessarily celebrate its 15th anniversary in style this week by slumping to a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union, the Fire website has been running an excellent series of vides on the top 15 goals, players and games. You can check it out here. It got me reminiscing and I thought I'd chime in with my own Top 15 games as a fan. I should warn you, it's totally subjective.
15. Chicago 6 New England 0; September 22, 2000
This was the first Fire game I ever attended in person so I thought it might be best to start with. It was a cold, rainy, fairly miserable day, which might explain the playoff attendance of just under 6,000. Six thousand people at Soldier Field is a pretty depressing sight. But we got a treat, with a spectacular performance from what may still be the strongest team in the history of MLS. Practically everybody on the field was already a legend, or destined to become one. (Except Tenywa Bonseu, but he filled in OK for Lubos Kubic that day). New England right back, John Harkes, had a particularly miserable time dealing with a 33-year-old Hristo Stoichkov and a 17-year-old DaMarcus Beasley.
After a tough 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City SC on Friday, the Fire spent the rest of the weekend watching their nearest rivals make up ground on them as New York, Houston and Columbus all won and DC United tied.
The results leave Chicago in 3rd place in the East, though they can climb back to second with a win against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night. Winning the conference is out of reach unless Kansas City really drops the ball, so the Fire will be looking to shore up a playoff spot in their remaining four games.
For most of the season, it looked like the Fire would be trying to hold onto a playoff spot at this late point in the season. Instead, after winning 7 out of their last 8 games, they have a shot of winning the Eastern Conference and could qualify for the playoffs as early as this weekend.
It all comes down to a showdown away to Eastern Conference leaders Kansas City FC on Friday night. At the moment the Fire are 2 points away from Kansas City and they've played one game less than them. That means a win or a draw will put the destiny of the Eastern Conference title in the Fire's hands. Why have they been playing so well lately? In a word, forwards.
After last night's 2-1 victory over Toronto FC sent them to 2nd place, the Fire have a chance to shore up a top spot in the Eastern conference against the rapidly improving expansion team, Montreal Impact. In order to do that, they something they haven't done all season: win twice in a week.
Throughout the season, coach Frank Klopas has been hesitant to go deep into his bench and the team has suffered when they've had a quick turnover. Tired performances against Columbus and New York spring to mind.
With a 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo Sunday night at Toyota Park the Fire jumped up to third place in the Eastern Conference. The win came thanks to a quick start and a couple of gifts from the Dynamo.
Many fans hadn't taken their seats when Patrick Nyarko picked off a sloppy Houston pass and ran the ball in for a 1st minute goal. If the fans missed the first goal, Houston gave the fans a virtual instant replay 18 minutes later. This time they gave the ball away to Alvaro Fernandez, who played a pass to Sherjill MacDonald who found Daniel Paladini breaking from midfield to put the Fire 2-0 up.
In a surprising turn of events, the Chicago Fire announced that midfielder Marco Pappa will be transferring to Heerenveen SC immediately. It's a direct U-Turn from the previous announcement that he would be finishing out the Fire's season before his departure to the Dutch club.
This isn't the first confusing personnel move from the Fire this season. No sooner had they announced that they had extended midfielder Sebastien Grazzini's contract through the 2012 season than he packed his bags and went home to Argentina. So, the question does have to be asked, what's up with the Fire and these player contracts?
The Chicago Fire announced this morning that midfielder Marco Pappa will be signing with Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivision on Jan. 1.
The Fire have already prepared for life without Pappa with the arrival of talented winger Alvaro Fernandez from Seattle. While he'll definitely be missed, the announcement puts to rest a year of speculation about Pappa's future and ensures that he'll stick around for the Fire's playoff push.
Speaking of which, the Fire made another step towards their first playoff appearance since 2009 with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Union this weekend. After spotting the Union the first goal (in what's become a worrying trend), the Fire came back through two goals from Chris Rolfe and an Arne Friedrich header. The win moves the Fire into fourth place in the Eastern Conference and puts them within shouting distance of the Conference front-runners.
As the Chicago Fire gear up for the final months of their playoff fight, they've gotten some reinforcements. Rather than spend big money for a huge superstar, the Fire have managed to acquire two Designated Players in Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald and Seattle's Uruguayan midfielder, Alvaro Fernandez.
The move led to the exits of Colombian Rafael Rabayo and Uruguayan striker Federico Puppo, two players that never quite managed to find their footing in MLS and hadn't seen much playing time recently. Oddly for salary cap-exempt Designated Players, neither Fernandez or MacDonald are going into situations where they can be assured of playing time either.
On Saturday night it looked like the doom and gloom after last week's loss to the LA Galaxy was premature. The Fire rebounded with a convincing 1-0 win over Vancouver in which they were full of energy and enthusiasm.
Then they turned around and put in another lethargic display in a 1-0 loss to New York. So, is it back to doom and gloom? Maybe not. The Fire has already matched the number of wins they had during the entirety of last season and we haven't even gotten to the All Star game yet.
As soon as I started to get excited about the Fire's unbeaten streak, it came to a crashing halt with an ignominious 2-0 defeat at the hands of the LA Galaxy. It's the latest setback in what's been a two-step-forward, one-step-back kind of season, and possibly the most demoralizing.
For one thing, it happened in front of a sold-out Toyota Park crowd. There were a few extra thousand people than usual at the game to enjoy the first tolerable stretch of weather in days and wonder how David Beckham was going to suit up for the Galaxy when they saw him sitting in the crowd at Wimbledon that morning.
I don't want to jinx it, but the Chicago Fire is racking up a pretty impressive unbeaten run.
It started with a 3-1 demolition of New York, then came a short-handed 2-1 win against Columbus, was followed by a 1-0 smash-and-grab raid against Kansas City, and then a hard fought 0-0 tie against Houston on the road. Despite the streak, the Fire are still sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference, but they're much closer to breaking into the top three than falling out of the top five.
There are certainly times when the Fire has looked good, but they've also shown they can be hard to break down defensively. They know how to win ugly and that's an important quality in a league that crowns its champion via playoffs.
After a less-than-busy start to the season, it was hard to get a real impression of this year's Chicago Fire. Well, they've packed eight games into the last four weeks and the results were decidedly mixed. It started out well enough, with the Fire posting a draw against highly rated Real Salt Lake, a loss on Portland's postage stamp of a field, and wins against Sporting Kansas City, Chivas USA, and FC Dallas. Then the wheels fell off the bus. Or maybe the bus just ran out of gas. However you mix your metaphors, the last week hasn't been pretty. They've lost on the road to Columbus, a minor league team from Michigan, and New England.
So, while the Fire have the next two weeks to rest up and prepare for a fairly big home game against the New York Red Bulls on June 17th, it's time to reflect on the good and the bad of the past month.
It's hard to know what to make of the Chicago Fire so far this year. A late start, an early bye week and a lack of midweek games means they've only played six games so far this season. That's as few as any team in the league.
Of the games they have played, it's been hard to draw many conclusions. They tied Houston in a rain-shortened game and lost in Colorado where they always lose. The rest of their opposition, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Montreal, are likely to be closer to the bottom of the pile than the top. So when three-time US Open Cup Champion Seattle Sounders FC came to Toyota Park this weekend, it was the first chance to see how the Fire stacks up against the league's elite.
The Chicago Fire returned to league play Sunday night at Toyota Field against the Houston Dynamo, drawing 1-1 in a match that was twice delayed by lightning before being called after the second delay in the 66th minute.
It was a good sign from the Fire against one of the league's better teams, though you have to wonder if they could have done more with a full 90 against a sluggish Houston club that showed a little rust, having played their last game on March 23rd.
The Chicago Fire opened up the 2012 MLS season two weeks ago, aiming to pick up where they left off at the end of the 2011 season with seven wins in their final ten games.
Unfortunately, they've started closer to how they played for most of 2011, with one win, one loss and one draw over the first three games. In the coming weeks we'll go into some of the changes on the squad and the strengths and weaknesses of this 2012 team (hope you like midfielders!), but to get warmed up here's a recap of the start of their season.
The wise and powerful Octophant, Phineas X. Jones, has seen fit to bestow upon us a series of gorgeous designs for every corner of the Chicago sports world. Feast your eyes on our new icons for the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox, Fire and derby demons.
Hot damn! With all the excitement over the new school year, football season, and Dancing With the Stars (Hope Solo's gonna prove goalies have good feet too!), I bet you all forgot that the Chicago Fire were still playing!
But they are! And they're doing great! They're even within spitting distance of making the postseason! More important, they're hitting their stride just in time for the U.S Open Cup final against Seattle Sounders FC, set for Tuesday night in the Pacific Northwest. It's a golden chance to win some championship hardware in an otherwise dismal year of soccer for one of the most successful clubs in MLS history.
The Chicago Fire capped their four-game homestand Tuesday with a 2-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The win puts Chicago in the Open Cup final for an MLS-leading sixth time, where they'll face the Seattle Sounders for the chance to win their fifth title, tying them with two other clubs for most titles in Open Cup history, and the most out of all MLS clubs since their inclusion in the tournament in 1996.
Like England's FA Cup, the U.S. Open Cup is the United States' version of a national tournament, encompassing all levels of adult, organized soccer. Beginning with amateur clubs in the early spring, it advances via a knockout process all the way up the levels of professional soccer and a final in early fall. Seattle has won it the past two years since they became an MLS club, while Chicago likewise placed the same high importance on it upon their birth in 1998, going on to win it a league-best four times since then.
Don't look now, but due to the generous Major League Soccer playoff system and the fact that 15 ties earned them 15 points, the Chicago Fire are only five points out of a playoff spot with eight league games remaining.
After two previous ties, the wins give the Fire a four-game unbeaten streak, but more importantly, their first winning streak in league play since April of LAST season. It's only their third and fourth league wins on the year, but with 15 draws, that's enough to keep them in distant playoff contention.
In a Saturday matchup of the two MLS clubs with the most draws this season, Chicago and New York saw fit to keep things all too familiar, drawing 2-2 in an exciting match that ultimately failed to get either team over its winless hump.
New York is one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, with league-leading goal-scorer Thierry Henry up top and several other former or current national team players like Rafa Marquez (Mexico) and Tim Ream, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo (United States) also in the lineup. Yet despite a hot start, they've sputtered this summer, and Saturday's tie increased their winless streak to five matches. This draw was especially frustrating, as it came despite overwhelming pressure on Chicago, pressure that failed to capitalize on 17 shots on goal.
Days after joining the Chicago Fire as an international player, midfielder Pavel Pardo started and scored in his debut game against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, a 1-1 draw. The Fire changed their regular formation for the 35-year-old veteran, with interim head coach Frank Klopas choosing to take advantage of a glut of midfielders and start the team in a 4-5-1 formation, with midfielder and captain Logan Pause stepping into right back, a position he's filled several times in his nine-year Chicago career.
The numbers in midfield meant Chicago started out with most of the possession, and Pardo looked the comfortable cog in the defensive game plan of the Fire. Using his experience and touch, the Guadalajara native steadied the Fire in the center. His passing was evident early on, when the first great chance by either team came off his foot in the form of a long pass over the top to forward Dominic Oduro, who had gotten behind the Union's back line but was unable to corral the ball.
Well, that Manchester United game didn't start the midseason break off on a great note for Chicago, but the good news is there's still almost a week to go before their next game, a league match at home against the Philadelphia Union. While most professional teams allow their players a few days off during midseason/all-star game breaks, let's hope that the Fire are sticking around in town practicing, particularly in light of their performance so far this season.
With MLS teams taking their all-star break and European teams getting ready for their fall seasons, the opportunity has been there in recent years for mid-summer friendlies between the American squads and their world-class foreign counterparts.
Clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Everton get to make some good money playing two or four games in the United States, furthering their brand in a very unsaturated soccer market, and get some preseason minutes for their players, while MLS clubs also enjoy much-higher-than-average ticket sales and the chance to rate their team against some of the best in the world.
Thus it was that the Chicago Fire fell to Manchester United 3-1 on Saturday at Soldier Field, despite taking an early lead off the head of Cory Gibbs. Three second-half goals by substitutes Wayne Rooney, Rafael and Nani put last year's Premier League champions on top rather easily.
The Fire started essentially their best 11, with bench players coming on at various points in the second half. United, however, took the opposite approach, saving several of their starters for the second half. The difference in skill was readily apparent, and despite their best efforts, it was clear that Chicago's starters were only marginally better than United's second team.
And then when the big guns came in, the difference was incredible.
As the Major League Soccer season approaches its mid-year break, unfortunately, not much has changed for the Chicago Fire.
Still struggling to win games, the Fire last earned a league victory on June 12. Since then, they've gone 0-2-4, with vaguely impressive draws against the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake, but they clumsily lost a point against the L.A. Galaxy at home with comical defending on a David Beckham corner kick.
Their most recent loss, a 1-0 defeat to the expansion Portland Timbers (who hadn't won on the road all season and currently sit second-to-last in the Western Conference) was, well, like all the other games they haven't won. Few offensive chances, and those left unfulfilled. Close calls (like two shots on the post) and a defensive mistake resulting in an easy goal, in this case a 25th-minute penalty converted by Jack Jewsbury.
Following another scoreless draw Wednesday against Real Salt Lake, last year's MLS champions, the Chicago Fire can draw the usual conclusions: great defense in earning yet another shutout and they're still undefeated under interim coach Frank Klopas.
On the other hand, that undefeated record is 1-0-4, hardly much to get excited about. Worse, three of those games have been scoreless draws. While it's great that goalkeeper Sean Johnson and his defense are padding their stat sheets, the fact is that even in a generous league like MLS, tying all your games doesn't get you into the playoffs.
So how can the Fire improve their station?
The vagaries of MLS player allocation and roster construction are unlike every other American sports league (and unlike European soccer leagues, too), but the idea is MLS rosters are meant to be roughly equal. There is a salary cap, there's a draft, and player contracts are even negotiated by the league instead of individual teams.
But in 2007, the league instituted a rule that can give teams an advantage if their owners are willing to spend extra money.
The Designated Player Rule, nicknamed the Beckham Rule after the player it was created for, allows teams to keep two players on their roster, pay them whatever they want, and have only a portion of their salaries count against the team's salary cap.
Since last we checked, the Chicago Fire have been moving in the right direction with a pair of road results, earning a 1-0 rare win at Columbus on June 12 and a 1-1 draw at New England on Saturday.
Good momentum as they return home to Bridgeview this week, welcoming Real Salt Lake on Wednesday and the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
The win in Columbus was Chicago's first since March 26, ending a club-record winless streak that had stretched to 11 games. It was the first win since technical director Frank Klopas took the coaching reins three weeks ago, and especially impressive considering how well Columbus is playing this year.
They did it with a dramatic goal in stoppage time and another strong defensive performance, extending their shutout streak under Klopas to three games, following two previous scoreless draws.
The Chicago Fire were on the road Thursday night in Kansas City as Sporting KC played their first game in their new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park, drawing the Fire 0-0. Despite an active, end-to-end game, the only chance that found the back of the net was an offsides finish by Kansas City's Graham Zusi. Chicago's best chance came late, as Sporting's substitute goalkeeper Eric Kronberg spilled a shot that Orr Barouch rattled off the crossbar.
The team formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards have undergone a total overhaul, changing the team name, badge and colors, capping it all off with a brand new, $200 million soccer-specific stadium. It wasn't completed in time for the start of this MLS season, however, and they've started the season with MLS' longest-ever road trip, playing their first 10 games away from home.
This is a big reason why they're now 1-6-4, right in the bottom of the conference alongside Chicago's 1-4-8 record. But they're a young team, with a few young college stars and a striker in Teal Bunbury who has the U.S. National Team in his sights, and who has in fact been good enough to get a few looks from U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. Ten games on the road is hard, and their youth should provide a few valid excuses for why head coach Peter Vermes' team is one of the league's worst.
But Chicago's Frank Klopas, in only his second game as interim head coach, is surely starting to search ever harder for a way to turn his team around. Their only win this year came against this similarly weak Sporting KC squad in Toyota Park, and being unable to score yet again despite having a man advantage for 30 minutes does not reflect positively on his team's offensive ability.
In the 67th minute, Kansas City starting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen used his hands outside the 18-yard box on a long ball meant for Dominic Oduro (whose speed was on full display, one of the few obvious weapons Chicago brought to the pitch). Rushing out to try and beat Oduro to the ball, Nielsen simply reacted as a goalkeeper would when the Fire winger got first touch and tried to float it past the onrushing keeper. But as the last man back, he was sent off with a straight red card, forcing the backup to enter the game in place of Bunbury.
It's true that Kansas City was pumped up for this game, and holding the hosts to a shutout is again a great defensive improvement upon their previous games. If both teams had played 11v11 for 90 minutes (and an unheard-of *nine* minutes of stoppage time!), perhaps it would be enough to feel good about. But playing a man up, with a backup goalkeeper that was sent in cold and unexpectedly, you would hope Chicago could find a way to manufacture the win.
Alas, it wasn't to be, and now Klopas must turn his attention from the back line to his attack as the Fire head to Columbus, Ohio, for Sunday's matchup against the much better Crew, currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Chicago Fire took their first step forward under interim coach Frank Klopas on Saturday night at Toyota Park, managing a scoreless draw with the Seattle Sounders. Despite the positives that can and should be taken by shutting out one of the better attacking teams in the league, at the end of the day their lack of offensive output means another missed chance at taking three points -- something they've done only once this 1-4-7 season.
I'll leave the American frustration with tie games -- especially 0-0 ties -- for another time. But with a new coach at the helm, this draw is more helpful than most, even as it extends the winless streak to 10 games.
At the very least, this wasn't a loss. It keeps the team treading water while allowing the coaches the chance to evaluate an entire 90-minute performance and look for measurable signs of progress. In that vein, Klopas has to be happy with a few things he saw Saturday night.
Like a coach under the gun should, he first focused on shoring up the defense. Yes, the Fire are doing far too much tying and not enough winning, but the last thing you want to do is go all-in and play a high-risk game of strong attacks and weak defense. Better to keep the ship afloat with an emphasis on preventing goals and have confidence that your offense will provide enough.
With a third of the MLS season gone and the Chicago Fire still only at one win, head coach Carlos de los Cobos was let go Sunday. De los Cobos was coach for just over one season, with last year's campaign only the second time the Fire didn't make the MLS Cup Playoffs since their creation in 1998.
This year, Chicago (1-4-6) finds itself eighth among nine teams in the Eastern Conference with nine points. Even in MLS, with a playoff system renowned for its guest-list generosity, the current standing is becoming too big a hole to climb out of. As a result, club technical director Frank Klopas has stepped in as the interim head coach.
So how did the Fire get to this point? Actually, they're not playing that poorly, at least on the whole.
The six draws should make it clear that they're playing competitive soccer, and so far in the season, they've only lost one game by more than one goal. They've also only been shut out once, in a 0-0 draw against MLS newcomers Vancouver.
Simply put, they're scoring plenty of goals, but have yet to find the defensive prowess to get those tallies to stand up.
But a franchise with the Fire's history of success has high expectations. As a team that started out winning the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup in their first year, the bar has always been set high for the Fire. Repeated playoff appearances cemented that as not just a goal, but an expectation, for any coach that had the reins.
The Chicago Fire fell Saturday for the first time this season, losing 2-1 at Seattle in front of a packed house of 36,223. The defeat puts them at 1-1-1 in MLS play so far, with a 3-2 home win against Sporting Kansas City and a 1-1 season-opening draw with FC Dallas.
Seattle opened the scoring Saturday in the seventh minute when O'Brian White beat Chicago keeper Sean Johnson near-post with a picture-perfect header.
The Fire replied a minute later with a well-orchestrated attack finished with a low cross from the right that Diego Chaves coolly directed into the left-side netting. The goal was his third of the season, making him the first Fire player to score in his first three games.
Despite a few great chances in the second half, Chicago was unable to beat former U.S. international goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Highlights of the entire game can be found here.
The Fire, like Mustafa in Austin Powers, are not dead just yet.
5:38 p.m. Enabling is disabled on the video I wanted to introduce this liveblog with. It's the kind of get-the-eff-off-your-seats-or-die energy that the Fire are hoping for tonight. It's also really disturbing. In that way, I guess, it sums up the night's drama perfectly: it's dramatic, it's a little dirty (rainy), it's life and death, and just being in this situation - with all the talent the Fire have - is disturbing.
Kickoff's in about 90 minutes so I'll be back with starting lineups and more info in the next hour.
Remember to email me (email@example.com) or tweet at me and Tailgate with your amusing musings.
6:00 p.m. I know what you're thinking. You're sitting there, all snug in your flannel pjs, settling into the winter hibernation. You're all, "But Ben, who cares? The Fire are screwed! And anyway, it's windy outside. I'm staying in and watching Threes Company reruns with my cat."
Ah yes, strange reader. You do that. Or you can get up, realize that the Fire aren't completely hopeless just yet, and pray that a good result tonight propels the Fire onto a late season surge exactly opposite of that putrid last month the White Sox threw up. Because they're not dead just yet.
It was a tough week to be a week-long Fire fan. Suffering a devastating loss in stoppage time, and losing our DP for next week's match against the LA Galaxy isn't the way I wanted to cap my Saturday, but these are the breaks.
This was my second viewing of a televised Fire match, and I have to say that we didn't look so bad -- it took some genuine heroics by Seattle's Fredy Montero to see the Sounders wrestle a respectable draw point away from us. The Montero brace had an hour between each goal, and the story of the loss was really the story of most our losses this season -- shaky defense. To be fair, we were without choice centre back Wilman Conde, but the archives I've pored over of Fire games this season show a sieve-like back line as a running narrative.
According to his wife, Patrycja Mikula, Fire player Krzysztof Krol wants out of Chicago. "we had a big talk, neither of us wants to stay in chi, eventually we want to move to Cali cause he also loves it there," she said in a tweet that has since been deleted.
With the Fire barely halfway through the regular season, it remains to be seen whether this is just idle talk from a bored Playboy model (NSFW), or if Krol is making noise for a trade. With his position at left back in question with the return of Gonzalo Segares, Krol's future with the Fire may be at a crossroads.
It would appear that the Fire are a bit stuck. The team has become accustomed to the concept of not losing rather than winning, and, frankly, it's getting a little irritating. After a rough showing at the Sister Cities Tournament last week where Chicago lost in a couple friendly matches to Paris Saint-Germain and Legia Warsaw, the Fire returned to regular season play last night against FC Dallas. But despite a strong performance in the first half, the Fire were unable to come away with a victory.
The trouble began early for the Fire (2-3-4, 10 points) as Dallas (2-2-6, 12 points) took a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. Midfielder David Ferreira dashed past two defenders and sent a shot directly to the right of Fire goalie Andrew Dykstra. In the 40th minute, Fire captain Brian McBride evened the score after heading a long pass from Justin Mapp. The Fire started the second half attacking the ball and outrunning Dallas, but soon the steam subsided, and the team found themselves on their heels in the final minutes.
If the Fire can somehow find a way to harness their energy and keep the momentum up throughout the game, they will hopefully take the win against international visitors A.C. Milan this coming Sunday, May 30. But the Italian powerhouse will certainly give them a battle for the W, so the Fire need to be prepared for some rough and vigorous play. If they can manage to hold off some of A.C. Milan's strong forwards, the Fire may be able to break their tying streak. Otherwise fans will get used to saying, "at least they didn't lose."
I'll be honest, I couldn't--and still can't--pronounce the names of the Polish players as they handily cut, crossed and scored against the Chicago Fire last night. Those unique names went flying through the Fire players, resulting in a 3-0 win for Legia Warsaw, giving them the official third place title in the Chicago Sister Cities International Cup.
The first half saw no goals as both teams battled at an even level. The Fire had some prime opportunities to obtain the lead but couldn't seem to get past Legia goalie Kostyantyn Makhonovsky. (See what I mean, that's difficult.) It all fell apart in the second half. In the 59th minute, Maciej Rybus fired a cross to Maciej Gorski, who quickly nudged the ball to Maciej Iwanski. (It makes it easy when I only have to know one name.) Iwanski then shot it past Fire goalie Andrew Dykstra to put Legia up 1-0. Even when Fire coach Carlos de los Cabos brought out his big players--McBride, John and Pappa--it did no good against Legia. The next two goals were scored by Sebastian Szalachowski in the 69th and 85th minutes.
Despite the loss and the last place finish, the Fire gained great experience from the tournament. The team was able to test the waters with some of their reserve players as well as get a look at some prospectives from the competing teams looking to make a move to the MLS. Also, the tournament encouraged friendly competition and a positive relationship with Chicago's Sister Cities. And if fans weren't already excited, the international play certainly boosted enthusiasm for the upcoming World Cup.
The Fire return to regular MLS play on Thursday, May 27 against FC Dalla at Toyota Park at 7 p.m.
The excitement was thick last night as the Fire kicked off the Sister Cities International Cup against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Everyone cheered as the game got underway, but soon the strong following of Fire fans were sighing in disappointment.
In the 14th minute of play, PSG's Clément Chantôme headed the ball into the goal after a cross from Ludovic Giuly. Rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson was between the posts for the Fire and attempted to get a hand on the ball as it sailed past, but was unsuccessful. PSG almost scored again after a fatal mistake from Johnson in the 40th minute. Johnson failed to clear the ball past PSG midfielder Christophe Jallet, who decided to make a cross to his teammate who was luckily off sides.
The Fire continued their push to event he score in the second half, and in the 86th minute it appeared there was some hope. Stefan Dimitrov went tete-a-tete with PSG goalie Apoula Édel, but was unable to control the shot as it passed over the crossbar.
The Fire will take on Legia Warsaw in the consolation round on Saturday, May 23 at 6 p.m., while PSG fights for the title against Red Star Belgrade immediately following the first match.
Tonight marks the opening of the first-ever Chicago Sister Cities International Cup at Toyota Park. The tournament consists of four teams playing over the course of two days, fighting for a cup, prize money and pride. For the Chicago Fire, this is an ideal soccer experience. Not only will they get the chance to compete against top international teams, but also test the strength of their young players.
The three other teams playing in the tournament are Serbia's Red Star Belgade, Poland's Legia Warsaw and Paris Saint-Germain of France. Paris recently won its eighth French Cup, the Red Stars won the Serbian Cup a little over two weeks ago and eight-time Polish Champions Legia Warsaw. With such strong teams competing, the tournament is expected to be full of energy and excitement.
The Fire will take on Paris Saint-Germain tonight at 7 pm to kick off the tournament, followed by the Red Stars and Legia Warsaw. The finals will take place this Saturday starting at 6 p.m. For tickets and information, visit the Chicago Fire website.
Before heading into the usual recap, a congratulations is in order for Brian McBride, who played in his 200th regular season MLS game this past Saturday night at Toyota Park. It's a true milestone for the Fire captain, but unfortunately it wasn't accompanied by a win.
The Fire tied with Chivas USA after giving up a one goal lead late in the second half. Even though they didn't take home the victory, the Fire held on to extend their unbeaten streak.
Once again, Patrick Nyarko created the ideal goal opportunity. Crossing the ball from the left in the 52nd minute, Nyarko delivered a pass to charging Baggio Husidic who sent a quick shot past Chivas goalie Zach Thornton. But the lead slipped away in the 76th minute when Chivas reserve player Maicon Santos delivered a header off a corner kick, directing the ball right by Fire keeper Andrew Dykstra.
It was disappointing for the Fire, especially being in the lead and letting their concentration falter. They'll have to keep their focus as the next three weeks pack a demanding schedule. Their next two MLS matches take them on the road against Toronto (May 8) and Kansas City (May15). The following week, the Fire will play host to the Chicago Sister Cities International Cup on May 19 and 22, which features teams from Warsaw, Paris and Belgrade.
Chants of "Chicago Fire!" echoed down the street as Fire fans left Small Bar on Fullerton, a local soccer sanctuary for many. And just as the rain didn't dampen the spirits of the buzzed spectators, it never slowed down the Fire as they dominated the Houston Dynamo 2-0.
Last night's match was a true test for the Fire. Houston came into the game with an undefeated record at Toyota Park, going 3-0-1 in their previous four matches at the Fire's home field. But the Fire showed they were not going to let the streak continue, out shooting the Dynamo 13-2 in the first half. Even with their efforts, the game remained scoreless until three minutes into stoppage time when midfielder Baggio Husidic headed in a rebound shot. The Dynamo attempted to equalize, but Fire keeper Andrew Dykstra held strong between the posts, gaining six saves on the night.
Peter Lowry had his first goal of the season in the 67th minute. After a cross from Patrick Nyarko, Lowry charged towards the ball and delivered an impressive chest shot past Houston keeper Pat Onstad. Fans were elated as cheers rose from the stands at Lowry's unique goal. But with the growing excitement came tension on the field. It was clear throughout the game there was bad blood between these two teams, with the hostility culminating in the 81st minute. Fire defender Tim Ward committed a foul on a header, sparking a scuffle and ending with two yellow cards, one ejecting Houston's Danny Cruz. Shortly after, Fire defender Krzysztof Krol was ejected for headbutting Houston's Luis Ángel Landín. In total, the referee pulled 11 cards in the final 35 minutes of play.
Even with a rough ending, the Fire have finally hit a stride. It appears as if their rocky start is behind them, and I expect to hear more "Chicago Fire!" chants ringing down the streets as the season progresses.
After three less-than-satisfactory weeks of the MLS season, the Chicago Fire finally clinched a victory. With a late surge in last night's game against D.C. United, the Fire scored two goals, coming away with a secure win and leaving D.C. in a rut.
Both teams entered last night's matchup winless, and thankfully it didn't end that way. Even though D.C. held off the Fire for a majority of the game, they presented few scoring opportunities. Brian McBride, who sat out most of the game due to a sore leg, entered in the 76th minute, and that was the end for D.C. Marco Pappa scored three minutes later, after driving in a crossing pass from Patrick Nyarko. Shortly after that, McBride sealed the win. After D.C. attempted a weak shot in response to Pappa, Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra delivered a free kick out towards his teammates. The ball landed in the penalty area on D.C.'s side, where McBride offered up a stunning header.
Now the Fire, 1-2-1, head back to Toyota Park next Saturday against the Houston Dynamos. And with this turn in the season, the Fire hope to continue their run and obtain a two-game win streak.
Fans were out early enjoying the warm spring weather. The smell of charcoal and grilled meat filled the parking lots, as beer flowed freely among the crowds that gathered in celebration of the first game of the season. Everyone adorned themselves with bright red apparel before entering the stadium. The excitement in the air was palpable as the national anthem was sung and the players took the field. The charged crowd chanted in support as the Chicago Fire took on the San Jose Earthquakes in last night's home opener at Toyota Park. But spirits left a little lower after a game full of thrills and heartbreaks.
The match began on a high note with a record crowd of 20,276 in attendance. Prior to kickoff, fans offered a touching moment of silence for the tragedy in Poland, and Polish flags were raised in honor of the late president. Then a motivating and uplifting video montage of last season's highlights and cheering fans displayed on the big screen, welcoming the Fire back home for the new season. As fireworks pierced the sky, everyone was fired up.
The pitch is set for an exciting match up. Empty seats await charged fans. The Fire will soon be ignited. On the edge of your seat yet? If not, the Chicago Fire's home opener will certainly get you there.
Tomorrow night's game marks the fifth season at Toyota Park, and it's expected to be a sell out show. Chicago fans have been eager to welcome the team back to the park, their anticipation elevating for the new season. The Fire are coming off a promising tie last week against the Rapids, while the San Jose Earthquakes have been sitting idle since their 3-0 loss to Salt Lake two weeks ago. Even though the Fire have the momentum, injuries could hurt their chances for victory. John Thorrington is out for two more weeks, and Logan Pause remains questionable with a leg injury. Wilman Conde sat out last week, but has been practicing the last few days and is set to play. The players say they are excited to step in front of their own fans again, knowing the energized crowd will push them to perform at their best. As for coach Carlos de los Cabos, the stakes are even higher. A win in his home debut would be ideal, setting the stage for the rest of the season.
Sure, the soccer season has technically already started. But for the Fire and dedicated fans, it all begins with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff tomorrow night.
OK, this deal is pretty darn awesome -- $37 ($75 value) for one ticket to the April 10 Chicago Fire game with access to the Miller Lite Party Deck and an Adidas Chicago Fire scarf. The April 10 game starts at 7:30pm and is against the San Jose Earthquakes, though it looks like a few other games are also up for discounts. You can sign up for Groupon at groupon.com/chicago.
The Chicago Fire put on a show in Colorado on Saturday. The result? A well-deserved 2-2 tie against the Rapids. Even though it was a draw, the Fire are satisfied considering their opening loss last weekend. This tie gives the Fire momentum heading into their home opener against San Jose.
The players made improvements from the first match, with Brian McBride and Collins John attacking the defense aggressively. John made his first MLS goal in the 25th minute with a stunning header off a corner kick. Despite heading into the half down 2-1, the Fire never showed defeat. They began the second half determined, and it paid off. Patrick Nyarko stripped the ball from Rapids player Marvell Wynne and beat him down the pitch. After Wynne fouled Nyarko in the penalty area, McBride was able to even the score.
Though both teams pushed to break the tie, not many chances were presented for a goal. The Rapids and the Fire ended the match level at 2-2. Now the Fire are preparing for their first game of the season at Toyota Park this Saturday, April 10. Tickets are still available. If you can't make it to the game, tune in at 7:30 p.m. on MLS Direct Kick.
The Chicago Fire kicked off their 2010 MLS Campaign this past weekend in NYC but their first home game isn't til April 10. That's the bad news. The good news? The Fire want you to have the chance to win FREE season tickets. Just text "CORNER" to 95248 for a chance to nab the coveted "Corner Kick" seats. Winners will be notified by April 6. Additionally, fans will receive Fire updates from 95248 throughout the season.
The Chicago Fire didn't get off to the best start in the season opener last night against the New York Red Bulls. The Fire fell to the Bulls 1-0, with a goal delivered by Joel Lindpere in the 40th minute of play. The strike flew right past Fire rookie goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, solidifying the win for New York.
The battle, however, was not easy. Fire veteran Brian McBride skimmed a bicycle kick off the post early in the first half, while Patrick Nyarko had a close shot that sailed just wide of an open net in the 83rd minute. Fire defender Mike Banner, presented with a prime opportunity, curled a direct kick that deflected off Red Bulls' goalkeeper Buona Condoul. Despite the loss, the Fire has strong, determined players, and it is still very early in the season.
Chicago will take on the Colorado Rapids next Saturday, April 3, in Denver at 4 p.m.
The Chicago Fire are back in action. This Saturday marks the Fire's first regular season match up for 2010. After returning home last week from a six week tour around the United States, the Fire are ready to take on their next challenge. And with a 3-1-2 pre-season record, they are certainly off to a good start.
Despite some changes made to the team in the off-season, including hiring Carlos de los Cabos as the new head coach, releasing prize goal keeper Jon Busch and losing Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the Fire appear optimistic about their upcoming year. They were able to draft strong young players and sign some experienced veterans. The Chicago Fire still have valuable players like forward Brian McBride, MLS All-Time Best XI, and defender CJ Brown, who is entering his 13th season with the Fire.
How do you plan on spending Presidents Day weekend? How about indoors cheering on soccer clubs from around Chicago? This weekend the Fire host their 5th Annual Chicago Fire Cup Indoor Tournament at the Regional Sports Center in Crystal Lake. With at least 30 teams and over 500 players participating in the event, it is expected to have the highest turnout ever.
The boys' teams will compete on Saturday, February 13, while the girls are set to take the field on Sunday, February 14. Each team gets to play three forty-five minute games. After all the matches have been played, 12 teams will continue on to play at Toyota Park on opening night, Saturday, April 10. These remaing teams will fight for the chance to be called the 2010 Cup Champions.
For the teams that do not qualify for the finals, special opportunities will be available including participating in the "Tunnel of Fire," while one team each will have the chance to be Ball Kids and Flag Kids at the Fire home games during the 2010 season. As part of the tournament, all players will receive a complimentary corner kick ticket to the Fire's Opening Night game with additional tickets for family and friends for only $24.
So come out to Crystal Lake this weekend and cheer on your club--or any club--as they compete to be the Cup Champions. For more information, visit the Chicago Fire website or www.regionalsportscenter.com.
Yesterday's MLS SuperDraft yielded promising results for the Chicago Fire. With their first round pick, the Fire snagged Generation adidas player, Corben Bone, from Wake Forest University. Bone was also a 2009 Hermann Trophy finalist, two-time NSCAA All-American First Team, Top Drawer Soccer National Player of the Year, two-time First Team All-ACC and 2009 ACC Offensive Player of the Year.
On top of scooping up Bone, the Fire also selected four other strong players whose fresh talent should compliment the experience and heart of the team. The Fire picked Kwame Watson-Siriboe from the University of Connecticut, Drew Yates from the University of Maryland, Steven Kinney from Elon University, and Sean Johnson from the University of Central Florida.
The Chicago Fire hold five cards. These cards, if played right, could determine the fate of next season. Ok, so maybe the stakes are not that high, but the 2010 MLS Superdraft is an important day for every team, especially the Fire. Coming within one game of making the MLS Cup last season, the Fire are hungry for another chance. With their five draft picks, they will gain some fresh legs and new skills.
In the Superdraft, being held tomorrow in Philadelphia, the Fire have pick 13 in the first round, pick 22 and 29 in the second round, pick 45 in the third round, and pick 52 in the fourth round. The four-round, 64-pick draft will begin at 1 p.m. central time tomorrow and be broadcast live on ESPN2. If access to a television is out of the question, the draft can be followed at www.mlsnet.com.
For those who have a few hours available for a lunch break, head to the River North area where the Fire will be hosting a 2010 Jersey launch/Superdraft watch party at Rockit Bar and Grill (22 W. Hubbard). The party will take place from noon to 2. Joining in the festivities will be the Fire's Brian McBride and Logan Pause. Both will unveil the new 2010 Fire kits for fans.
He hasn't coached their first game yet, but the Chicago Fire are getting rave reviews for the hiring off they new coach, Carlos de los Cobos. ESPN Chicago calls the appointment of the former El Salvador National Team and Mexican League head coach a "good move", not only for de los Cobos coaching ability but for his ties to some of the best player south of the border. The Tribune points to de los Cobos' "wide open style" of play which should help the Fire continue their streak of playoff appearances, which includes post-season play in 11 of their 12 years of existence. The Fire will introduce their new head coach to the media at a press conference tomorrow.
In the market for a new soccer jersey? training gear? Why not pick up Marco Pappa's old jersey? or Wilman Conde's? Well, this Saturday fans will have the chance to do just that. The Chicago Fire will hold a Season End Fire Locker Room Sale on December 12 at Toyota Park.
Available merchandise will include game worn jerseys, training gear from players like Brian McBride and John Thorrington, Chicago Fire Grab Bags, up to 50% off 2009 adidas items, and much more. The sale will be open to renewed Season Ticket Holders from 10 to 11 a.m., and will open to the general public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fans who attend will have the chance to enter for a special Chicago Fire Prize Pack that will include a 2009 Fire Holiday Pack and other goodies. The team will also be giving away a pair of tickets to the 2010 Opening Night at Toyota Park to 10 lucky shoppers as they checkout.
If people are in the giving mood, they can donate a new toy or non-perishable food items to the Bridgeview 20th Annual Chamber of Commerce & Industry Food and Toy Drive. Those who donate will receive a coupon for an additional 10% off their entire purchase. Give a little, get a little.
For pictures of the merchandise for sale, visit the club's blog, En Fuego, or their Twitter and Facebook pages.
Who has what it takes to be part of the Chicago Fire team? We'll find out at the Fire Open Tryouts.
The first round of tryouts will start today at the MAX Indoor Soccer Center in McCook, Illinois. The tryout is open to male soccer players ages 18 and older who believe they can play at the Major League level. Members of the Fire first team staff will be on hand at the tryouts to observe and rank players.
Players will be split up into teams of five, plus a goalie, and are guaranteed an hour of play. Each player will be notified on site if they have been selected for day two. Tomorrow, the final contenders will compete for spots on the team.
Chicago's pro soccer franchises aren't letting the grass grow under their feet, with both the Red Stars and the First making moves to improve their fortunes for next season.
The Red Stars went across the pond to bring in Arsenal midfielder Katie Chapman, 27, described as a physical player who "handles the brunt of the dirty work". Chapman isn't a stranger to scoring as she booted in a score to help lead Arsenal to a 2-1 win over Sunderland to win the FA Women's Cup on May 4. In 2002, Chapman netted the game-winner for Fulham during a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Doncaster Belles.
The Fire, meanwhile, are bringing midfielder Marco Pappa back into the fold following a productive season that saw him appear in all 30 games, racking up five goals and four assists. With the move, Pappa, who was loaned to the Fire from Guatemalan club CSD Municipal, is now under contract to the team until 2012.
It was an unfortunate end to the season for the Chicago Fire. After a scoreless game against Real Salt Lake, the teams went head to head in penalty shots. Both teams hit four of their five shots, pushing it to extra kicks. The Fire sent two shots that were blocked. Salt Lake sent one high, but their second made it past Jon Busch. Salt Lake one 5-4, and will now head to the finals against the L.A. Galaxy.
Heartbreaking for Chicago. Even with the loss, the team played a strong match, holding Salt Lake off both halves. Now the Fire will set their sites on next year, hopefully making it to the MLS Cup Finals--and winning.
This Saturday's Conference Final game between the red-hot Fire and Real Salt Lake is a sellout. But you can still get in on the action if you're lucky enough. Text the word "playoffs" to 95248 and you could be the lucky Fire-head who'll win a prize package that includes two seats ON THE FIELD (west sidelines), folding chairs autographed by a Fire player, two Stadium Club passes, two Fire scarves, a team-signed Fire jersey, a parking pass and two tickets to the Fire's 2010 season opener against San Jose on April 10. Yeah, it IS pretty cool. You'll be signing up to receive Fire text alerts when you enter the contest, but if you're that big on the Fire, you probably won't mind that. Hurry, the winner will be picked TODAY.
It will be six years to the day since Chicago last hosted an Eastern Conference Final. On November 14, 2003 the Fire defeated New England at Soldier Field to advance to the MLS cup. This year, Toyota Park will be the scene of the deciding game versus Real Salt Lake.
The Fire and Salt Lake will have their third meeting of the season tomorrow. While the Fire dominated in the regular season against Salt Lake, with a record of 1-0-1, it will still be an intense match, especially with a trophy in sight. Salt Lake qualified for the playoffs in the final week of the regular season after having five teams seeded ahead of them. They defeated Colorado to claim a wildcard spot and then downe the first place Columbus Crew to make it to the final. Clearly, this is not going to be easy.
But Chicago has a strong team, and coming off a solid win against the Revolution last weekend has heightened their momentum. Plus, they are playing at home, and the crowd at Toyota Park is nothing short of intimidating. Hopefully playing at home will be an advantage for the Fire as it was last week. We will have to wait and see.
The winner of the game will be awarded the Eastern Conference Trophy by the Major League Commissioner Don Garber on the field following the match. And with a win, the Fire would advance to the 2009 MLS Cup Final in Seattle on November 22. The game starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, November 14. It will air on
After the loss in the first leg to the New England Revolution, the Chicago Fire were down one goal going into the final match of the semifinals. All they needed was two goals...and to shut out the Revs. They accomplished both last night in their 2-0 win at Toyota Park, granting them a spot in the Eastern Conference Championship.
The Fire got started early with numerous attempts on goal and a few close calls. Finally, in the 35th minute, the Fire took the lead. Marco Pappa, after receiving a pass into the box from Brandon Prideaux, cut inside a Revolution defender and sent the ball back to John Thorrington. He curled the ball into the left side of the net putting the Fire up 1-0. But their mission was not over.
In the 83rd minute, the Fire secured their second goal. Chris Rolfe sent a ball to the right corner and Patrick Nyarko was able to take control of it. He sent the ball into the box for Cuauhtemoc Blanco. As Revolution goalie Matt Reis came out to challenge him, Blanco launched the ball over his head and between two defenders to score the second goal. Victory was in sight.
The Fire defense continued to fend off every push from the Revolution. The crowd got louder and louder as the five minutes of stoppage time ticked by with no response from the Revolution.
Now the Fire will host Real Salt Lake this coming Saturday, November 14 at 8 p.m.
When Chicago Fire forward Brian McBride underwent surgery for a labral tear in his right shoulder this summer, it was thought he would take almost four months to return to the pitch. It only took the veteran eight weeks.
After returning, McBride wasted no time getting back into the game. Before his surgery he had six goals under his belt this season. He tacked another onto that in the Fire's match against Toronto FC in late September.
In honor of his speedy recovery and immense talent on the soccer field, the league has made him a finalist for the 2009 MLS Comback Player of the Year Award. The winner will be announced next Tuesday, November 10.
In the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal match-up, Chicago came out strong. With a rebound shot from Chris Rolfe in the 17th minute, the Fire took an early lead that they maintained through a majority of the first half. But in the first minute of stoppage time before the half, Emmanuel Osei managed to knock a header into the net for a valuable goal to tie the game.
Going into the second half, there appeared to be promise for the Fire to take the lead. But despite a couple close calls, they could not manage to get the ball to the back of the net. In the 75th minute, New England delivered the final blow. Shalrie Joseph scored his first career playoff goal after winning a foot race to the ball with Fire goalie Jon Busch.
The win gives the Revolution an advantage in the deciding leg of the semifinals, which will be played at Toyota Park on Saturday, November 7.
Being the only major league team in Chicago to make the playoffs this fall, the Fire certainly ended on a good note. With a 1-0 win over Chivas USA last night, the Fire have clinched a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the 11th time in 12 years.
With less than ideal conditions--constant cold rain and heavy winds--the players found footing the ball difficult and sharp cuts were even harder to manage. Despite these problems, Chicago dominated most of the first half, with three consecutive corner kicks in the 15th minute. Seven minutes later, the Fire shot three shots after a fourth corner kick, but none reached the back of the net. The game entered halftime with neither team scoring.
Tonight, the Fire have one last chance to clinch a playoff spot. If they succeed, they will have secured a position for the 11th time in 12 seasons. All they have to do is win...or tie.
Chivas USA faces Chicago at Toyota Park tonight at 7 p.m.. Chivas has already made the playoffs, which presents less pressure for them to pull off a win. However, they are still a tough team, and the Fire need to play as if there is no tomorrow...because there may not be.
These two teams have faced each other nine times in the past and come up with an even record of 4-4-1. While they may have won their first meeting with Chivas back in May, Chicago had to battle for that game and will probably need to do it again tonight. Another factor working against the Fire: They have been winless in the last six matches, posting three losses and three ties. Chicago hopes to add a game to the win column with this final matchup and, ultimately, take themselves into the postseason.
One more chance. That's all the Fire have left in the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. On October 22, in their finale match against Chivas USA, the Fire will attempt to make the playoffs with either a win or a tie.
Chicago fought hard against New England last night and successfully held the Revolution to a shutout with a 0-0 tie. While the Fire would have preferred a win, the opportunity for post season play is still alive. However, if the Fire fall to Chivas this week, the team will be forced to sweat it out until the weekend results are posted to see if they have made the playoffs.
So come cheer on the Fire as they fight to stay alive against Chivas USA on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at Toyota Park.
The Fire has made the playoffs in 10 of their 11 seasons. They plan to continue that tradition tonight. And if they do not win, they have to rely on others to lose. That's a lot of pressure.
The Fire travel to New England to play at Gillette Stadium to face the Revolution for the second time this year. In their first meeting in the SuperLiga 2009 final, the Fire defeated New England 2-1. Last season, the Fire went 3-0-0 against the Revolution, with two of those wins coming on the road. This past record gives the Fire an emotional edge over the Revolution, but anything can happen. There is no guarantee for the Fire.
If the Fire win, they will be in the playoffs. If they happen to tie, then D.C. United, FC Dallas, and Real Salt Lake need to lose. If the Fire lose tonight, then D.C. United, FC Dallas need to lose, and Real Salt Lake needs to fall to New York or Toronto needs to lose to Salt Lake.
But let's just hope the Fire do not need to count on any other team to win but themselves.
What do the Chicago Fire and Best Buy have in common? They both love soccer. Maybe in different forms, but that won't really matter come next Monday when they both help in hosting the North American launch of EA Sports FIFA Soccer 10.
On Monday, October 19, the Best Buy Hancock Center will host the launch event starting at 4 p.m. Entertainers from around Chicago will be at the John Hancock Center Plaza engaging passersby and encouraging people to attend the event. On top of that, Chicago Fire star player Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who is featured on the cover of FIFA Soccer 10, will be on the red carpet and in the store to sign autographs for fans.
FIFA Soccer 10 will be available in retail stores on Tuesday, October 20, but 32 lucky fans will have the chance to play the video game next Monday during an in-store Xbox 360 tournament during the launch. The preliminary and quarterfinal round will be held during the party, while the semifinal and final rounds will be held on Actober 22 at Toyota Park before the Fire's final regular season match against Chivas USA. The winner will receive a 42-inch Panasonic 1080P Viera HDTV from Best Buy.
Next Monday, the Fire and Best Buy will combine and launch one of the most popular video games to date. Make sure to come check it out.
It's hard to believe it's been 12 years. The Chicago Fire are almost into their early teen years, and the club has certainly matured quickly.
The Fire was founded on the 126th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, 1997. In the inaugural season, the Fire won the MLS cup and the U.S. Open Cup, known as the coveted "Domestic Double." Since that first season, the team has claimed the U.S. Cup three more times.
To celebrate the team's inception, the supporter club, Section 8, is throwing a party this Thursday, October 8 at Toyota Park. And everyone's invited. The event will include food, music, games, and various other activities for fans to participate in, as well as an opportunity to meet the players and staff of the Fire.
Tickets are $15 in advance through the Section 8 website, or $20 at the door. The tickets include price of admission and all food and drink at the party.
So come out and celebrate the teams final year as a pre-teen, and help support them in their efforts to take over first place in the Eastern Conference.
The match ended in a 2-2 tie. The Chicago Fire only scored one goal. How did this happen?
Thanks to an own goal by Toronto FC defender Nick Garcia, the Fire got their first point in the 14th minute. But not before Toronto scored within the first ten minutes of the game with a shot from Dwayne De Rosario. In the 46th minute, Chad Barrett gave Toronto the lead again with an impressive header. Then in the 79th minute, Brian McBride evened the score. McBride connected with the pass from Justin Mapp at the top of the six-yard box and sent a strong header past goalkeeper Stefan Frei. This goal was the first one from McBride since his shoulder surgery back in July.
The tie gave the Fire an important point to remain solidly in second place. While a win would have been ideal, a tie still helps the Fire on their path to qualify for the playoffs. With only three more games in the regular season, the Fire need to maintain the intensity if they want to overtake Columbus.Their next match is Friday, October 2 against the L.A. Galaxy at 10 pm.
The Chicago Fire (10-6-10, 40 pts.) fought hard yesterday as they took on the Eastern Conference Leading Columbus Crew (11-4-10, 43 pts.). The two teams have tied the last five regular season matches between each other, and this time the Fire was hoping to snap that trend. But to no avail.
The Fire came out strong in the first half with a goal in the sixth minute from midfielder Peter Lowry. After receiving a touch pass from recently returned forward Brian McBride, Lowry sent a right footed shot inside the left post. Lowry struck again in the 35th minute. Chris Rolfe played a ball intended for Cuauhtémoc Blanco, but the Crew defense deflected the pass and set up a perfect shot for Lowry at the center of the box. The Fire went into the half with a 2-0 lead and the hopes of a victory.
But the second half belonged to the Crew. In the 55th minute of play, defender Robbie Roger sent a ball from the left for Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He positioned himself nicely for a header three yards off the goal line, and the ball went sailing into the right side of the net. The score was leveled in the 78th minute with a penalty kick from Schelotto.
Despite both teams battling hard for the win, neither could seem to outscore the other. The tie leaves the Fire in second place, only three points behind the Crew. With only four games left in the MLS regular season, the Fire will continue to fight for first place as well as the Supporters Shield, awarded to the team with the best record. The Fire's next match will be Saturday, September 26, against Toronto FC at Toyota Park at 7:30 p.m.
One point. That was all the Chicago Fire (10-6-9, 39 points) needed to tie for first place with Columbus. Of course, a win for three points would have been better to take over the top spot, but the Fire did not mind sharing a point with Real Salt Lake last night in their 1-1 tie.
Fire player Chris Rolfe, with his sixth goal of the season, scored in the 44th minute of play. With a header from the left side by Mike Banner, the ball sailed to the middle and midfielder Marco Pappa helped it along to Chris Rolfe inside the box. Rolfe flicked a shot with this right foot just inside the right post past Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Coming into the second half, the Fire had the lead, but Salt Lake was determined to redeem themselves. In the 72nd minute, they evened the score with a goal from defender Jamison Olave, connecting with a pass from Andy Williams from 8 yards out. Both teams continued to battle during the remaining minutes, but neither could come up with a game-winning goal.
Now the Fire have a pivotal match against the Columbus Crew coming up next Sunday, Sept. 20 @ 2 p.m. at Toyota Park. This match will determine who will takeover the first place spot in the Eastern Conference.
He's back! Yes indeed, Brian McBride is back in full-contact training with the Chicago Fire and may be eligible to play as early as this Saturday's upcoming game against Salt Lake. McBride has been out of play due to shoulder surgery back in July, which was required to clean out some minor damage.
Fire coach Denis Hamlett says he is doing well, but they are being cautious and working on his fitness to prepare him for match play. Although McBride probably does not need it. With a lead in goals scored for the Fire this season, despite missing eight games, and a knack for acquiring injuries, particularly to his face, McBride is certainly a fighter. He has returned far sooner than anyone anticipated, but that comes as no surprise to his couch and teammates.
McBride is a key player on the Fire, and having him back will certainly aid them in their next few games.
The Chicago Fire fell behind early last night, and they were never able to recover. Long-time rival D.C. United scored in the 11th minute of play, with a header from Bryan Namoff off a free kick. One goal and that was all it took.
The Fire could not seem to perform on offense, and their depleted defense made matters even worse. Despite many corner kick opportunities, the Fire were only credited one shot on goal in the first half. The second half offered Chicago numerous free kicks, but the team could not seem to generate any scoring chances. Fire Coach Denis Hamlett attempted to create some offense with various substitutions late in the second half, but to no avail. D.C. United held off a couple potential shots to win the game 1-0.
The Fire remain in second place, one point behind the Columbus Crew. They will have next weekend off, and then return to play Saturday, September 12 against Real Salt Lake at 8 p.m.
The Chicago Fire took on the Colorado Rapids, a team Chicago has struggled with in the past, last night at Toyota Park. In the teams first meeting this year in Colorado, the Fire pulled off an amazing win against the Rapids, something they had not done in over 8 years. Last night when the Fire went down 2-0 early in the second half, it looked as if the Rapids were going to redeem themselves from the earlier match. However, the Fire came back strong with three goals in a row.
The Fire began their comeback with a penalty kick opportunity from Cuauhtémoc Blanco in the 72nd minute. Chicago tied the game in the 85th minute with a shot from Midfielder Mike Banner, his second goal of the season. Then, with just seconds left in the game, Justin Mapp sent a cross from the edge of the box back into the area and defender Dasan Robinson placed the header into the left side of the net for the game-winning goal of the match.
The 3-2 victory gave the Fire their 100th regular season win at home, and it was the first time Chicago had won a match after being down by two goals. Needless to say it was quite an accomplishment for the Fire. The team still remains in second place in the Eastern Conference, only 1 point behind leaders Columbus Crew and 8 points ahead of third place Toronto FC. The Fire return to MLS action on August 29 against D.C. United at Toyota Park for their third consecutive home game.
The Chicago Fire (9-5-8, 35 pts) are still in second place in the Eastern Conference despite a 2-0 loss last night to the L.A. Galaxy. Toyota Park was packed with a sold out crowd, and the Fire faced a big game against the Galaxy and their British star player, David Beckham. However, Beckham was not the player they needed to be concerned about.
Mike Magee started the game off for the Galaxy in the 23rd minute with a low shot to the right side of the net past a diving Jon Busch. Landon Donovan doubled the lead after winning a foot race down the field with Fire defender Dasan Robinson and finishing the shot from 8 yards out. The loss ended the Fire's two-game winning streak at home, but they hope to redeem themselves this weekend when they take on the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park, Sunday August 23, 7 p.m.
The Western Conference leading Houston Dynamos broke the Chicago Fire's five-game winning streak last night with a 3-2 win at Robertson Stadium. Not only that, but the shutout streak for the Fire's defense was also broken with Houston's first goal, which came in the 21st minute of play.
Houston struck first with forward Kei Kamara took a pass from midfielder Geoff Cameron and finished the goal from close range. In the 38th minute, the Dynamo added to their lead with the first goal of the season from midfielder Ricardo Clark. The Fire went into the half down by two, but came out strong in the second half hoping to gain the win. Within the first five minutes of the second half, the Fire leveled the score with goals from midfielders Chris Rolfe and Peter Lowry, the first goal of his MLS career for Lowry. Rolfe hit a rocket shot after receiving a pass from Patrick Nyarko. Lowry connected with an impressive cross pass from Cuauhtémoc Blanco and knocked the ball passed Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
Then in the 83rd minute, Fire defender Brandon Prideaux was called for a foul on Corey Ashe inside the area, giving the Dynamos a penalty kick opportunity. Stuart Holden took the penalty kick and scored the game-winning goal with a shot to the left side of the net.
The Fire, now 8-4-8 with 32 points, still sit comfortably at second place in the Eastern Conference, 4 points behind the Columbus Crew (36 pts) and 4 points ahead of D.C. United (28 pts). The Fire play again on Sunday, August 16 against the Kansas City Wizards at Community America Ballpark (2 p.m. CT).
$1 million was within reach. But when the final penalty shot from Tigres player Itamar Batista sped past Chicago Fire goalie Jon Busch, the Tigres became the winners of the 2009 SuperLiga Final.
The Fire scored first in the 10th minute with a header from Patrick Nyarko. The Tigres did not see the back of the goal until two minutes before halftime, when Batista got around two defenders and shot the ball into the lower-right corner. With momentum going the other direction at the start of the second half, the Fire was forced to come out blazing. Despite delivering 9 shots on goal, The Fire could not break the 1-1 tie, and the game went to penalty kicks to determine the winner.
While the Fire delivered three goals, the Tigres did one better with four to take home the trophy and the prize money.
The Fire returns to MLS play this Sunday, August 9, when they travel to Houston to take on the Dynamos, leaders in the Western Conference.
USA v. Mexico. It has become a heated rivalry in the region over the past few years, and tonight will be yet another showdown between the two countries. The Chicago Fire will host the Tigres UANL of the Mexican Primera Division in the SuperLiga 2009 Final. The Fire have posted a 3-1-0 record in the tournament and hope to add one more win tonight to hoist the trophy for the first time. However, the battle for the prize will not be easy. The Tigres were the only team to defeat the Fire in the tournament when they last met in the final game of group play on June 26. Needless to say, both teams will be in top form in the match tonight.
Both teams hold an impressive record this year. Chicago is coming off a victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, which extended their undefeated run to five games in league play. The Tigres are coming off a 3-1 win and sit level at the top of Group 3 in the FMF Primera Division.
The SuperLiga, in its third year, pits top soccer teams Mexico and MLS against each other for local bragging rights and one of the biggest purses in the region. If the Fire win tonight, they will be the third MLS team to win the annual competition. So the Tigres are looking to become the first Mexican team to win the tournament. No matter the outcome, the rivalry will live on.
The match kicks off tonight at Toyota Park at 7 p.m.
There had been thunderstorms all day the first Fire game I attended. But it was the playoffs and one of the reasons I was excited to be living in Chicago was the chance to watch the Fire. Not only did the squad featured three world class players in Peter Nowak, Hristo Stoichkov, and Lubos Kubic, but the young Americans were of a class rarely seen in MLS: Josh Wolff, DaMarcus Beasley (back when he had a whole career in front of him), future national team captain Carlos Bocanegra, Ante Razov and Chris Armas. Even role players like Jesse Marsch and Diego Gutierrez would prove to be among the best role players in the history of the league.
It rained on and off during the game, but that didn't dampen the fans spirits as the Fire dismantled New England 6-0 on their way to setting a record home winning streak. The combination of some brilliant soccer, the brisk fall weather, and fans that just wouldn't be stopped -- well I'd been to MISL games, I'd been to for the first time in America it really felt like I'd just been to a soccer game.
The Fire has been through a lot in the past nine years. They've been to Soldier Field, they've been to Naperville, they've been back to Soldier Field, and they've ended up in a place called Bridgeview. They've seen the franchise change ownership and the front office change hands Peter Wilt, to John Guppy to a guy that may or may not like soccer named Something Greeley. Between 2007 and 2008 a team that had only had two coaches in its history saw three coaching changes.
Two weeks ago, the weather couldn't have been more gorgeous for the last Fire game I attended before moving out of state for graduate school.
The Chicago Fire extended their winning streak with a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake last night at Toyota Park. This was the first of two meetings this year between the two teams, and Salt Lake hoped to continue their success against the Fire from the previous year. Chicago held a record of 0-0-2 against Salt Lake last year, but that did not deter the team from coming out strong this time around.
The game remained scoreless in the first half, despite eight shots from Salt Lake and four from Chicago. Then in the 76th minute the Fire scored the game-winning goal with a header from forward Patrick Nyarko. Chicago gained three points with the win, giving them 32 total points.
The Fire currently hold the second place spot in the MLS Eastern Conference, sitting only one point behind the Columbus Crew who also gained three points in the league last night. Chicago hopes to continue their undefeated streak, as well as gain another shutout win next Sunday, August 9 against the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. central time.
The Chicago Huddle, a weekly Bears preview and recap show, is looking for a spokesperson to open each program. Looking at the photo on the front of the video, I can't for the life of me figure out what they're looking for.
The Chicago Women In Baseball League and the Chicago Gems baseball club will take their skills to a bigger audience when they conduct and exhibition prior to the start of a Schaumburg Flyers game during Women In Baseball Day
The Chicago Fire held onto their first place spot and increased their winning streak to 5 last night with a 0-0 tie against Seattle. Both teams displayed a strong defensive effort, and kept the game scoreless despite the Sounders having the third-largest home crowd at Qwest Stadium behind them. Throughout the match, there were a couple close calls from Seattle, including a corner kick in the 85th minute started by Sebastien Le Toux and headed by Patrick Ianni. Luckily, a goal was avoided with the help of Chicago midfielder Chris Rolfe.
Chicago and Seattle played with 10 players each most of the second half when Chicago's John Thorrington was ejected from the game in the 54th minute after receiving his second yellow card. Seattle held onto a one-man advantage for only a short while until Freddie Ljungberg was ejected in the 59th minute for colliding with Chicago's C.J. Brown and then arguing the call.
Chicago, now 7-3-8, gained another point with the tie and are holding strong at the top with 29 points. Now the Fire have to prepare for their next home match this coming Saturday, August 1, against Real Salt Lake.
It's been a good week for the Fire's Cuauhtemoc Blanco. His goal and assist earned him MLS Player of the Week honors, the second time he's earned the accolade. The win boosted the Fire to first place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-3-7 record. Blanco, meanwhile, has four goals on the season, along with seven assists. Here's his extra time goal here, while his slick assist is attached below.
Even with one of Chicago Fire's star players, Brian McBride, out due to shoulder surgery on Friday, the team pulled off a win against San Jose last night to hold on to their first place spot in the Eastern Conference. The defensive play of both teams limited the scoring to 0-0 for most of the game. In the 82nd minute, forward Patrick Nyarko, who took McBride's place in the starting lineup, scored the game winning goal with an assist from Cuauhtemoc Blanco. As the match went into stoppage time, Blanco came through for the Fire again with an additional goal chipped over San Jose's goalie. Thanks to Nyarko's goal, the Fire broke their three game scoreless streak at home. The win also gave Jon Busch his 5th shutout of the season.
The Fire's next game will be against the Seattle Sounders on July 25. Even though McBride will be unable to play again as his labral tear surgery is keeping him off the field for 4-6 months, the team appears to be maintaining a strong intensity without him. If the team can keep the momentum in their next game, first place will stay in Chicago.
This week has been full of high points for the Chicago Fire: reaching the first place position in the Eastern Conference with a tie against the Columbus Crew; having two players, defender Wilman Conde and midfielder Cuauhtémoc Blanco, selected for the MLS All-Star First XI; topping off with a 2-1 win in the SuperLiga semifinals against defending champions New England Revolution. Yes, the team is certainly--pardon the pun--on fire.
The semifinal match took place last night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. This is the first year that the Chicago Fire has participated in the SuperLiga tournament, but they are extremely familiar with New England. The Fire have played the Revolution in 35 regular season games and 13 post-season matches. And while the Revolution had the upper hand at home last night, holding a 15-8-2 record against the Fire when playing at Gillette Stadium, Chicago showed no sign of intimidation.
In front of the largest crowd this season at Toyota Park, 18,123 people, the Chicago Fire battled the Columbus Crew to a 0-0 tie. Though neither team scored a goal, both came away with a positive outcome. Chicago surpassed D.C. United by one point, and now stands in the first place position in the Eastern Conference. The Crew also gained a point for the tie.
Despite strong offensive attempts from both teams, neither could finish off their shots. Goalies William Hesner and Jon Busch held their opponents to a shut out, the fourth one this season for Busch. The Fire's defense stepped up allowing the Crew only 4 shots on target. Although the Fire had 11 shots on target, they could not manage to put the ball past Hesner, who had a career high in saves.
Apart from the impressive soccer played, the crowd was another sight to be seen. Not only was it the biggest crowd this year, it was also the craziest. Fans chanted "Chicago Fire" for what seemed like the whole game, as various people in the crowd waved flags and lit flares. Though it was disappointing not coming away with a win, the Fire hope to draw the same enthusiasm to their next home league game July 18 against the San Jose Earthquake.
Two is a magic number. The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew have played to 2-2 ties their last three regular season meetings, and both sit at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with first place in their sights. This Saturday, July 11, the Fire take on the Crew at home to determine who will surpass D.C. United and take first in the East.
The Fire are coming off an incredible 2-1 win against the Colorado Rapids, which gained them a win and three points leaving them tied with D.C. United. Columbus sits just one point below Chicago, and will be hoping to add another win to their season (5-3-8). The Crew have won 9 of their last 10 games, dropping one to Dallas in mid-June. Before the win over the Rapids, Chicago had lost three games in a row. However, after a strong performance in Colorado, breaking a 10-year losing streak to the Mile High team on the road, the Fire have a real chance to defeat the Crew and reach #1.
The Fire will be playing at home at Toyota Park, where they hold 9-5-5 record against the Crew. Home field advantage will come in handy this Saturday. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.
As four-time Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winners, the Chicago Fire entered last night's third round game against the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-2) with confidence. The Hammerheads had not played a Major League Soccer (MLS) team since they lost to the New York Red Bulls in 2006. However, that fact did not show at all as the Fire fell to the Hammerheads 1-0. Chicago dominated a majority of the game and was presented with plenty of opportunities to score, but none of their shots were able to get past the Hammerhead's goalie Daryl Sattler. The loss knocked the Fire out of the tournament, and now they must travel to the Mile High city this weekend to face the Colorado Rapids for their first league match in two weeks.
Chicago has done tremendously well on the road this year with 4-1-3 record in 8 games. Colorado, though, has historically been a difficult city for the Fire to dominate. This is the first encounter of these two teams this year, and both share the exact same record and hold the fourth place position in their respective conferences. The Fire hope to pick up three road points this weekend, which is something they have only accomplished twice in 11 years of play, and they have not won a game against the Rapids since 1999. Their record against Colorado is not the only thing the Fire has to worry about. After a long undefeated streak (11 games), the Fire lost three consecutive games in June. The team hopes they will not post a fourth consecutive loss this Saturday.
The Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America is meeting tomorrow to figure out once and for all how they should regard players of the Steroid Era in their future Hall of Fame voting. One Delaware sports writer is urging them to "do the right thing."
When the dust clears after tonight's NBA draft, will Kirk Hinrich end up wearing a new uniform?
Finally, meet the man who motivated Michael Jordan to greatness (by beating him out for the last spot on their high school basketball team): Leroy Smith. (If he looks a little like Charlie Murphy, that's purely coincidental, we're sure.)
The Chicago Fire's 11 game unbeaten start to the season ended in catastrophic fashion in a 3-0 loss to Dallas FC at Toyota Park. The Fire gave up two first half goals to set plays, continuing an alarming trend, before Kenny Cooper - who seems to always score against the Fire - added a third with a free kick. Another alarming trend is the Fire's inability to match their road results when playing in front of their home crowd.
There were mitigating circumstances for their miserable performance. Playing their third game in eight days and missing usual starters Wilman Conde, Gonzalo Segares, and Blanco, fans can hope this is a fluke. Some, however, will say the unbeaten start to the season was a fluke. One thing is for certain though: with Bakary Soumare set to join the group of Fire players leaving and CJ Brown leaving yesterday's match injured, the Fire have a tough month ahead of them.
We finally found out where all the breaks the Fire couldn't catch at Toyota Park are. They're on the road. The Fire's 3-2 victory over league-leading Chivas USA, was the latest in a string of victories from the Fire that haven't measured up in quality to the games they only tied at Toyota Park. Though anyone not named Arsene Wenger will tell you, quality doesn't matter. Results do. You could see that on the faces of Fire players, as they celebrated the final whistle like it was a playoff win.
The Fire were down 2-1 after a couple of howlers from Jon Busch (missing a routine save) and Bakary Soumare (giving up a penalty by leaving his feet in a position where he really didn't need to). A comeback looked unlikely until former Fire stalwart Jesse Marsch received a red card for his second bookable offense. From there, Denis Hamlet had license to throw on attacking substitutions in the form of Patrick Nyarko and Baggio Husidic. The move paid off in the 89th minute as Nyarko scored a late equalizer. Then, deep into injury time a seemingly inconsequential cross led to contact on Brian McBride in the box and a pretty soft penalty call.
A little lucky? Sure. But the comeback also shows the kind of never-say-die attitude the Fire have shown all year, and more importantly, the momentum they've been gathering recently. They'll need more of that against Dallas at home this Sunday, when they'll be missing Blanco, Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare due to World Cup Qualifiers.
Wipe your tears, Hawks fans. According to USA Today, the young team's gotta wear shades ('80s music reference).
Not only are Derrick Rose's academic endeavors at Memphis under scrutiny, but it looks like the grade hanky-panky extends back to high school.
So does this SAT probe mean anything for the next batch of NBA hopefuls, many of whom will be here in Chicago for the annual pre-draft camp?
Answering the cries of many Cubs fans, GM Jim Hendry says the trading of Mark De Rosa isn't the problem. Meanwhile, The Bleacher Reports thinks moving Alfonso Soriano to second is one of the answers. And if the sale of the team to the Ricketts family doesn't go through, Sam Zell says "don't worry".
So who's the most important Bear on the team right now? If you think the answer is obvious, think again.
Even with deep dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches all over the place, Chicago is pretty average when it comes to fitness. We're 25th out of 50.
The Fire ground out another road victory on artificial turf Sunday vs. the New York Red Bulls. The win means the Fire remain the only undefeated team in MLS. It makes their record a respectable 4-0-6. It also puts them at the top of the Eastern Conference and within striking distance of overall point leaders Chivas USA, who they play tonight in LA. The Fire might relish the prospect of a third successive away game, since wins have perplexingly come much easier on the road than at home for the Fire under the Denis Hamlet regime.
But make no mistake, the coming weeks will be hard for the Fire. Traditionally, they struggle in months that start with a J and a grueling schedule means their fitness and depth will be tested to the maximum going into this June. After tonight's match in LA the Fire return to Chicago to play Dallas FC on Sunday. That means they will be playing 3 games in 7 days on three different coasts (including the third coast). Additionally, with reports of Blanco's retirement from international soccer greatly exaggerated, that's one more player that will be jetting all over the world for World Cup Qualifiers in early June. Combine all this travel with the Fire's recent adventures with field turf and I expect we'll either see a few sluggish performances in June.
For once it was the other team's turn to rue missed opportunities as the Chicago Fire won for the first time in five games against Toronto FC. It wasn't pretty. Both teams struggled with windy conditions and the artificial playing surface (check out how Toronto feels about playing on the stuff here ). Toronto had more attempts on goal than the combined efforts of the past three teams that the Fire tied. It came as no surprise to Fire fans that some of those chances were missed by former striker Chad Barrett. He also cramped in the 85th minute, though he surprised many by making it that long. There was more than a hint of controversy in the Fire's opening goal, as Chris Rolfe scored on a breakaway only moments after the ball struck Logan...Pause on the hand for what could have been a penalty.
But really, isn't it about time the Fire had a dose of good fortune? Over the past five games they've been punished for every single mistake they've made. Finally notching another win should build some confidence in the team that will go a long way the next time they have a one goal lead at home. It's weird to write this about an undefeated team, but hopefully this weekend's victory signals the end of a slump.
Meanwhile, Chicago's other pro soccer team, the Red Stars have a budding star with the free-spirited midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Elsewhere, ESPN shows the Red Stars some by singing out goaltender Caroline Jonsson as one of the standouts in the Women's Professional Soccer League's inaugural season.
Vancouver is still trying to hold its collective heads up high after being bounced by the Blackhawks. But at least they don't welch on a bet.
If you had a brand-new boat (and really, in this economy, who doesn't?), the Chicago Park District has given you two new harbors.
Yahoo! Sports has the Bears finishing 11-5 this season. Hmmm...what changed?
As long as the Arena Football League is gathering mothballs, former Rush coach Mike Hohensee figures he's better earn a buck somewhere else.
Tired of movie dates, candlelit dinners and walks along the beach? Try antigravity yoga (among other alternative and physical date ideas).
New video game upstart retail outlet Play N Trade opens a new store in the Chicago area.
Seeking to assert their masculine superiority, the baseball-playing Schaumburg Flyers will take on the Chicago Bandits, the 2008 National Pro Fastpitch champions, in a fastpitch softball game. Why am I temped to bet the house on the Bandits?
Luis Arroyave announced today that he's quitting as the soccer writer for the Chicago Tribune to become their celebrity/nightlife columnist - something he always had an interest in covering in his blog. As the best source for news about the Fire, he'll be greatly missed. Hopefully this won't mean the end for quality soccer coverage in the Tribune.
There is no hiding it anymore. Despite being the only undefeated team left in MLS, the Chicago Fire are mired knee-deep in mediocrity. Their 2-0-6 record leaves them an unimpressive third place in a less-than-impressive Eastern Conference. It's not enough just to not lose games. They need to figure out a way to win them too.
The New England Revolution team that the Fire played on Saturday night was so depleted by injury that they had to play the league's best defensive midfielder at center forward. Still, the Fire could only manage a draw. It's just the latest in a series of games where the Fire couldn't come up with a victory against struggling MLS teams.
The San Jose Earthquakes, Kansas City Wizards, New England Revolution, even the Columbus Crew, who were off to a horrible start; these are the teams you need to take 3 points from to have a shot at the Supporter's Shield. Having left 10 points on the table in the past 5 games, that ship might have already sailed for the Chicago Fire. So what's going wrong?
It's getting hard to know what to make of this year's Fire team, but they still haven't played in a boring game this season. Last week they played some of the best soccer seen in the league and managed to throw away a two goal lead in the final eight minutes. This week against the Columbus Crew, they played their worst soccer to date and managed to come back from two goals down in the last five minutes.
Most of the match looked like a continuation of last season's Eastern Conference Final. The Crew dominated play, Blanco and McBride were anonymous, and nobody, but nobody, on the Fire was capable of defending Chad Marshall on a set play. Last year Brian McBride was assigned to the big defender, this year the Fire switched it up and stuck Bakaray Soumare on him. The result was the same, with Marshall shaking off Soumare to score the Crew's opening goal and looking like a threat every time Guillermo Baros Schellotto sent the ball his way.
The Chicago Fire may still be undefeated, but Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Kansas City Wizards sure felt like a loss. Leading 2-0 after 20 minutes and playing some of the best soccer seen from a Fire team in years, for much of the game the only real question appeared to be how many goals the Fire would score.
But Kansas City goalkeeper Kevin Hartman pulled off a series of great saves in the second half, and then former Fire striker Josh Wolff snuck in two unlikely late goals. It left most of the disappointing crowd of 10,000 scratching their heads and wondering what just happened.
Maybe with a lineup already missing the defensive prowess of John Thorrington and Wilman Conde, Fire coach Denis Hamlet didn't feel he could risk starting Cuahtemoc Blanco in an away game to the San Jose Earthquakes. He certainly had reason to be concerned about the defense, as replacement defenders Brandon Prideaux and Dasan Robinson both looked very rusty.
Or maybe he's right in his assessment that Blanco isn't ready to go 90 minutes. There were times in Saturday's match it looked doubtful Blanco could even go 45.
But if Hamlet, after watching the Chicago Fire play the first half in San Jose without Blanco and the second half with him, is still hesitant to play the Mexican star then he might just be the fun-hating monster some people make him out to be.
The Chicago Fire travel to San Jose for a match against the Earthquakes Saturday afternoon at 3pm. The big question isn't if they'll remember how to play in non-frigid temperatures. It's who is going to replace John Thorrington.
The Chicago midfielder is suspended due to his red card against New York last week. While two of the Fire's star players, Chris Rolfe and Cuahtemoc Blanco, are looking for their first starts of the season, neither one of them quite plays the same role as Thorrington. It highlights the one area where the Fire lack depth - central midfield.
Hamlet has a few options. He could start Blanco in place of Thorrington and hope the rest of the midfield can provide enough defensive cover. That's how the Fire played at the beginning of last season, with some success. He could also ask Chris Rolfe to stretch his versatility even further, playing him in the center of midfield to go along with his previous stints as a striker and wide midfielder. Or he may add another defender and move Wilman Conde or Tim Ward into the midfield. If that happens, the question is, who's going to complain louder: Blanco or people on the Internet?
The Chicago Fire will play their annual benefit match with UIC at UIC Flames Field at 7pm. The Fire are not exactly fresh off of an opening day victory over the New York Red Bulls where they had to play most of the game shorthanded due to John Thorrington's red card as well as overcome weather bad enough to shut a baseball game down. It's been noted before, but this year's team keeps proving it's made of pretty stern stuff.
Look for some of the Fire's starters to get a rest. Of course, these days the Fire is deep enough that their bench includes Chris Rolfe and Cuahtemoc Blanco, two guys that will be eager to prove that they're fit enough to play 90 minutes. Also look for rookie Baggio Husidic to try and impress his new team against his alma mater. It's a rare chance to see the Fire within city limits and the incredibly reasonable $12 admission fee will go towards the Chicago Fire Foundation.
The Chicago Fire open their season at home Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park against every Fire fan's least favorite team, the New York Red Bulls. The Fire owned the Red Bulls last season, going 3-0 and outscoring them 11-3. Will the Fire be able to continue their domination of New York? That's just one of several questions to be answered on Sunday. Others include:
Are Fire fans ready to forgive or forget about coach Juan Carlos Osorio's hasty departure from Chicago for New York?
Will Denis Hamlet start Cuahtemoc Blanco?
Will the new reduced price seating in the terraces dilute the atmosphere in Section 8 or will it mean noisier fans in other parts of the stadium?
How many fans will a home opener draw in the usually low drawing Sunday afternoon timeslot?
Two games into the season, the 2009 Chicago Fire have shown a type of mettle that wasn't there last year. In their first game, they came back from going a goal down to beat FC Dallas 3-1. And let's get this straight, they didn't come back from just any goal. They came back from this:
Things have been so quiet this off-season for the Chicago Fire that it's almost escaped attention that their season kicks off Saturday night against FC Dallas. You can check the game out on Fox Chicago at 7:30pm or, if you like watchingsoccer inbars, Section 8 lists a few viewing parties on their website.
Now, a quiet offseason is not necessarily a bad thing. The Fire didn't need to make any major changes to their roster and they haven't. Tim Ward has been added to fill out an already deep defense and Bulgarian striker Stefan Dimitrov has been signed as the backup target guy for Brian McBride. Wilman Conde has played defensive midfield - the one area the Fire doesn't have a lot of depth - a few times during preseason. Other than that, the roster's mostly unchanged the team that came within 45 minutes of reaching the MLS Cup Final. And let's not forget, the Fire have had Brian McBride from the start of preseason this year, rather than having to learn how to play with him on the fly. After all of last year's offseason drama, for most Fire fans no news is good news.
Still, if you have to read something to get ready for Saturday's game, check out this Q&A with Fire coach Denis Hamlet where he addresses issues like playing Chris Rolfe in midfield, the situations with Lider Marmol, Tomasz Frankowski and Wilman Conde, and being the first black coach in MLS.
Didn't He Just Want To Come Home?
During the January transfer window, there was noise in England about Brian McBride's former team, Fulham, trying to sign him on loan for the rest of the English Premiere League Season. It sounded like a pretty silly idea. After all, McBride could have stayed at Fulham, but took a substantial pay cut to finish out his career in his hometown and be with his family. Why would he then turn around and go back to England for three or four months? And on top of that, why would the Fire let him miss out on pre-season and the first month of the regular season? Well, the good news is that the Fire didn't let him. The bad news is that McBride wanted to go and is unhappy about the way the Fire handled the bid- at least according to Ives Galarcep. Could this be another case of a well-seasoned pro not enjoying the level of soccer in MLS a la David Beckham?
Obama at a Fire Game?
After a last minute change to the MLS schedule that pitted the Chicago Fire against DC United in DC United's home opener, rumors flew that President Barak Obama was invited to the game. It's been neither confirmed nor denied, but my guess is it's not going to happen.
One week in and I'm already going to interrupt my usual round-up of drinking in bars and watching foreign soccer to bring you a round-up of several important offseason developments for the Chicago Fire over the past week.
Farewell to the Captain
In a surprising development, Assistant Coach Chris Armas announced he was stepping down from his post to be closer to his family in New York. Armas has been with the organization since it started, first as a player, then captain, and then as an Assistant Coach. I like to think even though he's leaving; a part of him will always be with the club. Hopefully, he'll get inducted into the Ring of Fire this year. That lineup has decent management, a good sweeper, a playmaker and some strikers, but could really use a no-nonsense, tough tackling midfielder. More importantly, the fans just need a chance to thank the guy for everything he's given us. Wherever Armas lands, (and let's hope it's not the New York Red Bulls for Armas's sake) , he'll continue to be a credit to the US Soccer community.
Just got a press release saying that the Chicago Fire have extended Cuahtemoc Blanco's contract for another year. Most expected this to happen, but I was a little worried after his loan spell in Mexico. While there is an argument going around that the Fire could play a more fast-paced, counter-attacking brand of soccer without him, I think you have to consider this good news. Contract details are undisclosed - until the MLS Player's Union release salary information later this year.
No, not that "God," although the way the weather and the city's economic status has been going lately, a Second Coming might be in order.
No, the "god" in question is Liverpool soccer (sorry, football) legend Robbie Fowler and internet rumors have him coming to Chicago to play for the Fire next season.
According to the AOL Sports' Fanhouse site, Fowler, who scored 120 goals in 236 Premier League games, is thisclose to inking a deal with the Fire, although for a relatively piddling $9,000 per week. Why the lowball price? Fowler, 33, is reportedly interested in ending his career here and thanks to his real estate holding doesn't really need the money, which basically means he'd be playing for the love of the game. He was most recently released by the Blackburn Rovers.
He is the fourth-highest goalscorer in the history of the Premier League. After eight years with Liverpool, he left to play for Leeds United and Manchester City before coming back to Liverpool in January 2006. A little more than a year later, he signed with Cardiff City. A year and a half after that, he took a three-month "pay as you play" deal with the Rovers but left in December to become a free agent.
The Fire aren't the only ones interested in securing the striker's services. The New England Revolution are reportedly also in the bidding to bring him to the MLS.
Whether Fowler gets the opportunity to line up alongside Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brian McBride remains to be seen. In the meantime, here's some video tribute to Fowler from a fan on whom he obviously made an impression.
If you thought the Fire were done losing things this year, think again. On Wednesday, next season's expansion team, Seattle Sounders FC, will be able to pick one player from each existing MLS team, with each team allowed to protect 11 of its players. In the past the Fire have had to stomach loss of Nate Jaqua and Ivan Guerrero from expansion drafts. They're too deep not to lose somebody good this year.
Here's the list of guys the Fire chose to protect:
Goalkeeper: Jon Busch
Defenders: Wilman Conde, Bakary Soumare, Dasan Robinson, and Gonzalo Segares
Midfielders: Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Justin Mapp, Logan Pause, and John Thorrington
Forwards: Chris Rolfe, Brian McBride
No real surprises there. Swap out the younger Dasan Robinson for Brandon Prideaux and you have thestarting lineup in the playoffs. Striker Patrick Nyarko is automatically protected as part of the Generation Adidas program. However, Seattle can pick someone from this list:
Goalkeepers: Tyler Kettering, Nick Noble
Defenders: C.J. Brown, Lider Marmol, Brandon Prideaux, Austin Washington, Daniel Woolard
Midfielders: Mike Banner, Kai Kasiguran, Stephen King, Peter Lowry, Marco Pappa
Forwards: Calen Carr, Tomasz Frankowski, Andy Herron
Obviously, the name jumping out at everyone is Marco Pappa. Losing him would be a disaster. He's on loan from his Guatemalan team and his family ties to the Chicago area might make him less likely to sign a full-time deal with MLS to play anywhere but Chicago. Hopefully that will preclude Seattle from picking him. Other than Pappa, the most likely candidates to go would be Mike Banner, Calen Carr, C.J. Brown and Brandon Prideaux.
I had hoped that they wouldn't need to protect Blanco since he's a Designated Player and Seattle already has used there DP on Freddi Ljungberg. However, Blanco most likely has a "no trade" clause in his contract, so the Fire had to protect him. In other Blanco news, because he apparently got enough rest in the second half of the Eastern Conference Final, he's spending the offseason playing for Mexican Club Santos Laguna on loan. While everyone is still insisting he'll be back next year, it's up to Blanco and I wouldn't be shocked if he made the move to Mexico permanent. Not basing that on anymore than a gut feeling.
A while ago, the possibility was raised that new Fire President Dave Greeley might be a jerk. Since then we haven't heard a whole about him. Which is good since he was brought in to handle the business and marketing side of things and leave the soccer side to people that know the game.
But now that the season is over, we're going to get a glimpse of how the new President operates. On the plus side, Greeley did make Terrace level season tickets available for $99. On the minus side, there's an ugly rumor going around that the Fire are thinking about cheerleaders next year. But more alarming, the Supporter's Group Section 8 claim the Fire owe them $25,000 from the loss of the megabandera and commissions from a long-standing ticket selling agreement. According to the article, the Fire claim they won't pay the commissions due to damage to several benches in Section 8's area.
Seriously, what's more important? Stepping up and resolving an issue with the club's most loyal and passionate fans - fans who make going to Toyota Park a unique experience in Chicago sports? Or hiring cheerleaders so the place can feel to newcomers like a watered down version of more familiar sports.
Arroyave also got Busch's side of the story on his post-game altercation with Columbus coach Sigi Schmid. I was too busy crying in my beer after the game to see it, but the two exchanged words with Sigi Schmid telling ESPN "I went over to congratulate him on a great season and he had another word for it." To give a hint, that word was once used by members of former Chicago Fire management after dealing with the man who would become our current President.
As Busch sees it, waiting until after you've ended a guy's season isn't the best time to try to bury the hatchet with someone you publicly shit-canned. It kind of comes off as gloating. I'm sure both guys are a little wrong on this one, but I'm also sure Bakary Soumare, Brandon Prideaux, Wilman Conde and Gonzalo Segares are wondering what the big deal is. Busch yells something worse at them every time he has to make a save.
Anyway, expect a full post-mortem on the season later in the week when I can finally stomach it.
I really thought this was the year. But the Columbus Crew beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 to knock them out of the playoffs. The Fire looked strong in the first half, taking a well-earned lead through Brian McBride, but a poor five minute spell at the beginning of the second half saw the Crew score two quick goals through (ahem) Chad Marshall on a set piece and Eddie Gaven pouncing on a loose ball. After that, the Fire couldn't really get going and the Crew deservedly go through to the MLS Cup Final. There will be plenty of time for a lengthy post-mortem, second guessing coach Denis Hamlet, and wild speculation about the future of certain players. But for now, let's just take a second to be sad. Really sad.
The Fire found out their Eastern Conference Final opponent on Saturday night when the Columbus Crew beat Kansas City 2-0. It should be a great game with a number of intriguing matchups: Blanco vs. Schelotto, Defender of the Year runner-up Bakary Soumare vs. Defender of the Year Chad Marshall, Brian McBride vs. his former hometown, and Jon Busch vs. Sigi Schmid. The game will be Thursday night on ESPN2 at 6:30 with the winner going on to face either Real Salt Lake or, surprisingly, the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Cup Final. While it's not technically a home game for the Fire, try telling that to Section 8 who will be traveling to Columbus en masse.
The Fire knocked the New England Revolution 3-0 on goals from Chris Rolfe, Wilman Conde, and Gonzalo Segares. It was more than just winning a first round playoff game though. This was finally beating the Revs - depleted or not. I could tell it was huge when I saw the last guy to score a winning playoff goal against New England, Assistant Coach Chris Armas, jumping up and down hugging Technical Director Frank Klopas and looking absolutely giddy in the player tunnel after the game.
You couldn't have timed a more spirit crushing goal than Chris Rolfe's 45th minute opener. Getting the goal before halftime was huge, as New England certainly would have felt confident and upbeat in the locker room. Instead, their heads low, they gave up another goal early in the second half, effectively ending the game. It was also nice of the Fire to wait until everyone in the crowd finally arrived after the awful traffic from that wreck on I-55.
People are Starting to Notice The Fire
Yesterday, people at work actually asked me about the game. That's happened before, but usually only for gimmicky things like Freddy Adu playing while 14, or David Beckham playing while being handsome. This is different. This is about the word getting out about a genuine title contending team. There has been more space in the paper, judging by the TV trucks at the stadium some real local news coverage, Sports Illustrated is writing fawning articles, and they even lit the Sears Tower red last night. All of that might be a clue that this team is starting to catch on, but the real proof is the crowd of 17,000 that braved traffic and rain to get out to Bridgeview on a Thursday night and make a ton of noise. It's the kind of crowd that should make MLS think very seriously about having an MLS Cup Final at Toyota Park.
Tied at 0-0 from the first leg, the Fire's game against the New England Revolution tonight is massive, with the entire season in the balance. If you need some at work reading to get psyched for the game, the Tribune's Luis Arroyave will be updating his blog all day. The game's on ESPN2 at 7:30pm tonight, but really even if you're only mildly soccer-curious, you should get down to Toyota Park to check out the biggest game of the year. Don't tell me Bridgeview's too far. Blanco's family is coming from Mexico.
Soccer by Ives revealed that the Fire's Bakary Soumare has decided to play internationally for Mali, rather than wait two years for citizenship to play with the US. It's a big loss for the US National Team, as Soumare has had a breakout year in MLS and can only get better as he matures. It's also not the best news for the Fire, since it will mean a gruelling travel schedule for Soumare. Also, playing alongside the likes of Freddy Kanoute, Seydou Keita, and Mohamed Sissoko might raise Soumare's profile enough to hasten his departure to a European club. Still, anytime a player in MLS gets international call-ups it's not a bad thing and for Soumare congratulations are in order.
There might be more congratulations for Soumare after Thursday's results for MLS Defender of the Year are in. Speaking of which, John Busch earned Goalkeeper of the Year for his strong season with the Fire. As much as Busch always credits the excellent defense he has in front of him in interviews, the award is well deserved. It wouldn't be too surprising if he won Comeback of the Year as well, considering most people wrote him off after injuries ended his career in Columbus. Also, it really puts all the doom and gloom about not re-signing Matt Pickens last season in perspective.
If you want the textbook definition of "stalemate," look no further than last night's 0-0 playoff tie between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire. The Revolution, missing a host of starters due to injuries and suspensions, still came out full of hustle and made life extremely difficult for the Fire's attacking players. It was a typical MLS playoff game, full of intensity, late tackles and not a lot of pretty passing. It wasn't a game to win soccer-haters or Eurosnobs over, but for fans it was gripping and intense stuff. Of course, if the league could find a way to make every game mean as much as last night's, we'd get all that plus teams that have learned how to handle the ball under pressure.
But at this point, that's beating a dead horse. With the return leg scheduled for next week at Toyota Park next week and everything still to play for, let's take a look at what's worrying and what's not so worrying for the Fire going into next week.
The Chicago Fire kick off their playoff campaign tonight away to the New England Revolution on ESPN2 at 7pm. Their position as favorites in the two-game series has been cemented further by the news that Chicago nemesis Taylor Twellman is out indefinitely due to a concussion. On top of that, midfielder Steve Ralston is out with a broken leg and winger Khano Smith is suspended for going after the guy that broke Ralston's leg in the last game of the season. Still, New England have the best center midfielder in Shalrie Joseph. They also have a great coach in Steve Nicol, who will be facing his toughest challenge as a manager yet. Expect a battling performance from New England. There's no way they're going to make this easy.
If you missed it last Thursday (and I missed it because I was sick), the Fire ended the regular season in style, destroying the New York Red Bulls 5-2 in their best offensive display of the season. Chris Rolfe's hat trick against the Red Bulls earned him Player of the Week honors. It also pushed him up to 9 goals, which made him the Fire's top scorer. Other end of season awards went as follows: MVP, Jon Busch. Defender of the Year: Bakary Soumare. Humanitarian of the Year: Diego Gutierrez.
The win should give the team a lot of momentum to build off as they go into the two-game playoff series against New England with their attack finally firing on all cylinders. Both games will be on ESPN2, with the away game on October 30th and the home game on Nov 6. The Fire have torn it up on ESPN2 this year, going 4-1 with a plus six goal differential. They've also torn up the New England Revolution this season, going 3-0 with a plus eight goal differential. Do any of those stats counter the one that says the Revs have ended the Fire's season for the past four years? I think this might be the year, but they'll probably have to play the games to find out for sure.
Mixed World Cup Qualifying Fortunes
On Wednesday night, several Fire players represented their countries in World Cup Qualifying with varying degrees of success. Marco Pappa scored his first goal for Guatemala, offering further proof that Frank Klopas and Denis Hamlet have a real find in the young midfielder. His team's shot at advancing out of their group took a real hit though, as they lost 2-1 to Cuba. Gonzalo Segares played 90 minutes for Costa Rica in a 2-0 victory over Haiti. And Chris Rolfe finally got a much deserved recall to the US National Team thanks to an injury to Columbus' Robbie Rogers, which ironically happened during the Columbus-Fire match last week. Sadly, Rolfe only had a cameo appearance, subbing in the 88th minute of a shocking loss to Trinidad and Tobago. The question is, with the Fire already in the playoffs, will Denis Hamlet risk playing any of these guys on Toronto's punishing field-turf after a midweek game and grueling travel schedule?
Bad News For the Fire's rivals
On Thursday night, the New England Revolution lost to DC United, putting the Fire in prime position to seal 2nd place, and home field advantage (for what that's worth). More importantly, it underlined how the Revs will struggle without their injured midfielder, Steve Ralston. Another conference rival, the New York Red Bulls, had an even worse week. MLS officials always want evidence that they're catching up with other professional sports in the country, but I don't think they had in mind Jeff Parke and Jon Conway's 10 game suspension after testing positive for a bannedsubstance. Is all this good news for the Fire? I wouldn't bet on it. Sometimes when a team's back is against the wall they're at their most dangerous.
Speaking of betting.
Chad Barrett, now with Toronto FC, plays against the Fire for the first time today at 7pm. Since I'm publishing this on a Saturday, chances are you're reading this at work on Monday and already know the result of the game. I'll just say this, Chad Barrett probably scored against the Fire. Things work out like that in soccer. Check out this excellent Luis Arroyave article about his time with the Fire and his departure. He was one of the most derided players to ever wear the Fire red and I certainly had my share of criticism for him. But he was starting to kind of win me over before he left. You have to give him credit for never giving up and never hiding, no matter how much he struggled. While trading him for McBride was a good move, it's good to see Barrett's doing well in Toronto. And just to hedge my bet a little, if he didn't score, I'll bet Barrett at least missed an open goal.
The Chicago Fire only needed a tie to secure a spot in the playoffs. Their opponent, the Columbus Crew, only needed a tie to seal up the best regular season record in the league. So it was predictable that the game would end in a draw. That was about the only predictable thing about Sunday afternoon's game, though.
What could have been a tense, defensive struggle turned out to be a thrilling, offensive, end to end affair. After going ahead through a Brian McBride goal, the Fire continued to create chances only to be let down by poor defending from a usually solid backline going from 1-0 up to 2-1 down within a minute. A poor clearance from the usually perfect Wilman Conde led to Columbus midfielder Eddie Gaven's 60th minute goal and then the Fire got caught napping off a counter-attack from a corner in the 61st. Notably, both goals came after near misses from the Fire. It was that kind of game. Even after the Fire leveled the score at 2-2 through McBride again, both teams pushed for the winner when a tie suited their purposes.
On the same weekend the Cubs crashed out of the playoffs and the White Sox kept their playoff run alive, the Chicago Fire visited a minor league baseball stadium and let a chance to clinch a playoff spot of their own slip through their fingers. The way results had panned out around MLS, a victory over the Kansas City Wizards would have guaranteed the Fire a playoff spot with three games remaining. Unfortunately, leading 1-0 at halftime, the Fire gave up an early second half goal and had to settle for a 1-1 tie.
A breakdown of what all this means, after the break.
While most of the city has one eye on the playoff fortunes of its baseball teams, let's take a second to note that the Chicago Fire look set to qualify for their fourth consecutive post-season. In fact, looking at the league table and doing some complicated math, the Fire could clinch a spot this weekend if they beat Kansas City and both DC United and FC Dallas lose.
Looking at that table also reveals the most likely scenario will be a first round matchup with the New England Revolution. You'd think this would be an appetizing prospect since the Fire have gone 3-0 against them this season, outscoring them 9-1. But New England have ended the Fire's season every year since 2004. So should the Fire clinch a playoff spot, don't be too surprised to see a few people suggesting they tank the rest of the season just to avoid the Revs.
Last week, in front of a packed (but not completely full) house, the Chicago Fire rebounded from a miserable performance against FC Dallas to overwhelm the LA Galaxy 3-1. It was the Fire's best game in months and should have fans a bit more optimistic about their postseason chances. It also reminded fans just how good this team can be when it's firing on all cylinders. Just to change things up, here's a look at what went right.
So what's different this year? For one, the novelty has worn off a bit. It certainly doesn't help that Cuahtemoc Blanco is in the middle of his least-productive spell since joining the Fire. For LA's part, despite the presence of both Beckham and Landon Donovan it's impossible to disguise that the L.A. Galaxy aren't a very good soccer team. In addition to that, you have a weeknight game, which means people getting off of work and then facing the prospect of fighting through traffic to Bridgeview. There were disappointingly low turnouts for both the Everton friendly and the U.S. World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad on weeknights as well. It might also have something to do with most of Chicago having one eye on the Bears and another one split between the White Sox and the Cubs playoff hopes.
Or maybe the Fire and MLS labor under the delusion that all they need to do to is sign a couple of star players and they're already a big-time organization.Tribune reporter Luis Arroyave recently mentioned getting cold shouldered by the Fire several times this season - including a trip to spring training to get an interview with Blanco, who was never made available. It lead him to broaden his soccer coverage and put less focus on the Fire. This Wednesday, pregame interview opportunities with Beckham were limited to trying to catch him on the way out in a media/player "mix zone." Which meant reporters would have to spend the afternoon hoofing it out to Bridgeview without any guarantee of getting a quote from Becks.
From my own experience, over the course of three years three different people have been in charge of media relations - each with progressively fancier titles. The attitude towards media credentials requests from a website writer has gone from "Sure we really love your writing" to "Wait, exactly who are you again?" to not even bothering to respond. In their defense, in this case it meant the Fire sold one more season ticket package, but there have to be better ways of selling tickets.
It's hard to remember the Chicago Fire playing worse than they did during this Sunday's 4-1 pounding at the hands of FC Dallas. The Fire have certainly played some stinkers in the past, notably during the last two season's horrible winless streaks during the summer. But those games featured injury ravaged squad that had to rely on the likes of Calen Carr, Chad Barrett, and Jerson Monteiro. This week the Fire missed Bakary Soumare through suspension and Logan...Pause due to an injury, but the squad was otherwise intact. The other dispiriting thing about the performance is that it came in September. With the playoffs right around the corner, there's very little time to turn it around.
What went wrong? It's tough to even know where to start, but after the break is as good at place as any.
You can't say the Chicago Fire don't care when they have a bad day at the office. At halftime of the Chicago Fire's 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids, coach Denis Hamlet offered a brutally honest assessment of his team's play to sideline reporter Sarah Kustok, saying something along the lines of, "we're playing terribly."
Goalkeeper Jon Busch, who blundered on the first goal and could have been expected to save the second given the season he's had, said this about his performance:
"The loss came down to me. I was not good in the first half...I am disappointed with myself. I let myself down, I let the coaches down, I let my teammates down, and I let the fans down. But I will take this one on the chin. We have a really good team here, we just need to regroup and go from there."
But maybe the most brutal criticism of the team's performance came from MY50's commentator, Fred Huebner. Coming back from a commercial break early he could be overheard telling color commentator Chris Doran, "Then we'll come back and you can tell us why they sucked."
Check it out in its full glory from youtube after the break.
After this Wednesday's World Cup Qualifier against Canada, Cuahtemoc Blanco announced his retirement from the Mexican National Team. That means he won't be missing anymore Fire games for callups, which is good news for Fire fans. It also means the end of one of the most storied Mexican National Team careers ever. Check out this excellent article from Sports Illustrated to get a sense of it.
The US is playing its first World Cup Qualifier in the modern era in Chicago tomorrow and the Trib is reporting only 8,500 tickets have been sold. This is the US National Team. It's not a friendly game. It's a competitive World Cup Qualifier And by the way, Trinidad and Tobago is no pushover. Don't get me wrong. I love going to Fire games, but this should be a step up from a regular season MLS game in terms of the level of play and the importance of the game. It should draw at least as many fans. Come on America, do the right thing. Go to a soccer game.
It's not even a question really. Blanco will start every match he's available — and rightly so. He's not only drawing attention to the league and fans to the games, but he's also proven to be quite good at soccer. But after the Fire's clutch 1-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, it's been pointed out numerous places that the Fire are 3-0 this season without Blanco in the lineup. Thanks to the hard working duo of Stephen King and Logan...Pause, the Fire controlled the game against New York in a way they didn't against Houston with Blanco on the field the week before.
That said, for all their dominance this week, the Fire didn't create that many chances. They had to rely on a terrible mistake by the Red Bulls defense to come up with their only goal. The key going forward into the post-season will be to find a way to combine the work rate shown in the midfield against the Red Bulls with the flair and creativity Blanco brings. Which might mean sacrificing a few other creative midfielders for workhorses. Which might explain why Justin Mapp was relegated to the bench against New York, despite signing a four year contract extension.
The Fire play conference rival New York Red Bulls this Saturday night. The last time the two teams met the Fire absolutely stomped the Red Bulls 5-1 in one of their best performances of the season. Things have changed since then. The Red Bulls have put together a decent run of results, bringing them withing 3 points (ie, one win) of the Fire in the standings. The Fire are coming off a 2-1 loss against Houston which underlined many of the team's failings if they want to be championship contenders. Despite being loaded with talent, they don't have the chemistry, organization, or work rate that the defending champs showed last week. On top of that, the Fire will again be missing Blanco, Gonzalo Segares, and Marco Pappa due to World Cup Qualifiers. So it should be pretty interesting with New York looking to gain ground and a backs-against-the-wall Fire team looking for a chance reassert itself. That's not what matters though.
What matters is that this is the first trip back to Chicago for New York Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio. Osorio came in to replace fired Fire coach Dave Sarachan last year, stayed for about five minutes and jumped ship as soon as he had a better offer in New York. Hopefully meetings between Section 8 and the Fire front office this week over the Sector Latino affair mean the banners, drums, noise and (yes, Cuahtemoc) drunkenness will be back in time to give Osorio the welcome that he deserves.
A few interesting posts about Dave Greeley, the new Fire president, from former key members of the team's front office, Peter Wilt and Steve Pastorino. Apparently Greeley was pretty anti-soccer when he was with the Bears.
According to Wilt, during negotiations over the use of the new Soldier Field by the Fire:
"While most of the city and Bears representatives were polite, though a bit patronizing, Dave seemed bent on putting the Fire in its place with condescending comments. At one point during the meeting, Greeley's relentless disparagement of soccer and the Fire forced AEG's Bill Peterson and me to swear at him (as I recall, it began with an "f" and ended with a "u"), get up from the table and head for the door.
"Burke stopped us in the hall way, apologized for Greeley and convinced us to return to the table."
In a move that isn't going to make any more friends amongst a fanbase that is getting more and more alienated from him all the time, Cuahtemoc Blanco told Hoy that he didn't know if he'd return for a third year with the Fire. He originally had a two year contract with an optional extension for a third. Most people assumed it would be extended a third year, or as Babelfish says, "the decision to make that option effective so that returns the player the next year is of the equipment and that without place to doubt will make it effective." The news that this option might not be so effective might have made a lot of fans kind of upset if they hadn't noticed that Blanco hasn't actually scored or set up a goal in ages and weren't too drunk to read the article to begin with.
Does anybody remember John Guppy? Me neither. But the Fire finally hired his replacement,Dave Greeley, who spent six years with the Chicago Bears as Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Director of Sales & Marketing. Greeley will be the top Fire executive leading the strategic planning and overall management of the franchise and stadium. Obviously, that management of the stadium part still needs work with the parking situation still a nightmare three years in and the Fire's relationship with it's most loyal fans at an all time low. While Guppy also had a role in the soccer side of things, it looks like that will be left to Technical Director Frank Klopas and coach Denis Hamlet.
The U.S. National team plays Guatemala tonight in World Cup Qualifier, the result of which will bear a big impact on next month's match vs. Trinidad and Tobago at Toyota Park. Despite spending the entire season towards the top of the table, no Chicago Fire players were called up to represent the U.S. There will be a Fire player in the mix, however, with new midfielder Marco Pappa getting his first call up for Guatemala.
Gonzalo Segares will also make a trip to Central America to play for Costa Rica against El Salvador, and Cuahtemoc Blanco received a surprise call up for Mexico against Honduras.
All this would be well and good if the Fire didn't have a game tomorrow night. Thankfully, their opponents, the LA Galaxy, will be missing some stars of their own with David Beckham heading to England for a friendly against the Czech Republic and Landon Donovan playing for the U.S. So, the two teams with the biggest stars in MLS will meet in the marquee ESPN2 spot without either Beckham or Blanco present. I think I've mentioned that MLS needs to pay attention to the international soccer calendar a few times already
Brian McBride's debut in a 1-0 loss to DC United was overshadowed by the growing controversy between Section 8 and Fire management over Monterrey Security's treatment of its hispanic faction, Sector Latino. Section 8 sat quietly for the entire first half, creating an eerie atmosphere of silence in a near sold out stadium. Not helping matters are quotes coming from the man who has brought most of the hispanic fans to the stadium in the first place, Cuahtemoc Blanco, calling a faction of the fans "garbage."Keep in mind, this is a translation. Also keep in mind there are definitely two sides to this story. Blanco's personal security guard, Mexican-American Juan Gaytan Jr., owns Monterrey Security -- the company accused of racial actions. Both sides really need to cool down on this one, but you can't help but feel that if the relationship between Section 8 and the Fire front office hadn't been steadily deteriorating for the past four years (including last year's attempt to search every Section 8-er at a separate entrance) this wouldn't have turned into such a big problem.
It may not make it to the side of a milk carton, but the Chicago Fire fan club Section 8 is missing their banner.
Some people might have an opinion about who they are, but a new book of photos entitled "We Are Cubs Fans" seeks to define the loyalists visually. The obligatory Ronnie Woo Woo photo is included.
Speaking of the Cubs, Sports Illustrated joins the rest of the country in being amazed that they AND the White Sox are both in first place and may make the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1906.
And speaking of the Sox, Fox Sports calls the acquisition of Carlos Quinten the steal of the century. OK, they call it the steal of the season. It just LOOKS like the steal of the century.
Tickets for the National Pro Fastpitch softball championships go on sale this Saturday at Judson Sports Complex in Elgin, home of the Chicago Bandits. The Bandits are one of the four teams who will be participating.
Now that the Blackhawks are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, new fans might want to read about one of the team's legends featured in a story from the Sports Illustrated vaults.
It's not that rare that an American soccer commentator gets something wrong. It's even less rare to find some jackass on the internet complaining about American soccer commentators getting something wrong. I've been that jackass on a few occasions. What you don't see that often though, is an American soccer commentator coming to the biggest soccer forum in the country and apologizing for a mistake. Chicago Fire commentator Chris Doran did just that after erroneously questioning why New England Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph received a straight red card for petulantly knocking the ball out of Cuahtemoc Blanco's hands on a throw in, normally a yellow card offense. As noted in Doran's apology on Big Soccer, it was actually a yellow card offense - Joseph's second of the game, which meant a red card. As Peter Nowak would say, props to Chris Doran for owning up to the mistake.
Doran wasn't the only person that made a mistake on the night, and his was hardly the worst.
I remember the first time I saw them. There were maybe five or six shirtless kids, jumping up and down, waving their shirts above their heads and cheering next to a banner that said "Sector Latino". It was 2005 and they were in the empty end of the mostly empty Soldier Field. I remember looking at them and thinking, "Jeez, I hope each one of them brings about 10 friends to the next game." Instead, security came along and kicked them out of the empty section, to boos from the rest of the crowd.
Three years later though, Sector Latino has grown and turned into a substantial part of Section 8. But they haven't stopped getting hassled by security. I wasn't at the Chivas USA game, but apparently it featured the worst cases yet of abuse from Toyota Park's rightly maligned Monterrey Security. Details at the Section 8's website. Check it out, it's a must read. Kudos to Section 8 for sticking together on this, and to the Fire front office: fix this now.
I'll cop to it. I really screwed up. Faced with the chance to see three professional soccer games in Chicago this week, I only saw two. Worse than that, I missed the one that actually mattered: the Chicago Fire's 1-0 win over Chivas USA. Call me a blatant Eurosnob (or a guy who had way too many scheduling conflicts this Saturday), but I chose international friendlies over a competitive league match. The good news is that when faced with a glut of options, not everyone did.
The Fire's friendly against Everton FC, the fifth place team in the wildly popular English Premiere League, drew a paltry 9,000. Barcelona's friendly against Chivas Guadalajara drew 40,000 to Soldier Field. That's nothing to sneeze at, but a little disappointing considering we're talking about Barce-friggin-lona here. And really there were waaay more Chivas fans there than people that bought Barca jerseys out of the Eurosport catalog. Meanwhile, the Fire drew a sellout 20,492 crowd to Toyota Park for their regular MLS league game against Chivas USA. That number was helped by the fact that they sold combo ticket packages with the Barcelona game, but the fact that that much soccer happened this week and it didn't cannibalize the MLS attendance says something for the loyalty and interest the team is starting to generate.
And, OK, the games that I went to were approached like they were totally just friendlies, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot to enjoy about them. Observations after the break:
The Fire announced today they've acquired Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pablo Pappa Ponce from CSD Municipal. He will be available to play in the friendly tonight against Everton, which should give us a look at a few intriguing new faces - Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, and maybe even Lider Marmol, if he really does exist. Still no word on the Brian McBride signing though. What's up with that?
This Sunday the Fire ground out its second shutout in a row and it’s third in three games. The defense continues to look solid and Jon Busch has to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league this year, whatever the All-Star Vote says. Even while they’re not playing particularly well, the Fire can still keep on pace with the rest of the league thanks to their defending. That’s the good news. The bad news is this: those three shutouts have all been scoreless ties and it’s starting to get really boring.
Worryingly, unlike previous games, this week the Fire rarely came close to scoring. Those who had been calling for Polish striker Thomas Frankowski to start in place of Chad Barrett got their wish, with Barrett not making the trip to Kansas City because of his imminent trade to Toronto. Frankowski, may indeed be a better finisher than Barrett, but odds are we’ll never know because he’s too lethargic to get himself into positions to score.
With Brian McBride not due until after the Olympics, it leaves the question where will the goals come from until then. (And by the way, McBride still hasn't officially signed with MLS - what's up with that?) Chris Rolfe will be a big part of the Fire’s attack, but he's not the kind of player that should be playing as a lone striker. With Calen Carr out for the season, Andy Herron still woozy from that concussion, and Frankowski not doing much, it’s time to see more of rookie Patrick Nyarko. He looked good in his few minutes against Kansas City, setting up one of the Fire’s best chances of the night for Stephen King. Wednesday night's friendly in Everton will be a chance to see if he's ready against top level opposition, without throwing him in the deep end in a league game. Expect to see him play a lot in the game, and if he does well, don't be surprised if he starts against Chivas USA on Saturday.
Calling this the All-Star break is a bit of a misnomer. The Fire actually play against the Kansas City Wizards this Sunday and no MLS squad without Gonzalo Segares can really be called an All-Star team. Still it’s as good a time as easy to talk about the Fire’s performance over the first half of the season.
And you know what? It’s all gone surprisingly not badly. Keep in mind the Fire lost their coach, their starting goalkeeper, and their captain during the offseason. Still, the Fire started the season incredibly well, going 6-2-2 up until June. And even the traditional summer slump is more of a blip that’s sent them from first place to third rather than the black hole of suck it was last year. After all, the team is undefeated in its last four league games. They’ve only won one of those, but still…
One thing that's really struck me about the team this season though - this is not a team that's happy to settle for a draw at home.
MLS announced their full All-Star squad today. We already knew Cuahtemoc Blanco would make the team, as he was announced as part of last week's not-neccessarily starting "All-Star First XI." Surprisingly, no other Fire players were picked to fill out the squad. Goalkeeper Jon Busch, with the lowest goals-against average in the league, and Gonzalo Segares, whose stellar play has been such a huge part of the Fire giving up the fewest goals in the league, probably have the biggest gripes. But really, neither of them will be missing out on much. The All-Stars will be taking on London's West Ham United, a solid English Premiere League team, but nowhere near as glamorous a side as the Chelsea team that played in Toyota Park in 2006. Busch and Segares are better off having a bit of a rest. Besides, they'll be getting a game in against a quality English team when they take on Everton next week.
Within a week of an alleged fistfight with teammate Wilman Conde, Cuahtemoc Blanco was at it again. This time, at least, he remembered to hit someone on the opposing team as Blanco was red carded during the Chicago Fire’s US Open Cup overtime loss against DC United for hitting Clyde Simms in the chest. I saw the footage on YouTube and the red card was completely justified. Additionally, there are reports of Blanco head-butting a DC United official.
It was an eventful weekend for The Chicago Fire. First, two of their top players got into a fist fight. As Ives Galarcep, points out, if you’re Wilman Conde and you want to leave the Chicago Fire, maybe the best way to go about it is taking a few swings at Blanco. But then again, if Conde really wanted out, maybe he wouldn't have played so well Saturday night. Blanco played too, by the way, and they seemed to have the air cleared enough that you sure couldn't tell they had to be pulled apart the day before.
Looking over their record the past couple of years, one thing is clear. The Chicago Fire hate playing in the summer. After a bright start, recent signs have pointed that this year may be no different. Some truly clueless looking displays during a three game losing streak have the alarm bells ringing.
If you ever need an indication of the mood in the Fire locker room, you need look no further than the body language of Chad Barrett. He’s made serious progress this year, but reports from last Thursday night’s loss to Chivas USA (which I missed out on due to Euro2008 fatigue and some broken ribs) had him missing his requisite two chances per game and wigging out about it.
Of course, just like Barrett fans have a tendency to overreact to the smallest blip in form. Is it really a full blown crisis? Not really. The Fire have lost to DC, Dallas and Chivas. Two of those teams, the Fire lose to with some frequency. If the Fire can’t stop the rot Saturday night against the expansion San Jose Earthquakes though, it might be time to start panicking. Oh, and please ignore the fact that it's apparently Disco Night at Toyota Park.
When the Chicago Fire didn’t want to let Wilman Conde follow Juan Judas Osorio to New York just because he wanted to, people called them jerks. When the Fire didn’t let the Red Bulls sign Lider Marmol because the Fire had already put a discovery claim on him, people called them much worse. But they were wrong. The Fire was doing everything in their rights to stay as competitive as they could and not help a rival Eastern Conference team. That’s what a sports team should do.
So it’s hard to defend this quote in the Tribune from Frank Klopas about his negotiations with Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston about acquiring the rights to Brian McBride:
There are plenty of good reasons for leaving your couch and watching any sport in a bar, but with soccer there are more than most. For one thing, being in a noisy, boisterous crowd does a better job of being at a live game than the mostly bored sounding American commentators. For another thing, there’s always a soccer game going on somewhere in the world, and usually more than one. And lastly, beer.
When they lost to Kansas City, I shrugged. When they lost to Houston, I raised an eyebrow. After their shocking injury time loss to DC United this weekend, I’m worried. The Chicago Fire, with an unbeaten 4-0-1 record on the road, now have a losing 2-3 record at home.
It’s tough to explain, especially now that the Fire are getting strong home support with an announced crowd of 19,000 this weekend. Maybe the Fire just aren’t used to playing in front of crowds? Even going back to the Soldier Field days, they always seemed to save their worst performances for large crowds showed up for an international doubleheader. It’s a good thing that their U.S. Open Cup home match will be played in Peoria on Tuesday night.
In the meantime, you can whet your soccer appetite by voting for the MLS All-Star Team. The Fire haven't fielded too many players on the team in recent years, but that should change given this season's form. Of course Cuahtemoc Blanco is sure to make it. But for me, one player stands out and it would be a crime if he didn't make it. This season, Gonzalo Segares has gone from a good young defender, to quite simply the best left back in the league.
If you still want to exercise your democratic right to fill in online soccer polls, the Chicago Fire's website gives you a chance to vote for your the Chicago Fire All-Decade Team. Here's who I went with: Zach Thornton in goal; CJ Brown, Lubos Kubic, and Carlos Bocanegra in the back (with an honorable mention to Gonzo); DaMarcus Beasley, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Peter Nowak, and Cuahtemoc Blanco in a pretty unstoppable midfield; and Frank Klopas and Hristo Stoichkov in attack (just couldn't vote for Razov). Feel free to tell me I'm an idiot in the comments section.
With the Fire off this weekend, it’s a good time to talk about the non-MLS soccer games in Chicago this summer. At the top of the list, Barcelona FC will play at Soldier Field August 3. Barcelona features a ridiculously star-studded lineup including Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry (although some of those names might change during the summer transfer season). Friendlies between European superpowers in Soldier Field have a deservedly bad reputation ever since Manchester United and Bayern Munich reserve teams played one of the worst soccer games of all time there. For that reason I was pretty excited when Chivas Guadalajara was announced as Barcelona’s opponent. Chivas will attract passionate fans, be more willing to make a game out of it than another touring European team, and sad to say, are probably more capable of making a game out of it than an MLS team.
Yesterday Arlington Heights native Brian McBride decided to leave English Premiere League club Fulham. Any American soccer fan with a heart would love to see such a seasoned pro finish his career with his hometown team, and any Chicago Fire fan with a brain knows that even at 35 he could help this team a whole lot. However, with the MLS rules as they are, Toronto FC would have first dibs on him and he'd also probably take up a Designated Player slot that the Fire doesn't have. So the question becomes: How much would be too much to give up for a 35-year-old striker on a team that's pretty deep in strikers?
Well, at least one team treated it as more than your typical, early season MLS league game. The Fire creamed Juan Carlos Osorio’s New York Red Bulls 5-1 on the road. Osorio had to watch the demolition job from somewhere in the stands thanks to a red card last week, but he wouldn’t have been able to do anything from the bench either. This Fire team is really hitting its stride and had the extra motivation of playing against their old coach, so the Red Bulls didn't stand a chance.
Coach Denis Hamlet has been making decisions based as much on team chemistry as tactics and individual talent. His decision to start controversial Columbian defender Wilman Conde showed both a great understanding of player management and a sound tactical mind.
It used to be hard to figure out which rival MLS team to hate the most. We’ve tried with our nearest rivals, Columbus, but it’s hard to take them seriously. There was the “Brimstone Cup” with the Dallas Burn, but they changed their name, left our conference and that whole thing seemed to mostly take place over internet messageboards anyway. And then there was New England, which stopped being fun the fifth time they knocked us out of the playoffs.
But we’ve been going about it all wrong. Sometimes when you're really looking to hate a soccer team, you wake up after a rotten offseason and find it’s been staring you in the face the whole time. Of course I'm talking about this Sunday's opponents, the New York Red Bulls. In addition to the fact that they’re a New York (er, make that New Jersey) sports team, there's plenty not to like about the New York Red Bulls. Let's count the ways.
I had read a few glowingstories in the middle of the week, and had an uneasy feeling. Then, when I got to Toyota Park and saw it on the big screen, I knew we were in trouble. The opening video touted how at 5-1-1, the Fire were off to their best “seven game start” of the season in club history. Surely the jinx was on.
Tomorrow night Chicago Fire playmaker and Mexican national hero Cuahtemoc Blanco will throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game. Since he probably doesn’t know the words, he won’t be singing during the seventh inning stretch though. That duty will fall to the striking partnership of Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe. Just a guess, but I’ll bet it’s going to sound pretty terrible. Also betting Blanco can throw a pretty mean fast ball.
Bruno Menezes, we hardly knew you. After a year of being on the fringes of the squad, the Chicago Fire released the Brazilian in favor of Paraguayan defender/midfielder, Lider Marmol. I could have sworn he was waived Menezes sometime last year, but apparently it didn't happen until yesterday. He came in at a strange time for the team. Dave Sarachan was on his last legs as a coach, the team had a serious injury crisis, and it was playing incredibly badly. Not a great situation to be introduced to a team. In limited time last year (2 starts, 3 games total) I thought he had potential to help out on the right side. The fact that he played under four coaches in a year (Sarachan, Hamlet on an interim basis, Osorio, and Hamlet again) and he takes up one of the precious foreign player slots meant the timing and the situation just never turned out right for him. Also, I think he should have gone with the Brazilian style single name and been known simply as Bruno. That might have helped.
New players getting lost in the shuffle at a changing club is hardly an MLS phenomenon though. World soccer is full of situations like this. Just ask Matt Pickens,
The Chicago Fire lost their first game of the season, despite playing some of their most impressive soccer of the season. More than any other sport, soccer’s funny like that – a team can dominate most of the game and still lose. And before anyone starts talking about it being unfair, they should take a trip in a time machine to last week and have a chat with a San Jose fan.
When popular GM Peter Wilt was fired by AEG, then-owners of the Chicago Fire, fans protested by wearing black to the 2005 home opener. Now new owner, Andrew Hauptman, has fired his replacement, General Manager and President John Guppy. I'll have a whole lot more to say on the John Guppy era, its end and what it says about new owner. But for now, wow.
With the Fire off over the past weekend, most of the discussion has been about the recent release of player salaries by the MLS Player's union. Unsurprisingly, Blanco -- as part of the same salary cap exemption that allows the league to pay for David Beckham -- accounts for about half of the team's payroll. Among the other players there some eyebrow raisers like Bakare Soumare and Patrick Nyarko making more than proven guys like Chris Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares and Dasan Robinson. There are reasons for the wonkiness, but rather than go into all the vagaries of the super-complicated MLS roster rules, I'll just say a look at those numbers gives you an idea why so many solid mid-tier American MLS players like former Fire striker Nate Jaqua are departing for not so glamorous European teams like SC Rheindor Altach of the Austrian Second Division.
And then you have the guys on the "Developmental Roster" trying to live in Chicago on $12,900 and $17,700 a year. At least they didn't end up in New York or LA on that wage. There have been success stories from the developmental ranks like Rolfe and Robinson. But "developmental" is a misnomer since these guys suit up and play for the first team. Asking people to pay to see "professional athletes" playing for sub-poverty line wages has to be an embarrassment to an entity that describes itself as Major League. Which is why the player's union publishes all these numbers in the first place.
The Chicago Fire made a mockery of their defensive reputation, putting 4 goals past the New England Revolution in the first half of last night's home opener at Toyota Park.There were mitigating circumstances with two of the Revolution's best players out injured and a 7th minute red card depleting the visitors even further. But there were a lot of things to be encouraged about. The team showed the killer instinct in front of goal that they lacked so much of last season. New guy Tomasz Frankowski scored twice, which will surely help him feel more comfortable in his new surroundings. But the real star of the night was oft-maligned striker Chad Barret, who scored the first goal, set up both of Frankowski's, and in general exhibited a lot better decision making than we saw from him last year. As for the "Toyota Park experience," 3 seasons in and the parking lot still isn't completely paved. Also it took a little bit of looking around, but I can confirm that you can still buy an Okocim at the stadium.
The Chicago Fire's home opener against the New England Revolution kicks off at Toyota Park tomorrow night at 7pm.
It’s been a traumatic offseason for the Fire. Coach Juan Osorio quit after just half a season to take a job with the New York Red Bulls. The Fire attempted to hire John Spencer, assistant coach of the champion Houston Dynamo, but he very publicly turned the job down. This led to Assistant Coach Denis Hamlet finally getting the job he’d been passed over for twice.