As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.
As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...
First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...
A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.
Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.
To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.
On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.
Touching down in Charleston earlier today, the team ate lunch and took in a bit of the Real Madrid/Manchester United Champions League match before heading out to their first training session in the Palmetto State.
Due to heavy rain in the area the past few days, the team's regular spot at Charleston Southern University wasn't in shape for a session so the squad ended up at Blackbaud Stadium's Training Field.
With this being our third straight year to Blackbaud, I've often wondered about the adjacent field which has the stadium on one side and a pond on the other... I wondered because when I saw it before, it had warnings about potential alligators.
Well, today I wondered no more as one of the resident gators (lets call him Charlie) was there to greet us and watch the entire 90-minute training session from just behind one of the goals. Luckily, everyone's shots were very accurate and on frame today...
Check out this video of the players reaction to Charlie and photos from day one of training below...
PHOTOS: Day 1 of Training in Charleston, South Carolina
After nearly a month with the U.S. Men's National Team, was good to see Sean Johnson return to Fire camp Thursday night.
This morning, he went through his first training session of 2013 with the team and got a bit of a workout from Goalkeeping Coach Aron Hyde with the reaction ball...
WATCH: Sean and the Reaction Ball
More from Sean on Saturday!
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi seems to be in fine form after offseason surgery to repair his pinkie finger.
Check out this video of a drill from a few days ago where Paolo shows fine form on a few stops (special thanks to James Belshaw for stepping right in front of me there too...)
A quiet hangs over Toyota Park. A grey monochrome colors the morning sky and a slushy snow blankets the ground. It’s winter in Chicago.
Behind the brick façade and deep in the bowels, a solitary figure works diligently to make-ready one of Toyota Park’s most renowned features – the field. It’s been 99 days since the Toyota Park pitch saw action and Toyota Park Turf Manager Eric Adkins has #cf97withdrawals.
Only 30 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park.
Don’t worry, Eric and his crew will have the pitch ready.
I'm pleased to announce that Saturday's preseason friendly vs. the San Jose Earthquakes at Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara, Calif. will stream live on Chicago-Fire.com beginning at 8pm CT/6pm PT.
The stream will mark the third of four preseason matches that have had live video coverage on Chicago-Fire.com this preseason.
As a reminder, all three Fire matches at the Carolina Challenge Cup later this month will also be carried live on Chicago-Fire.com. By the end of preseason, six of the team's seven total warmup matches will have been carried with live video while all seven will have had some type of live coverage.
Fire fans in Southern California can get tickets to Saturday's friendly for $12 (adults), $8 (youth). Click here to purchase.
Preseason is always a lot of work and a lot of fun.
One of the best parts though is the ongoing saga of number choice throughout camp as players leave, new players come in.
Rolfe had worn the number through his first five seasons with the Fire but when he re-joined the side last April, Mexican legend Pavel Pardo had it.
“There was no need to try and shift things around then,” Rolfe told Chicago-Fire.com. “While 18 was good for me last year I thought that it would be a good idea to switch back to 17 when it became available.”
With Pardo’s retirement announcement last month, the opportunity arose and the league recently approved Rolfe’s change back to the numerals with which he’s scored 40 of his 48 Fire goals across all competitions.
Check out the impromptu and sort of awesome video of the first new "Rolfe 17" jersey being pressed by Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo below...
NOTE: All-Time Fire #17s: Andrew Lewis, (1998-2001), Aleksey Korol (2002), Dipsy Selolwane (2002-2004), Rolfe (2005-2009), Davis Paul (2011), Pavel Pardo (2011-12), Rolfe (2013- )
With the #18 left vacant, renaissance Fire defender Steven Kinney jumped at the opportunity to switch from #28.
“My whole life I had been #18,” said Kinney. “Coming here the first year Mike Banner had it and through all my injuries I wasn’t going to be switching numbers. Then Rolfie came in and had it last year but when I heard him talk about switching to 17 I knew it was time to make my move.
Asked why #18 had always been his number, Kinney said, “It’s always just felt lucky for me. I would have done anything to get my hands on it.”
To be fair, he didn’t have to do too much.
NOTE: All-Time Fire #18s: Zach Thornton (1998-2004), Matt Pickens, (2005-2007), Mike Banner (2008-2010), Gaston Puerari (2011), Chris Rolfe (2012)
Stay tuned later this week for more updates on Fire squad numbers heading into 2013.
WATCH: Rolfe #17 is BACK!
A quick update on unsigned players currently with the team in Ventura, Calif...
Unsigned holdovers from Ave Maria
James Belshaw – GK – Supplemental Draft
Alec Kann – GK – Trialist
Neal Kitson – GK – Trialist
John Gallagher – DF – Supplemental Draft
Rauwshan McKenzie – DF – Trialist
Yazid Atouba – MF – SuperDraft Pick
*Note that while not listed, forward Colin Rolfe picked up an injury during the Columbus friendly last week. The former Houston Dynamo draftee won’t be with the team in Ventura but will re-join the squad in Charleston.
Rich Balchan – DF – Trialist
Caleb Konstanski – DF – Supplemental Draft Pick
Eric Robertson – DF – Trialist
Trialist #1 - MF - Trialist
New Trialists for Phase Two
Blake Brettschneider; Forward (D.C. United, New England Revolution)
If it seems like you just saw Brettschneider, that’s because he was on trial with the Crew, playing against the Fire in last Wednesday’s friendly. The South Carolina alum has made a habit of earning a spot on an MLS rosters in preseason, impressing D.C. United (2011) and New England Revolution (2012).
Like Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Brettschneider is also from Lilburn, Ga. and attended rival high school Parkview High School
Dailos Tejera; Forward (Conquense; Spanish Tercera Division)
A 22-year-old midfielder/forward that played in the Spanish second division with Conquense before being relegated after the 2011-12 season.
Kevin Mercado; Forward (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
One of two players on trial from LDU Quito, Mercado is an 18-year-old forward who made it into five matches during LDU’s 2012 campaign in Ecuador.
Jose Alexander Pabon Midfielder (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
The other trialist from LDU Quito, the 21-year-old Pabon has been with the club’s first team since 2010, appearing in 13 matches in midfield.
There are also two other new trialists that for discovery reasons will remain unnamed… Call them Trialist #3 and Trialist #4.