The trophy cases in the Chicago Fire lobby got a new addition last week, courtesy of the youngest members of the Fire organization. The Chicago Fire U-10 Academy team, playing up an age group, won the U-11 Crew Fall Classic Championship with a commanding 7-2 victory over the Crew Juniors Gold East on October 7. Before heading out to training last Thursday, the team was on hand to personally place their trophy in its place of honor.
For the young team, the Crew Fall Classic was their first opportunity to play together in a tournament.
"They really impressed me a lot over the weekend," said Head Coach Charlie Trout. "They really came together as a team and performed at a very high level. They started to build an identity as a team and as the tournament went on, their individual personalities really started to show. It was a great experience for them and I feel like they turned a big corner that weekend."
Perhaps what made the victory even sweeter was that it was against the Crew.
"A lot of the boys support the Chicago Fire," said Trout. "They know how huge the rivalry is between the Fire and the Crew, so that added a little more excitement for them."
And if displaying their trophy alongside the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy from the Fire's historic 1998 MLS Cup victory wasn't enough excitement, the U-10s were given a special treat when Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas stopped by and addressed the team. Klopas spoke to the youngest members of the Fire family about the honor and responsibility that comes along with wearing the Fire badge.
"There have been times where Frank has come out and watched the boys train. You see the way they look over, see who he is and their excitement rises," said Trout. "For them to get the trophy that they worked so hard for and put it in the trophy cabinet that involves the whole club is fantastic for the young boys. It gives them such a confidence booster. It's great for them."
After taking a weekend off from MLS play, the Men in Red return to action when they head to Bean Town for their third match of the season against the New England Revolution on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. CT (NBC5.2/97.5 ESPN Deportes). With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Fire are still within reach of the Eastern Conference crown.
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko said that now that the Fire have officially clinched a spot in the playoffs, the focus will be on gaining the top seed in the conference. Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was “frustrating,” said Nyarko. “We should be a perennial playoff team.”
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, who joined the team at the end of July, is destined to be a huge part of the Fire’s post-season run. Now that he has had time to settle in and get acclimated to the team and to the city, MacDonald says, “I’m very comfortable with this group. I’m very happy.”
One player who missed the dreary Chicago weather this weekend was Alvaro Fernadnez, who is with Uruguay for two World Cup Qualifiers. Flaco and Uruguay fell 3-0 to Argentina behind a Lionel Messi brace, and one writer finally put the Diego Maradona-Lionel Messi debate to bed. “Lionel Messi is not Diego Maradona,” said Zach Woosley. “In fact, he’s better…much better.”
Flaco and Uruguay have one more match this week when they take on Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, Bolivia on Oct. 16.
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with rookie defender Austin Berry. Since being drafted in the first round ( 9th overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Austin has become a mainstay in the Chicago Fire defense, starting 26 consecutive matches for the Men in Red and scoring three goals along the way to help the Fire secure their first playoff berth since 2009. The Rookie of the Year front-runner from Cincinnati, Ohio, Austin was a standout at the University of Louisville where he helped the Cardinals to their first ever NCAA National Championship appearance in 2010. Austin took the time to answer our Burning Questions about Berry-themed nicknames, his prowess on the basketball court and the Berry family Halloween tradition.
Always on the Inside: What is the worst Berry themed nickname you’ve ever had?
Austin Berry: The current one that Arne [Friedrich] has given me, “Jerry Berry.” The origin is unknown, so is the spelling.
AOTI: The Irish Harmonica champion is also named Austin Berry. Do you play any musical instruments?
Jake Bronowski, Massage Therapist: Is there a difference between a regular harmonica and an Irish harmonica?
AB: Maybe theirs goes up and down. Instead of left and right, they go up and down. But no, I don’t play any instruments. Absolute no.
AOTI: You lettered in basketball from 2003-2005 at Summit Country Day. Can you still ball?
AB: I’m an awful basketball player. I just played for fun. I had no jump shot. I was a defensive specialist. I was in there for rebounds and defending. But I had fun. It was fun because my junior year, my last year, five of the starters from the soccer team were the five starters for the basketball team. It was something that I did personally to stay in shape between club soccer seasons.
AOTI: In an era of fluorescent cleats, you rock white ones on game days. Why is that?
AB: Those are the ones that have metal studs. And because it’s classy.
AOTI: You haven’t grown your goatee out in a while. Are you mellowing as you get older?
AB: I can’t really grown facial hair. The goatee takes me a good four weeks before it actually comes in and it’s not even a good one at that. So when it comes out, it’s just me being too lazy to shave for a month.
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
AB: I’m not big on dressing up, I’m just big on candy. As long as I get enough candy, I don’t need to celebrate it. I love candy. Mambas and Shock Tarts are my favorite.
AOTI: What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
AB: I know the worst ever Halloween costume is my parents had a tradition of dressing their kids up as a purple grape and attaching a bunch of purple balloons to you so you were a grape. That was always one of our Halloween costumes and it was awful. At a certain age, we all had our purple grape stage. It was young, before we could make decisions for ourselves.
AOTI: What do you make for dinner if you’re looking to impress Martha Stewart who is stopping by the rookie crib?
AB: If I was impressing her, I would order delivery, put it in the oven then take it out. But I like making Teriyaki salmon with stir fry.
AOTI: What’s the theme song for the “Austin Berry: Rookie Year” reality show?
AB: “Sail” by AWOLNATION.
Gentlemen, start your playoff beards.
The Fire’s big 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls Saturday afternoon combined with the 1-1 draw between the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City Sunday ensured that the Men in Red would be participating in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs.
With 56 points on the season, the Fire sit just three points behind conference-leading Sporting KC. Chicago Fire Confidential’s Guillermo Rivera took a look at the remaining schedules for each of top six teams in the Eastern Conference.
Though MacDonald’s brace Saturday afternoon played a huge part in clinching a playoff berth, the former Dutch youth international said that he had “mixed feelings” after the victory as Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to Philadelphia still weighed on his mind. “We should have played the same the same way as today against Philadelphia, and we would have won easily.”
Now that a playoff spot has been secured, German defender Arne Friedrich can look at the losses against Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union as a bit of a blessing in disguise. “I’m happy we lost before the playoffs start because in the playoffs there is no room for losing games.”
While the entire Fire squad played exceptionally well on Saturday, Friedrich and MacDonald led the team with Player Ratings of 8.
Is there a better way to celebrate the Fire’s return to post-season play than with 400 of your closest friends? The final count is in and the October 8th Anniversary Planning Committee announced that more than 400 attendees will celebrate the Fire’s 15th Anniversary at the Chicago History Museum Monday evening.
With the Chicago Fire chasing their first post-season berth since 2009, MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg says that the Fire vs. New York Red Bulls match on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. (NBC/97.5 ESPN Deportes) is the most meaningful match between the two clubs since 2000.
MLSsoccer.com’s Three for Thursday took a look at the top three previous matches between the Fire and New York.
Prior to Saturday’s match, Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko and defender Austin Berry took part in a Google + Hangout to discuss the match and answer some quirky fan questions.
While no one wants to dwell on the 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union Wednesday evening, it was a special night as the club celebrated its 15th Anniversary by welcoming back Fire legends Chris Armas, Peter Nowak and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who were honored at halftime.
Armas said that under Frank Klopas’ tutelage, the Fire now seem like the Fire squads of old. “It’s an honest, hardworking, passionate group. It has team written all over it.”
In honor of the 15th Anniversary, the Fire teamed up with Bumpy Pitch, the authorities on the soccer lifestyle, to create a limited edition t-shirt that features the Municipal Device, an iconic symbol of Chicago.
The shirts are available at the Chicago Fire Fan shop and on www.bumpypitch.com with $5 benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.
While everyone is amped for Saturday’s showdown with the Red Bulls, it will be extra special for rookie defender Austin Berry as he will celebrate his 24th birthday on Oct. 6. The club recently teamed up with Quaker Oats to create a special Life cereal box in an effort to garner attention for Berry as the chase for the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year crown heats up.
PR and marketing guru Joe Favorito called the campaign “a great example of old school grassroots outreach, smart and effective partner activation…a great gauntlet to be thrown down for MLS best practices.”
The #Berry4ROY cereal box also made its way to the small screen, where it made its TV debut on Windy City Live (11:25 mark).
Make sure you tune in to the marquee matchup of the weekend as your Men in Red take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. CT on NBC and check out this promo video to hold you over until then.
When the Chicago Fire take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday night at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park at 7:30 p.m. CT (NBC Sports Network/97.5 ESPN Deportes), the Men in Red will not only be playing for the club’s first playoff spot in three seasons, they will also be fighting for first place in the highly-competitive Eastern Conference. CSNChicago.com’s Len Ziehm breaks down the Fire’s most important Major League Soccer game in “nearly five years.”
Yet as one of the few players with MLS playoff experience, forward Chris Rolfe as been trying to keep the team level headed. “You can’t get emotional about these games,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas and his technical staff have added seven new players. While all have played a significant part in the run to the post-season, perhaps none have been as influential as Rolfe. In his second stint with the Fire, Rolfe now leads the team with eight goals and two assists. In an in-depth piece interview by The Sporting News’ Brian Straus, Rolfe discusses his stint in Denmark and how returning to Chicago was a seamless transition. Straus perhaps puts it best when he says, “Rolfe needed Chicago, and Chicago needed Rolfe.”
Another midseason acquisition that has panned out for the Fire is Brazilian midfielder Alex, who hasn’t missed a beat since stepping in for the injured Pavel Pardo, and brings “a little bit of unpredictability” to the Fire midfield.
On the flip side, the success of Rolfe and his strike partner Sherjill MacDonald has relegated speedy Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro to a reserve role. While Oduro may be a little disappointed with his lack of playing time, he told the Chicago Tribune that he respects the coach’s decision and just has to “be as professional as possible about it and keep [his] head up.”
Along with the offensive success, the Fire surely wouldn’t be up for the Eastern Conference crown without the solid play of the defensive unit. Since his debut on May 4, Austin Berry has been a constant, steady presence along the Fire’s backline and NBC Sports’ Steve Davis says that he is “almost ready to call” Berry as the winner of the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year crown.
Davis isn’t the only person to notice that Berry has put together an impressive season. In the latest edition of MLSsoccer.com’s Rookie Rankings, Berry once again reigned supreme and lead the pack as the top rookie in the league.
Before tonight’s match, check out MLSsoccer.com’s Three for Thursday for a look at the battle off the pitch between Chicago and Kansas City.
So don’t miss the marquee matchup of the season and tune-in to the NBC Sports Network tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT to see if your Men in Red can overtake Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Since the start of the 2012 MLS season, the Fire have added six new players to the roster. With the Men in Red set to battle for first place tomorrow, Friday Sept. 28 against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network, it’s hard to argue against the impact that the newest players have had on the team.
Here is a quick look at the Fire’s midseason acquisitions:
Rolfe returned for his second stint with the Fire on April 16. Having suffered an ankle sprain in his first week back that kept him out commission for two months, Rolfe made his Fire “re-debut” on June 2 in a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. Since then, Rolfe has started 14 of 17 games and now leads the team in scoring with 8 goals. Rolfe has two multi-goal games so far this season, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 12 and two goals in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sept. 22. The veteran Fire forward has five games left to hit double-digit goals, a feat he never accomplished before leaving for Denmark in 2009.
Brazilian attacker Alex joined the Fire from Swiss side FC Wohlen on April 26. Alex has two goals to his credit in 13 appearances. Having started five games, the Brazilian attacker has found fire of late, scoring both of his spectacular goals during the month of September in 3-1 wins over Houston (September 2) and Montreal (September 15).
Sherjill MacDonald signed with the Fire on July 24 from Belgian club Beerschot AC. In nine games for the Men in Red, the former Dutch youth international has two goals and three assists to his name. Since earning his first start on Aug. 12 against the Philadelphia Union, MacDonald has started seven consecutive matches, helping the Men in Red to a 6-1-0 record in those matches.
Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Fernandez joined the Men in Red via trade from Seattle Sounders FC on July 27. Fernandez, who has made seven starts in eight games, scored his first Fire goal on Sept. 12 against Toronto FC. Just three days later, Fernandez scored his second goal of the season and added an assist in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 15.
Thompson joined the Fire in a trade from the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 10. Thompson, a 2010 MLS Cup winner with the Rapids, provides additional depth to a strong Fire midfield, and has made three appearances off the bench in his young Fire career.
On Sept. 14, the Fire announced that the club signed two-time World Cup veteran and Mexican international forward Guillermo Franco. Franco saw his first action in a Fire shirt in MLS Reserve League action when the Fire defeated FC Dallas 2-1 on Sept. 18. Franco, who has yet to make his first team debut, is available for selection by Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas when the Men in Red take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28.
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with forward Sherjill MacDonald. Since joining the Fire on July 24, the Dutch striker has scored two goals and tallied three assists, helping set up a battle for first place against Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network. Sherjill took the time to answer our Burning Questions about how he spends his time in Chicago, the difference between European and American fashion and just how many people mispronounce his name.
Always on the Inside: You’ve been in Chicago now for a few months. How are you liking it?
Sherjill MacDonald: I love it. I love the restaurants; my favorite of the moment is an Italian restaurant called Scoozi! It’s close to my house so I go there a lot. I’ve been to the Hancock Center and eaten upstairs on the 95th floor, so that was fantastic. I have an apartment in River North. I love it. It’s a quiet neighborhood, it’s nice for dogs, so I like to walk the dog. It seems like a dog-friendly neighborhood.
WATCH: MacDonald equalizes vs. Montreal
AOTI: What kind of dog do you have?
SM: She is a Chihuahua mixed with a French Bulldog. Her name is Nala, from the Lion King.
AOTI: You’re pretty active on Twitter. What do you like about it?
SM: I like to talk to the fans. The last game I traded a fan that had made a banner for me with a jersey, so I like to do those kind of things. Sometimes I give away shoes to the fans; it helps to keep in touch with the fans.
AOTI: You’re a pretty stylish guy. What is the main difference between European and American fashion style?
SM: I’ve noticed that everybody wears running shoes, like downtown, so now I also do it. I think it’s an American thing because the distances are a little bit further. I’ve sometimes seen people wear suits with running shoes. It’s a lot of people.
AOTI: Who do you think are the best and worst dressed guys on the team?
SM: I like everybody’s style. It’s difficult to see in football because when you come to training, you dress comfortably.
Editor’s Note: During the interview, Daniel Paladini declared that Hunter Jumper was the worst dressed player on the team because he favors Polo Ralph Lauren. This editor does not agree with the views and statements of Daniel Paladini.
AOTI: What percentage of people in Chicago mispronounce your name and what’s the worst pronunciation you’ve heard?
SM: I think 80-85 percent. The worst I’ve heard is “Sheryl,” like the girls name.
AOTI: What do you like to do on a typical day off?
SM: Normal things. I like to go into the city with my girlfriend, do a little shopping. I like to walk the dog. Sometimes we stay outside for two hours walking the dog, especially when there is good weather. We like to enjoy the weather.
I also watch all kinds of television series and all kinds of movies. I watch a lot of movies; sometimes I watch like five movies a day. I’m a movie freak. “Gladiator” is one of my favorites.
AOTI: Who is your roommate on the road?
SM: Last time it was Wells Thompson. He’s a very good roommate. He sleeps very early but it’s good for me. It was a good example for me so I also sleep early. He’s a nice guy, a very gentle guy so I like him.
AOTI: One of the things that has helped endear you to fans is your passion on the field. Is your on-field persona similar to your off-field persona?
SM: Off the field I’m not emotional, not the same as on the field but sometimes I have to keep my emotions more to myself. I just have to control them sometimes on the pitch. I’m working on it; some people like it, some people don’t like it. Personally I don’t like it. I have to be more focused.
AOTI: FIFA 13 was recently released. Which team and difficulty level do you usually use? If we had a team FIFA 13 tournament, where would you rank?
SM: I love FIFA. I’m going to get it. I play with Chelsea on the highest difficulty level. I think I would be maybe first or second on the team. Sean [Johnson] would maybe be first. Sean is very good.
With a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew Saturday evening, the Chicago Fire maintained their hold on second place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. After Crew forward Jairo Arrieta capitalized on a rare defensive miscue, Fire forward Chris Rolfe lead the charge with two goals in three minutes for a big Fire victory. Catch all of the highlights here.
Rolfe, who now leads the team in scoring with eight goals, was glad the Fire were able to convert their chances as he said it’ll get tougher towards the end of the season.
The victory marked the eight time this season the Fire were able to come from behind to take the full three points, which Rolfe calls, “A good thing.”
One of the reasons the Men in Red were able to bounce back so quickly from the defensive gaffe that lead to the Columbus goal was the team’s positive mentality, which according to Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas, was evident in the team’s reaction.
Tim Howard, currently the top ‘keeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team, told Soccer by Ives that for Sean Johnson and his fellow young, American ‘keepers, while growing pains are inevitable, “The sky is the limit.”
With the result, the Fire remained in second place in Jeff Carlisle’s most recent Power Rankings for ESPN, setting up for an exciting match on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City, who are ranked third this week.
The Guardian says that there is “no doubt” that Friday night’s clash for first place under the lights of LIVESTRONG Sporting is a must-watch, so make sure to “clear your diaries.”
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with defender Jalil Anibaba. Now in his second season with the Fire, Jalil has put together a solid sophomore season, starting 26 of his 27 appearances. An integral part of a solid Fire defense, he has also contributed on the offensive side, scoring one goal and adding one assist. A native of Davis, Calif., Jalil was selected ninth overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Jalil took the time to answer our Burning Questions about his hidden talents, his favorite birthday memory and what it’s like to own canaries.
Always on the Inside: You were named the Gatorade California Player of the Year for Soccer in 2006-07. What’s your favorite Gatorade flavor?
Jalil Anibaba: Probably Glacier Freeze. Light blue.
AOTI: What is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
JA: Probably a song of myself. I wouldn’t say I sing a lot but it’s a hobby of mine.
AOTI: Are you going to make us a mix tape?
JA: No. Definitely not. That’s why it’s one of the most embarrassing things on my iPod.
AOTI: Who plays Jalil Anibaba in the Jalil Anibaba movie?
JA: Probably one of my brothers because they know me so well, they’d be able to portray my character in the best light.
AOTI: Your brother Jammil and yourself look remarkably alike. How often do people confuse the two of you and have you ever used your similar looks to trick people?
JA: We’ve never used our similar looks to deceive people on purpose. In Chicago we get confused for each other pretty often. It happens a lot up in the Stadium Club after games but it’s great having my brother here for support. It’s awesome.
AOTI: Your birthday, which is on October 19, is almost exactly one month away. What’s your favorite birthday memory?
JA: I would say being back in Davis when I was younger, in my teenage years and before that. My birthdays were always special because they were times when the whole family was together. My grandmother would always come and make my favorite cake, Lemon Pound Cake. We would just have dinner together, so they were great times and great experiences.
AOTI: Last year you put together a very solid rookie season, starting 27 of 29 matches and registering three goals (one of which became the team's Goal of the Year) and one assist. This year the Fire have another rookie defender, Austin Berry, who is putting together similar numbers. Do you consider him your protégé and have you ever called him Jalil Jr.? What do you think of him following in your footsteps?
JA: No, I definitely don’t think of Austin as a Jalil protégé. Simply because I’m still a young player and I’m still trying to prove myself day in and day out. I think Austin has done a tremendous job learning on the curve, and that’s part of being a rookie. His future is definitely bright.
AOTI: What’s a typical day like in the life of Jalil Anibaba?
JA: I wake up for training, come to the stadium in the morning, and put in my day’s work as far as my profession is concerned.
Once I leave the stadium, the day is pretty slow. I like to get a nap in after training and then pretty much after the nap, it’s all about getting ready for the next day, so eating well, resting, watching either a movie or a couple of TV shows and just being ready for the next day.
AOTI: What TV shows do you like?
JA: There are a couple series that I’ve been intrigued with lately. I’m happy that season five of “Sons of Anarchy” started again; that’s one of my top choices. I was into “Damages” but that show is done now. I’m a big fan of “Suits.” With time on my hands I like to indulge in different TV series to entertain myself.
Reality TV is something that me and my brother and some of my friends like to get into. We watch “Love & Hip Hop” and “The Voice” to keep things light hearted.”
AOTI: Do you have any hidden talents?
JA: When I was young I used to skateboard and I used to yo-yo. I’m a little rusty but maybe I could still do some tricks.
AOTI: Your dad raises canaries. What’s the most interesting thing about canaries?
JA: What’s interesting about them is that the males sing, and they sing beautifully. If you’re ever to come to my house back in Davis, you’ll definitely hear birds singing, and it’s a great, great sound.