Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).
The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.
With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.
Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.
With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.
LIke hearing from Commissioner Garber in ways outside a normal conference call? Good, so do I.
We're both in luck as The Soccer Don will be doing a live address regarding the start of the MLS season this weekend on YouTube today at 5pm CT.
The team's match at San Jose last year was quite a memorable game. Chris Rolfe had put the team ahead with a long-distance toe-poke just before halftime and Sean Johnson literally stood his head.
So good was the Fire goalkeeper in the match that he made a career high 10 saves, many of them spectacular in the 1-1 draw against the eventual Supporters Shield winners...
10 days out from Opening Night vs. New England (TICKETS HERE), we look back on Johnson's outstanding performance last year at San Jose:
Just 14 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park and today we feature the Fire's #14 Patrick Nyarko.
One of the most underrated players in Major League Soccer, Nyarko has been a terror for full backs throughout MLS since coming into the league in 2008. Even when it seems like a play is lost, his the Ghanaian attacker's quick feet aid in keeping things alive for the Fire.
Nyarko has led the team in assists each of the past three seasons, tallying 26 since 2010, while his goal-scoring prowess also improved last season, with a career high four goals from out wide.
With 130 regular season appearances to his name, Nyarko broke into the club's top 15 list last season and having made 64 appearances the last two seasons, seems a good bet to go as high as eighth by the end of 2013.
Get tickets to see Pat begin his sixth season in Chicago when the Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park on Saturday, March 9 at 6:30pm.
WATCH: Patrick Nyarko Highlights
On last week’s All-In Podcast, Eunice Kim and I talked about the launch of the 2013 Fire Fantasy League through MLSsoccer.com’s Fantasy Manager.
I'm happy to say Commissioner Kim has the league up and running at http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com
Vie for bragging rights with myself, Eunice and and other Fire fans in the Official Fire Fantasy League this year where we’ll have prizes every month for the squad with the most points and an overall prize for the winner at the end other 2013 season!
We’ll even recognize the league’s highest point earner every week on the podcast (we might also talk trash to each other...)
Head to http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com, pick your team, check out the scoring system and rules and then join our Private League using code: 7609-1547
Even if its a preseason tournament, its nice to see the Fire atop these standings:
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||2||1||1||0||3||4||4||0|
But as I spoke to Chicago-Fire.com contributor Irish Steve Thursday about the scenarios for the team to clinch the Carolina Challenge Cup Saturday, one potential scenario had my head spinning.
To be clear, with two wins in their pocket, a draw or win in Saturday's first game vs. Vancouver (live at 4:00pm on Chicago-Fire.com) would give the Fire their first Challenge Cup title.
But should the team lose, say 1-0 to Vancouver and Houston beat Charleston by the same score in the tournament finale, the Fire, Dynamo and Whitecaps would then be tied not only on points, goal difference (first tie breaker), goals scored (second tie breaker) and goals against (third tie breaker).
Under that scenario, the table would look like this:
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||3||2||1||0||6||5||4||+1|
Head-to-head would be next best solution, right?
Well consider in that circumstance the Fire beat the Dynamo (3-2 win), the Dynamo beat Whitecaps FC (2-1 win) and potentially Whitecaps FC would have beaten the Fire (1-0 win), i.e., they would all share three points in the mini-group between the three MLS teams.
With the results of each matchday pairing with each other, the goal difference in the mini-group would be even but then, the next most logical tie-breaker (what I would call the seventh tie breaker) would be goals scored in the mini-group, which would potentially give Houston the title.
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||2||1||1||0||3||2||2||0|
However, after speaking to Battery President Andrew Bell post-game Wednesday, it seems the tie-breaking procedures beyond goals against are pretty fuzzy...
Good reason for the Fire to take care of business against Vancouver Saturday afternoon, though I hear Frank Klopas is pretty lucky in coin flips!
Carolina Challenge Cup Results/Fixtures
|2/16/2013||Chicago Fire||3:2||Houston Dynamo|
|2/16/2013||Vancouver Whitecaps FC||3:2||Charleston Battery|
|2/20/2013||Houston Dynamo||2:1||Vancouver Whitecaps FC|
|2/20/2013||Chicago Fire||2:1||Charleston Battery|
|2/23/2013||Chicago Fire||vs.||Vancouver Whitecaps FC|
|2/23/2013||Houston Dynamo||vs.||Charleston Battery|
Fire Preseason Check List:
* Some good wins
* Very few injuries
* Plenty of seafood
* Seeing team bond
* A trip to the adidas outlet for some new kicks
* A new found appreciation for salad
These have all been accomplished. Though as we come to the end of preseason, it occurred to me that not one prank has taken place.
Thankfully, Wells Thompson came through after last night's game and Michael Videira was there to capture it for us...
Sega assures me he's planning his revenge. Stay tuned, our last days in Charleston could be interesting...
Last August I wrote about Reid Strain, a forward out of the Fire U18 Youth Academy team who earned the chance of a lifetime when he was called up for the Puerto Rican senior team in their 2-1 friendly loss to World and European champions Spain.
Though he didn't play in that match, Strain appears to be a budding star in the Puerto Rican setup and tallied another goal for the nation's U-20 side this week during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.
Trailing 1-0 to Jamaica on Tuesday, Strain tallied the 22nd minute equalizer below before the Reggae Boyz hit back with three second half goals to win 4-1.
WATCH: Reid Strain tallies for Puerto Rico U-20s
Now just 16 days away from Opening Night vs. the New England Revolution at Toyota Park, today we look at #16 Marco Pappa's first goal in a Fire shirt which came on Opening Day 2009.
Pappa of course joined the Fire on loan from Gutemalan side Muncipal in July 2008 but didn't make much of an impact as he adjusted to MLS in his first season.
With a new season ahead of him on this rainy and cold day at Toyota Park, Pappa warmed up Fire fans by taking advantage of Luke Sassano's misplayed header to first-time his volley off both posts before being ruled a goal in a 1-0 victory over New York.
Little did we know that the first goal of his Fire career would be a sign of things to come with his next 25...
Watch below and make sure to get your tickets to Opening Night on March 9 when the Chicago Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park.
WATCH: Marco Pappa's Debut Goal for the Fire