Blog

jeff crandall

15 November 4:20 pm

As was widely expected, Fire defender Austin Berry was named as a finalist for 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Thursday along with former Louisville teammate and D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks.

Austin becomes the first Fire player since Chris Rolfe in 2005 to be a finalist for the award and sixth for the club all-time. Here’s a breakdown of the rookie seasons the others had…

Josh Wolff (1998) – As a member of Nike Project 40 (the precursor to Generation adidas), Wolff (right)played only part-time with the Fire appearing starting just four of his 14 appearances. It didn’t keep him from tying for the then rookie goal scoring record with Jeff Cunningham, tallying eight goals and three assists en route to helping the team to the 1998 MLS Cup double.

In a strange twist of fate, Wolff was a finalist with future Chicago Fire player Andy Williams (Columbus) and his future boss Ben Olsen (D.C. United). Olsen would go on to win the award and ironically enough Wolff serves as a player/assistant coach under him at the moment…

Carlos Bocanegra (2000) – Left on the bench as the team went 1-3-0 through their first four matches, Bocanegra was used in 27 of the team’s remaining 28 matches, helping the team to the Central Division title and a tie for the most points in MLS that season. Boca would also help the Fire to the MLS Cup final where they dropped a 1-0 result to Kansas City but would have to miss playing in that year’s U.S. Open Cup final win after being sent off in the semi-final against LA.

In the only all-defensive Rookie of the Year finalist class in MLS’ 17 year history, Bocanegra went up against former UCLA teammate Danny Califf (LA Galaxy) and Kansas City’s Nick Garcia. Though he tallied just a goal and two assists on the campaign, Bocanegra’s play outshined the others as he became the first Fire player to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Kelly Gray (2002) – The fifth overall pick for the Fire in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, Kelly Gray played mostly as a winger during his first season in Chicago. The University of Portland product would go on to tally two goals and five assists across 27 of the team’s 28 matches to cap a strong rookie season.

Gray would go up against other finalists in midfielders Kyle Martino (Columbus) and Brad Davis (MetroStars) and though he and Martino shared the exact same number of goals and assists, the Crew midfielder likely won because he achieved his numbers in less matches played (22 to 27)…

Damani Ralph (2003) – Though he wasn’t even the first forward the Fire would select in 2003, future Jamaican international Damani Ralph set the highest bar for MLS rookies by tallying 11 goals and six assists en route to helping the Fire to the club’s first and only Supporter’s Shield as well as a trip back to MLS Cup and scoring the game-winner to clinch that year’s U.S. Open Cup.

Teaming with Ante Razov after the departure of Josh Wolff in the offseason, the pair didn’t skip a beat, combining for 25 of the team’s 53 goals and contributing 12 assists.

Ralph went up against New England attacker Pat Noonan and MetroStars holding midfielder Ricardo Clark for the award. Though Noonan had near identical stats to Ralph (10 goals, 7 assists), the Fire forward made bigger contributions in helping his side to the regular season title and deservedly earned the award.

Chris Rolfe (2005) – One of the lowest drafted Rookie of the Year finalists in league history, Rolfe picked up the load left in the wake of Damani Ralph and Ante Razov’s exit and surprised many by leading the team in goals with eight, adding five assists in the process.

The club’s future second all-time leading goal scorer’s competition would be Kansas City forward Scott Sealy (nine goals, two assists) and New England defender Michael Parkhurst. Though he didn’t have the stats, Parkhurst appeared in all of the Revolution’s 32 regular season matches and was long the consensus favorite to win the award.

Austin Berry (2012) – Since making his first Fire appearance back on May 4, defender Austin Berry would go on to play in 28 consecutive regular season matches, tallying three goals in the process. It was in that 2-1 win over Chivas where Berry showed his resolve, conceding a penalty early on only to score minutes later. With that goal, he became just the eighth player in club history to tally in his first Fire appearance.

On the defensive end, Austin formed a solid partnership in the middle of defense with Arne Friedrich, helping the Fire tie for the second best defensive record in the league.

Berry is the only defender among the finalists, joining D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon and Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. DeLeon tallied six goals and four assists in a season where his form certainly dipped midway while some of Mattocks’ seven were highlight reel strikes but the Jamaican international disappeared in the second half of the season.

Based on play throughout the 2012 regular season, Berry should be the winner but the voters are fickle… We’ll find out on Monday.

05 November 12:23 pm

Following Wednesday’s disappointing knockout round exit to Houston, taking in the rest of the MLS Cup playoffs this weekend didn’t sit all the way at the top of my “want to do” list.

Being the seasoned Team Writer that I am, I decided it was a good idea to take in the four games from Friday to Sunday…

Real Salt Lake 0, Seattle Sounders 0 – Friday

With the Fire out, I have to say there are few teams in the league I would feel alright about winning MLS Cup and you know the Sounders do not fall in that category for me.

On the flip side, RSL has Fire legend C.J. Brown, defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and even former Fire beat writer Sam Stejskal slingin’ PR in Sandy, so if someone has to win MLS Cup, I wouldn’t mind for it to be our friends from the Sawatch Front?

Playing on the Seattle Seahawks outlined pitch at CenturyLink Field Friday night, it was Nick Rimando who stood tall in net, making five big saves for RSL and even suffering a broken nose and laceration in the 67th minute after a collision with the Sounders Christian Tiffert.

The display left RSL head coach Jason Kreis to say, “I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey.”

In my opinion, Rimando’s historic performance will likely go down as one of the best ever in MLS postseason play.

In the end, RSL escaped Seattle with a 0-0 draw and head back to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium for Thursday night’s second leg.

D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1 – Saturday

Knowing that one point at any time during the regular season would have had the Fire playing in this series, I had the most trouble watching this game of any during the weekend. With that said, it was nice to see D.C. switch home legs with New York after Hurricane Sandy left Red Bull Arena unplayable for the weekend.

WATCH: D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1

 

Come the 33rd minute of the tie, United looked to be in good shape when Red Bull defender Connor Lade was whistled for a handball in the box, forcing referee Jair Marrufo to point to the spot. Chris Pontius’ take however wasn’t the greatest, allowing Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles to make one of his five saves on the night.

Despite the save, United would get on the board just after the hour mark when Chris Korb’s dangerous cross to the six left Red Bull’s Roy Miller with an attempted clear, instead roofing into the top of his own net.

In what seemed to be a comedy of errors, Red Bull would pull level with a United own goal just four minutes later. Off a corner kick from the right, defender Heath Pearce headed the ball back across goal, catching United goalkeeper Bill Hamid wrong footed before catching the ball inside his own goal and clearly across the line.

Perhaps most comical was Hamid’s insistence that he’d been fouled on the play. A replay shows Red Bull defender Markus Holgersson ducking even as United’s Dejan Jakovic is pushing him towards Hamid.

Own goals aside, the story of the match would be DC right back Andy Najar’s sending off in the 71st minute. Shown a yellow card for his foul on Joel Lindpere in the 71st minute, the Honduran international threw the ball at Maruffo, forcing the referee to show the Honduran international a second yellow and then a red card, forcing United to play a man down the final 19+ minutes of the match.

United will definitely be without Najar as they head back to Red Bull Arena for leg two and if they advance, it’s a fair bet they could lose him throughout a potential Eastern Conference Final series.

Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0 – Sunday

In the surprise of the weekend, Houston came away with a dominant 2-0 victory over Sporting KC in leg one of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at BBVA Compass Stadium.

WATCH: Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting KC 0

Having defeated the Fire 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Dynamo were charged by the partisan crowd in Houston and went ahead in the 18th minute off of Adam Moffat’s wonder-volley from outside the area.

On the other side of halftime, Will Bruin would score his third goal in two playoff matches, connecting once again with former Fire striker Calen Carr to seal the 2-0 victory in the 75th minute.

It’s interesting to note that though the two sides finished even with 13 shots each, the Dynamo held just a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal, finishing both of their attempts for the win.

Houston can now go to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Wednesday, lose 1-0 and still advance to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking out the team with the second best record in the process…

San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 0 – Sunday

While the Dynamo didn’t look like they’d played at midweek, the LA Galaxy certainly did, looking tired a times throughout Sunday night’s home encounter.

Despite that, LA threatened just as much as San Jose but as so many other teams have this season, would fall victim to a late, late Earthquakes goal.

This time the marker would come from Honduran midfielder Victor Bernardez, who hit a low free kick underneath the jumping Omar Gonzalez and past Josh Saunders in the 94th minute, allowing the Quakes to stick with their “Goonies never say die” tagline.

The star-studded Galaxy will have a tall but not impossible order to overcome the 1-0 deficit in Wednesday’s second leg at San Jose…

Second Leg Picks
New York Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 1 (NY Advances)
Sporting KC 2, Houston Dynamo 1( HOU Advances)
Real Salt Lake 2, Seattle 1 (RSL Advances)
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 1 (SJ Advances)

31 October 9:31 am

Feeding off the thrill of John Thorrington’s stoppage time chip to beat the Galaxy on the final day of the regular season, the Fire entered the 2007 MLS Cup playoffs as the fourth seed going up against Supporters Shield winners D.C. United in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

#1 D.C. United vs. #4 Chicago Fire – Conference Semifinals (two legs)
Chicago Fire 1, D.C. United 0 (leg one)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
October 25, 2007

Despite winning the Supporters Shield, United sputtered into the playoffs, going 0-2-1 in their final three matches. In contrast, the Fire had gone 2-0-1 in their final three, rallying from poor early-season form to make the playoffs on the final day.

Despite being outshot 9-8 by United, the Fire fed off their late season form, the Fire would benefit from a D.C. misplay in the back for the only goal of the first leg.

WATCH: 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals

 

 

A high bouncing ball allowed United defender Devon MacTavish only a piece of the ball, instead heading it into the path of Chris Rolfe. The third-year Fire veteran caught the ball on the bounce and smashed his half volley past Troy Perkins, taking the Fire to RFK Stadium with a 1-0 lead.

#1 D.C. United vs. #4 Chicago Fire – Conference Semifinals (two legs)
Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 2 (leg two)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2007

The Fire kept with the momentum gained in leg one, taking a 2-0 aggregate advantage in the 31st minute. From the right, Calen Carr’s ball over the United back line  found Chad Barrett in stride who took one touch to settle before blasting past a helpless Perkins.

The series looked as good as done two minutes later when Carr headed down a bouncing ball for Blanco, who in turn headed into the box. All of the United defenders seemed caught in no-man’s land before Chris Rolfe popped up to volley past Perkins in the 33rd minute.

Going into the break down 3-0 on aggregate, United finally broke through in the 69th minute when Rod Dyachenko laid off a simple pass for Clyde Simms who ripped a low shot inside the left post.

Dyachenko would help on the game’s equalizer slotting a pass to Christian Gomez on the right before the Argentine fired a low effort that Matt Pickens got two hands to but was overpowered in the end.

Despite tying the match, United couldn’t connect another shot on goal, leaving the fourth seeded Fire with a huge upset and another appearance in the Eastern Conference final.

#2 New England Revolution 1, #4 Chicago Fire 0 – Conference Final
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
November 8, 2007

 For the third straight year, the Chicago Fire would take on New England in the MLS postseason and went behind in the 38th minute when current Fire player Wells Thompson crossed to the middle for Taylor Twellman. The Revolution striker would out jump Dasan Robinson to nod the ball up in the air before finishing with a stunning bicycle kick to give New England the 1-0 lead.

In the 74th minute, Gonzalo Segares would run on to a bouncing ball outside the area, striking a long-distance effort that forced Reis into a diving save to his left.

In the 90th minute, Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s cross from left picked out the head of Calen Carr but the Fire forward’s low header was well corralled by Reis to send the Fire home one step away from MLS Cup again.

WATCH: 2007 Eastern Conference Final

29 October 6:02 pm

#2 New England Revolution vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 1, New England Revolution 0 (Game 1)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
October 22, 2006

 After finishing  the regular season one point shy of second place New England, the Chicago Fire would welcome the Revolution in the first-ever playoff game at Toyota Park.

 

 

 

Despite being outshot 12-8, the Fire would find the game’s only goal in the 35th minute when Justin Mapp’s placed his left footed free kick over the Revolution wall and inside the right post.

Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens would come up huge in goal, making eight saves to tie Zach Thornton’s record for most in an MLS playoff game.

#2 New England Revolution vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

New England Revolution 2 (4), Chicago Fire 1 (2) asdet (Game 2)
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
October 28, 2006

The Fire looked to have command of the series early on when Mapp beat his marker to the end line on the right before centering for Nate Jaqua who touched his effort past Matt Reis at the near post, taking the aggregate score to 2-0.

New England didn’t relent though and pulled things level in the 41st minute when Andy Dorman helped put Joey Franchino into the box on the left. The Revolution captain quickly crossed and picked out Taylor Twellman whose shot beat Pickens inside the left post.

The Revolution continued to threaten after the break and would bring things level when Jeff Larentowicz’s shot from outside the box was stopped by C.J. Brown but the ball deflected straight to Pat Noonan who calmly finished past Pickens, eventually sending the match to extra time.

Both teams traded blows in the overtime periods but couldn’t convert, pushing the game to penalty kicks.

Fire midfielder Thiago would miss the first take while New England converted each of their first four. Ivan Guerrero stepped up and saw his low shot to the left saved by Reis leaving Taylor Twellman to send home the winning penalty and the Fire in the process.

WATCH: 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinal Leg 2

29 October 1:58 pm

Jeff and Brendan checked back in from Toyota Park on Monday to discuss the Fire’s playoff history and Houston’s extra bit of rest heading into Wednesday’s Knockout match

29 October 10:07 am

After going all the way to MLS Cup 2003, the Fire missed the postseason for the first time in club history the following year, losing 2-1 on the final day of the regular season at New England. The team regrouped and finished third in the East the following season, setting up another first round clash with D.C. United…

#2 D.C. United vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 0, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 21, 2005

In what would be the club’s final competitive match at Soldier Field, the Fire had the better of the play, outshooting D.C. 8-4 and holding United without a shot on goal.

In turn though, United played strategically, just trying to leave Chicago without a blemish and conceded only two shots on goal, both from Chris Rolfe in the 58th minute.

WATCH: Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United EC (Semi-final Leg 2)

United would get their wish, earning a 0-0 draw and leaving all to play for at RFK Stadium for the second leg nine days later.

Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 30, 2005

United’s plan for the series would backfire early on in Game #2 when Thiago’s corner from left bounced through the six yard box to find Jack Stewart streaking in at the back post. The then-Fire rookie would tally one of only two goals in a Fire shirt, sneaking his header past Doug Warren in the 10th minute.

Just before the half, another Fire rookie would help make his mark. This time Chris Rolfe danced into the box on the left and chipped in a cross from the end line before Brandon Prideaux headed away. The ball fell perfectly for Ivan Guerrero and the club’s 2005 MVP buried his left footed effort in the 37th minute.

Guerrero would show why he earned the award deep into first half stoppage time. Again Rolfe danced like a ballerina on the ball just outside the area before laying back for Guerrero who hit first-time blast that left Warren flat-footed as the ball sailed inside the left post.

#1 New England Revolution 1, #3 Chicago Fire 0 – Eastern Conference Final
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
November 6, 2005

The Fire and Revolution would begin a five-year consecutive streak of postseason meetings with the Eastern Conference final at Gillette and once again an early goal would play the part.

The Revs would go up 1-0 in the fourth minute when Daniel Henandez’s ball over the top found Shalrie Joseph in the box on the right. The veteran midfielder hit a low effort towards the back post which connected with Clint Dempsey sliding through to give New England the lead.

 

 

 

A chippy first half made things difficult for either team to find the goal but Jack Stewart provided the best effort in the 45th minute when he ran through midfield before unleashing a low shot that just went wide of the right post.

The Fire came close again in the 63rd minute as Ivan Guerrero collected the ball on the left before cutting inside and hitting a blistering right-footed effort that Matt Reis punched away at the far post.

A minute later Chad Barrett and Thiago played a quick combination which saw the Brazilian blast a drive towards the left post that Reis did well to hang on to.

A number of dangerous crosses and displays of Reis rolling on the ground later, the Fire found themselves with an apparent equalizer in stoppage time when Thiago’s forward ball out of midfield found Gonzalo Segares in stride and saw the rookie defender tap the ball past Reis and into the net.

Stepping out of the goal, Segares’ immediate joy turned to disbelief as linesman George Gansner held his flag up on the sideline resulting in a number of Fire players to crowd him. In the melee, Segares’ fellow countryman Andy Herron was red carded for dissent, effectively ending the Fire’s chances of sending the match to overtime.

The replay would vindicate Gansner’s call, showing Segares was just a shade past the Revolution backline when Thiago hit the ball, leaving the team to rue a missed opportunity at a fourth MLS Cup appearance in eight years.


WATCH: 2005 Eastern Conference Final

28 October 3:04 pm

#1 Chicago Fire vs. #4 D.C. United – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2003

Coming off a regular season in which the team finally fulfilled winning a Supporter’s Shield, the Fire traveled to D.C. to open up its first two-game aggregate playoff series with United at RFK Stadium.

From the first whistle the Fire never seemed to break much of a sweat and went ahead in the fourth minute when a headed clearance from a United defender fell for midfielder Andy Williams 25 yards from goal. The Jamaican international took the ball on the half-volley and one-timed his right-footed effort past Doug Warren and inside the left post.

WATCH: 2003 MLS Cup Playoff Run

 

 

In control throughout, the Fire frustrated United throughout the match and saw former players Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko pick up yellow cards for dissent and bringing the game into disrepute.

Holding a 1-0 lead late, the Fire would take a 2-0 lead back to Soldier Field when Zach Thornton’s clearance was flicked on by Nate Jaqua into the path of Ante Razov. The Fire’s all-time leading goal scorer calmly chipped the ball over the onrushing Warren in the 94th minute.

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 9, 2003

With D.C. needing two goals just to force extra time, the Fire again imposed their superiority in this match, putting United in the coffin with another early strike.

This time it was Willliams’ countryman and 2003 Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph, who after a quick combination with Chris Armas outside the box, unleashed another long range blast, this time to the right of Warren, to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.

The Fire would finish of United just after halftime when DaMarcus Beasley’s cross from left bounced in the area before finding Razov who headed it back across goal for his second of the series, moving the team to the Eastern Conference final with a 4-0 aggregate victory.

#1 Chicago Fire 1, #2 New England Revolution 0 (asdet) - Eastern Conference Final
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 14, 2003

Outshooting New England 20-7, the Fire clearly dominated the match from start to finish but a goal in regulation would elude the team at home.

Into extra time, it would be no one else but Chris Armas to provide the winner. Evan Whitfield worked his way up the right before pushing the ball to Justin Mapp at the endline.

The young winger centered a low cross that Ralph muffed before Armas tucked the ball in from close range, sending Soldier Field into pandemonium and the Fire back to MLS Cup for the third time in six seasons.

San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2 – MLS Cup 2003
The Home Depot Center; Carson; Calif
November 14, 2009

The Fire pipped San Jose for the Supporters Shield during the regular season but it would be the Earthquakes that had the last laugh as they won their second MLS Cup in three seasons.

San Jose take the advantage as Ronnie Ekelund’s fifth minute free kick and Landon Donovan’s 39th minute finish took the Earthquakes into the break up 2-0.

After halftime, Andy Williams would feed DaMarcus Beasley into the box on the left and the young Fire winger tucked his effort inside the near post to cut the lead in half in the 49th minute.

Just as it looked like the Fire had momentum, San Jose would restore their two goal lead a minute later when Richard Mulrooney caught the backline sleeping after the goal.

The Fire would get some help back from the Earthquakes in the 54th minute when Chris Roner headed the ball into his own net.

Just two minutes later, Damani Ralph broke into the box on the left before being hauled down by Roner, forcing referee Brian Hall to point to the spot.

Despite battling sickness throughout the week, Fire leading striker Ante Razov stepped up to take the spot kick but was denied when his effort was denied by Pat Onstad’s dive to the right.

With the missed opportunity, momentum seemed to shift back in San Jose’s favor and as the Fire pushed for the equalizer, it would be Donovan who would put the game away with his second goal in the 71st minute.

27 October 7:44 am

As we get set to complete yet another regular season, it donned on me yesterday to look back at this masterpiece that Fire defender Dan Gargan captured and put together with the help of MLS videographers Scott Riddell and Albert Lanzillo.

Shot throughout preseason and the team’s opening day 1-1 draw at Montreal’s nearly sold-out Olympic Stadium, Dan’s video showcased the preparation and work the team went through to get to that very monumental game back in March.

Looking back on it now, one of the most striking things is seeing how much the Fire have changed since January as you see a number of faces that are no longer with the club while also being reminded of just how many new faces have been added over the course of the year.

More than that though, this beautiful video reminds me as a fan and a writer of the cautious optimism we all had going into the year. Back then, if you’d have told Fire fans that had experienced the previous two years  the team would be playing for second place in the East on the final day of the, everyone would have taken it.

Flash forward to today and that’s exactly where we are and yet we know the opportunities were there to go even higher.

Still, today the Fire play arguably the most important game at Toyota Park since the last time the team was in the postseason.

And so, re-watching this inspiring video is special to me for multiple reasons, but the most important is that it serves to remind how far this team has come in the three years I’ve been here but also the hard work that was put it back in January to get to this point.

Before heading out to Toyota Park today, take 2 minutes and 23 seconds out of your regular pre-game ritual, watch this video, and soak in how far this team has come in 2012.

26 October 9:54 am

Coming within a Golden Goal of advancement to MLS Cup 2001, the Chicago Fire suffered untimely injuries to the likes of Chris Armas and Josh Wolff, falling in four of their final five regular season matches to limp into the club’s fifth consecutive postseason in 2002.

WATCH: 2002: MLS Cup Quarterfinals

 

 

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)

New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 0
Gillette Stadium, Foxbrough, Mass.
September 26, 2002

The regular season’s Eastern Conference champions would go ahead early in the 13th minute when Joey Franchino’s free kick from the left out picked out Taylor Twellman in the box who nodded past Zach Thornton for his first career MLS Cup playoff goal.

The Fire nearly equalized minutes later when Jesse Marsch’s skipping shot was turned away by Revs goalkeeper Adin Brown, marking the Men in Red’s only shot on goal in the match.
 
The halftime insertions of Hristo Stoitchkov and Dipsy Selolwane to aid Ante Razov and DaMarcus Beasley in attack came to little avail as New England iced the game on 60 minutes when Daniel Hernandez buried a long-distance blast, rebounding off of Zach Thornton’s punched clearance.

The result gave New England plenty of wind in its sails heading back to Chicago for Game 2.
 
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 1
Cardinal Stadium in Naperville, Ill.
September 29, 2002

New England would take the early lead in Game 2 as well when Jesse Marsch’s header at midfield bounced into the path of Brian Kamler who calmly one-time a low effort past Zach Thornton in the 18th minute.
 
The Fire would equalize just before the half when Revs defender Jay Heaps collided with Ante Razov in the area, forcing referee Ricardo Valenzuela to point to the spot. On  the ensuing spot kick, Razov tucked his left-footed take inside the right post to equalize before the break.
 
Into the 76th minute, Carlos Bocanegra fed Kelly Gray in midfield where the young Fire utility player strolled towards the box before playing a beautiful through ball that Razov poked past Adin Brown to give the Fire a 2-1 victory and tie the series at 3-3.
 
New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 0
Gillette Stadium, Foxbrough, Mass.
October 2, 2002

 
New England would prove too powerful in the rubber match back at Gillette Stadium.

For the second straight match, Brian Kamler would tally the first goal when he took a feed from Leo Cullen before beating Dema Kovalenko down the left wing and CJ Brown in the box to finish past Thornton in the 13th minute.
 
Despite outshooting the Revolution 17-11 on the night, the Fire couldn’t beat Adin Brown and would have their first round elimination confirmed when Daniel Hernandez slipped between DaMarcus Beasley and Jim Curtin before sending a cross to find Twellman in the box. The MLS newcomer half-volleyed his effort past Thornton for his second of the playoffs, giving the Revs their first ever postseason series victory on the way to a spot in the MLS Cup finals.

 

25 October 9:55 am

After two runs to the MLS Cup Final in three seasons, the high-flying Chicago Fire finished the 2001 MLS Regular Season similar to the previous year, winning the Central division and tying for the league’s best record (this time with Miami) only to be seeded second, losing on the tiebreaker to the Fusion.

Things might have gone differently if not for Ariel Graziani popping up once again to spoil the day in a match that would end up being the team’s last game of the 2001 season.  

In that game played September 8 at Soldier Field, the Burn came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Graziani once again the culprit, scoring the 91st minute equalizer. Had the Fire been victorious in the match, the team would have eventually been awarded its first MLS Supporters Shield.

Alas, three days later everything changed with the September 11 terrorist attacks. With all eight playoff teams known at that point, MLS decided to cancel the remaining regular season games and move to the playoffs roughly nine days later, meaning the Fire would once again face Dallas in an opening round playoff series.  

WATCH: 2001: MLS Cup Quarterfinals

 

 

 

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Dallas Burn – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)

Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 20, 2001

With the end of the September 8 game and memories of the devastating 1999 playoff defeat to Dallas fresh in their minds, it would be safe to say that the Fire held feelings of revenge in their hearts going up against their Brimstone Cup rivals.

The team would breakthrough just before halftime when Eric Wynalda’s free kick from the left picked out Carlos Bocanegra unmarked at the six, leaving the young Fire center back an easy header past Matt Jordon in the 40th minute.

Though the Fire held an 8-3 shots on goal advantage in the match, they weren’t able to put the Burn away until very late. Dallas would be awarded a direct free kick deep into stoppage time. Desperately looking for an equalizer, Jordan came all the way up the field to provide numbers but would regret it when Oscar Pareja’s take was hit straight into the wall before Peter Nowak intercepted a pass to start the counter attack.

The Fire captain fed a streaking Evan Whitfield in alone up the field and the current Fire color analyst outpaced Dallas defender Justin Evans to tuck the ball away and give the Fire a 2-0 victory in Game 1.

Chicago Fire 1, Dallas Burn 1 (OT) (Game 2)
The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
September 23, 2001

 Back home for Game 2, Dallas would take an early first half lead when Jason Kreis played a forward ball for Bobby Rhine at the top of the area. The Burn forward would find Chad Deering streaking through midfield and played a pinpoint pass into the box that the U.S. international one-timed past Zach Thornton in the 27th minute.

It looked as though Dallas would tie the series up at three points each the Fire had other ideas. In the 84th minute, Peter Nowak penetrated towards the middle of the field before feeding Dema Kovalenko into the box. The Ukrainian fired a quick effort that Matt Jordan did well to save but substitute striker Jamar Beasley was on the doorstep to equalize.

After 10 minutes of extra time, Beasley’s goal would stand to send the series back to Chicago with the Fire needing only a draw in Game 3 to advance.

Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
September 29, 2001

Back in Chicago for Game 3, there was little doubt the Fire would advance.

In the 17th minute, Peter Nowak’s corner from the left was headed down in the area by Evan Whitfield leaving Dema Kovalenko to scrap inside the six, eventually knocking home the go-ahead goal.

Needing only a tie, the Fire would go for the jugular in the second half when Nowak made one of his patented long runs through midfield. The Fire captain entered the box on the left and saw a bit of confusion when his last touch on the ball was a bit heavy, allowing for Chris Armas to bury the second goal in the 55th minute and send the Fire to its third MLS Cup semifinal in four years.

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 LA Galaxy – MLS Cup semifinals (first to five)

Chicago Fire 1, LA Galaxy 1 (OT) (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 10, 2001

The Fire had already received bitter disappointment from the Galaxy in late August when Alexi Lalas’ 94th minute “golden goal” knocked the team out at the semifinal stage.

The home side would take the lead in the 32nd minute when Peter Nowak gallivanted through midfield before sending DaMarcus Beasley down the left flank. The second-year Fire winger crossed to the back post where Eric Wynalda first-timed his effort past Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.

The Galaxy would equalize just before halftime after Chris Armas was judged to have brought down Sasha Victorine at the top of the penalty area. Vaunted Galaxy striker Luis Hernandez saw his spot kick saved by Zach Thornton but buried the rebound to tie the score in the 44th minute.

The Fire would be dealt a blow in the 60th minute when Evan Whitfield was shown a straight red card for pulling down Cobi Jones who was in alone on goal. Despite playing a man down for the final 30 minutes of regulation and 10 more in overtime, the Fire escaped the match with a point in the 1-1 draw.

LA Galaxy 1, Chicago Fire 0 (OT) (Game 2)
Titan Stadium, Fullerton, Calif.
October 13, 2001

The Fire returned to the site where the team fell in U.S. Open Cup semifinals nearly two months before and already without Whitfield due to his one-match suspension, would be dealt another blow when Peter Nowak left the game at halftime with a hamstring strain, ending his participation in the remainder of the team’s playoff run.

In eerie similarity to the the August Open Cup match, the game would head to overtime and see another Galaxy winner come in the 94th minute when Peter Vagenas tallied off a Luis Hernandez feed, giving the Galaxy a 4-1 points advantage heading back to Chicago for Game 3.

LA Galaxy 2, Chicago Fire 1 (OT) (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 13, 2001

Returning home, the Fire would once again take the early lead at Soldier Field when Chris Armas fed DaMarcus Beasley through in the 30thminute.

Again though, similarities to a previous match between the two sides would reign supreme. This time when the Galaxy’s Danny Califf would tally the equalizer in the 44th minute (the same time as Luis Hernandez’s penalty put back in Game 1) that would eventually send the match to extra time.

In the overtime period, LA’s Mauricio Cienfuegos would tally his second overtime winner of the postseason, finishing off the Fire in the 98th minute and sending the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup appearance.

For the Fire, it would mark the team’s first home playoff loss in four seasons.