If you had a good time at last night’s Chicago Fire Foundation White Party, jump in the air.
For the second year in a row, the White Party was a big success, with nearly 700 attendees and raising over $40,000 for the Chicago Fire Foundation.
One day I hope the American travel ban to Cuba is broken. If not, I’ll always have the memory of wearing the cabana outfit I sported Thursday night. Big props to the Fire Communications and Digital Team on dressing quite well.
(PHOTO: Me, Chrissy Koob, Leo Flores, Brendan Hanna, Nick Sintich and Eunice Kim)
It was good to see Fire captain and Foundation board member Logan Pause at the event as well:
More props to the @MLS_Insider, Josh Whisenhunt for gracing us with his presence for the evening…
And even more to Foundation Director Jessica Yavitz (pictured below with me) and her great staff Jen Van Sparrentak, Jack Sheehan, Jamie Miller and Andrew Steffen.
The long-standing rumors of Fire midfielder Marco Pappa’s move across the pond finally came true last Monday as the Fire and Dutch club SC Heerenveen jointly announced the Guatemalan international would move to the Netherlands effective January 1, 2013.
While Pappa has been a key part of the team the last four seasons, his desire to go to Europe at the end of his MLS contract was pretty well known. The Fire did right by Pappa and according to the interview to the right, the midfielder is looking to do right by the club that gave him the shop-window opportunity.
WATCH: Pappa Talks Fire Focus
“I still have a contract with the Fire,” said Pappa. “We talked about this situation. I’m going to keep doing my best like I always do and I’m happy for the opportunity but right now it would be good to get a championship [here] before going to Europe.”
While a player signing a contract with another club before the one he’s with is finished seems a little odd, it’s common practice throughout the world and is becoming more regular in MLS. For instance it was just three years ago that Fire forward Chris Rolfe signed a pre-contract with Aalborg BK in the Danish SuperLiga.
The best thing about Rolfe’s situation was that the Fire played the MLS rules well, giving the forward a “qualifying offer”, that is an offer deemed credible for his market value, before he signed with Aalborg. By doing that, the club retained his MLS rights, paving the way for his smooth return earlier this April.
Though defender Gonzalo Segares didn’t sign a pre-contract with Cypriot club Apollon Limassol during 2009, his situation is similar to that of Rolfe’s. The Costa Rican international played the first six months of 2010 in Cyprus before returning to the Fire that August, a move again made easier by the qualifying offer.
When Wilman Conde made his desire known to return to MLS from Mexican side Atlas earlier this year, the Fire cashed on the qualifying offer made to the Colombian defender at the end of 2010, earning a nice chunk of allocation money in January’s trade that sent him to New York.
Aside from doing right by a player that has performed for the club, the best part of Pappa’s move to Holland is that like in the differing case of Rolfe, Segares and Conde, the Fire have kept future options open with the player.
Most will agree that Marco has all the tools to be successful in Holland but unforeseen things can happen and though no transfer fee is being wired from The Netherlands to Chicago, it’s a sign the Fire have done some good business.
With 10 regular season matches plus a potential playoff run, Pappa still has plenty to prove before heading to Holland.
There was a point Sunday afternoon in which things were looking pretty good for the Fire’s positioning in the East. DC United had just suffered a somewhat controversial 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia while due north Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe had put the West’s bottom team Portland up 2-0 at New York.
Of course Kenny Cooper and Tim Cahill had pulled the home side back level before halftime, the Timbers flubbed two breakaway chances and Heath Pearce headed home the winner in the 83rd minute to push New York back into sole possession of second place in the East.
Later on Sunday night, Columbus used goals from Cole Grossman and Eddie Gaven to erase a 1-0 deficit but had to settle for a 2-2 draw when Andy Gruenebaum muffed Adam Moffat’s 82nd minute equalizer.
WATCH: Red Bull 3, Timbers 2
The result meant that the Top 5 in the Eastern Conference closed the weekend the same way they entered it, effectively pushing the Fire back down to fourth place (losing the goals scored tie breaker to Houston).
All this is by way of saying its going to be a scrap or as Brendan Hannan put it this morning, a “real dog fight” the rest of the way in the Eastern Conference. With 10 matches remaining and five of them against the other four in the Top Five, the Fire control their playoff destiny and seeding perhaps just as much as anyone in the East.
"[Playoff qualification] is in our hands," head coach Frank Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. "They’re all obviously difficult matches because most of the games we play are going to be against teams that are going to be right there until the end. Its exciting but I think we feel good about having those games at home and having the opportunity to control our own destiny."
While Montreal and Columbus still have a shot at the postseason, popular opinion has the top five now remaining the top five come October 28 making a “mini-league” of sorts the rest of the way for the Fire, Sporting KC, Red Bull, the Dynamo and United.
See below the “mini-league” grid of remaining matches between the East’s top 5 teams.
|vs. 9/14||vs. 9/28||-|
|x||-||vs. 10/6||@ 8/29|
|HOU||@ 9/14||-||x||@ 9/2||-|
|CHI||@ 9/28||@ 10/6||vs. 9/2||x||
When looking at the chart, two things undoubtedly stick out...
1) No that's not a mistake, the East's top two teams Sporting KC and New York, will play eachother three more times through the end of the season. Depending on how their other matches go (something that will continue to be a common theme), the Conference's top seeds could well be decided in those three games.
2) The Fire are the only team in the Top 5 that will play everyone around them and have two games against D.C., meaning the team seems to have the best shot of controlling it's own destiny in the tight playoff race. With 15 points available in these matches, if the Men in Red can take anywhere around 11 or 12, they could be in very good shape for a top two finish.
Either way, the Fire manager reiterated the game of most importance is the one upcoming.
"It’s up to us," continued Klopas. "We don’t have to rely on other teams like we did last year but the most important thing is to not look too far down the road and so our next game against D.C. is what we have to hone in on right now."
While Fire first teamers Sean Johnson, Marco Pappa and Orr Barouch all take to the field for their national sides Wednesday, another player in the club will be part of an international friendly as well.
Meet Reid Strain. A member of the 2012 Chicago Fire U18 Youth Academy side that went 26-1-1 en route to the 2012 U.S. Club Soccer National Championship, the Barrington, Ill. product has joined the Puerto Rican national team for Wednesday’s friendly against Spain in Bayamon.
Eligible for Puerto Rico through his mother, Strain missed the U18 Youth Academy’s run at last month’s U.S. Club Soccer National championships after being called up for the territory’s U-20 CONCACAF World Championship qualifying matches.
“He was very reluctant to play for the U-20 Puerto Rican national team when he got the call up last month,” said Chicago Fire U18 Youth Academy head coach Paul Cadwell. “He didn’t want to miss the national championships with his Fire team so it took some talking to him from his parents and from myself to encourage him to not miss such an opportunity.”
In those games, the forward tallied two goals, both game winners, in 2-0 victories over Barbados and Bermuda. A 0-0 draw in the group finale vs. Haiti pushed Puerto Rico to a second-place finish on goal difference but advanced the side to the final round of CONCACAF’s Caribbean U-20 Finals – the first time a Puerto Rican team has made it out of its qualifying group in and youth tournament.
The finals will be played November 3-11 in Jamaica and with his role in the previous matches as well as being the only uncapped player called up for Wednesday’s friendly vs. Spain, it’s a good bet Strain will play a part.
Why haven’t we heard more of Strain until now?
“Unfortunately, Reid has been plagued by an ankle injury the last 18 months,” said U18 Youth Academy Head Coach Paul Cadwell. It’s one of the reasons he didn’t make our Fall [U.S. Soccer Development] Academy team. We didn’t get the ability to get a good look at him but he’s a great youth player for us this season. He has shown the ability to score a variety of goals.”
I’m very proud of Reid at having the opportunity to play against the world’s number one team is a dream. Whether he sees the field or not, just the fact that he is going be listed in a squad that plays the current world and European champions is something that he will never forget.”
Former Fire forward Brian McBride is stepping back out of retirement tomorrow as he lines up for ninth-tier English side Wembley FC in the aptly named “Extra Preliminary Round” of the 2012/13 F.A. Cup.
In a move sponsored by Budweiser, the legendary American striker who played for Fulham, Everton and Preston North End will lineup with the likes of fellow former English Premier League stars Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Claudio Caniggia and Graeme Le Saux as Wembley opens up Cup play against Langford FC Saturday morning. Fans can watch the match LIVE on Facebook beginning at 6:45am CT
The game marks the second time McBride has “stepped out of retirement” to take to the field in England. Last year the former Fire forward lined up with fellow American Brad Friedel and the New York Cosmos to play in Paul Scholes Testimonial match at Old Trafford in Manchester last summer.
Check out the full read on Brian’s return to English football from Avi Creditor at Soccer By Ives
With his equalizer in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa moved into a tie for fourth on the club’s all-time regular season goals list with former captain Peter Nowak at 26.
Throughout his time with the Fire, the Guatemalan international has quietly moved up the goal chart, bagging more than half of his goals (14) in the last 18 months.
Sitting eighth at the start of 2012, Pappa began his ascendency up the chart this season by tying Nate Jaqua at 21 goals with his “Olimipico” on April 28 vs. Seattle. A week later, his late game-winner at Chivas moved him into a three-way tie for fifth with Damani Ralph and Dema Kovalenko at 22.
Pappa took over fifth place with another game-winner vs. Dallas on May 23 and built towards Nowak with goals vs. Columbus (June 23) at Sporting KC (June 29) before tying the former Polish international Saturday night.
Sitting six goals back of Josh Wolff at third place on the list (32), I pose this question: Can Marco pass Josh with 12 matches remaining in the 2012 campaign?
While Pappa has never scored more than eight goals in one single campaign, it’s important to also note that he’s never had six this early in a season.
History could be construed to be on Pappa’s side in this quest as well as he’s tallied 11 career goals against the team’s remaining opponents and has scored two goals each against the likes of D.C. United (who the Fire still play twice), Toronto FC, Sporting KC and Red Bull New York.
Two of those remaining 12 games also come against the two worst defenses in Major League Soccer in Montreal (43 goals conceded) and Toronto FC again (40). All he needs is six to tie…
What becomes more evident with Pappa is the team’s success rate when he finds the back of the net. Marco has tallied 26 goals in 23 matches and the team has earned points in 19 of those games, winning 13. Over the course of his time with the Men in Red, the Fire have only lost four times when he’s tallied, once in each season since 2009.
With the team already losing a match in which he’s scored this season, you can tie a lot to wanting to see Marco hit at least for six more goals before the end of the campaign.
So what do you think, can Marco do it? Vote to the right and comment below to give me your thoughts...
When I think of Gonzalo Segares, the first thing that comes to mind is a tough tackle followed by a yellow card. The Costa Rican international has definitely done well to carry on the tradition of hard-nosed Fire defenders like C.J. Brown, Lubos Kubik and Francis Okaroh.
Deep down though, Gonzalo is one of the classiest guys on the team and one with a definite sweet tooth. In that spirit we took him on a field trip to Molly’s Cupcakes in Lincoln Park (2536 N. Clark) to get a feel for what it takes to make one of life’s fine delicacies.
Watch his escapade below and be sure to visit Molly’s this month to purchase the Chicago Fire Velvet Swirl cupcake. When you do, one dollar from every purchase goes to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation!
As I’m sure you’ve come to realize the last week, picking a Top 15 list for this club is a daunting task. Weighing personal accomplishments along with how the team did during a players tenure and how that player represented the badge – let’s just say you can enter everything you want into an Excel Spreadsheet and you’ll still change your mind 43 different times.
Luckily for everyone else voting, your ballot is private, so you don’t have to worry about excluding someone very deserving, or even someone you see on a daily basis.
After much deliberation, here are my public picks for the Top 15 Fire players of all time.
DISCLAIMER – These are my own picks and do not necessarily reflect voting trends or the ballots of other voters.
#15 Frank Klopas (1998-99) – Though Frank played only two seasons for the Fire, he was part of the original group that wore the badge with pride. His “Golden Goal” in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup Final started the club’s tradition of success in the tournament and few players have meant as much to the club as Frank as reflected by being chosen second into the Ring of Fire back in 2004.
#14 Hristo Stoitchkov (2000-02) – Stoitchkov only won one trophy in Chicago, following up Frank’s ’98 Golden Goal with the game-winner in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final. A world renowned star, when the Mad Bulgarian came to Chicago, he reinforced the spirit of the hardworking, win-at-all cost teams that the Fire became known for early on in the league. With 24 goals and 22 assists in just 70 competitive matches, Stoitchkov was on the score sheet in some form 66% of the time during his Fire stay.
#13 Gonzalo Segares (2005-present) - Segares is one of the few true left backs the Fire have ever had and most of the reason for that is the fact that he's locked down the position for half the club's existence. One of only three players on the current roster to win a trophy with the club, Segares sits behind only Lubos Kubik for most offense produced by a defender and seems destined to become just the eighth player in club history to hit 200 competitive appearances before season's end.
#12 Logan Pause (2003-present) – The current club captain, Logan Pause stands as the club’s connection to the near treble winning year of 2003. A hard-working midfielder that’s modeled himself after the likes of Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch, Pause has been a constant in the Fire lineup the past 10 seasons, even going to play at right back when needed. Though lacking in offensive achievements, Pause has been a part of three title winning teams and sits second behind only C.J. Brown on the club’s all-time appearance list at 291 games played.
#11 Jesse Marsch (1998-05) – Like Gutierrez, Marsch combined with Armas, Pause and others throughout the years to make the Fire midfield an undesirable place for opponents. Never accuse of being the most skilled, Marsch was always smart on the ball while quietly tallying 23 goals (9th all-time) and 32 assists (6th all-time) on his way to winning five of six of the club’s domestic titles.
#10 Chris Rolfe (2005-09; 2012-present) – The highest on the list of the current Fire roster, Rolfe became the club’s second all-time leading goal scorer before leaving for Denmark at the end of 2009. That feat is even more impressive when you consider a lot of games saw him playing out of position on the right wing and he never tallied 10 goals in a season. The two goals since his return have him at 41 but it will take a while for him to catch Ante Razov at 95…
#9 DaMarcus Beasley (2000-04) – One of the most fouled players in MLS during four and a half seasons in Chicago, Beasley provided speed and constant danger to aid the likes of Razov, Peter Nowak, Josh Wolff and Damani Ralph. A winner of three domestic titles with the Fire, his stats (134 GP, 18 goals, 28 assists) would be much higher had he not left for PSV Eindhoven midway through 2004.
#8 Cuauhtemoc Blanco (2007-09) – The only player on my Top 15 list that never won a trophy in Chicago, Blanco proved those wrong that anticipated him viewing MLS as a retirement league. The legendary Mexican midfielder tallied 19 goals and 28 assists in his 77 appearances for the Fire (61% conversion rate) and led the team to three consecutive Eastern Conference finals as well as the 2009 SuperLiga championship match.
#7 Carlos Bocanegra (2000-03) – Boca’s case is very similar to that of Beasley’s in that his stats and accomplishments would likely be much greater if he hadn’t left for Fulham after 2003. Still, Boca was the 2000 Rookie of the Year, two-time MLS Defender of the Year and Best XI selections (2002-03) along with three domestic titles. There are few defenders all-time in MLS that have been quite as dominant as Carlos Bocanegra was in his time with the Fire.
#6 Lubos Kubik (1998-00) – The backbone of the 1998 double-winning team, Kubik won MLS Defender of the Year that season and was likely one of the few MLS defenders more dominant than Bocanegra during his three seasons in Chicago. The third inductee into the Ring of Fire, Kubik also holds the distinction of being the most offensive defender in club history, tallying 19 goals and 25 assists in 88 matches.
#5 Zach Thornton (1998-2006) – One of only three players to be part of all six domestic championship teams, Thornton beat out Jorge Campos to win the starting job during his first season in Chicago. He holds the distinction of holding most of the club’s goalkeeping records and is one of Major League Soccer’s top goalkeepers of all-time.
#3 Ante Razov (1998-2004) – What can you say about a guy that nearly scored 100 goals in a Fire uniform? Having tallied double-digit goals in five of his seven seasons in Chicago, Razov’s offensive achievements with the Fire (95 goals, 51 assists in 196 games) match up with anyone else’s in Major League Soccer. Despite his incredible scoring record, Razov was just once named to the MLS Best XI (2003) and All-Star Game (2000).
#2 Chris Armas (1998-2007) – A revelation of sorts when he joined Chicago via trade from LA in 1998, Armas epitomized the work ethic and attitude that would come to be known from Fire teams in years to come. His play in Chicago helped him carve out a place with the U.S. Men’s National Team and if not for a devastating injury, would have taken part in at least one FIFA World Cup. Despite being known as the ultimate destroyer in midfield, Armas quietly racked up 53 assists, good enough for second on the club’s all-time list. The club’s second captain, Armas was a five-time MLS Best XI selection, four-time all-star and is one of seven members of the Ring of Fire.
#1 Peter Nowak (1998-02) – I hope there was little doubt that Nowak would always be the number one choice. The first captain in club history, it was the former Polish international that often times put the team on his shoulders during the early seasons. The only player in Fire history that can claim an MLS Cup MVP award, Nowak is the club’s all-time leader in assists with 60, a three-time Chicago Fire MVP and MLS Best XI selection and the original inductee in the club’s Ring of Fire.
Happy birthday to Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo who's still going strong in the middle of the park for the Chicago Fire. Today also happens to be the one-year anniversary of el Presidente joining the club.
Coming off the heels of the succesful canoli for Paolo Tornaghi's birthday last month, we at the Fire presented Pavel with a piñata before training this morning.
Always the professional, the longtime Mexican international looked at the gift, smiled and said, "I'll take it home for the kids."
Win-win for everyone!
¡Feliz cumpleaños Pavel!
A midday, midweek match in mid-July Jersey humidity doesn’t seem like the greatest idea in the world but, that’s what will occur Wednesday afternoon as the Fire visit the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey.
While the kickoff time gives the game a bit of a Chicago Cubs at Wrigley feel, I did a non-scientific survey of Fire players Monday to see if they’d ever played a game of significance in the middle of a week day.
Cory Gibbs: “No.”
Corben Bone: “No.”
Austin Berry: “No.”
Jalil Anibaba: “No.”
Though the topics couldn’t be more different, the responses put together began to sound like a certain Amy Winehouse song.
Fire captain Logan Pause came to the rescue with this answer, “Midweek, midday? Maybe in youth soccer. I don’t think in college we even played midweek games in the middle of the day so I'm sure Wednesday will be a first for most of the guys.”
Part of that is likely because playing in the middle of the day in summer heat doesn’t necessarily make for good soccer. For those wondering why the kickoff is set for 12pm CT (1pm local time), the Red Bulls are going back to experiment with a “Camp Day” looking to attract summer camps to Red Bull Arena Wednesday afternoon.
As this article from BigAppleSoccer.com’s Michael Lewis points out, it’s something the team’s precursor, the MetroStars, did in a match against Kansas City back in 2003. The result for the Wizards Jimmy Conrad and the Metros Edgar Bartholomeu weren’t great
Luckily for both sides Red Bull Arena’s grass field is not the Giant’s Stadium turf, which should make things a little bit cooler in a match that is absolutely considered a “swing game” with the Fire sitting just one point behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Wednesday is obviously an important game despite the weird time and whatever heat we have to deal with,” said Pause. “Either way, the way our schedule goes through the summer – midweek, weekend -- I honestly lose track of the days.”
PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls