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jeff crandall

17 July 10:52 am

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

14 July 9:52 am

Happy 17th anniversary American soccer fans!

No the Fire haven’t been around that long but 17 years ago today, the United States pulled off one of the biggest upsets in team history, downing Argentina 3-0 at Copa America ’95 in Paysandu, Uruguay. The upset propelled the U.S. to the top of Group C on the final day of pool play, en route to an unprecedented fourth place finish at the tournament.

What does it have to do with the Fire? Current head coach Frank Klopas scored the first (and eventually game winning) goal, pouncing on a loose ball at the top of the box in the 20th minute.  (See video below).

Asked if he knew what today was the anniversary of Klopas laughed, “I just watched the DVD a couple days ago but I didn’t realize it was right around that time.”
 
“You never forget the first goal you ever score so my first one with the Sting was special. The first goal with the national team, with AEK, my first goal at Soldier Field with the Fire and then the goal in the Open Cup final. The goal [vs. Argentina] was part of such a big upset at the time – it’s definitely one of those moments that means more as time goes on.”
 
Names like Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart and Tony Meola contributed in the win and Klopas said the group often remembers it when they come back together.
 
“There are times for sure when we talk about 1995 and Copa America and the success we had. I think that was really one of my last great moments that I shared with that group of players that I’d played with for many years.  It’s a very special memory for me.”
 
As for Frank’s hair for that match, he chalks it up to encouragement from a teammate…
 
“That was when I’d come back from AEK in Greece. Everybody weird hairstyles but [Tony] Meola told me I had to leave my hair long. I started to grow it out – it wasn’t the best look and my wife Sophia made me cut it. I thought it looked good but the more I look at it now, it was a disaster and she was right.”
 
Catch Frank's hair as well as all the highlights from the match, called by longtime American soccer announcer Phil Schoen and his counterpart Renato Capobianco below.
 
COPA AMERICA '95: USA 3, Argentina 0

 

13 July 9:17 am

The #PickPat for #MLSAllStar campaign got a huge boost Thursday night as CSN Chicago’s Dave Kaplan joined the #PickPat caucus during his interview with Austin Berry on Chicago Tribune Live (WATCH HERE).

You might remember when we started the campaign Monday, I pointed to Kaplan’s endorsement of the White Sox #TakeJake campaign as a point of jealousy. Thanks to Dave Kaplan for coming through for us last night.

#PickPat made its way into Jack McCarthy's column for the Tribune as well as in RedEye while MLSsoccer.com's Anthony Zilis, Hot Time in Old Town's Tweed Thornton and Fire Confidential's Guillermo Rivera have helped us spread the word!

As a recap, I received confirmation Wednesday that All-Star Head Coach Ben Olsen did indeed read my open letter appealing for Patrick Nyarko to be named to the squad. We’re also hoping that former Fire forward and All-Star assistant coach Josh Wolff will put in a word with Ben for Pat before Sunday’s announcement.

On the Commissioner front, we haven’t heard whether or not he’s seen the letter but hoping this blog, our player’s and Dave Kaplan’s endorsement will force the issue.

Continue to do your part to make sure Patrick Nyarko is part of the #MLSAllStar squad by tweeting #PickPat to @TheSoccerDon and @DCUnited before the announcement at halftime of Sunday’s match between the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders on ESPN!

11 July 10:07 am

Yesterday I wrote an open letter to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen asking him to consider selecting Patrick Nyarko for the 2012 MLS All-Star Game. I was told this morning Ben had indeed read the letter which is the most I could hope for in the matter. Thanks for your consideration Ben!

Now into the third day of the #PickPat campaign, this morning I took the deep plunge in writing another open letter, this time to MLS Commissioner Don Garber to ask for his consideration of Patrick as one of the two "Commissioner's Picks" for this month's match vs. Chelsea FC.

Here's what I said...

Dear Commissioner Garber,

Though there’s no way you remember, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon in 2011. Fire owner Andrew Hauptman graciously pulled me over and introduced me as “the man who knows all things about our club”. Surely he might have been exaggerating a bit but I do pride myself on my ability to name our Top 15 goal scorers by total, in reverse order, without skipping a beat.

It’s in that spirit that I come to you with a request: select Patrick Nyarko as one of your two “Commissioner’s picks” for this month’s MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea FC.

As Commissioner you’ve accomplished a lot -- modern day statisticians and soccer purists hold you in high regard for abolishing the hockey-style shootout while the businessmen and marketers of the league praise your name for the push of soccer-specific stadia and Designated Players.

Pat’s not a DP and he’s not even the biggest name in the Chicago Fire locker room so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising for him to not be included in the team’s six nominees for this year’s MLS All-Star fan voting. Anyone that has watched the team and Pat’s play over the past three seasons will tell you he’s likely been the club’s most consistent performer, shredding defenses with his speed, ability on the ball and excellent work rate.

With that in mind, it was considered quite a coup for the club to re-sign Patrick earlier this year as he would have easily been a target of European sides once his contract expired at season’s end. 

While I made the statistical and playing case to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen Tuesday, today I point to Patrick’s dedication to the club and the league as a reason you should consider him for one of your Commissioner’s picks for the All-Star game.

The DP’s of the league will certainly help sell tickets, merchandise and TV rights but players of Pat’s ability and ethic are the ones the league has always built its back on. His story alone is a great one but his ability to come in and improve every day and be a positive force on and off the field is a great advertisement for our club as well as Major League Soccer.

In the past your choices for the All-Star game have sometimes been about making sure a certain name is present but you’ve also selected players deserving players that have been overlooked.

I can think of no one better that Patrick that falls in to the second category of recognition and ask you to strongly consider to #PickPat on Sunday for this year’s MLS All-Star Game.

Yours in Soccer, 

 
Jeff Crandall
Chicago Fire Team Writer

Keep up the #PickPat campaign. Tweet the #PickPat hashtag to @TheSoccerDon with your best reasons to #PickPat for the 2012 #MLSAllStar Game!

10 July 8:49 am

The #PickPat for #MLSAllStar Campaign got off to a successful start on Monday with a lot of great tweets appealing to Ben Olsen and Don Garber to select Patrick Nyarko to the squad that will face Chelsea FC on Wednesday, July 25 in Philadelphia. 

Our work isn't done though. Just minutes ago, I sent the below e-mail (on Fire letterhead) to MLS All-Star Head Coach Ben Olsen, drawing on the similarities between he and Patrick and asking for him to consider @PattyBerron as one of his selections for this month's All-Star game. 
 
Dear Ben,
 
I’ve been an admirer of your career for your on-the-field contributions as well as your ability to come back. I say this as someone that didn’t enjoy seeing your name on the team sheet against the Men in Red.
 
In the early days of your career, there were few others in MLS that combined the speed and attacking ability and most importantly work ethic that you provided with D.C. United. 

After experiencing a pretty devastating injury in 2001, you fought back, moved into a new position and made your way on to a U.S. World Cup team in 2006, one you would have been on four years earlier if not for said injury.
 
Meet Patrick Nyarko. 
 
I say that in jest because I know you already know him. As part of the MLS head coach’s fraternity, you certainly include him in your pre-game team talk prior to a match against the Fire. Just a guess, but you might mention that he’s a player that reminds you of well, you.
 
Pat left his family in Ghana to join Virginia Tech (don’t let your Cavalier side hold that against him) and went on to become one of the most coveted players in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Much like you spent your first year in D.C. living with Bruce Arena, Pat counts one of his former Hokie teammates’ families as his “American family”.
 
Similarly, Pat moved away from his normal position as a forward to play as a winger early on in his professional career. This move wasn’t forced by injury but was one to make the player more effective for the team. Over the past three seasons, Pat has used his speed, ability to change directions and skill on the ball to terrorize MLS defenses.
 
While you suffered from ankle and other issues, Pat has dealt with concussions. Despite suffering at least two during his time with the Fire, he’s continued to improve every match and played fearlessly while knowing the risk of another is there.
 
Like you, Patrick hasn’t scored a ton of goals so far but ironically, he’s just ahead of your five-year assist mark at this point in his career (23 to 24). 
 
Many in Chicago (not that you care what anyone here thinks) found it surprising that Patrick wasn’t included among the team’s six players nominated for the MLS All-Star Game considering the consensus says he’s been the team’s most consistent performer this season. 
 
I say all this in an appeal to you to name Patrick as one of your selections to the 2012 MLS All-Star Game in Philadelphia later this month. Knowing the character you’ve always shown, I know you won’t let that MLS Cup ’98 defeat sour your view of Patrick. It would have capped a nice rookie year for you but Patrick was only 13 then. 
 
Maybe a start isn’t in the cards, but can you think of many other players in the league you would want coming off the bench in a game like this? When a Chelsea team in preseason form begins to whither in the Pennsylvania heat? 
 
If not, you should #PickPat
 
Yours in Soccer,
 

Jeff Crandall
Chicago Fire Team Writer
 
Keep up the #PickPat campaign by tweeting your support for Patrick to @DCUnited and @TheSoccerDon. The remaining selections for the 2012 MLS All-Star game will be announced at halftime of Sunday's Seattle vs. New York match at 3pm CT on ESPN.
 

 

09 July 12:13 pm

Full disclosure here: I saw the Twitter campaign the Chicago White Sox did to get Jake Peavy onto the American League All-Star team for tomorrow’s game.  #TakeJake made its way into the Fourth of July Parade and with Dave Kaplan on Chicago Tribune Live and I have to admit, I became a little envious.  

Though it didn’t exactly work (Peavy finished second in MLB Twitter voting to the Texas Rangers Yu Darvish), the Sox right-hander has reportedly replaced injured L.A. Angels southpaw C.J. Wilson on the All-Star team.

 

THE INVERTED WINGER: Patrick Nyarko

 
Last month Fire supporters did an amazing job in registering Twitter votes for the team’s six nominated MLS All-Stars. In a contest with Columbus, the Fire Twitter family quite frankly sent Crew fans back to the cow pasture from whence they came, outvoting them by a 3-1 margin. Though all the while, the victory seemed bittersweet as seemingly one of the team’s most deserving candidates wasn’t included.  
 
You see the journalists of North American soccer (who decided every team’s six All-Star nominees) fight the good fight, though like any other sport, they seem to recognize name a bit more than form or other contributions.
 
Cut to Patrick Nyarko, who over the past three seasons has become one of Major League Soccer’s most underrated players. Even when the side’s on-the-field play hasn’t been sub-par, the Ghanaian winger, forward (let’s just call him attacker?) has always provided danger and shown a constant threat in stretching and exposing the opposition’s defense.
 
A goal scorer he is not… Nyarko has only hit the back of the net nine times in his MLS career but he has found his role as a set up man providing 22 of his 24 league assists in the past three seasons. On top of that, Nyarko finished in the  Top 5 in the league in Big Chances Created (7) and Chances from the run of play (56) in 2011 and is currently tied with Javier Morales for Big Chances (7) and behind only Landon Donovan in Chances Created from the Run of Play (30 to 36). 
 
While speed is one of his best attributes, the most impressive quality that he’s gained over the past 12 months has been his ability to navigate through defenses, maintaining possession of the ball almost as if it never leaves his foot. 
 
Those qualities combined with the fact that Nyarko is fouled a lot (he’s been Top 10 in fouls suffered each of the past two seasons) and still finds a way to get back up is impressive and draws a lot of comparisons to former Fire winger DaMarcus Beasley. Moreover, he currently sits behind only countryman Dominic Oduro for consecutive league appearances at 41.
 
The Ghanaian national team recognized Nyarko’s effort earlier this year when he received his first call-up for the Black Stars in a 1-1 friendly draw with Chile back in February. Coming on as a second-half sub in that match, by all accounts Ghana could have easily won if only they’d found a way to finish one of the many chances created by Nyarko.
 
So while there is no Twitter vote left for the #MLSAllStar’s game vs. Chelsea, there is a chance to make an appeal to the two men who will decide the remaining players to fill out the league squad.
 
Over the next few days I’ll post my open letters to MLS All-Star Head Coach Ben Olsen and League Commissioner Don Garber, laying out the case for a player that has often been overlooked but is deserving of such an honor this season. 
 
Knowing how active Fire fans are in the Twitter-verse, I call on all of Fire nation to send your #PickPat messages to @DCUnited and @TheSoccerDon. Heck, send them over to @MLS_Insider and all your friends too. 
 

Spread the word,
 

 

05 July 12:37 pm

One-named players in the game of soccer are almost exclusively Brazilian. Going by a single name is almost a rite of passage for anyone that learned to play “joga bonito” growing up and its no different for new Fire arrival Alex who didn’t take long to put the Brazilian flare on display in last Friday’s 1-0 victory at Sporting KC.

While Alex shows promise, I thought it a smart exercise to detail the other Major League Soccer’s other one-named players that Alex  should look to as an example.

The Good 

Welton (New England, 1996; LA Galaxy, 1997-99; Miami 1999-00) - One of my sentimental favorites, Welton (pictured right) never really won a title in MLS and but #OldSchoolMLSFans will remember him as one of the most successful one-namers in league history (as well as a constant on my early MLS Fantasy team).

A traveling man of sorts, the Rio native would tally 43 goals and 34 assists over 144 career matches for New England, LA and Miami. He twice hit for double-digit goals in a season, scoring 11 goals in 1997 and 17 goals in 1998 for the Galaxy.

Fire fans will probably remember him best for ruining Zach Thornton’s shutout bid in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final with his 90th minute strike, which was the last goal he would score for an MLS side.

Camilo (Vancouver, 2011-present) – The midfielder led the Whitecaps with 12 goals and three assists over 32 matches in the club’s inaugural MLS campaign last season. His scoring pace is slightly slower this season with only three goals and two assists but he’s aided Vancouver to third place in the West at the half way point.

Preki (Kansas City 1996-2000, 2002-05; Miami 2001) – The best one-namer in league history isn’t even Brazilian. Preki’s (right) story is well known… a Yugoslavian indoor star who made his way back to Europe to play for Everton and Portsmouth before returning stateside to carve out one of the top careers in MLS history.

Spending all but one of his 10 MLS seasons in Kansas City, Preki amassed 79 goals and 112 assists in 242 games from 1996-2005, winning one MLS Cup (2000), two Supporters Shields (2000 KC; 2001 Miami) and one U.S. Open Cup (2004). He was twice named MLS Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 2003 and had four seasons in which he hit double-digit goals (scoring 18 in 1996).

Oh he also scored the United States’ only game-winning goal against Brazil.

Preki was good, that’s all. 

Juninho (LA Galaxy, 2010-present) – There have been more than a few Juninho’s before the Galaxy’s Juninho Paulista came onto the MLS scene but the central midfielder has proven to be one of the best one-namers ever in MLS. Since coming to the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010, Juninho has appeared in 72 matches, tallying seven goals and five assists while helping the Gals to a Supporters Shield and the team’s third MLS Cup last season.

Thiago (Chicago Fire, 2005-2007) – No Fire list of one-name players could ever be complete without Alex’s precursor at the club, Thiago (photo right). After impressing on a trial in 2004, the Porto Alegre product joined the Fire in 2005 and would go on to tally six goals and seven assists during his first season in Chicago.

The following year, he would bag just three goals and two assists in the league but wrote his name into Fire lore for his late-game, close-range tap-in to send Toyota Park into pandemonium as the Fire clinched their MLS-record fourth U.S. Open Cup title with a 3-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on September 23, 2006.

With diminished playing time in 2007, Thiago was released by the Fire that September. Now 30, he’s bounced around Brazil’s lower leagues, winning the Campeanato Gaucho Segunda Divisao with hometown club Porto Alegre in 2009 and currently plays for Sao Luiz de Ijui. 

 

03 July 9:24 am

Happy Tuesday Matchday! The Chicago Fire travel to Houston for their first-ever match at BBVA Compass Stadium tonight at 7:30pm CT LIVE on NBC 5.2 (Channel Finder) and 97.5FM ESPN Deportes Radio.  

Here are five things to know heading into tonight’s Fourth of July-eve match…

1) FOUR GAME WINNING STREAKS…  With a victory tonight in Houston, the Fire would achieve the club’s first four-game MLS regular season winning streak since June and July 2005 when the team took down Real Salt Lake (3-1), D.C. United (4-3), Chivas USA (1-0) and New England (1-0). 

 

PREVIEW: Fire at Dynamo

 
It’s been seven years since it’s happened and even then two of the opponents were expansion teams with only the win against Chivas coming on the road. IF the Frank Klopas’ side is victorious tonight, this streak will be more impressive as it will have come against two teams higher in the standings (New York, Sporting KC) with two matches in difficult environments (Sporting KC and Houston).
 
IF the Fire win tonight, it would mark just the seventh time in 15 years that the team has strung together a four-game winning streak. It happened twice in 1998, once in 2000, twice again in 2001 and not again since 2005. A win tonight would not only be good from an historic perspective but would also move the side into third place in the Eastern Conference.
 
2) WHAT A WIN TONIGHT WOULD MEAN… Aside from equaling a little bit of history, a win tonight would also equal the team’s total victories (nine) achieved over the course of 34 games during each of the past two seasons. 
 
3) FIRST TIME IN A NEW STADIUM… Thankfully and for what seems like the first time in a while, the Fire aren’t the team having to open a brand new MLS stadium. Tonight will however mark the team’s first visit to BBVA Compass Stadium where the Dynamo are unbeaten (4-0-2) since opening their new downtown facility with a 1-0 victory over D.C. United on May 12. 
 
But let’s keep this about the Fire, who are 9-15-7 all-time in their first match at an MLS stadium. The last time the team won in this instance was a 1-0 victory against San Jose in a one-off match for attendance purposes at McAfee Coliseum on April 12, 2008. In a more permanent venue, the last time the Fire won in this instance came with another 1-0 victory in the Dynamo’s first home, Robertson Stadium on May 20, 2006. 
 
4) 50th CONSECUTIVE… Last season Fire forward Dominic Oduro scored his team-leading 12th goal in his first return to Houston since being traded to the Dynamo by the Fire following the first week of the MLS campaign. IF he steps on the field in his second return to Houston tonight, he’ll make his 50th consecutive appearance for the Fire. The current Fire “iron man” has appeared in every regular season match since joining the team last March, providing 17 goals and four assists. 
 
Who’s next closest to Dom in consecutive appearances? Fellow Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko who is set to make his 40th straight appearance tonight.
 
5) 25 GOALS FOR MARCO… Marco Pappa has sort of quietly wrote his name into the Fire history books over through the first half of the season. Since the start of the season, the Guatemalan international has moved from ninth on the club’s all-time MLS goal scoring list all the way to fifth with his game-winner Friday night. his  and with one more goal will tie inaugural Ring of Fire inductee Piotr Nowak for fourth on the list at 26. Two more goals will make Pappa the all-time leading scorer among Fire midfielders.  
 
02 July 4:07 pm

I remember my 15th birthday like it was yesterday. I woke up early and went to the DMV with my mom to secure my Learner’s Permit – gaining the ability to drive (with supervision) was a true right of passage growing up just outside of the Motor City. 

Coming up later this year, October 8 to be exact, the Chicago Fire officially turn 15 years old and to celebrate our Quinceñara, we’ll be counting down the 15 most memorable matches, goals and top players in Fire history, as part of our #Fire15 series.


We started last Friday by posting this video counting down Games #13-15 on our list. We’ll have a video each week in the above categories as we lead up to our 15th Anniversary celebration to be held Wednesday, October 3 against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park. 

#Fire15: Memorable Matches 13-15

#15  -  Chicago Fire 2, New York Red Bulls 0 - June 25, 2006   MLS Regular Season - Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
 
In the Grand Opening match of Toyota Park, a capacity of 20,133 watched their Chicago Fire take on the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer’s newest soccer-specific venue.
The players responded to the enthusiastic crowd and captain Chris Armas put the Fire ahead in the 12th minute by jumping on a bouncing ball at the top of the Red Bull box. New York ‘keeper Tony Meola got a hand on the shot, but it wasn’t enough as the ball slowly rolled past the goal line. Later, 
Brazilian Fire midfielder Thiago capped off the day by making a diagonal run into the Red Bull box and beating the goalkeeper with a low, powerful shot (69’) to ice the match at 2-0.
 
#14  -  Chicago Fire 4, Dallas Burn 3 - May 24, 2000  -  MLS Regular Season -  Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
 
Before any of the scoring occurred in this match, Fire defender and current TV Analyst Evan Whitfield was ejected from the match in the 15th minute. With the man advantage, Dallas would open the scoring with a 37th minute goal from Jorge Rodriguez but the Fire would pull level when the Burn’s Richard Farrer redirected his clearing header into to his own net just before the half. The Burn pulled back ahead in the second half, adding two more goals from Jason Kreis (57’) and Chad Deering (63’). 
 
Down 3-1, the Fire looked like they were heading for an inevitable loss at home. Ante Razov, however, began the counter crusade with a goal in the 79th minute. Entering pandemonium, Dema Kovalenko tied the affair with one minute left in the match. The Fire were not content with a draw and kept pushing up the field, receiving a glorious stoppage time winner from Ante Razov (91+’) to close the book on one of the best comebacks in club history.
 
#13  - Chicago Fire 1, LA Galaxy 0  October 21, 2007  -  MLS Regular Season -  Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
 
After a slow start to the 2007 campaign which resulted in the firing of head coach Dave Sarachan midseason, the Fire rebounded under Juan Carlos Osorio to make a late playoff push. As a result of their strong form, the team needed just a draw in this match on the final day of the regular season and would control the lion’s share of this meeting having outshot the Galaxy 10-1 by the end of the match. 
 
Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 21,374, the Fire saw great chances from Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chad Barrett and Wilman Conde go begging. Just as it looked like the team would back-in to the playoffs with a 0-0 draw, then-rookie forward Calen Carr popped up the ball over the Galaxy’s back line to an unmarked John Thorrington. The former Manchester United midfielder chested down the bouncing ball and with one touch chipped the LA ‘keeper Joe Cannon to give the Fire a dramatic win in the 93rd minute.

 

 

 

29 June 11:37 am

Coming off a Thursday in which the club saw a favored U-18 side bow out of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Playoffs, the U-16s resurrected the chance Friday, with a 2-1 group finale win over Real Salt Lake-Arizona to advance to next month’s National Finals in Houston.

The two teams entered Friday morning’s match with identical 2-0-0 records but RSL-Arizona held the second tie breaker with eight goals scored to the Fire’s seven, meaning the Boys in Red would have to win the match outright to advance.

Larry Sunderland’s side struck first blood when Collin Fernandez broke up a play in the attacking end, worked up the right and slotted a ball across for Jeff Farina who coolly slipped his fifth goal of the tournament past the RSL keeper in the 26th minute to take the Fire into the half up 1-0.

The side would find some more breathing room in the 63rd when Christian Hennock received the ball after a build up out of the back, strode towards goal up the right put a ball in leaving Marcus Epps an easy opportunity to knock home his fourth of the tournament and give the Fire a two-goal advantage.

Needing just two goals to advance, RSL poured on the pressure in the final 15 minutes and pulled one back in the 70th when a ball knocked across the box was redirected into the back of the net by a Fire player to take things to 2-1.

Despite the goal, the team was able to sustain the remaining pressure and grind out the 2-1 result to finish a perfect 3-0-0 atop what was deemed the tournament’s “Group of Death”. Together Farina and Epps accounted for all nine of the team’s goals in the three matches.

“RSL pushed very well at the end there,” said Sunderland. “I think being based in Arizona, they dealt with the heat much better than us and pressed us a lot longer. They’re a very good team but we did well to finish the chances we created and then completed it with a strong defensive performance.”

The win makes the Fire U-16s one of eight qualifiers to the U.S.S.D.A. Finals next month in Houston where the team will take part in another round-robin tournament, with the group winners playing for national title.

“Navigating this group and beating a team like RSL to qualify -- we have to take a lot of confident from that with us into the finals next month,” continued Sunderland. “I’m very proud of the way this team has performed and peaked just at the right time.”

Chicago Fire U16/U18 Academy Playoff Results

DATE TIME CHICAGO FIRE OPPONENT RESULTS
6/25 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Concorde Fire (GA) 1-2 L
6/26 4:00pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Clearwater Chargers (FL) 4-2 W
6/26 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Albertson SC (NY) 2-1 W
6/27 6:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Seattle Sounders FC (WA) 3-0 W
6/28 11:00am CT Chicago Fire U-18 Solar Chelsea SC (TX) 1-3 L
6/29 9:00am CT Chicago Fire U-16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) 2-1 W