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29 July 10:49 am

The Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field meant that even though the Fire were in Houston on Saturday, Chicago would not be deprived of live soccer this weekend. Thank goodness. From a Fire point of view, it’s pretty special that Sean Johnson and alum DaMarcus Beasley overlapped on this USMNT squad.

The game itself wasn’t as exciting as you could have hoped from the two best Gold Cup teams. Panama’s tight defense kept the U.S. side from running at them the way they ran at Honduras and El Salvador and they never looked like they would put up the crooked numbers that defined their tournament.

BLOG: Beasley captains USMNT to 5th Gold Cup title

There were even a few times when the game looked like a cagey MLS match, with a challenger in town to try to steal the day, staying taut, and not making mistakes. But the USMNT wore down Panama, took their best (and really only clear cut) chance, held on against a barrage of balls floated into the box in the final minutes and were crowned deserved champions.

How nice would it be to see the Fire handle games like that? On Saturday, we saw the Fire come back from behind yet again. We saw them nearly nick all three points and then nearly lose them all. We saw flashes of dangerous counterattacks and Paolo Tornaghi making some big saves. Most of all, we saw despite obvious improvements over the last trip to Houston, the team is still missing one little bit of finality in both halves.

Back in April, the 2013 Fire v1.0 went to Houston with the goal of slowing the game down, playing calmly and controlling the match. The greenhouse (orange-house?) that is BBVA Compass Stadium dictated that, and we saw players run themselves dead on that afternoon, which also included a vintage Brad Davis garbage goal, Wells Thompson, and a last minute Jeff Larentowicz hit off the crossbar (HIGHLIGHTS from April 14).

On Saturday, the 2013 Fire v2.0 went to Houston with a different mindset. They went to play, to take some initiative. You could see it at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half when Lindpere and Nyarko were pushed way up the field on the outside.

HIGHLIGHTS: Fire earn tough 1-1 draw in Houston

Alas, the result wasn’t much different. Houston, one of the hardest teams to beat away in the history of MLS, controlled the game. The Fire looked absolutely spent at the end of the game, much of which they spent chasing the orange midfielders around and trying to clear their persistent crosses into the box.

But the difference this time around was the way in which the Fire actually looked dangerous at times, stealing into Houston’s half on counter attacks and nearly grabbing the lead on a late Chris Rolfe chance.

In April, we looked at the difficulty of balancing the mindset to calm the game down without sacrificing the risk-taking attitude needed to be offensive, to attack. Now, with Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee (and the Alex/Larentowicz partnership), it seems like 2013 Fire v2.0 are poised to find that balance.

As another new striker and the All-Star break arrive, maybe the Fire will find that teeny bit of difference. If so, next time we play Houston at Toyota Park in September, they’ll be the ones wilting, exhausted after falling to 2013 Fire v3.0

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

29 July 8:43 am

There are few players of Fire past that hold as an emotional connection to Chicago as former winger DaMarcus Beasley.


Scott Strazzante/Tribune

Having began his career with the Men in Red in 2000, Beasley made 134 competitive appearances, tallying 18 goals and 28 assists in four and a half seasons before signing with Dutch Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven in 2004.

He also helped the club to three domestic titles in his time and along with Josh Wolff was the Fire's first representative on a U.S. World Cup team in 2002.

PERUSE: TrueCar Chicago Fire Player Registry

Beasley has had ups and downs in his career, falling out of the national team picture twice only to earn his way back. His current international renaissance was made more special by his captaining of the side to Sunday's Gold Cup title where it all began for him with the Fire at Soldier Field.

Chicago Redeye asked the veteran winger (and now converted left back) what it meant to raise the trophy in Chicago, with Beasley saying, "I still have so much love for the fans of the Chicago Fire. This was my first real club." 

With a pretty strong love for the club and city, could a Fire return happen for Beasley before his career ends?

Last September, the Fire alum retured to the Windy City to take in a game at Toyota Park and told Chicago-Fire.com this:

26 July 10:09 am

After a confidence boosting 4-1 win over D.C. United at Toyota Park last weekend, the Fire fly south to take on the Houston Dynamo at the fortress that is BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday night (LIVE 8pm CT on NBC Sports / La Ley 107.9 FM). Houston beat Premier League side Stoke City 2-0 at midweek and currently occupy the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a position the Fire is fighting for.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Shadowing Andrew Driver – A threat both inside and out

Englishman Andrew Driver has had a stellar debut season in MLS for the Dynamo and his versatility has made him one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS this season.

WATCH: Match Preview: Fire vs. Dynamo

Though naturally left footed, Driver is comfortable playing on either wing and is most dangerous when playing on the right, where he can cut in onto his left foot.

Though not on the level of Brad Davis, Driver’s crossing ability and dead ball prowess gives Houston another dimension and makes the Texas team even more threatening on set pieces.

READ: Fire winger Duka a no-go for Houston

When the ball is on the other side of the field, Driver gets into the box to support the forwards and has chipped in with three goals this season.

He’s also not afraid to come inside and switch positions with withdrawn striker Giles Barnes who played primarily on the wing in England before being converted by Houston coach Dom Kinnear.

Driver’s most recent goal came against D.C. United in May where he won the ball and played it wide to Will Bruin before bursting into the box and receiving a return pass before finishing.

Tracking Driver’s runs when he does cut inside will be key on Saturday night.

How to beat the Houston backline – 1v1s and runs off the ball

In last week’s match against D.C., the Fire forwards, most notably Chris Rolfe, made some brilliant runs off the ball and were found by great penetrating passes from midfield. Both of Rolfe’s goals came from off the ball runs and more of the same will be needed on Saturday.

A weakness of the Houston defense is paying too much attention to the person with the ball and neglecting to pick up the runs from other forwards or midfielders.

In the Dynamo’s last league match against New England, they allowed Diego Fagundez to pass the ball to Chad Barrett at the top of the box and pick up a return pass unmarked in the box. But for some better finishing, the Dynamo would’ve been a goal down.

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In the Dynamo’s last league loss against the Red Bulls, the killer second goal came when the Houston defense fixated on Thierry Henry, allowing Johnny Steele to make a run into the box unmarked and the Irishman scored after a simple through ball from Henry.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

Off the ball runs from Rolfe and Mike Magee can open up the Houston defense and it will be up to players like Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere to find the strikers as they did so well last Saturday.

The center midfield battle – who starts for the Fire

In recent weeks, Fire coach Frank Klopas has stuck with the midfield duo of Jeff Larentowicz and Alex to great effect but there are others knocking on the door for a starting spot and Saturday’s match could be the perfect time to make a change.

Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are back from injury and suspension respectively and I believe one could come into the starting lineup in place of Alex.

Houston are a team that have high-energy midfielders such as Adam Moffatt, Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. All three are not afraid to get forward and this will force the Fire’s two center midfielders to protect the back line.

With the fluidity of players like Giles Barnes, Driver and Garcia to deal with, a player like Pause or Paladini who are more defensive minded than Alex, may be more suited to deal with the flooded midfield.

Against a team like Houston, you must watch for through balls in behind the defense. A player like Logan Pause, who reads the game so well defensively and is constantly intercepting opposition passes, could be a better fit tactically.

Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Chris Rolfe.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve

25 July 9:10 am

Joel Lindpere continues to get big ups for his one goal, two assists performance in Saturday's 4-1 win over D.C. United as the Estonian international was named to the FIFA 13 Ultimate Team of the Week today!

Congrats Joel!

24 July 1:12 pm

On Tuesday, July 9, a Chicago Fire fan forwarded a Yahoo! article to owner Andrew Hauptman that included a detailed account of a young fan who wanted to meet soccer superstar Lionel Messi on his birthday only to be left disappointed. 

Upon further digging, it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.  A group of approximately 75 fans had paid a premium for a meet and greet at the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field that ultimately didn’t come to be.  Learning more about this group, the Fire owner’s immediate response was to find a way to contact these fans and invite them for a true, VIP experience at an upcoming Chicago Fire game. 

Through a little help from Dirty Tackle’s Brooks Peck, an introduction was made, and then an invite was extended for those fans to be a guest of Andrew’s for last Saturday’s match against D.C. United. And while not everyone could attend, with some traveling from California, DC, Toronto and even as far as England for the original game, the Fire welcomed 16 fans to Toyota Park that night. 

After a quick tour of the Park, a trip on field and even to the locker room, the guests enjoyed the game from the Second Star Club. The 4-1 win over United was the icing on the cake.  Many of the fans were truly grateful for the invitation; calling it a “bright spot in all of this drama.”

One of the families shared this note with the Club after the game:

“…My family and I would like to thank you for yesterday's awesome tickets.  We had such a wonderful time and we won't forget it, ever.  Please thank Mr. Andrew Hauptman for everything that he did for us. This was a beautiful experience.  Looks like we'll be season ticket holders starting next year. Thank you!”

Don’t forget, the Fire is still offering anyone with proof of purchase to the July 6 Messi & Friends event at Soldier Field a 50 percent discount on a ticket to the Aug. 7 Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal match. All discounted ticket offers must be redeemed at the Toyota Park Box Office only. Inquiries regarding the discount can be directed to 1-888-MLS-FIRE.

24 July 12:56 pm

I’ve always thought it odd that sports falls into the category of entertainment business. Sure people pay to watch it, same as all entertainment, and there are “actors”, agents, venues and all that. But when you’re emotionally attached, soccer feels like more than merely entertainment. “Entertainment” feels a little shallow, I think of county fair tents, while sports can feel like everything in the world.

Take the idea of “Sport”: Roman, high, physically extreme, competition; and the idea of “Entertainment”: Amusement, fun, pleasure.

But it’s not fair to separate the two quite so fast. I did a Twitter search for “R Kelly tears” after his highly lauded Pitchfork set on Sunday night and remembered that in music, too, people live for what happens on stage. You get caught up with performers and players, you put your expectations on them, you live through them, and when they stand up and return everything in performance, the exaltation is real and thorough and spiritual.

The word performance is interesting. We say players “perform” well (or not) the same way we do about musicians and actors. I suppose the main difference between performing and just, well, doing something, is that performances require an audience. And it’s the audience that makes the show, right? Nobody believes in your work unless you do it in front of a crowd, and the Pope in the woods isn’t selling tickets.

Something about those moments in a performance, when players and audience are one, when expectations are met and then exceeded, time speeds up and slows down, the moment stretches out into something like a feeling, and everything is right again. Whether it’s a band onstage or a team on a field, those encores, those goals, they make us bigger.

Performances are entertainment, and injecting competition into performances only makes them more so. A friend once told me that she had no problem going to youth swim meets; she found them entertaining because she just liked to watch races.

So among all the clamor this weekend about fancy players in town for Pitchfork and the Fire readying to bring in a new Designated Player, the team hosted a D.C. side Saturday night that is absolutely reeling. And the Fire handled business. The most “entertaining” factor in it all, though, was seeing Chris Rolfe grab a couple goals. 

 
 
 

I mean, your sister loves Chris Rolfe, we all love Chris Rolfe (you saw his cute reaction to Section 8’s song for him after his first goal, right?), and he was in desperate need for some goals because, let’s face it, you can’t make a career playing up top and not scoring in this league. And it’s not like he wasn’t trying, he leads the team in shots, we see his work rate game after game, but now it looks like Rolfe is finally starting to get in that rhythm where the goal looks all big and goalies are just annoying impediments. His finishes have that quick, confident feel about them again.

It was cathartic to see the elation after his first goal, right in front of Section 8. Rolfe’s been at it for a while, he’s been on more than a few tours, and we all want him to succeed and meet the expectations we put on him. It’s the life of a performer, I guess, to have to deal with not only the usual pressure one puts on oneself, or that a coach puts on, but to face the crowd’s expectations too. Like R. Kelly did on Sunday, and like all great performers, Rolfe stepped up in the moment and made it something bigger, something that we could all share in, and that’s entertainment at its best.

 

 

24 July 11:23 am

MLS Player of the Week, Goal of the Week nominee, the accolades just keep on coming for Chris Rolfe, but why not? His fourty-fifth minute brace completing goal from Joel Lindpere's perfect placement can only be described with one word... Sick.

That's why MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas breaks it down in this week's Anatomy of a Goal.

23 July 1:41 pm

Join Daniel Paladini, Gonzalo Segares, and Patrick Nyarko next Thursday July 25th from 6-8pm at Molly’s Cupcakes located at 2536 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park.

Come by and see the Men in Red serve up your favorite cupcakes including the “Chicago Fire Velvet Swirl”. For each Fire Swirl cupcake sold, $1 will go back to the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Molly’s will match all tips collected during the evening with proceeds benefiting the Chicago Fire Foundation.

20 July 10:26 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 4-1 win over D.C. United.

CREDIT: Brian Kersey Chicago Fire