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03 March 10:06 am

As we continue to countdown to kickoff, some facts and figures on the Chicago Fire’s 2013 First Kick Roster…

* The current roster features 26 players with an average age of 24 years, 9 months.

* 19 players return from the Fire team that finished the 2012 season.

* 7 new Fire players have joined the side over the offseason.

* 5 of those players were acquired by in-league movements: Maicon Santos (Re-Entry from D.C.), Joel Lindpere (trade with New York), Jeff Larentowicz (trade with Colorado), Dilly Duka (trade with Columbus), Quincy Amarikwa (trade with Toronto FC).

GAMEDAY Q&A: 8 Questions with Frank Klopas

*1 of the other players, midfielder Yazid Atouba was the Fire’s lone selection in the 2013 SuperDraft.

* 9 countries are represented: USA, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Italy and The Netherlands.

* 8 players have made senior international appearances for their country: Chris Rolfe (10), Logan Pause (6), Larentowicz (4), Sean Johnson (3; USA), Arne Friedrich (82; Germany), Gonzalo Segares (19; Costa Rica), Patrick Nyarko (1; Ghana), Lindpere (84; Estonia).

* 5 players are alumni of the club’s player development setup: Rolfe and Austin Berry, (PDL), Brendan King (Super-20s), Victor Pineda, Kellen Gulley (Fire Juniors, Academy).

* Captain Logan Pause returns for his 11th consecutive season in Chicago – one of the longest consecutive tenures with one team all-time in MLS. Pause sits second on the club’s all competitions appearance list with 304 games played since 2003.

* Entering the 2013 season, Fire players have a combined 86 seasons of MLS experience. Leading the way are Logan Pause (10), Jeff Larentowicz and Gonzalo Segares (8), Chris Rolfe (6) and Wells Thompson (6).

* 3 players on the Fire roster have won MLS Cup. Larentowicz, Thompson and Amarikwa were all part of the Colorado Rapids side that won the 2010 title.

* 7 players on the Fire roster have won a combined 11 domestic titles: Pause (2 U.S. Open Cups, 1 Supporters Shield), Larentowicz and Thompson (1 MLS Cup, 1 U.S. Open Cup each), Segares and Rolfe (1 U.S. Open Cup), Amarikwa (1 MLS Cup), Maicon Santos (1 Canadian Championship).

* This season marks the first time since 2009 that the Fire have had two goalkeepers return. Sean Johnson is back for his fourth season while Paolo Tornaghi backs him up for the second year.

READ: Five things you should know about #LAvCHI

* The current roster has scored 158 goals in regular season play, led by 2012 Fire MVP and Golden Boot winner Chris Rolfe who has 44 career strikes. Three of the Fire’s offseason acquisitions boast double-digit career goal scoring figures: Jeff Larentowicz (23 goals), Joel Lindpere (15 goals) and Maicon Santos (21 goals).

* Frank Klopas returns for his second full season as head coach and third since taking over from Carlos de los Cobos in May 2011. 

* Klopas is 25-16-16 all-time in MLS play and is 28-19-16 in competitive matches since 2011.

* Klopas' full coaching staff of Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich (assistants), Aron Hyde(goalkeeping) and Tony Jouaux (fitness) return for 2013.

* All five coaches were born in different countries: Klopas (Greece), Matkovich (USA), Percovich (Uruguay), Hyde (England), Jouaux (France).

 

01 March 4:30 pm

It’s always interesting when things come full circle in MLS… Follow me if you will…

Take a ride back to last September when the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado in exchange for a conditional MLS SuperDraft selection.

The condition stated that if Thompson appeared in four of the team’s remaining regular season matches, the Fire would surrender their second round selection at the 2013 SuperDraft to the Rapids. He did and the Fire bid farewell to the pick.

Not so fast…


Wells Thompson: Trade Revolutionary?

Then consider the news out of the Denver Post today where Rapids President Tim Hinchey said Larentowicz was nearly traded to the Columbus Crew instead of the Fire.

Flash forward to the night before the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis when the teams did another deal, this time with the Fire acquiring central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as well as the same second round pick they’d surrendered to the Rapids (30th overall) in exchange for their first round selection (11th overall), an international roster spot and allocation money.

Apparently the Rapids had turned down “better offers” from other teams in order to grant Larentowicz his wish of coming to Chicago rather than Columbus.

One of the main pieces at play in that potential deal was the MLS rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers, which the Fire also ended up acquiring in the trade that brought Dilly Duka to Chicago.

Not the Fire or Rapids could have predicted Rogers would retire but beyond that, you almost wonder if the other part of the potential Crew/Rapids deal could have been Duka?

But I’m getting off topic here…

Things officially came full circle today when Yazid Atouba, the player selected with the 30th pick that went back and forth between the Rapids and Fire, officially signed with the Men in Red. Slightly unheralded at the SuperDraft, Atouba gained confidence in every preseason match and dazzled Fire fans towards the end. 

Certainly a pleasant surprise at #30 overall...

Take it all in and let me leave you with a few parting shots…

* Let me point out that this type of juicy “after-the-fact” trade possibility is something we just don’t hear about enough in MLS.

* It says something about the culture created internally when an MLS veteran like Jeff Larentowicz chooses to come to your club.

* Kudos to the Rapids for doing well by the player.

* Who knows who the Fire would have selected with the 11th overall pick but my safe money is on the fact that Yazid Atouba wouldn’t have been it.

* No offense whatsoever meant to Wells Thompson, but who’d have thought this all would have come from his slightly under the radar trade last fall?

01 March 9:57 am

Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).

Sparky will join Fire players Victor Pineda and Brendan King for an autograph signing at 11:30am while Fire staff will run through coaching demonstrations at 2:00 and 3:00pm.

The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.

28 February 9:11 am

About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.

With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.

Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. 

With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.

With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.

Give it a listen here and check out Forza Italia at www.forzaitalianfootball.com.

24 February 2:26 pm

With the recent announcement of Major League Soccer's Jersey Week, a lot has been raised regarding the club's plans for future kits as well as a potential third jersey. We at Always on the Inside caught up with the club's Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla to shed some light on future jersey plans. 

Always on the Inside: MLS announced that as part of a league initiative a number of clubs would be participating in a Jersey Week celebration kicking off on Monday, Feb. 25. What does that mean for Fire supporters?

Atul Khosla: The league is moving to a yearly jersey launch cycle, where every club will roll out a new jersey each year.  It will rotate, primary/home one year, secondary/away the next year.  Therefore, each jersey is in market for a total of two years. This new approach allows a fresh product in market every year. Since the Fire launched both new kits last year, we are on an off cycle this year, similar to a number of other teams. As of next year, we will be back on cycle, and we will launch a new home kit.

PERUSE: Chicago Fire Jersey History

AOTI: Can you talk about the merchandise progress the club has made in the past few years and how you see it developing further?

AK: We want to see Chicago Fire jerseys everywhere in Chicagoland. We want people to represent our club by wearing our colors in the community, at games and around town.  It’s been a key for us to grow our merchandise and we’ve seen success over the past three years because of a number of factors.  

First was design. We have tried to refresh the product line, bring back some original Chicago touches, and at the same time push the envelope in being edgier with our brand. As part of these strides the club has built a Fan Shop at Toyota Park, grown its online presence and built a partnership with Fanatics, Inc.. It has also been key for us to integrate merch and our products throughout our marketing efforts, on television and at the stadium. These actions have resulted in solid growth and we now have to continue to build on it.

AOTI: It’s a question that is raised from time to time from some Fire supporters, what’s going on with the Chicago Fire flag third kit?

AK: We hear and understand the request from some of our supporter base for a third Fire kit, especially one that from a design standpoint has strong ties to the city of Chicago. This is precisely why over the past few years we have added key Chicago elements to our uniforms. Starting in 2010 the club worked closely with adidas to have the four, six-sided stars of the Chicago flag adorn the bottom left of the white secondary/away tops.

The current secondary/away kit includes a number of elements from the Chicago flag including horizontal lines that are created by using the stripes and four stars from the civic flag representing Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. These details  were created to pay homage to the city and the club’s origins. I believe it’s the first time outside of a third kit that our jerseys have ever had the municipal flag woven into the design.There is tremendous and deep civic pride, and the Club will continue to build on the traditions of soccer, our supporters, our club and Chicago.  

AOTI: With that said, are you saying that Fire doesn't need a third kit?

AK: No. What I am saying is that the primary reason for creating a third kit would be to engage our fans in a unique way.  Also, we need to take into account the practical considerations of the true demand for this product so we can meet the minimum requirements from adidas before we place the order.  Since we just released new kits last year, we wanted to focus on our new designs and pace things appropriately to avoid flooding the market. 

The most successful way to create a third kit, is for us to collaborate with our supporters, get everyone energized, and create the demand.  In order to initiate this movement, in the coming weeks we will be launching a social campaign asking supporters to help us design a potential third kit, vote for their favorites, and then rally each other to make a commitment by putting a deposit down.  

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com and our social channels.  We need everyone's support to make this happen and are excited to collaborate with you and create something we can all be proud of. 

22 February 12:43 pm

On last week’s All-In Podcast, Eunice Kim and I talked about the launch of the 2013 Fire Fantasy League through MLSsoccer.com’s Fantasy Manager.

I'm happy to say Commissioner Kim has the league up and running at http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com

Vie for bragging rights with myself, Eunice and  and other Fire fans in the Official Fire Fantasy League this year where we’ll have prizes every month for the squad with the most points and an overall prize for the winner at the end other 2013 season!

We’ll even recognize the league’s highest point earner every week on the podcast (we might also talk trash to each other...)

Head to http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com, pick your team, check out the scoring system and rules and then join our Private League using code: 7609-1547

21 February 12:43 pm

Fire Preseason Check List: 

* Some good wins
* Very few injuries
* Plenty of seafood
* Seeing team bond
* A trip to the adidas outlet for some new kicks
* A new found appreciation for salad

These have all been accomplished. Though as we come to the end of preseason, it occurred to me that not one prank has taken place.

Thankfully, Wells Thompson came through after last night's game and Michael Videira was there to capture it for us...

Sega assures me he's planning his revenge. Stay tuned, our last days in Charleston could be interesting...

21 February 12:07 pm

Last August I wrote about Reid Strain, a forward out of the Fire U18 Youth Academy team who earned the chance of a lifetime when he was called up for the Puerto Rican senior team in their 2-1 friendly loss to World and European champions Spain.

Though he didn't play in that match, Strain appears to be a budding star in the Puerto Rican setup and tallied another goal for the nation's U-20 side this week during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.

Trailing 1-0 to Jamaica on Tuesday, Strain tallied the 22nd minute equalizer below before the Reggae Boyz hit back with three second half goals to win 4-1. 

WATCH: Reid Strain tallies for Puerto Rico U-20s

15 February 5:09 pm

As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.

As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...

First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...

A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.

Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.

To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.

On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.

15 February 8:27 am

Was nice to wake up to this news this morning that U.S. international and current Aston Villa  first-choice 'keeper Brad Guzan would like to return to MLS one day and potentially suit up for his hometown Chicago Fire.

A product of Homer Glen, Ill., Guzan was quoted as saying, "Hopefully, I will get the opportunity, when I’m finished playing in Europe, to go back and play in it. 

"Especially being from Chicago, which has a team. I’d love to go back and play for the Chicago Fire in front of friends and family. That would be pretty neat.”

Guzan of course teamed with current Fire forward Chris Rolfe on the Chicago Fire PDL side that went a near perfect 17-1-0 en route to the league's regular season championship that year.

Having played two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Guzan left college to sign with MLS and was picked second overall by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.

At just 28 years old and with the Fire having a 'keeper in Sean Johnson who is nipping at his heels for the number two spot with the U.S., Guzan won't likely return stateside anytime soon but would likely be a welcome addition for many a Fire fan down the road...