The club announced today that starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson started a three week training stint in England earlier today, beginning with Premier League club Stoke City (Dec. 5-9) before joining U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard and coach Chris Woods at Everton FC (December 10-23) for the second straight offseason.
I caught up with Sean Wednesday morning to talk how his first session went with Stoke, his third offseason abroad and what matches he’ll be taking in over the next few weeks.
Jeff Crandall: Sean, over the past three years you’ve spent parts of your offseason in Spain, Germany and England, do you feel tired at all or is the experience too good to pass up?
It’s about soaking in the experience but also getting the rest and recover enough to be ready to go 100 percent for the season.
JC: What is Stoke like so far?
SJ: I think it’s been a great experience working with guys like Thomas Sorensen, Asmir Begovic and Carlo Nash.
Training with their goalkeeper coach and getting the chance to play and train with the guys at the top level. Just seeing how another team operates gives you perspective.
JC: Have you hung out with your U.S. Men’s National teammates Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron yet?
SJ: I’ve hung out with both of them. I’m actually staying with Maurice at the moment. They’re great guys to be around and it’s just good to see familiar faces and make most of the time you have with your friends while you’re over here.
JC: Next week you head to Everton for the second consecutive offseason. How important is it for you to have guys like Tim Howard and Chris Woods working with you there?
WATCH: Sean Johnson #4 in MLS 24 under 24
SJ: Having been in with the national team a lot more this past year, training with Chris and Tim again here is a fantastic opportunity to keep some continuity and show how I’m growing.
To be in that environment day-in and day-out and make yourself a better goalkeeper will do wonders for me as a player.
JC: What games are you taking in the next few weeks?
SJ: I’m going to try and take in as many games as I can. This weekend’s lineup has Stoke going to Aston Villa on Saturday and then Everton hosts Tottenham on Sunday at Goodison Park so it works out well. Manchester United also player Man City in a derby match on Sunday so there’s a lot of excitement for that as well.
Depending on how things work out, I’ll hopefully go to a few more games while I’m here. It’s great to go to those stadiums and see everything that goes into a match.
JC: You end your time with Everton just before Christmas. What are you doing with the rest of your time before preseason begins on January 18?
SJ: I’m going to be back in Atlanta through Christmas and maybe New Years. I caught up with the family for a week over Thanksgiving and planned to be there longer.
Because I was coming over here I decided to go down to Florida for a week by myself to get away and be able to get ready for this experience.
JC: Great to hear from you Sean. We’ll talk soon.
SJ: Have a good one!
With both Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry in attendance, Atletico fell 2-0 to Real Madrid in a derby match at the Santiago Bernabeu in a derby match Saturday night. The defeat snapped Atletico’s five match winning streak across all competitions.
With the result, Atleti stays in second place though third place Real pulls within five points, while Barcelona’s 5-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao opens their league-lead to six points.
Already through to the next round of the Europa League, Atletico continue their quest to defend their European crown when they return to the field Thursday to close out Group B play away to Czech side Viktoria Pizen.
The team returns to league action on Sunday when they welcome 19th place Deportivo La Coruna to the Calderon.
Sport Club Internacioncal
Internacional closed out the 2012 Campeanto Brasileiro campaign with a 0-0 draw away to Gremio Sunday.
With the result, Inter finished 10th in the 20-team Serie A with 52 points and will look to regroup ahead of the Gaucho state campaign, which kicks off January 19th against EC Passo Fundo.
After league-leading Galatasaray drew 1-1 with Gaziantepspor on Friday night, Besiktas would come within one point of the league leaders using goals from Ibrahim Toraman and Oguzhan Ozyakup to earn a 2-1 come from behind victory away to Orduspor Saturday.
With the win, Besiktas move to 7-3-4 in the Turkish Super League, one point behind joint leaders Galatasaray and Antalyaspor. Samet Aybaba’s side will hope to go first when they welcome sixth place Eskiserhispor to the Inonu Stadium on Friday.
Al Ain continued their impressive run at the start of the Emirates Pro-League season, using goals from Asamoah Gyan (13th minute) and Ali Al Wehaibi (61st minute) to down bottom of the table Al Shaab 2-1 on Friday.
The result pushes Al Ain to an 8-1-1 record and top of the table Emirates Pro-League table with 25 points. The club will look to turn their three point advantage to six when they visit second place Baniyas Wednesday.
Much like Al Ain, Raja Casablanca took steps to remain atop the Moroccan Botola Pro League with a 2-1 home win over Khouribga this past Saturday in Marrakech.
With two games in hand, Raja currently sit tied for first on 19 points with cross-town rivals Wydad Casablanca and will hope to take sole possession on Wednesday when the host fifth place Moughreb Tetoun.
The MLS Regular Season Schedule may not yet be out, but the Fire already have three opponents scheduled for next eyar after the Charleston Battery released the match schedule for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup.
Participating for the third straight season in one of North America's top preseason tournaments, the Fire will open up the tournament with an MLS Cup playoff re-match with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, February 16 at 5:00pm ET (4:00pm CT).
See below the full tournament schedule:
Saturday, February 16
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Wednesday, February 20
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Chicago Fire, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Saturday, Feb 23
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
If you've never been to the Charleston Battery's home at Blackbaud Stadium, I highly recommend heading south to catch a Fire match and take in the amazing Three Lions Pub. Tickets for the tournament go on sale next Monday, December 3 at 9am CT via www.charlestonbattery.com or by calling (843) 971-GOAL (4625)
Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry aren’t the only Fire representatives at Atletico Madrid.
Earlier today Fire head coach Frank Klopas, assistant Mike Matkovich as well as President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon and Vice President Guillermo Petrei all checked in on how the Fire’s young defenders are doing in their training stint.
The group was able to see Anibaba and Berry train with the Atletico first team and even see the pair mark Colombian superstar Falcao during the proceedings.
Afterwards the Fire technical delegation held meetings Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil, Academy Director Carlos Aguilera, Marketing and International Development lead, Emilio Gutiérrez as well as Slanisa Jokanovic, the coach of Thai giants Muanghtong United, another member of the Atletico alliance.
When we unveiled the #Fire15 players list in conjunction with the club’s 15th anniversary earlier this year, I spoke about how spectacular most of the goals Marco Pappa scored in a Fire uniform were. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three that the Guatemalan scored from inside of the box in his five seasons in Chicago.
Since the Fire Goal of the Year tournament began in 2010, Pappa has always had at least one entry make the final four with the current Heerenveen midfielder getting there with high margin defeats of his early-round opponents.
Ironically enough though, that support seems to wane in later rounds.
In 2010, Pappa's bending strike against San Jose (which went on to win MLS Goal of the Year) was narrowly defeated in the final by Logan Pause's equally stunning long-distance bomb at Toronto.
Last year, Pappa's hat trick clincher at Real Salt Lake (one of his four entries in the tournament that year) fell at the semi-final stage to the now legendary long-distance blast "through the guise of smoke" from Jalil Anibaba in an early round U.S. Open Cup qualifier vs. Colorado.
At the very least, it’s an interesting phenomenon.
I say that because having managed the Fire Facebook and Twitter accounts for nearly three years, there is no player that evoked as much consistent response in terms of Likes, Retweets and web traffic then Marco. An update on his play in a friendly with Guatemala, a photo of him from training or even a post about another player would even bring a comment or six about “El Chapin del Fuego”.
With Pappa no longer a member of the Fire, this has all died down a bit but how ironic when you consider that his latest defeat came against a player that could take on the mantel of sentimental popularity in 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.
Berry has barnstormed to today’s final, where he’s facing down another fan favorite in the team’s 2012 MVP Chris Rolfe and his stunning quick kick in little space (9/22 vs. Columbus).
While Rolfe’s goal could have been a number one seed (his strike vs. San Jose was), neither of today’s finalists were top seeds in their respective brackets. As we learn every November, anyone can win.
As we have when deciding the top 15 players, goals and matches in Fire history or just putting fans on season tickets, we at Chicago-Fire.com feel it most important to utilize fan input and engagement in determining valuable pieces of our club.
Happy voting everyone!
While the Chicago Fire are out of action for a bit, we thought it appropriate to check in to see how the club’s worldwide Alliance Partners are doing in their current campaigns. Here’s a quick update on their recent results…
With Fire defenders Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba in attendance, Atletico defeated Sevilla 4-0 on Sunday, with Colombian superstar Falcao scoring his 11th goal in 12 matches. They currently sit second in La Liga with 34 points, three behind league leaders Barcelona.
Atletico take the field again Wednesday in a Copa Del Rey match against Real Jaen and return to league action this weekend for a derby match against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Sport Club Internacional
Sport Club Internacional fell 2-0 to Portuguesa in Campeanto Brasileiro action Sunday. Currently ninth in the Serie A table, Internacional head into their final match of the season with a chance to finish as high as seventh as they visit Gremio on Sunday.
As Internacional look to build for next season, it seems they could do so with Dunga at the helm as the former Brazilian national team captain and head coach reportedly held a meeting with club President Giovanni Luigi Tuesday morning.
After falling 2-0 in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura semifinals against Toluca last Wednesday, goals from Miguel Layun and Daniel Montenegro brought Club America level on aggregate at halftime of Sunday’s second leg at the Estado Nemesio Diez.
With all to play for in the second half though, Toluca’s Edgar Benitez tallied the lone goal in the 59th minute to regain the aggregate lead and eventually send the home side on to the Liga MX final with Club Tijuana.
Nine matches into the Emirates Pro-League season, powerhouse Al Ain sit top of the table with 22 points from nine matches. Last Frieday the side received braces from Ghanaian international Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman to earn a 5-2 decision away to Dubai Cultural Sports Club.
Currently sitting with a +26 goal differential, Al Ain welcome 12th places Al Shaab to the Tahnoun Bin Mohamed Stadium on Friday afternoon.
After seeing Saturday’s encounter at FAR Rabat postponed, fourth place Raja Casablanca will hope to move further up the Moroccan Botola Pro league table as they welcome 13th place Khourigba to the Stade Mohamed V on Saturday.
It's been exactly 23 days since I last did a Five Things article. Just because there won't be another Fire game until sometime in January doesn't mean this great piece of content can't be repurposed with a little holiday twist... With that, I give you "Five Fire-related Things I'm Thankful For..."
1) MLS Live – In my opinion, perhaps the most significant technological success Major League Soccer has had in 17 seasons. MLS Live is reliable, affordable and provides an absolutely crystal clear picture of up to 230 games that don’t involve the Chicago Fire.
While it was great to see the league sign a deal with NBC Sports this past year, with 19 teams now in the league, the peacock, ESPN and Univision networks simply can’t carry every game nationally. What’s more, the product even got better from 2011 to 2012 providing more interactivity.
Trust me when I say that the Playoff Math pieces that you all loved this fall wouldn’t have been accomplished quite as easy without MLS Live. Now if only they can turn the corner on local blackouts...Something to improve upon for next year perhaps?
2) The Chicago Fire PR and Digital Team – My job sort of fits me into both categories but the two sides almost always work hand in hand. There’s never an idea too wacky or too out of bounds for us to go after…
Get Logan Pause to eat a million Chewy bars to launch a Quaker jersey? Uh huh.
Pester an MLS owner to change his stadium’s flag policy? Sure, why not.
Create a Twitter campaign to beat the Crew in the digital realm? Of course.
Create another campaign to potentially get Pat Nyarko on the All-Star Team? Yup.
Partner with Quaker to help Austin Berry win Rookie of the Year? Did that.
Dress up as eachother to ease tensions ahead of a Halloween playoff game? And that.
Stupidly race Dominic Oduro with a jelly doughnut on the line? Sure.
Risk suffocation by jumping in a large equipment bag for a blog promo? Still can't breathe.
Interviewing a stuffed tiger during for a live blog piece to Columbus? Roar.
The list goes on and on but I just have to say I’m proud to be a part of this team. Thanks Emigdio, Brendan, Eunice, Leo, Nick and all of our trusted interns over the past year.
3) The Chicago Fire First Team – Getting to work with professional athletes on a daily basis is a fan boy’s dream. With that said, athletes don’t always reciprocate with the same feelings.
That isn’t the case with the Fire where there is a true sense of family that emanates from the locker room. From Frank and his staff, to stars like Arne Friedrich, Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause all the way down the roster, these guys are a pleasure to work with.
To all the players and staff, I appreciate your tolerance of a digital recorder often being in your face.
4) Having my own tifo – I’ve checked with the MLS Team Writer’s Union and discovered I’m alone among my counterparts when it comes to having their own dedicated two-pole display. Contrary to popular belief, my favorite song is not Fun’s “We Are Young” though I do think it’s an appropriate song to be sung at Fire games (just need to work on timing).
To the few fans (you know who you are) that took this from conception, made it a reality and hoisted this as my birthday present from the Section back on July 8, you are truly amazing.
Every time I see the two-pole and hear that song, I get chills, so thank you.
5)Traveling and getting to know Fire supporters – I was able to take in 11 of the team’s 18 road matches in person this season. While I was working at some, I was a fan at seven of those games. Those matches provided me a nice release that I don’t get to have at Toyota Park -- mainly the opportunity to scream, shout and support the guys I work with on a daily basis.
Beyond just taking a game in, I came to appreciate the camaraderie that is formed by fans on the road. There’s something to be said for what a nine-hour bus ride to Toronto or Kansas City to bring folks together.
Even better are the times where the away city is so far away that you are FORCED to spend a night out on the town in a fun city such as Montreal before cramming six people into a tiny hotel room (not to say this ever happened…).
When you work for a club, you don’t ever really feel like you’re not part of it. However, I’ve gained even more love for the Chicago Fire by returning to my roots as a fan and getting to better know and understand this club’s most ardent supporters. If you can travel away next year, please do!
There are plenty of other things I’m thankful for but you’d be here all day.
Happy Thanksgiving Fire Fans!
I'm a morning person. So when I saw Jalil Anibaba online today, I thought why not see how things have been going through his first few days training at Atletico Madrid. We talk Ja's touring of the training facilities and stadium, how he plans to spend Thanksgiving and his picking up of the Spanish lisp. Enjoy!
Jeff Crandall: How has your training stint gone so far?
Jalil Anibaba: It’s been going really well. I’m having a great time out here and I’m really loving the experience so far. The training facilities are top class. It’s separate from the stadium which is in the city itself. Amazing grass and turf fields and really everything you could need for training.
JC: Who are you training with?
JA: I’m training with the B team. The first day we scrimmaged the first team. They provided good competition and a great experience. It is rewarding to be able to measure yourself against guys that have proven success in winning the Europa League last season.
JC: Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, so how do you plan to celebrate it there in Spain tomorrow?
JA: Of course I’m American at heart and unfortunately I’m away from home and my family over Thanksgiving. I’m probably going to Skype in with the family before they eat dinner and say hello. That’ll do for me.
JC: Have you been able to get into the city yet?
JA: Yeah, some of the representatives from the club took me into the city. I got to see their stadium and museum, the locker room and all their facilities. It was a great experience.
JC: Have you had paella yet?
JA: I haven’t had paella in Spain yet but I’ve had it lots of times because my stepmother’s mom is from Spain actually. She cooks it for us all the time. Spanish food is really nothing new to me to be honest.
JC: How is your Spanish? Are you speaking with a lisp yet?
JA: My Spanish is okay. I can speak a bit and I know enough to get by when I need to. The lisp throws me off but you have to adapt!
JC: What have you been doing with your down time?
JA: I’ve treated my down time as seriously as I do back in Chicago. Making sure I get enough rest in between sessions is the primary focus. However, if situations permit, I will explore. Like I said earlier, I got the chance to tour their stadium and all their facilities and that was amazing. From what I've seen, the city of Madrid is beautiful to say the very least.
JC: How have the players received you? Have they talked to you about what MLS is like?
JA: The other players have been great. They have received me well and they treat me with respect and kindness. Many are curious about MLS and how much the league has grown in recent years. From what I have experienced thus far, it's safe to say our league's growth has expanded beyond our shores and people around the world are becoming more aware of what we are doing in the US.
JC: Any chance you’ll be able to take in a first team game?
JA: Yeah it’s looking like I’ll be able to see a few. I think definitely their game against Sevilla on the weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing them play live and just the atmosphere to see how everything compares. When you watch teams play on television from a thousand miles away, you don’t get the experience firsthand so being here will be tremendous.
JC: On Monday Austin Berry was named Rookie of the Year and Logan Pause won the Fair Play award. What is your reaction to having your teammates be recognized?
JA: I think it’s a tribute to how amazing our season was. Obviously we didn’t finish like we would have hoped but there’s definitely a silver lining to be found within our season. Austin is definitely a part of that – he had an amazing season as a rookie and we’re all very happy for him. It’s very deserving because he stepped in and contributed at a time where we needed him and never let go of his spot.
As far as Logan is concerned, winning the Fair Play award epitomizes him as a person and as a class player and captain. I feel like he does a lot of dirty work and it doesn’t always get noticed. His approach to the game is tremendous and I’m very pleased that he was acknowledged for it.
JC: You’re going to be in Madrid until December 2 and then preseason begins again in mid-January… Are you feeling like you need a little rest?
JA: I feel great. My body feels great and I’m just trying to push myself and become a better professional every day.
JC: What are you doing once you get back stateside?
JA: I’m going to stop off in Chicago for a little bit and then head back home to California to see the family. As far as training is concerned, I’ll speak with Tony [Jouaux] about exactly the best way to go about staying fit but also getting some rest.
JC: Thanks for your time Jalil! We’ll check back in with you next week!
JA: Sounds good! Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone!
In the latest edition of Quaker Journeys, we sat down with Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry to his development from an all-sport athlete in Cincinnati, to a focus on the beautiful game at the University of Louisville to becoming the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire.
Matt Steichen works as a Firestarter to pump up the crowd before and during halftime of Fire home games games. When he's not showing his Fire pride at Toyota Park, the St. Charles, Ill. native has been working on an amibitious project with his father Craig to visit all 32 NFL stadiums in 17 weeks.
The ultimate fan boy's dream right?
Not so fast, the father and son team provided another twist to the project, electing to take members of the Wounded Warriors to each NFL stadium they visit.
Check out the video below from Rick Reilly's Tour of Duty on ESPN and then give Matth and Craig a little applause...