Yesterday I detailed the heartbreak of the 1999 Western Conference semifinals against Dallas. Today, we look at the run to MLS Cup 2000…
With new commissioner Don Garber coming on board the previous fall, new rules were put in place for the 2000 season, namely 10 minutes of extra time instead of a shootout to decide tied games, the clock counting up (like the rest of the world) instead of down and perhaps hailing to his roots in the NFL, a switch to three divisions of four teams instead of two conferences of six.
Even though the Fire set club records for both points (57) and goals scored (67) in a season, the team still tied for first with Kansas City, but the Wizards owned a superior goal differential (by two goals), leaving the Fire the second seed heading into the postseason.
Because the 2000 playoff run ended up being the longest in club history (7 games) descriptions will be a tad bit shorter.
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #7 New England Revolution – MLS Cup quarterfinals (best of 3)
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 1 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 15, 2000
It would take just four minutes for the Fire to respond though as Revs defender Mauricio Wright attempts a headed clearance of Peter Nowak’s free kick but instead hits it off the underside of the cross bar and into goal to equalize.
Fiery, second-year midfielder Dema Kovalenko would provide the winner in the 73rd, receiving a perfect chip from Hristo Stoitchkov in stride before beating a Revolution defender and finishing past Jeff Causey to give the Fire a 1-0 series lead.
New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 1 (Game 2)
Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
September 19, 2000
The Fire would surrender the first goal in Game 2 as well when Wolde Harris picked up a loose ball on the right before springing future Fire forward Eric Wynalda through before the then all-time U.S. goal scorer tucked the ball inside the right post for a 1-0 lead.
Dema Kovalenko would find the 83rd minute equalizer when defender Tenywa Bonseu played a 35-yard ball forward from the right sideline and over three player into the path of the Ukrainian midfielder to finish past Causey for the second straight match.
The tying goal would stand only three minutes when Jose Luis Morales’s free kick found Mauricio Wright who redeemed his own goal from Game 1 by heading the winner home inside the left post to send the series back to force Game 3 in Chicago.
Chicago Fire 6, New England Revolution 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 22, 2000
While Games 1 and 2 were tight, from nearly the first whistle Game 3 was a complete shellacking as the Fire took a 1-0 lead when Ante Razov cleanly finished DaMarcus Beasley’s cross in the fifth minute.
Hristo Stoitchkov would put his name on the scoresheet first in the 14th when Kovalenko crossed for the Bulgarian who finished from the left. Three minutes later, Stoitchkov let loose on a 50 yard run before slipping his effort through the legs of Causey.
Into first half stoppage time, Stoitchkov heads Peter Nowak through the middle of the field before the Polish midfielder rockets his effort into the back of the net.
With the game firmly in hand after halftime, the Fire would provide two more strikes as Razov finished Stoitchkov’s pass in the 65th before Same George cleaned up Razov’s rebound in the 75th. The final goal gave Fire the then most lopsided victory in club history as well as advanced the club back to the MLS Cup semifinals.
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 MetroStars – MLS Cup semifinals (best of 3)
Chicago Fire 3, MetroStars 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 26, 2000
Despite the Metros holding a 9-7 shots on goal advantage by game’s end, the Fire carried the momentum from the previous match over to Game 1.
WATCH: 2000 Eastern Conference Final and MLS Cup
The home side would go up 1-0 in the 21st when Dema Kovalenko’s shot from the right eludes the dive of Mike Petke and falls perfectly for Hristo Stoitchkov who taps in from close range.
In the 35th minute, Chris Armas steals the ball at midfield, dibbles down the center channel and plays Jesse Marsch into the right corner. The veteran midfielder then crosses to the middle of the box for Kovalenko, providing the second-year Fire player his third goal of the playoffs.
The team would close out the game late when Diego Gutierrez chips DaMarcus Beasley into space up the left. The rookie winger dribbles around Metros ‘keeper Paul Grafer before centering for Razov for an easy finish in the 84th minute to give the Fire a 3-0 win.
MetroStars 2, Chicago Fire 0 (Game 2)
Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands, NJ
September 30, 2012
The MetroStars would bounce back with a solid performance in Game 2, using Mark Chung’s individual effort in the 40th before Adolfo Valencia iced the match in the 84th to send the series back to Chicago for the MLS Cup decider a week later.
Chicago Fire 3, MetroStars 2 (Game 3)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
October 6, 2012
The Fire would get on the board early when Hristo Stoitchkov’s corner finds its way through traffic before finding C.J. Brown who touches it inside the left post, scoring his only MLS Cup playoff goal and just one of six in his 13-year FIRE career.
The Men in Red looked to be coasting to an easy victory in the 31st when Ante Razov laid off a ball for Stoitchkov on the left. The former European Player of the Year juked Mike Petke before lashing a beater past Mike Ammann to take a 2-0 lead. If his goal wasn’t spectacular enough, his fishing-pole celebration certainly was.
The advantage would be erased within five minutes though as Adolfo Valencia tallied his second and third goals of the series. The first would come just a minute after Stoitchkov’s strike, as the Colombian forward glanced in Petke’s cross from the right. Four minutes later midfielder Alex Comas’ shot was spilled by Zach Thornton and Valencia was there to clean up the rebound.
After a back and forth second half, the Fire would eventually find the winner in the 88th minute when Chris Armas sent a long ball up the middle of the field for a streaking Razov. The club’s all-time leading goal scorer beat the offside trap, took a few touched and finished to the right of Ammann to send the team to its second MLS Cup final in three seasons.
#1 Kansas City Wizards (1-0) #2 Chicago Fire – MLS Cup Final
Played October 15, 2000 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
After the two sides tied on points during MLS regular season, they would fittingly meet in that year’s MLS Cup final.
The Fire would go down early in the 11th minute when Chris Klein streaked up the right and crossed for Danish striker Miklos Molnar. On a bit of a broken play, Molnar’s first attempt deflected off of Jesse Marsch but then fell for him to tap in from close range.
The Fire would take charge of the rest of the match being thwarted time and time again by Wizards goalkeeper Tony Meola. Going through a career renaissance that year, the veteran U.S. international would make a frustrating 10 saves in the match. I’ll save the trouble of describing each one by just saying you should watch the highlight video.
After a disappointing finish in 1999, the Fire put in a valiant effort in 2000, falling just one hurdle short of a second MLS Cup in three years of existence.
Six days later though, the team would get some redemption by hoisting its second Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 victory over Miami.
Yesterday, I began the ambitious 11-part Playoff History series with a bang, taking a look back on the club’s magical run to the 1998 MLS Cup championship. Today, we step a year ahead to the bitter disappointment of an early exit from the 1999 MLS Cup playoffs.
It’s important to preface the club’s playoff experience in 1999 with a bit of context. After winning the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, the Fire began a season of disappointments the following year with an early exit at the eventual U.S. Open Cup champions Rochester Rhinos on July 14.
Out of domestic cup competition, the team continued to focus on regular season play for the next two months before taking part in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas that fall. Playing on the rock-hard pitch at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Fire dispatched Trinidadian side Joe Public 2-0 in the first round before going to penalties with Costa Rican power Alajuelense after a 1-1 draw in the semifinal.
In the shootout, Lubos Kubik, who the year before had tallied six of six penalties taken during the regular season and playoffs, shot second and skied his effort high over the bar. His miss was the only one on the night as the Fire fell 5-4 to Alajuelense and leaving the Fire to miss out on the CONCACAF final played two days later.
“In 1998 we seemed like a team of destiny that was just preordained to win. A year later, it seemed the fates were evening out and there was nothing we could do to prevent the inevitable failure.” – Former Chicago Fire President Peter Wilt
#2 Dallas Burn vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Western Conference Semifinals (best of three)
With the teams splitting their four matchups during the regular season, three of which went to the old MLS shootout to be decided, this playoff encounter promised to be a tight one.
GAME 1 played 10/16/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
WATCH: '99 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Dallas
Despite their previously more exciting matche, the first half of Game One could have seemed more like a heavyweight bout where no one wanted to land the first punch as neither team registered a shot on goal.
The home side did have a bit more of the play though and took the lead in the 52nd minute through Ariel Graziani when the Ecuadorian striker chipped Oscar Pareja towards the end line before the current Colorado Rapids coach centered across the box for an easy finish.
The goal also marked the first time the Fire had ever trailed in a postseason match.
Dallas would take their lead to 2-0 in the 75th minute when Graziani pounced on a loose ball at midfield. He’d stroll alone into the box, forcing Fire ‘keeper Zach Thornton to the floor before sliding the ball to the charging Mark Santel on the right, leaving the former U.S. international an easy finish past the desperate slide of Fire defender Tom Soehn.
The 2-0 score line seemed to wake the Fire up, pulling one back just four minutes later. Peter Nowak found the ball at the top of the penalty area and played it into the path of substitute midfielder John Ball on the right who slid a low effort past Dallas ‘keeper Matt Jordan.
With the goal, the Fire were charged for an equalizer but saw late efforts from Paul Dougherty, Diego Gutierrez and Ball all go begging, eventually falling 2-1.
GAME 2 played 10/23/1999 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
Staring elimination in the face, the Fire picked up on the momentum from the end of the first game and took the lead 18 minutes in.
Diego Gutierrez had a misplaced clearance fall for him and took a low blast from distance. The ball ended up running perfectly into the stride of Peter Nowak who took one touch into the box before finishing past Jordan.
The Fire would double their lead 18 minutes later when Roman Kosecki pounced on a bouncing ball in midfield and strolled towards goal before hitting a somewhat weak left-footed effort that eluded Jordan and tucked inside the left post.
Ante Razov (right) would take the score to 3-0 just before the break. Chasing down a long ball out of the back from Jesse Marsch, Razov bodied off the challenge of Richard Farrer before seeing Jordan far off his line. The second-year Fire striker turned with the ball and hit a 20-yard effort that left the Dallas ‘keeper only with a front row seat to see it.
Jordan continued his shocking display just after the half. Nowak chipped a ball into the box from the left for Kosecki who could only get a partial touch to the ball, making it look as if the Dallas ‘keeper would come off his line to claim it. Jordan was a step late in his approach, however and Dema Kovalenko ran on, took a touch and finished from close range to close out the 4-0 score line.
The Fire seemed to have resurrected the demons from Game 1 and after Jordan’s horrific performance in the second game, left Dallas coach Dave Dir to make a switch to veteran Mark Dodd for Game 3.
GAME 3 played 10/27/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
The Fire’s momentum from Game 2 seemed to barely miss a beat in the decider with the Fire taking on three minutes to go up 1-0.
On the goal, Jerzy Podbrozny played a quick centering pass for Lubos Kubik who played Ante Razov through into the box. To get through the Dallas back line, Razov spun in stride without even touching the ball before placing his low effort past Dodd.
The series looked all but over two minutes later. Kubik lined up for a free kick 35 yards from goal and whipped a beautiful in-swinger between the penalty spot and the six-yard box where a sliding Jesse Marsch redirected the ball past Dodd and into the top right corner to go up 2-0.
Things weren’t all roses for the Fire in the first half as Razov left the match in the 15th minute with a hamstring strain. Already without Josh Wolff who had suffered a torn ACL back in August, the team’s attack lacked its two leading scorers for the remaining 75 minutes.
As a result, the Fire would start to fall apart after the break. In the 55th minute, future Fire defender Sergi Daniv sent a cross from the right that Zach Thornton could only get a hand to before Chad Deering cleaned up with a header at the back post in the 55th minute.
After the strike, the Fire would look to take back their two-goal lead but Dodd would stand tall turning away three efforts in two minutes from Peter Nowak (67th) Lubos Kubik (68th) and John Ball (69th).
Gaining in frustration, the team was awarded a number of yellow cards but maintained the 2-1 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Things would come undone though when defender C.J. Brown, who had done a great job in marking Dallas striker Jason Kreis throughout the series, was whistled for handling the ball in the box in the 83rd minute. On the ensuing penalty, Jorge Rodriguez sent Thornton the wrong way and brought the match level.
With Dallas holding all the momentum at home, they pushed forward for the game and series clincher in the 90th minute. John Jairo Trellez pushed up on the right and centered a ball that deflected off of Brown and saw Thornton make a swiping effort before falling straight to the feet of Graziani (right) who cruelly one-timed his effort off the underside of the cross bar to complete one of the most stunning comebacks in MLS Cup playoff history.
The final 10 minutes and whole of 1999 left former Fire President Peter Wilt to simply say, “The penalty against us that tied the game seemingly made the final outcome inevitable. Just as 1998 was destined to be our year, 1999 was destined not to be.”
The Fire would be left to look for redemption in 2000 (coming Wednesday)...
The MLS Cup playoffs are nearly upon us and even with Saturday’s disappointing result, you can feel the excitement for the club’s return to the postseason after a two-year absence. With their playoff qualification back on October 7, the team locked in its 12th postseason berth in 15 seasons, by far the best playoff qualification rate of all professional teams in Chicago in both their first 15 seasons of play and last 15 seasons.
With a strong postseason presence through 15 seasons, I wanted to take a year-by-year look back at the club’s postseason performances leading up to the beginning of the MLS Cup playoffs next Wednesday.
We'll begin where it all started: The magical run in 1998...
The Fire played their first two seasons in the Western Conference and aptly enough, the first saw them finish where the team could potentially finish this season (second place) behind only the league’s regular season champions LA.
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Colorado Rapids Western Conference Semifinals (best of three)
GAME 1: Holding home-field advantage over Colorado, the Fire welcomed the Rapids to Soldier Field on October 1, 1998.
After forcing Colorado ‘keeper Marcus Hahnemann into five first half saves, the Fire would take advantage of Rapids defender Steve Trittschuh for the first time in the series when he pulled down Peter Nowak in the box, leaving refree Kevin Terry to whistle a penalty.
WATCH: The 1998 Playoff Run
As he’d done four out of four times during the regular season, defender Lubos Kubik blasted his effort to the top left corner to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute. Facing a loss in Game 1, the Rapids would equalize in the 79th when Adrian Paz’s cross from the right was deflected by C.J Brown and found Waldir with a diving header at the back post, forcing the game to a shootout.
In the decider, Tom Soehn and Frank Klopas converted to cancel out goals from Paul Bravo and Chris Henderson in the early rounds. Fire ‘keeper Zach Thornton then took over, making three consecutive stops on David Vaudreuil, Wolde Harris and Peter Vermes before Jesse Marsch chipped Hahneman to clinch the win and give the Fire a 1-0 series lead.
GAME 2: The Fire traveled to Mile High Stadium for Game 2 on October 5, knowing that a victory would push the team to the Western Conference final.
Once again, Peter Nowak would take advantage of Trittschuh, going on a stunning run through the Rapids midfield before being tripped up by the former U.S. international at the top of the box. For the second time in five days, Lubos Kubik would step up and convert his spot kick, this time placing a low effort to the left of Hahnemann in the 42nd minute.
Thornton would stand tall, making two second half saves to give the Fire a 1-0 victory and push the team to the conference finals.
#1 LA Galaxy vs. #2 Chicago Fire Western Conference Finals (best of three)
GAME 1: Five days after advancing, the Fire traveled to The Rose Bowl to take on top-seeded LA on October 10. The Galaxy would outshoot the Fire 11-5, with the Fire not registering a shot on goal until the 86th minute.
Luckily enough, the two that came with just four minutes to play would be all the visitors would need as Lubos Kubik’s free kick was stopped with a diving save from Kevin Hartman before Jesse Marsch was there on the doorstep to tally his second winner of the postseason, sending the Fire back to Chicago with a 1-0 lead.
GAME 2: The Fire welcomed the Galaxy to Soldier Field on October 16 and would once again take the first lead.
In the 31st minute, C.J. Brown sent a long ball over the top and into the stride of Ante Razov. The U.S. international sped into the box before seeing his close-range effort stopped by Hartman but Captain Clutch Peter Nowak saw the rebound fall to him near the penalty spot and he fired the effort past the Galaxy ‘keeper to give the Fire the lead.
It lasted just six minutes as Cobi Jones cross from the right found a wide open Danny Pena in the box. With acres of space, Pena was able to take two touches before hitting a low effort to the inside post, catching Thornton flat-footed and equalizing just before the half.
LA outshot the Fire on goal 2-0 in the second half but couldn’t convert, forcing the Men in Red to another shootout. Through the first three rounds, the Galaxy held a 1-0 edge as Welton tallied while Nowak, Razov and Soehn all failed to convert for the Fire.
As he did against Colorado in Game 1, Zach Thornton would come up huge at the end, making three consecutive stops on Martin Machon, Mauricio Cienfuegos and Greg Vanney while Marsch converted and Podbrozny hit the back of the net to push the team into MLS Cup in front of 32,744 at Soldier Field.
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United – MLS Cup ’98 – The Rose Bowl; Pasadena, CA
After wrapping up their conference final series in two matches, the Fire would return to The Rose Bowl on nine days rest while opponents D.C. United came into the match having played just four days prior against the Columbus Crew in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
Facing the only champions the young league had ever known, the Fire were outshot by United 9-6 in the first half but the advantage wasn’t reflected on the score board.
In the 29th minute, Nowak’s quick combination with Razov saw the Fire captain into the box on the left. Now in, the former Polish international simply slid the ball across to an open Jerzy Podbrozny who slotted past Tom Presthus to give the Fire a 1-0 lead.
It was Nowak again helping to pad the Fire’s lead just before halftime. This time, the future Ring of Fire inductee cut into the box from the left before unleashing a blast that took a deflection off the chest of Diego Gutierrez, sending Presthus to the right while the ball trickled in on the left.
As he had in so many previous playoff matches, Zach Thornton stood tall in the second half, making six saves and visibly frustrating United to give the Fire an unprecedented MLS Cup title in their expansion season.
2012 MLS Cup Playoff tickets are on sale now. Click Here to purchase yours today!
Saturday night’s flat performance at New England combined with results in New York, D.C. and Houston have put the Fire in a precarious position going into this weekend's regular season finale vs. United. With all five playoff teams now known, the result for the Men in Red means the team could literally still be seeded anywhere from second to fifth in the East come Sunday morning…
With only one regular season game left, this will be the last edition of Playoff Math for 2012 where I look at each team's best and worst case scenarios and potential seedings. Enjoy!
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 60 (40 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/2
Last Game: vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: Things have worked pretty well for KC heading into the playoffs. Saturday night they went and earned a second result in New York this season and combined with the Fire’s failure at New England, have nearly locked down the top spot in the East. At the very least, they'll finish second.
The Best Case: All they need to do is earn a draw in their final game against Philadelphia to take the top seed.
The Worst Case: A loss to Philly at midweek combined with a D.C.win over the Fire would push Sporting down to second based on the Goals For tiebreaker.
Beyond just being a solid team, Sporting have more than earned their position in the table by being smart about how they’ve earned results in difficult places to play.
2) D.C. United
Current Points: 57 (52 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/4
Last Game: at Chicago (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: D.C. was the biggest mover of the night and did it all in dramatic fashion by coming back from two deficits to eventually down the Columbus 3-2 behind Lewis Neal’s stoppage time strike. The win propelled United past the Fire and into second, qualified them for their first postseason berth since 2007 all the while helping to end the Crew’s postseason hopes.
The Best Case: A win Saturday against the Fire combined with a Sporting loss to Philadelphia would push United to first in the East. They could still lock down second on Saturday with just a draw against Chicago.
The Worst Case: A loss to the Fire and a New York win over Philadelphia would push D.C. to fourth and force them to host the Eastern Conference play-in game on October 31 or November 1.
3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 2/5
Last Game: vs. D.C. United (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: After winning seven of eight in late summer and fall, the Men in Red have dropped their last three of four. There is reason to be nervous but be glad the team is home and can still control their own destiny as it comes to earning a higher seed.
The Best Case: All it would take for the Fire to lock up second in the East is a win at home against D.C. on Saturday.
The Worst Case: New York will end its match with Philadelphia a half hour before kickoff at Toyota Park -- If the Red Bulls win and the Fire lose or draw against D.C. the team will at least be condemned to fourth place.
Then the team will point its eyes to Denver where Colorado hosts Houston (8pm CT) in the final match of the 2012 MLS regular season – if the Dynamo win with a Fire loss against DC, the Men in Red will fall to fifth and open up the postseason at Houston. If the Fire draw against D.C., they’ll remain fourth regardless of what happens in Colorado.
4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 54 (54 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
Last Game: at Philadelphia (10/27; 12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: New York will be disappointed to not have done more against Sporting KC in two huge home games towards the end of the season but will be happy to go into the final weekend with a playoff berth locked.
The Best Case: Because the Fire and United play and are already ahead of New York, there is no way for Red Bull to finish higher than third. With that in mind, all they need to do is defeat Philadelphia to lock in third place and avoid the play-in game.
The Worst Case: A draw or less to Philadelphia and then Red Bull will also be watching the Houston/Colorado match closely that night. A Houston win would mean the Dynamo would at the very least host New York in the play-in game, while a draw or loss would mean Red Bull would host the Dynamo.
5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 53 (48 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
last Game: at Colorado (10/27 8pm CT on Direct Kick/MLS Live)
The Rundown: Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia Saturday night combined with D.C.’s victory over Columbus clinched the 2011 MLS Cup finalists a place back in the playoffs. Because of their appearance in last year’s championship match, the Dynamo also have to juggle the final group game of CONCACAF Champions League play this Wednesday when they welcome Honduran side Olimipa to BBVA Compass Stadium.
Luckily for the Dynamo, they need only a draw in the game to ensure advancement to the next round ahead of having to close out the regular season and fight for positioning in the East with a match at altitude in Colorado.
The Best Case: The Dynamo could finish as high as third in the East if both New York and Chicago lose their games earlier in the day and Houston defeats Colorado.
The Worst Case: The Fire and Red Bull both win their earlier matches condemning the Dynamo to fifth and rendering the game that night at Colorado meaningless. In that case, Houston would travel to D.C. United for the play-in game.
The Fire stopped a two-game skid in convincing fashion last time out, beating New York 2-0 at Red Bull Arena. The team travels to New England Saturday night (LIVE 6pm CT on NBC 5.2) to play a Revolution team riddled with injuries and eliminated from the playoff race. As we saw two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Union, a team playing for pride can be extremely dangerous so there is no room for complacency. Here are some things to look for from a tactical standpoint.
Jerry Bengtson - stopping the target man
New England's designated player, Jerry Bengtson, has settled very well in MLS since his arrival halfway through 2012. The Honduran plays the same role as Sherjill MacDonald does for the Fire, holding up the ball and looking to combine with the advancing midfielders. Bengtson also likes to roam into wide positions, encouraging his support players to move into the space he vacates.
Bengtson also comes into the game on a high after scoring a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of Canada in San Pedro Sula Tuesday night. It is commonplace for an international returning his club team after representing his country twice in four days to start the game from the bench but given New England's injury crisis, it is a near certainty that he will be leading the line come Saturday night.
WATCH: Matko's Take on New England
Cutting off the supply to Bengtson is very important.
Juan Toja - a creative spark from the bench
Since joining the Revs over a month ago, Toja has made four appearances, all from the bench. The former Dallas player showed what he is capable of in New England's last game against Philadelphia, coming on for the last twenty minutes and making a big impact.
Toja is a player who wants the ball at all times, often dropping deep to collect it and start an attack. Against the Union, he looked to get the ball wide as much as possible but also looked to take on players whenever the opportunity arose.
It is obvious that Toja is not 100% match fit and unlikely he will start on Saturday night, but he will almost certainly be the first man off the bench, especially if the Revs need a goal. The Union did not adjust to Toja coming on and allowed the midfielder far too much room to create, something the Fire will need to prevent if he makes an appearance.
Fire attack - no need to force it
In the Fire's last game in New York, the team for the most part played as any good away team should, absorbing pressure and counter attacking whenever possible. The team also did well to retain possession but at times were guilty of trying to force the ball forward, sometimes resulting in a careless giveaway, especially in the final third of the field.
The aim was to get the ball to advanced forward Sherjill MacDonald, either directly to his feet so he could hold the ball up or to play a ball into the channels for MacDonald to run onto. At times this was very successful, but the midfield seemed desperate to get the ball up the pitch, instead of playing the simple pass and retaining possession.
The main culprit of this of late is Uruguayan Flaco Fernandez who has had a slight dip in form since being recalled to the Uruguayan National Team. Fernandez is vital to the Fire's attack and the New England game provides him with an opportunity to rediscover the blistering form he was in a few weeks ago.
Double teaming in defense - leads to counter attacks
Against New York, the Fire did a much better job of pressuring their opponents instead of sitting back and allowing them to come and attack them. Often the Fire would double team an opponent in order to win the ball back which was very successful.
Both goals the Fire scored against the Red Bulls came from forcing a turnover by double or sometimes triple teaming the opposition. To do it successfully, the outside midfielders much at times tuck in to support the center mids or drop deep to support the outside defenders.
The other key element of the double teaming tactic is to quickly counter when you do win the ball. The Fire did not give New York enough time to adjust after losing possession and thanks to the runs and finishes of Sherjill MacDonald, the Men in Red were able to leave New York with all three points. Look for the Fire to continue this trend against New England this weekend, especially when a player like Toja gets the ball.
Prediction: The Fire avenge a loss at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season by winning 2-0. Goals from Chris Rolfe and Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Berry.
Prediction Record since August 4: 6-3
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Homegrown midfielder Victor Pineda gave fans a little help with their Fire withdrawals over the international break, scoring a highlight reel goal in Reserve team’s 2-1 loss at Houston on Saturday.
The goal stood as the 19-year-old midfielder’s second in 2012 MLS Reserve League play this season and was deemed good enough to garner nearly 2,000 views on YouTube and make the front of MLSsoccer.com on Thursday morning.
“He’s maturing and I think every year its better,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “The Reserve League gives him that opportunity to stay sharp. It’s good that he scored but more important is that he played well – his ability to understand without the ball you need to be able to defend and work hard without the ball – he’s getting better at that.
The rocket strike has led some Fire fans who have only had the opportunity to see the club’s first Homegrown player in Reserve and friendly matches to clamor for his competitive debut before the end of the season.
Given the Fire could still clinch first place in the East and also put themselves in a position for CONCACAF Champions League qualification, one might a 2012 debut might not be in the cards but Klopas left the possibility open.
“We just have to see how the game situation goes. A lot is up to him and how he does in training as well. He’s a young player, you have to understand that it takes time with him. His attitude is good, he’s sharp and playing well in the Reserve matches so it shows me that he’s ready to contribute if we need him to.”
With Alvaro Fernandez coming off more than a week away with Uruguay as well as travel back Stateside, Saturday's game at New England could provide a perfect substitute opportunity for young Vic.
WATCH: Victor Pineda Golazo in Houston
Alvaro Fernandez made his 12th cap and first appearance for Uruguay since November 2011, coming on as a substitute in la Celeste’s 4-1 loss against Bolivia in the high climbs of La Paz Tuesday night. Already down 4-0 by the time he entered the match for Diego Forlan in the 65th minute, Uruguay would pull a goal back through Liverpool striker Luis Suarez’s 80th minute free kick.
The loss extends Uruguay’s winless run in qualifying to four matches, with the sole point in that time coming in the team’s 1-1 home draw against Ecuador last month. Even with the slump Uruguay sits in fifth place playoff spot, tied with Venezuela and Chile on 12 points after nine matches played.
Fernandez will hope to be back in the squad when CONMEBOL qualifying resumes with a home match against Paraguay on March 22.
Flaco will return to Chicago tonight and is expected to be available for the Fire’s match Saturday at New England.
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with blazingly fast Ghanaian striker Dominic Oduro. Oduro joined the Men in Red from the Houston Dynamo in March 2011, quickly becoming a fan favorite. Becoming the first Fire player since 2004 to hit double-digit goals in a season, Dominic was named the club’s 2011 Most Valuable Player and also garnered Section 8 Chicago’s 2011 Supporter’s Player of the Year award. This year, Dominic has scored six goals and added three assists while appearing in 31 of the Fire’s 32 matches. Dominic took the time to answer our Burning Questions about where he prefers to get his coffee, his favorite TV shows and which MLS player he would race to settle the “Fastest Man in MLS” debate.
Always on the Inside: You graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Sociology. Why did you choose that major and what was the most interesting class you took in college?
Dominic Oduro: I chose that because I was making bad grades in Economics, so I had to take the easy path. I also loved the fact that it dealt with social life, and that is one of my interests so I decided to get into it. The most interesting class I took was Sociology of Religion. It taught me about religion and how people pursue it, and I thought it was really cool.
AOTI: Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks?
DO: Dunkin. I want Dunkin to call me right now. I’ve been trying to Tweet them; I need some promotion from them. My regular order is a medium coffee with cream and sugar. And I love strawberry cream cheese with a plain bagel.
AOTI: Any scouting report on you focuses on your blazing speed. Are you fast in other aspects of your life?
DO: I have a fast car. I’m just the slowest when it comes to walking. I have the slowest pace ever when it comes to walking.
Editor’s Note: Dominic conducted the fastest interview in Burning Questions history with a time of 3 minutes and 56 seconds, blowing past his closest competitor, Hunter Jumper, who clocked in at 7 minutes and 2 seconds.
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween this year and what’s the best costume you’ve ever had?
DO: I’m thinking about being a baby. I’ll just put on a diaper and put a pacifier in my mouth, and just walk around like a baby. One time I was Morpheus from “The Matrix.” I really killed that costume.
AOTI: What is one fashion trend you used to wear but would be embarrassed to wear now?
DO: I used to wear baggy jeans. Looking back at it now, I just shake my head and think, “Why was I wearing that?”
AOTI: You just discovered an island. What do you name it?
DO: Freaky Dom Island.
AOTI: If you could live in any TV show or movie, which one would you choose?
DO: “Fringe.” It’s one of my favorite shows. I love it.
AOTI: What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
DO: I’m very picky with my songs. I have one; I had Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” one time, and I was scratching my head as to why I put that on.
AOTI: What’s a typical day like in the life of Dominic Oduro?
DO: I sit on my couch and watch TV all day.
AOTI: What TV shows do you like?
DO: I like “Two and a Half Men.” I love that show. And “Fringe” and “Scandal.” I really like that one.
AOTI: Who is the one MLS player that you would like to race to finally put the “Fastest Man in MLS” debate to bed?
DO: [Colorado Rapids defender] Marvell Wynne. Period. Just put everything to bed.
AOTI: If the opportunity ever presented itself, would you challenge Usain Bolt?
DO: I would want to race him for the fun of it. I know I’m going to lose, so I can’t even think about beating Usain Bolt. But I would race him for the fun of it.
The trophy cases in the Chicago Fire lobby got a new addition last week, courtesy of the youngest members of the Fire organization. The Chicago Fire U-10 Academy team, playing up an age group, won the U-11 Crew Fall Classic Championship with a commanding 7-2 victory over the Crew Juniors Gold East on October 7. Before heading out to training last Thursday, the team was on hand to personally place their trophy in its place of honor.
For the young team, the Crew Fall Classic was their first opportunity to play together in a tournament.
"They really impressed me a lot over the weekend," said Head Coach Charlie Trout. "They really came together as a team and performed at a very high level. They started to build an identity as a team and as the tournament went on, their individual personalities really started to show. It was a great experience for them and I feel like they turned a big corner that weekend."
Perhaps what made the victory even sweeter was that it was against the Crew.
"A lot of the boys support the Chicago Fire," said Trout. "They know how huge the rivalry is between the Fire and the Crew, so that added a little more excitement for them."
And if displaying their trophy alongside the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy from the Fire's historic 1998 MLS Cup victory wasn't enough excitement, the U-10s were given a special treat when Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas stopped by and addressed the team. Klopas spoke to the youngest members of the Fire family about the honor and responsibility that comes along with wearing the Fire badge.
"There have been times where Frank has come out and watched the boys train. You see the way they look over, see who he is and their excitement rises," said Trout. "For them to get the trophy that they worked so hard for and put it in the trophy cabinet that involves the whole club is fantastic for the young boys. It gives them such a confidence booster. It's great for them."
After taking a weekend off from MLS play, the Men in Red return to action when they head to Bean Town for their third match of the season against the New England Revolution on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. CT (NBC5.2/97.5 ESPN Deportes). With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Fire are still within reach of the Eastern Conference crown.
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko said that now that the Fire have officially clinched a spot in the playoffs, the focus will be on gaining the top seed in the conference. Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was “frustrating,” said Nyarko. “We should be a perennial playoff team.”
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, who joined the team at the end of July, is destined to be a huge part of the Fire’s post-season run. Now that he has had time to settle in and get acclimated to the team and to the city, MacDonald says, “I’m very comfortable with this group. I’m very happy.”
One player who missed the dreary Chicago weather this weekend was Alvaro Fernadnez, who is with Uruguay for two World Cup Qualifiers. Flaco and Uruguay fell 3-0 to Argentina behind a Lionel Messi brace, and one writer finally put the Diego Maradona-Lionel Messi debate to bed. “Lionel Messi is not Diego Maradona,” said Zach Woosley. “In fact, he’s better…much better.”
Flaco and Uruguay have one more match this week when they take on Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, Bolivia on Oct. 16.