A quiet hangs over Toyota Park. A grey monochrome colors the morning sky and a slushy snow blankets the ground. It’s winter in Chicago.
Behind the brick façade and deep in the bowels, a solitary figure works diligently to make-ready one of Toyota Park’s most renowned features – the field. It’s been 99 days since the Toyota Park pitch saw action and Toyota Park Turf Manager Eric Adkins has #cf97withdrawals.
Only 30 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park.
Don’t worry, Eric and his crew will have the pitch ready.
Very few people have meant as much to the soccer scene in Chicago as Frank Klopas.
Tonight Dave Kaplan goes in depth with the Fire manager to talk how he came to The Windy City and learn more about his intertwining soccer story with the Sting, U.S. Men's National Team, AEK Athens and of course the Fire over the past 30 years "Inside Look" (7:00pm CT on CSN Chicago).
CSNChicago.com's Len Ziehm previews the show here.
I'm pleased to announce that Saturday's preseason friendly vs. the San Jose Earthquakes at Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara, Calif. will stream live on Chicago-Fire.com beginning at 8pm CT/6pm PT.
The stream will mark the third of four preseason matches that have had live video coverage on Chicago-Fire.com this preseason.
As a reminder, all three Fire matches at the Carolina Challenge Cup later this month will also be carried live on Chicago-Fire.com. By the end of preseason, six of the team's seven total warmup matches will have been carried with live video while all seven will have had some type of live coverage.
Fire fans in Southern California can get tickets to Saturday's friendly for $12 (adults), $8 (youth). Click here to purchase.
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson is in Honduras for this afternoon's opening Final Round CONCACAF qualifying match vs. los Catrachos (LIVE pre-game beginning at 2pm CT on beIN Sport).
It's unlikely Sean will see time in the match, much less even dress but the honor of being chosen is still great.
Check out video excerpts from Tuesday's pre-game press conference with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and midfielder Michael Bradley here.
Also re-live the team's last visit to San Pedro Sula, a dramatic match in which the U.S. qualified for its sixth straight FIFA World Cup appearance, below:
What do musical acts The Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon all have in common?
They’re all favorite musical stylings of Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.
The Ginger Ninja waxes about his musical tastes with Jon Langford of The Chevin in a new piece to MLSsoccer.com called The Tuesday Top 10.
Preseason is always a lot of work and a lot of fun.
One of the best parts though is the ongoing saga of number choice throughout camp as players leave, new players come in.
Rolfe had worn the number through his first five seasons with the Fire but when he re-joined the side last April, Mexican legend Pavel Pardo had it.
“There was no need to try and shift things around then,” Rolfe told Chicago-Fire.com. “While 18 was good for me last year I thought that it would be a good idea to switch back to 17 when it became available.”
With Pardo’s retirement announcement last month, the opportunity arose and the league recently approved Rolfe’s change back to the numerals with which he’s scored 40 of his 48 Fire goals across all competitions.
Check out the impromptu and sort of awesome video of the first new "Rolfe 17" jersey being pressed by Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo below...
NOTE: All-Time Fire #17s: Andrew Lewis, (1998-2001), Aleksey Korol (2002), Dipsy Selolwane (2002-2004), Rolfe (2005-2009), Davis Paul (2011), Pavel Pardo (2011-12), Rolfe (2013- )
With the #18 left vacant, renaissance Fire defender Steven Kinney jumped at the opportunity to switch from #28.
“My whole life I had been #18,” said Kinney. “Coming here the first year Mike Banner had it and through all my injuries I wasn’t going to be switching numbers. Then Rolfie came in and had it last year but when I heard him talk about switching to 17 I knew it was time to make my move.
Asked why #18 had always been his number, Kinney said, “It’s always just felt lucky for me. I would have done anything to get my hands on it.”
To be fair, he didn’t have to do too much.
NOTE: All-Time Fire #18s: Zach Thornton (1998-2004), Matt Pickens, (2005-2007), Mike Banner (2008-2010), Gaston Puerari (2011), Chris Rolfe (2012)
Stay tuned later this week for more updates on Fire squad numbers heading into 2013.
WATCH: Rolfe #17 is BACK!
A quick update on unsigned players currently with the team in Ventura, Calif...
Unsigned holdovers from Ave Maria
James Belshaw – GK – Supplemental Draft
Alec Kann – GK – Trialist
Neal Kitson – GK – Trialist
John Gallagher – DF – Supplemental Draft
Rauwshan McKenzie – DF – Trialist
Yazid Atouba – MF – SuperDraft Pick
*Note that while not listed, forward Colin Rolfe picked up an injury during the Columbus friendly last week. The former Houston Dynamo draftee won’t be with the team in Ventura but will re-join the squad in Charleston.
Rich Balchan – DF – Trialist
Caleb Konstanski – DF – Supplemental Draft Pick
Eric Robertson – DF – Trialist
Trialist #1 - MF - Trialist
New Trialists for Phase Two
Blake Brettschneider; Forward (D.C. United, New England Revolution)
If it seems like you just saw Brettschneider, that’s because he was on trial with the Crew, playing against the Fire in last Wednesday’s friendly. The South Carolina alum has made a habit of earning a spot on an MLS rosters in preseason, impressing D.C. United (2011) and New England Revolution (2012).
Like Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Brettschneider is also from Lilburn, Ga. and attended rival high school Parkview High School
Dailos Tejera; Forward (Conquense; Spanish Tercera Division)
A 22-year-old midfielder/forward that played in the Spanish second division with Conquense before being relegated after the 2011-12 season.
Kevin Mercado; Forward (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
One of two players on trial from LDU Quito, Mercado is an 18-year-old forward who made it into five matches during LDU’s 2012 campaign in Ecuador.
Jose Alexander Pabon Midfielder (LDU Quito; Ecuador)
The other trialist from LDU Quito, the 21-year-old Pabon has been with the club’s first team since 2010, appearing in 13 matches in midfield.
There are also two other new trialists that for discovery reasons will remain unnamed… Call them Trialist #3 and Trialist #4.
Five things you should know about the newest member of the Fire, Dilly Duka.
1) He's Albanian-American and his name is short for "Dilaver".
2) Dude's also got the Twitter machine, follow @D_Duka11.
3) A product of Montville, NJ, Duka came up in the New York Red Bulls Academy and went to Rutgers for two years before signing a Generation adidas contract and being selected eighth overall by Columbus in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
4) He scored a ridiculous goal from the left wing for the U.S. U-20’s in the 66th minute of the team’s 4-1 win over Cameroon at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Championships in Egypt. (See video below, start at 2:45).
5) The trade to the Fire reunites him with U.S. U-20 teammate Sean Johnson. Check out a great flashback shot of Sean Johnson beginning at 42 seconds of at video….
WATCH: Dilly Duka Scores Impressive Goal at 2009 U-20 World Cup
Though he didn’t have all that much to do in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 0-0 friendly draw vs. Canada last week, it seems clear the Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson remains in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans after being one of three goalkeepers called in for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Final Round World Cup qualifier at Honduras (LIVE 3pm CT on beIN Sport).
The summons means Johnson will miss most of the team’s second phase of preseason camp in Ventura, Calif. but nearly a month of training with the national team won’t leave him out of shape.
Consistently called up since last August’s 1-0 friendly win at Mexico, the 90 minutes the fourth-year Fire ‘keeper earned in Wednesday’s draw seems to indicate Johnson is stating a strong case for the U.S. Men’s third goalkeeper shirt behind English Premier League veterans Tim Howard and backup Brad Guzan.
Should his form hold up and the U.S. Men navigate another difficult CONCACAF qualifying test, Johnson could find his way to Brazil next year.
There are still too many variables to allow anyone to get that far ahead and strong competition will remain from the likes of veteran Nick Rimando (injured for January camp), as well as Johnson’s friendly rival Bill Hamid.
While the trio wouldn't be expected to appear in this year's qualifying matches, with the U.S. expected to send a B-team to the this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament will likely serve as the next indication as to who Klinsmann favors for the presumable third spot.
Even if he’s not always playing in matches, the 23-year-old's continued inclusion in camps, working with the best ‘keepers American soccer has offer, can only help with his chances and his form for the Fire.
It should be an interesting year for Sean and the U.S...
Remember the last time the U.S. went to Honduras?
Trailing 1-0 just after the break, the U.S. used a brace from Conor Casey and a Landon Donovan free kick to eventually win the match 3-2 and qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Check out highlights below:
I’ve never been on the west coast for “The Big Game”. First time for everything and thanks to the Fire coaching staff, we’ll all have the afternoon off to watch the game beginning at 3:30pm out here on the west coast.
In advance of the “match”, I polled Fire players on who they wanted to see win the game. What ensued was a bit of an open conversation, interjections of soccer terminology and other hilarity…
Jeff Crandall: Hey Steven Kinney, who do you have in Wednesday’s “Big Game"?
Steven Kinney: I’d like to see the Ravens win. I’d like to see Ray Lewis go out on top. 1-0 Ravens.
JC: What about you Chris Rolfe?
Chris Rolfe: I have Coach Harbaugh.
JC: The Gaffer has already been joking about that... You can’t steal his thunder.
Chris Rolfe: Who’s playing? I like the 49ers. Tied: 1-1.
JC: Why do you think the 49ers?
Chris Rolfe: Because we’re in Northern California
JC: We’re in Southern California.
Logan Pause: We did drive an hour and a half north of LAX but we’re still in Southern California. California’s a big state.
JC: Who do you have winning the Super Bowl, el capitan?
Logan Pause: I have the Baltimore Ravens Football Club. 2-1 Ravens.
JC: When did they add FC to the title? Why do you have them?
Logan Pause: They’re on a great run right now, riding a lot of emotion. It’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon.
JC: Jalil Anibaba, you’re from NorCal… Who do you have winning the Big Game?
Jalil Anibaba: I’m a bit indifferent because I’m a Raiders fan. I like Ray Lewis a lot but I gotta stay with my Cali team and go with the 49ers. (2-2 tie).
JC: Hell freezing over? A Raiders fan cheering for the Niners?
Jalil Anibaba: I think they play good football. Their attack – I mean its not soccer – their offense is amazing and they’re exciting to watch so I’m going with them.
JC: Arne Friedrich, you’re a self-described “big Bears supporter”. Who do you have in Sunday’s match?
Arne Friedrich: I have no interest in either of these teams. For me it is always about the Bears.
JC: Arne, folks want to know what you think.
Arne Friedrich: If you’re forcing me to an answer, I’ll say Ravens but I don’t like it. (3-2 Ravens)
JC: Hey Gonzalo Segares, you’re from Costa Rica, I bet you’re a long-time 49ers fan.
Gonzalo Segares: Yes, the 49ers are actually my team. (3-3 tie).
JC: I was just joking. They’re your team? How so? Since when?
Gonzalo Segares: Since living in Costa Rica. In the early 90s my cousin was a 49ers fan so he had Steve Young and Jerry Rice posters – since then I’ve been following them.
JC: So you actually followed American football in Costa Rica?
Gonzalo Segares: Yes that’s where I learned how it was played by watching it on TV and then I became a bigger fan when I moved to the States in college
JC: So we’re tied at 3-3 (21-21 in American football). This is about as high scoring as soccer gets. To break the tie, I’ll ask Equipment Manager Charles Raycroft who he thinks will win.
Charles Raycroft: San Francisco 49ers. I like Colin Kaepernick and I do not like Ray Lewis.
JC: As always Charles, you're short and to the point.
There you have it, according to the Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49ers will be crowned champions of “Big Game XLVII”.