Blog

Chicago Fire

16 January 8:01 am

In this edition of Burning Questions, we sat down with the Fire’s second year midfielder/defender Tony Walls. Hailing from Wauwatosa, Wis., Tony was selected in the third round of the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft after an impressive collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where he scored 18 goals and added 11 assists over 75 appearances.

The former Fire PDL player was one of only four players to start all 10 of the Fire’s 2012 MLS Reserve League matches and featured in both of the Fire’s international friendlies in 2012 against the English Premier League’s Aston Villa FC and Liga MX side Club Santos Laguna. Tony recently took the time to answer our Burning Questions about the Walls family soccer dynasty, life in the rookie crib and his impeccable fashion sense.

Always on the Inside: Your sister Cara plays soccer at the University of Wisconsin. How do you feel about her following in your footsteps and how often do you get to see her play?

Tony Walls: It makes me really proud. I try to go up as often as I can. I think I caught about three games last year. She’s doing really well. Last season they received an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament and she got second team All-Big Ten with 10 goals, so it makes me really proud to see my little sibling doing well.

AOTI: Last season you lived with fellow rookies Hunter Jumper and Austin Berry. Did you all split the housework? Did you have a chore chart?

TW: We split it, but we didn’t have a chore chart. If something needed to be done, we just did it. We weren’t too messy, we are all pretty reasonable. They were good roommates. They were respectful of my belongings and they’re good guys, so we got along really well so it was a good situation.

AOTI: You cut off your ‘dreads. What went into the decision to make the change and how long had you been considering it?

TW: I had been considering it for about three weeks. I went back to visit school and an old teammate cuts my hair, and I just thought it was time. They were too high maintenance and I had them for about four years so I figured I could use the change.

AOTI: How does it feel?

TW: It’s a little cold. I have to get my winter hat selection out.

AOTI: Last book you read in its entirety?

TW: It’s called “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai. I would recommend it. It’s good.

AOTI: Current celebrity crush?

TW: Alex Morgan.

AOTI: What fashion trend did you rock back in the day that you’d be embarrassed to wear now?

TW: Nothing. I’ve always been fashionable.

AOTI: What was the best part of being a Fire rookie?

TW: I think the team in general is a pretty tight-knit group. The older guys are really professional but at the same time they actually care about us as people, and we get along very well.

AOTI: [Tony was rockin’ a UVA soccer shirt during the interview] You and Hunter recently traded T-shirts. Was it a two-way trade or was it a three-way trade with Austin? How did it go down?

TW: It was just the two of us. I think Austin was out of time at the time but we’re definitely going to have to get him involved. I think I just said, “Yo, you want to trade T-shirts? I’ll give you one of my Green Bay ones for one of your Virginia ones,” and Hunter said, “Sure.”

14 January 7:13 pm

On Monday I wrote a piece with Wells Thompson reflecting on his experience of getting heckled by Fire fans at the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. Perhaps more importantly, we also talked about the experience and what it meant for him to get drafted.

Wells is a talker and gave some good answers to a few other questions I couldn’t fit in the story. Those are below…

What advice would you give to the players that will be selected in Thursday’s SuperDraft?

"What’s so encouraging is when you look in the league and look at a lot of guys that have succeeded and done well – Jeff Larentowicz comes to mind because I played with him for so long in New England and Colorado. Chris Wondolowski is another name. They both came through the Supplemental Draft and have had fantastic careers. There are a lot of big names that have succeeded and done well in the league after being picked at that stage.

"When I look at my situation, I was very fortunate to be selected by New England. At the time they needed an outside midfielder and the coaches were keen on the type of player and person I was. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter where you get selected in the draft. When you go into training camp, everyone’s pretty much starting in the same place. Everyone has a clean slate and it’s up to you to prove your worth.

"The wisdom I could give kids is no matter where you’re drafted, go in and work hard because there are so many success stories of guys that were taken very low or not taken at all that have gone on to do big things in MLS."

To go from a college player with few if any accolades to the fifth overall selection in the SuperDraft, you must have raised your stock at the MLS Combine. What are your thoughts on that event?

“Yeah I did okay but the combine is such a different thing. Guys are getting together for just a weekend without practice. It’s not the fairest assessment of a player’s talents in my opinion. Your college career is probably the best judgment still on how a player would do in the league.

"What you can take a lot from those combines is seeing guys that don’t shy away from the big stage and wanting to continue to prove to coaches and other players that they do belong in the league. For me it was a confidence thing -- I went down to the combine and realized I was as good, if not better than a lot of these players and I think that confidence showed throughout that weekend."

13 January 1:20 pm

...defender Carlos Bocanegra brings to end his four-year stay with the Chicago Fire by signing with English Premier club Fulham FC on this day in 2004.

Arguably the best defender in Chicago Fire history, Bocanegra was a two-time MLS Defender of the Year and League Best XI selection (2002, 2003) as well as being the first Fire player to claim MLS Rookie of the year in 2000 and helped the club to three domestic titles (2000, 2003 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield) as well as an additional two finals appearances (2000, 2003 MLS Cup).

Bocanegra was one of just three defenders named to last year's #Fire15 player's list along with former teammats C.J. Brown and Lubos Kubik. 

At the time of his Fire departure, Bocanegra had only just begun to break into Bruce Arena’s U.S. Men’s National Team squad, with the future captain scoring four goals in his first full campaign for the Stars and Stripes in 2003.

With the UCLA product proving his worth for both club and country, Fulham signed Bocanegra on a free transfer (in the same window that future Fire forward Brian McBride arrived at Craven Cottage) and the two formed the basis for a long-term American occupancy of the West London club.

He would parlay his form at Fulham into making the 2006 U.S. World Cup team and while his time there would come to an end, Bocanegra was eventually named as new U.S. captain when former Fire coach Bob Bradley took the national team reins in 2007.

Moving to a less traditional American soccer destination with French clubs Stade Rennes (2008-10), Bocanegra led the U.S. to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before moving to St. Etienne following the tournament.

A move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers would follow but after the side went into administration this past summer, whispers of the former Fire defender’s MLS return could be heard league-wide before he eventually went on loan to Spanish Segunda side Racing Santander.

Having now a decade of national team experience under his belt, the 33-year-old center back sits tied with Paul Caligiuri for sixth all-time on the national appeance list at 110 and is has scored more international goals (14) than any defender in U.S. history.

With his time for the national team and career winding down, a return to MLS could still be in his future. Remember, returning to Chicago for a U.S. friendly vs. Poland in October 2010, Bocanegra was quoted as saying this

This is my first choice. You never know how it works with (Major League Soccer) and allocations, but I love this city. For me, it would be cool to play for one team my whole career in MLS. I would like to come back to Chicago."

WATCH: Bocanegra Named to #Fire15

11 January 12:33 pm

This day in Fire history, the Men in Red reacquired midfielder Diego Gutierrez from the Kansas City Wizards in exchange for Will John.

Having already helped the club to three domestic titles (even scoring in MLS Cup '98), Gutierrez returned to the Fire in time to aid the team in winning its MLS-record fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title later that season.

In contrast, John, who had only apppeared in nine competitive matches only played four more games for Kansas City that year. 

Perhaps fittingly, the Colombian born midfielder sits eighth on the club's all competitions appearance list with 197 games played and fifth all-time in assists with 34 over his two stints (1998-2001, 2006-2008)

It was in his second tenure with the Fire where his for off-the-field contributions with the "Nothing but Nets" charity garnered him three straight Fire Humanitarian of the Year awards as well as the MLS award in 2007.

WATCH: Run to the 1998 MLS Cup 

10 January 11:11 am

Ahead of the opening of the 2013 Combine on Friday, the SuperDraft “Big Boards” have begun to make their appearances.

MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg, Matt Doyle and Jason Saghini ran through their initial thoughts on the first 19 selections for Thursday’s SuperDraft.


Manneh (L) or  Hurtado (R) could make for
interesting offensive projects

Simon and Matt both agreed on the Fire’s choice at 11th overall, saying they thought Frank Klopas and Co. would select Generation adidas signing, Gambian forward  Kekuta Manneh, while Saghini differed with his pick of midfielder Erik Hurtado from Santa Clara.

Having just turned 18, Manneh seems to be a wild card in this draft. During the 2010-11 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign, the 5-9 forward tallied 35 goals for the Texas Rush.

The closest teammate to him goals scored was Marco Molina at seven.

Manneh didn’t play in the Academy league this past year but the then 17-year-old did suit up for the USL Premier Development League’s Austin Aztex, tying for the team lead in goals with 10 in 12 games before adding three more in two playoff matches.

Hurtado is a bit more of a known quantity.  The Beaverton, Ore. product was a four-year stand-out at Santa Clara where he was actually teammates with current Fire defender Jalil Anibaba in 2009.

The attacking midfielder led the Broncos in goals all four seasons, tallying 33 to go along with 20 assists over 76 matches.

The last two summers, he’s suited up for the Portland Timbers U-23 PDL side, tallying an impressive 14 goals in 18 matches.   

Elsewhere over at TopDrawerSoccer.com, J.R. Eskilson and Travis Clark projected the Fire to select Maryland midfielder John Stertzer 11th overall.


Maryland's Stertzer is another name in the Fire mix

A product of Oakton, Va., Stertzer tallied 25 goals and 14 assists over 79 matches between 2009-12.

Stertzer came into his own offensively over the last two seasons, bagging 21 goals and 11 assists and helped the Terrapins in their return to the NCAA College Cup this past December but is expected to take on more of a holding role in MLS.

What do you think of the three projected players? Certainly with two offseason additions in attack, none of the three may stick out to Fire fans on paper and all would seem to be sort of project players. Of course these are just initial lists and the Combine has a lot to do with the reshuffling of the draft order.

We’ll be sure to keep up with the combine this weekend and the newest Mock Drafts to come out from it…

09 January 1:13 pm

So the Fire’s 2013 regular season schedule OFFICIALLY came out earlier today and while I’m crushed that the league didn’t go for my MLS Cup re-match on October 25 idea, there are still some dates beyond the three we already knew about that I’m looking forward to.
 
As always, there are also some things I dislike about the schedule…

DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE SCHEDULE (PDF)
 
Four games I’m looking forward to…

  • April 14 at Houston – A rematch of the Fire’s 2012 MLS Cup playoff defeat. Houston outplayed the Fire back on Halloween and though they were a #5 seed went all the way to the final. I’d hope that every player that went through that defeat has the game circled.
     
  • April 27 at Montreal – What can I say except that I’m a sucker for French Canada? The trip to Montreal to begin the 2012 season was one of my favorite Fire memories and now with the Impact back into Stade Saputo, I have something else to look forward to.
     
  • June 2 vs. D.C. United – Though I’d prefer this game to be played on October 25, the first game against United should be another one Fire players mark on their calendar after drawing with them 1-1 at home to end the 2012 season. Despite an onslaught at the end of the match, the team couldn’t find a second goal to avoid the knockout playoff match. The addition of Maicon Santos also makes this one more interesting
     
  • September 7 at Seattle – I put in my Fire New Year’s Resolutions that whenever the team traveled to Qwest Field, the goal should be to come away with three points. Having gone 0-5-3 against the Sounders since 2009, its time to put that winless streak to bed.

Things I don’t like…

  • I love Montreal so I don’t like that though the Fire play the Impact three times this season, the only trip to Quebec will come on April 27. There’s always 2014 I suppose…
     
  • Though a common occurrence in the old days of MLS when there were 10-12 teams, that odd back-to-back home and home series in mid-May with Philadelphia just feels strange…
     
  • The Fire only play Toronto FC twice and the away game is on a Wednesday, making away supporters travel difficult. The two teams met on the same Wednesday the year before and I believe the combination of TFC’s poor form and the midweek match were at fault for really poor attendance.
     
  • For the second straight year, the Fire will have to venture to Houston in the dead heat of summer for their fixture on July 27… Is there any way BBVA Compass can build a dome for the summer months?
     
  • Down the home stretch, only one of the team’s last four matches is being played at Toyota Park (October 19 vs. Toronto FC). If the playoff race is as tight as it was last season, this could be difficult.
08 January 10:16 am

The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year award just wasn’t enough for Fire defender Austin Berry.

The now second-year MLS back liner garnered another honor last week when he returned to high school alma mater Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati where his #21 jersey was retired during halftime of the basketball team’s game vs. Seven Hills Academy.

The ceremony marked the first time the school had ever retired a number for the soccer team.

A 2007 graduate of the school, Berry was an Ohio All-State selection as well as being named Cincinnati Player of the Year during his senior season.

“Nothing Austin does surprises me anymore,” said high school coach Barnard Baker. “There are a lot of coaches in this area that say they got him to where he is today and it’s not true. Austin got himself there.

“He’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and the cool thing about it all is he hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still a great kid who continues to want to prove people wrong.”

Check out the story on Austin’s jersey retirement courtesy of Cincinnati.com and more photos of the ceremony by clicking here.

08 January 7:39 am

59 Days until Opening Night at Toyota Park
54 Days until First Kick in Los Angeles
12 Days until the First Team departs for training camp in Ave Maria, Fla.

These are important beginning of the year days but none are as close as the 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis which is now literally right around the corner next Thursday, January 17.

With the event being so close to our fair city, Section 8 Chicago is running a bus to and from the SuperDraft for just $10 (departing Toyota Park at 7AM and returning at 9pm).

Admission to the actual draft is FREE and signups are beginning to go quickly.

So...get on the bus and you’ll be the first fans able to greet (and indoctrinate) the newest member of the Fire like these folks did with the future MLS Rookie of the Year last year in Kansas City…

Convinced yet? Sign up here and see you in Indy!

07 January 4:27 pm

On Monday, I rang up the Fire's latest addition midfielder Joel Lindpere.

While you should definitely read this story talking about his desire to move from New York to Chicago, I've also included some other quotes below...

What are your thoughts on the Chicago Fire coming off of last year?

"I think the team is getting stronger day-by-day and I’m just pleased to see it. They have a good crowd, good coach and good team so it wasn’t difficult to make my choice. I’m happy to join the club and I’d like to give something more to it.

"I think every player is capable of making their team stronger and so I want to give something towards the team’s improvement. They have guys in the club that have been in the U.S. National team and it shows in the quality they had last season."


Lindpere will no longer be scoring against the Fire

With 97 out of a possible 98 MLS regular season appearances for New York, you've played in more games than any other MLS player the last three seasons. What do you have to say about your health and consistency to see the field?

"I’ve really been trying to be smart so I’ve had injury issues and I’m really trying to avoid hard fields and artificial grounds but I’m trying to take part in every training session, it doesn’t matter how.

"For every player the most important thing is to play games. To be fit you need to practice but sometimes you need to be smart to avoid all these injuries and happenings. I don’t know how its been possible but the last two seasons I took part in every single MLS game. Last year I was the only one to take part in 37 games [regular season and playoffs] and it was the same in 2011. Nobody can say I'm not giving my all to be on the field every game.

"The thing is, I just want to be useful for the team and if I can give even just a couple minutes for the team rather than push too hard and be injured, then I think its smarter to be fit and give something to the team. I think I’ve been good at it and that’s the way I should continue."

You tallied three goals in your first four matches against the Fire... I think we're all glad you're now on our side...

"(Laughs) It doesn’t matter where or who you score against so long as you score. I’ve scored some important goals and one of them was against Chicago in the opening of Red Bull Arena [in 2010].

"I’ve been scoring goals against different teams and then its good now I can try to score for them. This must be part of the reason for my move."

What have you taken away in your early discussions with Frank Klopas?

"My aim in leaving Red Bull was to play centrally and I know that I have a partner in the midfield that I would love to play with and if we find communication, I know I can play really well in the heart of midfield.

"I really think Frank welcomes me to the club as a central midfielder and that’s my wish and reason to join the club. That’s the thing I was missing at Red Bull and I’m so happy that if the coach sees me in this position that I’m ready to take the challenge."

WATCH: Lindpere scores first MLS goal vs. Fire at Red Bull Arena – 3/27/2010

04 January 7:15 pm

First, a warm welcome to the newest member of the Chicago Fire, midfielder Joel Lindpere.

The move to acquire the Estonian international was met with pretty high praise from yours truly, considering all that was exchanged was an international roster spot. Also consider that the guy has scored a few goals against the Fire since coming to MLS (three to be exact and four if you count a preseason goal he scored back in 2011). 

That aside, here are five other reasons I can really appreciate the move for the club's latest addition...

He’s the very definition of an iron man – In a total of 98 MLS regular season matches he’s been eligible for over the last three seasons, Lindpere has appeared in exactly 97 games, the most of any MLS player in that time span. That also includes goalkeepers.  

Players on the current Fire roster with comparable MLS appearances over the last three MLS seasons: Dominic Oduro (93 with Chicago/Houston), Patrick Nyarko (91, Chicago), Logan Pause (87, Chicago) and Wells Thompson (79, Colorado/Chicago).


Lindpere has 3 goals in 7 games vs. the Fire

There’s a certain swagger he has… He looks intimidating and the Estonian international has a certain bite that backs up the way he carries himself. His aggression and ability in the attack reminds me a bit of Dema Kovalenko, though with a few less yellow cards.…

He has a pretty powerful left foot – Watch the video below. He’s a threat in crossing the ball but can also unleash a pretty powerful shot. Combine this acquisition with that of Maicon Santos and the power in attack has been greatly upgraded.

Competition (and rest) in the midfield – The biggest knock against the Fire in 2012 was the perceived lack of enough squad rotation. By season’s end, the team looked a little bit tired and perhaps slightly predictable. With the likes of Nyarko, Alvaro Fernandez, Alex and the potential return of Corben Bone, the attacking midfield options available to Klopas in times of heavy fixture congestion have been upgraded as well.

Good Results from transactions with Red Bull – Back in 2007 when Fire owner Andrew Hauptman filed tampering charges with New York relating to the Juan Carlos Osorio affair, the team received the Red Bulls’ first round selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft which the team used to select the-ever dangerous Patrick Nyarko.

Just about a year ago, the Fire traded the rights of defender Wilman Conde to Red Bull in exchanged for an undisclosed, but rumored to be high amount of allocation money that presumably went towards the acquisitions of defender Arne Friedrich and forward Chris Rolfe.

Not a bad track record…

WATCH: Joel Lindpere Highlights