A little over a year since the Fire/Quaker Oats partnership began and just days before the Chicago Fire challenge the New England Revolution on Opening Night at Toyota Park (Saturday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. CT live on NBC Sports Network), we stopped by the Quaker Oats headquarters to check-in and see how the club’s iconic jersey partner was preparing for the 2013 season.
From the looks of things, the partnership is really starting to make an impact...
As we continue to countdown to kickoff, some facts and figures on the Chicago Fire’s 2013 First Kick Roster…
* The current roster features 26 players with an average age of 24 years, 9 months.
* 19 players return from the Fire team that finished the 2012 season.
* 7 new Fire players have joined the side over the offseason.
* 5 of those players were acquired by in-league movements: Maicon Santos (Re-Entry from D.C.), Joel Lindpere (trade with New York), Jeff Larentowicz (trade with Colorado), Dilly Duka (trade with Columbus), Quincy Amarikwa (trade with Toronto FC).
GAMEDAY Q&A: 8 Questions with Frank Klopas
*1 of the other players, midfielder Yazid Atouba was the Fire’s lone selection in the 2013 SuperDraft.
* 9 countries are represented: USA, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Italy and The Netherlands.
* 8 players have made senior international appearances for their country: Chris Rolfe (10), Logan Pause (6), Larentowicz (4), Sean Johnson (3; USA), Arne Friedrich (82; Germany), Gonzalo Segares (19; Costa Rica), Patrick Nyarko (1; Ghana), Lindpere (84; Estonia).
* 5 players are alumni of the club’s player development setup: Rolfe and Austin Berry, (PDL), Brendan King (Super-20s), Victor Pineda, Kellen Gulley (Fire Juniors, Academy).
* Captain Logan Pause returns for his 11th consecutive season in Chicago – one of the longest consecutive tenures with one team all-time in MLS. Pause sits second on the club’s all competitions appearance list with 304 games played since 2003.
* Entering the 2013 season, Fire players have a combined 86 seasons of MLS experience. Leading the way are Logan Pause (10), Jeff Larentowicz and Gonzalo Segares (8), Chris Rolfe (6) and Wells Thompson (6).
* 3 players on the Fire roster have won MLS Cup. Larentowicz, Thompson and Amarikwa were all part of the Colorado Rapids side that won the 2010 title.
* 7 players on the Fire roster have won a combined 11 domestic titles: Pause (2 U.S. Open Cups, 1 Supporters Shield), Larentowicz and Thompson (1 MLS Cup, 1 U.S. Open Cup each), Segares and Rolfe (1 U.S. Open Cup), Amarikwa (1 MLS Cup), Maicon Santos (1 Canadian Championship).
* This season marks the first time since 2009 that the Fire have had two goalkeepers return. Sean Johnson is back for his fourth season while Paolo Tornaghi backs him up for the second year.
* The current roster has scored 158 goals in regular season play, led by 2012 Fire MVP and Golden Boot winner Chris Rolfe who has 44 career strikes. Three of the Fire’s offseason acquisitions boast double-digit career goal scoring figures: Jeff Larentowicz (23 goals), Joel Lindpere (15 goals) and Maicon Santos (21 goals).
* Frank Klopas returns for his second full season as head coach and third since taking over from Carlos de los Cobos in May 2011.
* Klopas is 25-16-16 all-time in MLS play and is 28-19-16 in competitive matches since 2011.
* Klopas' full coaching staff of Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich (assistants), Aron Hyde(goalkeeping) and Tony Jouaux (fitness) return for 2013.
* All five coaches were born in different countries: Klopas (Greece), Matkovich (USA), Percovich (Uruguay), Hyde (England), Jouaux (France).
The 2013 MLS campaign kicks off today and the All-In Podcast crew has made their picks for the weekend matches... We'll tally these throughout the season and be sure to point out who does the worst every week on the Podcast...
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC
(3/2 4pm CT; MLS Live)
Vancouver vs. Toronto FC
(3/2 5:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Houston vs. D.C. United
(3/2 7:00pm CT; NBCSN)
FC Dallas vs. Colorado
(3/2 7:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Seattle vs. Montreal
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Chivas USA vs. Columbus
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
LA Galaxy vs. Chicago
(3/3 4pm CT; UniMas)
Portland vs. New York
(3/3 6:30pm CT; ESPN2)
San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake
(3/3 9:00pm CT; MLS Live)
While most of MLS kicks off today, we in Fire country have to wait more sleep before we watch the Men in Red take on two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy Sunday at 4pm on UniMas.
Whet the appetite with this video where MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle talk one of the most intriguing matches of Opening Weekend...
It’s always interesting when things come full circle in MLS… Follow me if you will…
Take a ride back to last September when the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado in exchange for a conditional MLS SuperDraft selection.
The condition stated that if Thompson appeared in four of the team’s remaining regular season matches, the Fire would surrender their second round selection at the 2013 SuperDraft to the Rapids. He did and the Fire bid farewell to the pick.
Not so fast…
Then consider the news out of the Denver Post today where Rapids President Tim Hinchey said Larentowicz was nearly traded to the Columbus Crew instead of the Fire.
Flash forward to the night before the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis when the teams did another deal, this time with the Fire acquiring central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as well as the same second round pick they’d surrendered to the Rapids (30th overall) in exchange for their first round selection (11th overall), an international roster spot and allocation money.
Apparently the Rapids had turned down “better offers” from other teams in order to grant Larentowicz his wish of coming to Chicago rather than Columbus.
One of the main pieces at play in that potential deal was the MLS rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers, which the Fire also ended up acquiring in the trade that brought Dilly Duka to Chicago.
Not the Fire or Rapids could have predicted Rogers would retire but beyond that, you almost wonder if the other part of the potential Crew/Rapids deal could have been Duka?
But I’m getting off topic here…
Things officially came full circle today when Yazid Atouba, the player selected with the 30th pick that went back and forth between the Rapids and Fire, officially signed with the Men in Red. Slightly unheralded at the SuperDraft, Atouba gained confidence in every preseason match and dazzled Fire fans towards the end.
Certainly a pleasant surprise at #30 overall...
Take it all in and let me leave you with a few parting shots…
* Let me point out that this type of juicy “after-the-fact” trade possibility is something we just don’t hear about enough in MLS.
* It says something about the culture created internally when an MLS veteran like Jeff Larentowicz chooses to come to your club.
* Kudos to the Rapids for doing well by the player.
* Who knows who the Fire would have selected with the 11th overall pick but my safe money is on the fact that Yazid Atouba wouldn’t have been it.
* No offense whatsoever meant to Wells Thompson, but who’d have thought this all would have come from his slightly under the radar trade last fall?
Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).
The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
The Fire start the 2013 MLS season at the Home Depot Center on Sunday against the two-time defending champions LA Galaxy (LIVE 4pm CT on UniMas). Both teams made some major changes over the off-season and will be looking to start 2013 off on the right step. Here are a few tactical things to keep an eye on...
New central midfield pairing – how will the JL’s play together?
Last season, the Fire paired Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo in central midfield. This season, two new midfielders take their places: MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. Both have played together in preseason but the regular season, against the defending champions at the Home Depot Center is a different animal.
Lindpere is noted for his attacking ability but he will be required to help Larentowicz defensively, especially when the Fire turn the ball over. It will be important for both players to hold their positions and not get caught too far apart.
In an away match, it is vital to hold on to possession when you get it and it will be important for both of the JL’s to link well with each other through the match.
Set pieces – how will LA deal with service from Lindpere?
One thing that really stood out during the preseason was Lindpere’s ability to deliver a good ball into the box, especially from dead ball situations. Time after time, Lindpere put balls into the danger area – the space between the penalty spot and the six yard box. The Fire got some goals from set pieces last year and players like Austin Berry are a major threat from them.
Larentowicz is also good in the air, scoring a header in the Carolina Challenge Cup from a Lindpere corner. The Galaxy will be looking to avoid giving up silly free kicks around the area and will try to limit the number of corners the Fire but with Lindpere’s quality, the Fire can be very dangerous in this department.
LA will be debuting the vastly experienced ‘keeper Carlo Cudincini and the Fire’s set pieces will question whether he and his defense are on the same page.
Dilly Duka vs Sean Franklin – youthful exuberance vs experience
Dilly Duka looks set to make his debut for the Fire on Sunday, starting on the left wing. Duka’s opponent will likely be Sean Franklin, one of the best right backs in the league and a player with well over 100 MLS games under his belt.
This matchup is fascinating because just as Duka loves to get forward and take on his man, Franklin regularly pushes up to support in the attack, contributing with his fair share of assists. Duka will need to find a good balance between trying to keep Franklin pinned back by pushing forward, and helping out Gonzalo Segares when Franklin does advance to support the attack.
Duka is a very creative player and could end up giving Franklin a tough time but on the other side of the coin, if Segares and Duka are not in tandem, Franklin could hurt the Fire.
Robbie Keane – it’s not just all about goals
Robbie Keane’s goals dragged the Gals to their second MLS Cup victory in a row last season but his play is not all about goals. He likes to drop into the hole and link up with the Galaxy’s midfielders. Keane is very good and holding onto the ball in tight spaces and playing through balls to advancing players.
At Euro 2012, Keane played a similar role for the Republic of Ireland but was often crowed out, something the Fire should look to do if and when Keane drops deeper into the hole. Keane will certainly miss Landon Donovan and Mike Magee on Sunday but even without them, he is a major threat and should prove a handful for Berry, Friedrich and co.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Sherjill MacDonald and Arne Friedrich.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.
With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.
Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.
With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.
LIke hearing from Commissioner Garber in ways outside a normal conference call? Good, so do I.
We're both in luck as The Soccer Don will be doing a live address regarding the start of the MLS season this weekend on YouTube today at 5pm CT.