Blog

Chicago Fire

30 September 7:42 am

A 2-0 defeat at Sporting KC Friday; Red Bull defeat Toronto FC 4-1; Columbus takes advantage of an offside goal to earn another late win; The Dynamo overpower New England 2-0…

The Chicago Fire were about 11 minutes from having literally every result this weekend go against them before Portland’s Bright Dike roofed an effort past Bill Hamid to earn the Timbers a 1-1 home draw against D.C. United.

That result in Portland combined with the other four this weekend pushed the Fire down to third place (tied on points with New York) and just five points ahead of the sixth-place Crew with four matches remaining and just as many openings in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

HISTORICAL ANALYSIS

Fire and many other fans in the East deserve to be a little frustrated. The past few seasons it didn’t take this much to qualify for the playoffs.

Even with most teams having three to four games left in the season, total wins in the East are currently at 122, up from 88 which was the total through the end of 2011. Playoff team wins (or translated to last year, Top 5 team wins) total in at 76 right now over 59 through the end of 2011. More simply put, it took fifth place New York just 46 points to qualify for the postseason last year, while this year sixth place Columbus sits on 48 points and outside of the current playoff bubble.

WATCH:  Sporting KC 2, Chicago Fire 0

 

Make no mistake, all five teams that make it from the East will have earned it this season…

PLAYOFF MATH…I’ve added magic numbers to the breakdown this week. For a definition on what the magic number is in soccer, click here.

1) Sporting KC (qualified)
Current Points: 58
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 43.6
Magic Number (for first place): 8
Remaining Schedule:  at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Sporting KC navigated their difficult stretch of three games in nine days about as perfectly as they could have expected. The team earned a valuable 2-0 win at New York on September 19, played strategically for a point at Montreal three days later and returned home on Friday to defeat the Fire, taking seven points from the three matches.

WATCH: New York Red Bulls 4, Toronto FC 1

 

The victory over Chicago on Friday not only opened up a somewhat comfortable five-point gap between first and second but also pushed KC back into the playoffs. They still have two tough games at Columbus who are 10-3-2 at home this season and fighting for their playoff lives and a trip back to New York, but if they can negotiate that two-game stretch as well as the three games before it, they shouldn’t have an issue finishing in poll-position in the East.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53 (tied with Fire, ahead on Goals For tiebreaker)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 47
Magic Number (playoffs): 5
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: New York did what they needed to in taking a 4-1 victory over Toronto Saturday night. They face perhaps the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the East, having to face both the Fire and Sporting KC, albeit at home, in back-to-back matches. The results of those two games will go a long towards determining where all three teams will finish.

How they qualify: Red Bull can qualify for the playoffs this week by defeating the Fire and having Columbus either lose or draw to Sporting KC (Sunday) or Houston lose to Montreal (Saturday).

3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 53 (tied with New York)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points:  40.75
Magic Number: 5
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

The Rundown: While it wasn’t what you wanted, there was nothing disastrous about Friday night’s result at Kansas City. One thing to remember is that the Fire hold a game in hand over everyone else in the playoff race and that game is made up this week with Wednesday’s clash vs. Philadelphia and Saturday’s match at New York.

If the Fire can manage to take at least four points from the week, they would almost assuredly have booked their place in the postseason and even three points would go a long way toward playoff qualification. Anything less and the team will have made things much more difficult than need be on themselves.

Luckily enough, Wednesday’s game comes against lowly Philadelphia who will be on one day less rest than the Fire and who haven’t beaten any of the top seven teams in the East away from home, going 0-6-0 in those games this season.

WATCH: D.C. United 1, Portland Timbers 1

 

While it’ll be expected for the Fire to take three points against the Union, the more difficult match will come Saturday against Red Bull. If the team gets a win against Philly, a draw would be ok to keep the Fire in position ahead of New York to push for second place in the East.

Keep in mind though, waking up Sunday morning is all the more reason to hope the Fire can earn just one more point than Red Bull as there’s little to no chance the team will win a tie-breaker with the high-flying New York offense.

How they qualify: The Fire can qualify for the playoffs in a variety of ways this week but at the very least need three points from their two matches vs. Philadelphia (Wednesday) and at New York (Saturday), combined with a Columbus loss or draw vs. Sporting KC (Sunday) or a Houston loss vs. Montreal (Saturday). Two wins in the two matches and the rest won’t matter as the Fire will have booked their ticket.

4) D.C. United
Current Points: 51
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 41
Magic Number: 7
Remaining Schedule:  at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: Given that it would have made for a three-way tie for second place, D.C. will be a bit disappointed not to have taken three points at Portland Saturday. Taking care of business at Toronto on Saturday will be most important for United as their final two matches look like they could be of the six-point variety.

How they qualify: They can’t this week. A win at Toronto and a Columbus loss this weekend won’t be good enough to get D.C. into the playoffs before the international break as it would only equal six “magic number” points.

WATCH: Columbus 3, Philadelphia 2

 

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Points: 33.3
Magic Number: 9
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Houston stumbled last weekend at Philadelphia and had a bit of trouble in the first half Saturday night vs. New England but eventually got the job done. The Dynamo undoubtedly still have the easiest schedule in the East, with their hardest game coming against Montreal on Saturday. The goal of every team ahead of Houston should at least be to finish with more than 58 points as that is the closest thing to a playoff point threshold that exists right now.

How they qualify: Won’t be able to think about qualification until at least October 20.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 48
Games Remaining: 3 (32 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Points: 43.6
Magic Number: 10
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28)

The Rundown: The Crew did it again Saturday night, scoring another late winner, albeit one that was clearly offside. That doesn’t matter now as Columbus kept pace in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

The result was huge as the Crew will be facing the East’s top team in Sporting KC on Sunday before a certain six-pointer on October 20 at D.C. United. How they fare in these two games will go a long way to determining where they finish in the East but it seems a minimum of three points from the pair of matches will be absolutely necessary to stay alive going into their final game of the season vs. Toronto FC.

How they qualify: Would need a bit of help but could qualify on October 20.

7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 40
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 49
Average Opponents Points: 32.3
Remaining Schedule: at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Idle this week, Montreal are only mathematically still in. To qualify, they would need a monumental collapse from either Houston or Columbus while the Impact would have to run the table to finish the season. Even a draw at Houston on Saturday will bring their season to an end.

28 September 10:02 am

When the Chicago Fire take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday night at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park at 7:30 p.m. CT (NBC Sports Network/97.5 ESPN Deportes), the Men in Red will not only be playing for the club’s first playoff spot in three seasons, they will also be fighting for first place in the highly-competitive Eastern Conference. CSNChicago.com’s Len Ziehm breaks down the Fire’s most important Major League Soccer game in “nearly five years.”
 
Yet as one of the few players with MLS playoff experience, forward Chris Rolfe as been trying to keep the team level headed. “You can’t get emotional about these games,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
 
Since the start of the 2012 season, Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas and his technical staff have added seven new players. While all have played a significant part in the run to the post-season, perhaps none have been as influential as Rolfe. In his second stint with the Fire, Rolfe now leads the team with eight goals and two assists. In an in-depth piece interview by The Sporting News’ Brian Straus, Rolfe discusses his stint in Denmark and how returning to Chicago was a seamless transition. Straus perhaps puts it best when he says, “Rolfe needed Chicago, and Chicago needed Rolfe.”
 
Another midseason acquisition that has panned out for the Fire is Brazilian midfielder Alex, who hasn’t missed a beat since stepping in for the injured Pavel Pardo, and brings “a little bit of unpredictability” to the Fire midfield.  
 
On the flip side, the success of Rolfe and his strike partner Sherjill MacDonald has relegated speedy Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro to a reserve role. While Oduro may be a little disappointed with his lack of playing time, he told the Chicago Tribune that he respects the coach’s decision and just has to “be as professional as possible about it and keep [his] head up.”
 
Along with the offensive success, the Fire surely wouldn’t be up for the Eastern Conference crown without the solid play of the defensive unit. Since his debut on May 4, Austin Berry has been a constant, steady presence along the Fire’s backline and NBC Sports’ Steve Davis says that he is “almost ready to call” Berry as the winner of the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year crown.
 
Davis isn’t the only person to notice that Berry has put together an impressive season. In the latest edition of MLSsoccer.com’s Rookie Rankings, Berry once again reigned supreme and lead the pack as the top rookie in the league.  
 
Before tonight’s match, check out MLSsoccer.com’s Three for Thursday for a look at the battle off the pitch between Chicago and Kansas City.
 
So don’t miss the marquee matchup of the season and tune-in to the NBC Sports Network tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT to see if your Men in Red can overtake Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

27 September 10:21 pm

The Fire travel to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Friday night to face Sporting KC (LIVE 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) in a game which could go a long way toward determining who wins the Eastern Conference crown. Both teams are playing well and it has all the makings of a classic. Here are a few things to watch out for from a tactical perspective...

Balls over the top: Fire defenders beware

Sporting KC have a tendency to look for balls into space behind the opposing teams outside defenders and the Fire will need to be wary of this tactic Friday night. KC attackers such as Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong all like to make these runs which often drag a central defender out of position to cover, leaving space in the middle for the other attackers to move into.

 

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Sporting KC

 

 

The difficult part about defending these through balls is the fact that they can come from anywhere. In KC's last home match against Houston, it wasn't just midfielders like Roger Espinoza playing the balls into space but the defenders were getting in on the act, too.

Though he has played extremely well over the past month or so, Jalil Anibaba can sometimes stray too far forward which leaves space in behind him for players to run into and exploit. On the other side of the field, left back Gonzalo Segares also needs to be cautious.

High pressure: harass KC

In the Fire's past few matches, the team's policy of applying pressure to the opposition high up the field has been very effective. Not only does the pressure offer up the opportunity for a turnover, but it also disrupts the other team’s attacking rhythm.

In KC's last game away to Montreal, the Impact used the high pressure tactic and caused all sorts of problems for the away side. I look for the likes of Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko to be pressuring the KC players all night when they are in possession.

In the absence of Pavel Pardo, Alex has excelled in his new holding midfield position and his energy in the center of the park will be needed against Sporting KC. If he can also use his pace to pressure the KC midfield without straying too far out of position, it will be crucial to the Fire's chances of coming away with points.

Playoff atmosphere: keeping a cool head

There is so much riding on Friday night’s match and both teams know what is a stake, which is all the more reason for the Fire players to keep cool heads throughout the game. Kansas City has a tendency to get riled up very easily, starting with their coach, Peter Vermes. Players such as Kai Kamara and Michael Harrington also can get very emotional on the pitch, especially if they feel calls are not going their way.

With this in mind, I'm sure Frank Klopas has reiterated to his players not to let their emotions get the better of them in this high pressure game. For the most part, the Fire haven't had any problems with this aspect of their game this season but in a match of such importance where there isn't much between the teams, keeping your head can mean the difference between a positive and negative result.

Scoring first: stopping the bad habit

Though not necessarily a tactical point, a worrying trait that many would like to see addressed is reversing the trend of giving up the first goal.

This season, the Fire have gone a goal behind in games much too often for the coaches, fans and players liking. Though the team has often come back to tie the game and gone on to win it in many cases, sooner or later giving up the first goal is going to come back to haunt the Men in Red.

Clearly there is no one reason for going behind in so many games this season but if the team can reverse that trend it will make everyone happy. In the regular season to date, the Fire have only kept five clean sheets, the last of which came 11 games ago (1-0 July 14 vs. Vancouver). A clean sheet away from home Friday against Sporting KC would be a fantastic achievement.

Prediction: 1-0. Nyarko scores and Fire keep first clean sheet in 11 games to move into first place in the East.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

27 September 4:03 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the third installment of the series on Tuesday, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton joined DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Marco Pappa and Lubos Kubik bring the total to 12...

Cuauhtemoc Blanco – Widely considered by many as the best Designated Player in MLS history, Blanco brought a different type of flair to the Chicago Fire when he joined mid-way through the 2007 season. Upon his arrival, the iconic Mexican international proved many a doubter wrong who thought he’d come to Chicago to earn one final pay check ahead of his retirement.

Instead, the veteran attacker teamed with the likes of Chris Rolfe, Brian McBride and Patrick Nyarko to form one of the most dynamic attacks in the league. Blanco would tally 19 goals and 28 assists in 77 competitive matches, helping the Fire to three-straight Eastern Conference finals as well as the 2009 SuperLiga final, coming up just short in each.

Brought to Chicago to appeal to the city’s Mexican population, despite never winning a championship with the Men in Red, Blanco became an iconic figure in Fire history through his skill, desire to compete and win at all costs mentality.

Marco Pappa – If there ever was a player that matured and came into his own with the Men in Red, it was the recently departed Marco Pappa. As I say in the video, there’s no better word to describe the ability of Marco’s production than “spectacular”.

Coming to the Fire as a 19-year-old in 2008, Pappa somewhat quietly climbed his way up the club’s goal scoring charts, moving all the way to seventh all-time with 26 career goals and fourth all-time in MLS. One of just 21 players all-time to appear in 100+ competitive matches for the Men in Red, Pappa, like Blanco never won a title but became a mainstay in the Guatemalan national team during his time with the Fire before launching off to a career abroad  last month with Dutch side Heerenveen.

Lubos Kubik – The rock at the back in the early years, Lubos Kubik is likely one of the most skilled Fire players to ever wear the badge. The third inductee to the club’s Ring of Fire, Kubik was a key cog in the 1998-double winning team and helped to solidif the Fire defense, partnering with the likes of C.J. Brown, Francis Okaroh, Tom Soehn and a young Carlos Bocanegra.

The former Czechoslovak international had the additional ability to add to the attack, leading Fire defenders all-time in tallying 19 goals and 28 assists in 88 competitive matches for the Men in Red.

Aside from his play, perhaps one of the best reasons to include Kubik on the list is for something he did in another uniform.

Kubik returned to Soldier Field as a member of the Dallas Burn on July 21, 2001. Starting the game as a substitute, Kubik was warming up and looked ready to soon come on to help Dallas protect a 1-0 lead when referee whistled Burn goalkeeper Matt Jordan for a penalty kick by referee Richard Heron.

Standing behind the goal, Kubik jumped over the boards and onto the field to confront the referee who then issued a red card to Kubik for illegally entering the field. Walking away from Heron, the former Fire defender then turned and confronted him again, this time pulling the whistle out of his mouth.

As they say, this all came “allegedly” as Kubik did not want to face the Fire at Soldier Field. Of course, he did suit up and play 86 minutes against the Fire on the final day of the regular season, but who wants facts to get in the way of a legendary story?

True or not? Ask Lubos yourself at the 15th Fire Anniversary party on October 8. Get your tickets to that event by visiting www.fireanniversary.com and be sure you’re at Toyota Park for Wednesday’s Anniversary match against the Philadelphia Union. 

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com next week for the installment of the #Fire15 Players presented by TrueCar.

27 September 1:10 pm

Since the start of the 2012 MLS season, the Fire have added six new players to the roster. With the Men in Red set to battle for first place tomorrow, Friday Sept. 28 against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network, it’s hard to argue against the impact that the newest players have had on the team.
 
Here is a quick look at the Fire’s midseason acquisitions:
 
Chris Rolfe
Rolfe returned for his second stint with the Fire on April 16. Having suffered an ankle sprain in his first week back that kept him out commission for two months, Rolfe made his Fire “re-debut” on June 2 in a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. Since then, Rolfe has started 14 of 17 games and now leads the team in scoring with 8 goals. Rolfe has two multi-goal games so far this season, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 12 and two goals in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sept. 22. The veteran Fire forward has five games left to hit double-digit goals, a feat he never accomplished before leaving for Denmark in 2009.
 
Alex
Brazilian attacker Alex joined the Fire from Swiss side FC Wohlen on April 26. Alex has two goals to his credit in 13 appearances. Having started five games, the Brazilian attacker has found fire of late, scoring both of his spectacular goals during the month of September in 3-1 wins over Houston (September 2) and Montreal (September 15).
 
Sherjill MacDonald

Sherjill MacDonald signed with the Fire on July 24 from Belgian club Beerschot AC. In nine games for the Men in Red, the former Dutch youth international has two goals and three assists to his name. Since earning his first start on Aug. 12 against the Philadelphia Union, MacDonald has started seven consecutive matches, helping the Men in Red to a 6-1-0 record in those matches.
 
Alvaro Fernandez
Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Fernandez joined the Men in Red via trade from Seattle Sounders FC on July 27. Fernandez, who has made seven starts in eight games, scored his first Fire goal on Sept. 12 against Toronto FC. Just three days later, Fernandez scored his second goal of the season and added an assist in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 15.
 
Wells Thompson
Thompson joined the Fire in a trade from the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 10. Thompson, a 2010 MLS Cup winner with the Rapids, provides additional depth to a strong Fire midfield, and has made three appearances off the bench in his young Fire career.
 
Guillermo Franco
On Sept. 14, the Fire announced that the club signed two-time World Cup veteran and Mexican international forward Guillermo Franco. Franco saw his first action in a Fire shirt in MLS Reserve League action when the Fire defeated FC Dallas 2-1 on Sept. 18. Franco, who has yet to make his first team debut, is available for selection by Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas when the Men in Red take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28.

26 September 1:30 pm

In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with forward Sherjill MacDonald. Since joining the Fire on July 24, the Dutch striker has scored two goals and tallied three assists, helping set up a battle for first place against Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network. Sherjill took the time to answer our Burning Questions about how he spends his time in Chicago, the difference between European and American fashion and just how many people mispronounce his name.  

Always on the Inside: You’ve been in Chicago now for a few months. How are you liking it?

Sherjill MacDonald: I love it. I love the restaurants; my favorite of the moment is an Italian restaurant called Scoozi! It’s close to my house so I go there a lot. I’ve been to the Hancock Center and eaten upstairs on the 95th floor, so that was fantastic. I have an apartment in River North. I love it. It’s a quiet neighborhood, it’s nice for dogs, so I like to walk the dog. It seems like a dog-friendly neighborhood.

WATCH: MacDonald equalizes vs. Montreal

 

AOTI: What kind of dog do you have?

SM: She is a Chihuahua mixed with a French Bulldog. Her name is Nala, from the Lion King.

AOTI: You’re pretty active on Twitter. What do you like about it?

SM: I like to talk to the fans. The last game I traded a fan that had made a banner for me with a jersey, so I like to do those kind of things. Sometimes I give away shoes to the fans; it helps to keep in touch with the fans.

AOTI: You’re a pretty stylish guy. What is the main difference between European and American fashion style?

SM: I’ve noticed that everybody wears running shoes, like downtown, so now I also do it. I think it’s an American thing because the distances are a little bit further. I’ve sometimes seen people wear suits with running shoes. It’s a lot of people.

AOTI: Who do you think are the best and worst dressed guys on the team?

SM: I like everybody’s style. It’s difficult to see in football because when you come to training, you dress comfortably.

Editor’s Note: During the interview, Daniel Paladini declared that Hunter Jumper was the worst dressed player on the team because he favors Polo Ralph Lauren. This editor does not agree with the views and statements of Daniel Paladini.

AOTI: What percentage of people in Chicago mispronounce your name and what’s the worst pronunciation you’ve heard?

SM: I think 80-85 percent. The worst I’ve heard is “Sheryl,” like the girls name.

AOTI: What do you like to do on a typical day off?

SM: Normal things. I like to go into the city with my girlfriend, do a little shopping. I like to walk the dog. Sometimes we stay outside for two hours walking the dog, especially when there is good weather. We like to enjoy the weather.

I also watch all kinds of television series and all kinds of movies. I watch a lot of movies; sometimes I watch like five movies a day. I’m a movie freak. “Gladiator” is one of my favorites.

AOTI: Who is your roommate on the road?

SM: Last time it was Wells Thompson. He’s a very good roommate. He sleeps very early but it’s good for me. It was a good example for me so I also sleep early. He’s a nice guy, a very gentle guy so I like him.

AOTI: One of the things that has helped endear you to fans is your passion on the field. Is your on-field persona similar to your off-field persona?

SM: Off the field I’m not emotional, not the same as on the field but sometimes I have to keep my emotions more to myself. I just have to control them sometimes on the pitch. I’m working on it; some people like it, some people don’t like it. Personally I don’t like it. I have to be more focused.

AOTI: FIFA 13 was recently released. Which team and difficulty level do you usually use? If we had a team FIFA 13 tournament, where would you rank?

SM: I love FIFA. I’m going to get it. I play with Chelsea on the highest difficulty level. I think I would be maybe first or second on the team. Sean [Johnson] would maybe be first. Sean is very good. 

 

25 September 5:05 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the second installment of the series last week DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov and Chris Armas joined Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton bring the total to nine...

Carlos Bocanegra – There was always something special about Carlos Bocanegra and from the moment he came into the league in 2000, it didn’t take long for the future U.S. Men’s National Team captain to make his mark.

Appearing in 39 competitive matches while tallying a goal and an assist, Bocanegra would go on to win MLS Rookie of the Year that season and was part of the defense that helped the Fire to its second MLS Cup final in three seasons as well as second U.S. Open Cup title in the same time span.

In 2002 and 2003, Bocanegra would show his dominance defense around the league, becoming the first player to win the league’s Defender of the Year award in back-to-back seasons, before ending his time in MLS with a Supporters Shield, another U.S. Open Cup title and a trip back to the MLS Cup.

Having recorded seven goals and nine assists across 122 competitive matches, it’s safe to say the time in Chicago laid the groundwork for one of the best American defenders of all-time. Bocanegra’s legacy around the Fire is still felt, with fans often clamoring for an eventual return to the Windy City.

Brian McBride – Ironically enough, McBride was a longtime teammate of Bocanegra both with the U.S. Men’s National team and during their time at English Premier League side Fulham FC.

Brian’s return to MLS with the Fire in 2008 was one that he’d long made known he’d like to make in order to finish out his career in his hometown. Having tallied 21 goals and seven assists across 72 competitive matches, McBride’s contributions at the Fire, like those with the national team and abroad weren’t always measurable purely by stats.

Rather, talking to guys about what McBride provided during his time with the Fire, they mention what American fans had long come to know: a strong, hard-working presence up top. There’s something else that’s more strike what still may pay dividends down the road…

QUOTABLE: “He brought a great level of education to the younger guys. I know personally he had a huge impact on my game. I got to spend a lot of time with Brian. He had the highest level of professionalism  that has been exhibited by a player. He came in every session and worked hard every day to the point that you didn’t realize how old he was at the time. Us young kids benefitted because he’s always coaching through the game. He never criticized anyone but just offered his view. He knew the game inside and out and you could see the impact it brought to this team.” – Patrick Nyarko

Better yet, McBride today was announced as another of many special guests at the October 8th Anniversary Party at the Chicago History Museum,,,

Zach Thornton – What can you say about Big Z? I think it might be best to draw the comparison to another of the Fire15 in Ante Razov. Much like Ante with LA, Zach had played sparingly in New York through the first two seasons of MLS before joining the Fire via the 1997 Expansion Draft.

That season he had to contend for playing time with the much higher profile Jorge Campos who was in and out of the team due to commitments with the Mexican national side as well as splitting time with Pumas UNAM. Thornton would finally make the job his and be in goal to back stop the side to the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and being named to the Best XI in the process.

The goalkeeper would go on to be one of three players (along with Chris Armas and C.J. Brown) to be part of the all six of the club’s domestic titles, holds nearly all of the club’s goalkeeping records and sits third all-time behind only Brown (372) and Logan Pause (298) for most competitive appearances with the Fire at 276.  

Stay tuned on Thursday as we name three more members of the #Fire15 and be sure to get your tickets to the October 3rd 15th Anniversary match vs. the Philadelphia Union as well as the 15th Anniversary Party to be held October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. Fire legends will be in attendance at both events.

24 September 11:51 am

After Sunday, D.C. United continued to move up the Eastern Conference table even without Dwayne DeRosario, earning a 1-0 home win over Chivas USA. The shock result of the weekend likely came earlier in the day as Houston dropped a 3-1 decision at lowly Philadelphia, leaving them just one point above sixth place Columbus for the final playoff spot in the East.

Seeing as I broke down each team’s remaining schedules prior to Sunday’s two matches, I won’t do it again here… Refer to that blog for an almost up-to-date breakdown.  

Instead today’s edition of Playoff Math will be shorter and potentially sweeter as I focus on “Magic Numbers”…

I’ve come to find out that with three variations of a result, “Magic Numbers” in soccer are more difficult to come by than in baseball, basketball or football. but I felt it part of my duties as Team Writer to work out just how close the Fire (and the rest of the East) are to playoff qualification.

To be clear, the “Magic Numbers” below do not reflect the number of points a team needs to earn but rather, the number of points a team needs to gain combined with the number of points the sixth place team (right now Columbus) needs to drop. In the Crew’s case, it’s in comparison to fifth place Houston.

As an example, the Fire could achieve their magic number of five by winning Friday night at Sporting KC (3 points) and then have Columbus lose (drop 3 points) or draw with Philadelphia (drop 2 points).  

Also find the "Soonest Could Clinch" column which is pretty self-explanatory. It's factored by taking into account the date a team could gain maximum points and have the sixth place team no longer able to catch them.

Make sense?  Here’s the table…

Team Games Left Points Max. Points Magic Number Soonest Could Clinch
Sporting KC 4 55 67 3 9/28
Chicago Fire 5 53 68 5 9/29
NY Red Bulls 4 50 62 8 10/7
D.C. United 4 50 62 8 10/7
Houston Dynamo 4 46 58 12 10/7
Columbus Crew 4 45 57 13 10/20

The only other team that can clinch qualification this week is of course Sporting, who simply need a victory over the Fire or a draw and Columbus defeat to book their ticket to the postseason.

Not that you need much more reason to tune into the Fire’s game at Sporting KC Friday at 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network but it could end up being one of the biggest games of the season…

24 September 11:37 am

With a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew Saturday evening, the Chicago Fire maintained their hold on second place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. After Crew forward Jairo Arrieta capitalized on a rare defensive miscue, Fire forward Chris Rolfe lead the charge with two goals in three minutes for a big Fire victory. Catch all of the highlights here.

Rolfe, who now leads the team in scoring with eight goals, was glad the Fire were able to convert their chances as  he said it’ll get tougher towards the end of the season.

The victory marked the eight time this season the Fire were able to come from behind to take the full three points, which Rolfe calls, “A good thing.”

One of the reasons the Men in Red were able to bounce back so quickly from the defensive gaffe that lead to the Columbus goal was the team’s positive mentality, which according to Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas, was evident in the team’s reaction.

Tim Howard, currently the top ‘keeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team, told Soccer by Ives that for Sean Johnson and his fellow young, American ‘keepers, while growing pains are inevitable, “The sky is the limit.”

With the result, the Fire remained in second place in Jeff Carlisle’s most recent Power Rankings for ESPN, setting up for an exciting match on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City, who are ranked third this week.

The Guardian says that there is “no doubt” that Friday night’s clash for first place under the lights of LIVESTRONG Sporting is a must-watch, so make sure to “clear your diaries.”

24 September 8:10 am

It was good to see DaMarcus Beasley back in Chicago for Saturday night's 2-1 win over Columbus.

With the five-year Fire veteran still an active player and unable to get away from Mexican side Puebla for next month's 15th Anniversary celebrations, he took advantage of a little schedule gap after playing 90 minutes for the side in a 1-1 draw with Leon Friday night. 

Named earlier this week as one of the #Fire15 players, Beasley was welcomed to roaring applause at halftime of Saturday night's game but what was most interesting was what he said to our camera before the match.

When asked where he would want to play if he return to Major League Soccer, Beasley replied, "There's no other team I would want to play for. No other team I'd want to be a part of."

Given the swirling rumors recently about a Carlos Bocanegra return to the Fire, this response inevitably leads us to a fun poll question...