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Chicago Fire

05 December 12:04 pm

The club announced today that starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson started a three week training stint in England earlier today, beginning with Premier League club Stoke City (Dec. 5-9) before joining U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard and coach Chris Woods at Everton FC (December 10-23) for the second straight offseason.

I caught up with Sean Wednesday morning to talk how his first session went with Stoke, his third offseason abroad and what matches he’ll be taking in over the next few weeks.

Jeff Crandall: Sean, over the past three years you’ve spent parts of your offseason in Spain, Germany and England, do you feel tired at all or is the experience too good to pass up?

Sean Johnson: No, I don’t feel tired at all. I love taking in these experiences and I’ve learned over the past couple years how to deal with the management of my offseason.

It’s about soaking in the experience but also getting the rest and recover enough to be ready to go 100 percent for the season.

JC: What is Stoke like so far?

SJ: I think it’s been a great experience working with guys like Thomas Sorensen, Asmir Begovic and Carlo Nash.

Training with their goalkeeper coach and getting the chance to play and train with the guys at the top level. Just seeing how another team operates gives you perspective.

JC: Have you hung out with your U.S. Men’s National teammates Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron yet?

SJ:  I’ve hung out with both of them. I’m actually staying with Maurice at the moment. They’re great guys to be around and it’s just good to see familiar faces and make most of the time you have with your friends while you’re over here.

JC: Next week you head to Everton for the second consecutive offseason. How important is it for you to have guys like Tim Howard and Chris Woods working with you there?

 

WATCH: Sean Johnson #4 in MLS 24 under 24

SJ: Having been in with the national team a lot more this past year, training with Chris and Tim again here is a fantastic opportunity to keep some continuity and show how I’m growing.

To be in that environment day-in and day-out and make yourself a better goalkeeper will do wonders for me as a player.

JC: What games are you taking in the next few weeks?

SJ: I’m going to try and take in as many games as I can. This weekend’s lineup has Stoke going to Aston Villa on Saturday and then Everton hosts Tottenham on Sunday at Goodison Park so it works out well. Manchester United also player Man City in a derby match on Sunday so there’s a lot of excitement for that as well.

Depending on how things work out, I’ll hopefully go to a few more games while I’m here. It’s great to go to those stadiums and see everything that goes into a match.

JC: You end your time with Everton just before Christmas. What are you doing with the rest of your time before preseason begins on January 18?

SJ: I’m going to be back in Atlanta through Christmas and maybe New Years. I caught up with the family for a week over Thanksgiving and planned to be there longer.

Because I was coming over here I decided to go down to Florida for a week by myself to get away and be able to get ready for this experience.

JC: Great to hear from you Sean. We’ll talk soon.

SJ: Have a good one!

 

03 December 10:55 am

Atletico Madrid

With both Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry in attendance, Atletico fell 2-0 to Real Madrid in a derby match at the Santiago Bernabeu in a derby match Saturday night. The defeat snapped Atletico’s five match winning streak across all competitions.

With the result, Atleti stays in second place though third place Real pulls within five points, while Barcelona’s 5-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao opens their league-lead to six points.  

Already through to the next round of the Europa League, Atletico continue their quest to defend their European crown when they return to the field Thursday to close out Group B play away to Czech side Viktoria Pizen.

The team returns to league action on Sunday when they welcome 19th place Deportivo La Coruna to the Calderon.

Sport Club Internacioncal

Internacional closed out the 2012 Campeanto Brasileiro campaign with a 0-0 draw away to Gremio Sunday.

With the result, Inter finished 10th in the 20-team Serie A with 52 points and will look to regroup ahead of the Gaucho state campaign, which kicks off January 19th against EC Passo Fundo.

Besiktas Istanbul

After league-leading Galatasaray drew 1-1 with Gaziantepspor on Friday night, Besiktas would come within one point of the league leaders using goals from Ibrahim Toraman and Oguzhan Ozyakup to earn a 2-1 come from behind victory away to Orduspor Saturday.

With the win, Besiktas move to 7-3-4 in the Turkish Super League, one point behind joint leaders Galatasaray and Antalyaspor. Samet Aybaba’s side will hope to go first when they welcome sixth place Eskiserhispor to the Inonu Stadium on Friday.

Al Ain

Al Ain continued their impressive run at the start of the Emirates Pro-League season, using goals from Asamoah Gyan (13th minute) and Ali Al Wehaibi (61st minute) to down bottom of the table Al Shaab 2-1 on Friday.

The result pushes Al Ain to an 8-1-1 record and top of the table Emirates Pro-League table with 25 points. The club will look to turn their three point advantage to six when they visit second place Baniyas Wednesday.

Raja Casablanca

Much like Al Ain, Raja Casablanca took steps to remain atop the Moroccan Botola Pro League with a 2-1 home win over Khouribga this past Saturday in Marrakech.

With two games in hand, Raja currently sit tied for first on 19 points with cross-town rivals Wydad Casablanca and will hope to take sole possession on Wednesday when the host fifth place Moughreb Tetoun.  

29 November 1:59 pm

The MLS Regular Season Schedule may not yet be out, but the Fire already have three opponents scheduled for next eyar after the Charleston Battery released the match schedule for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup.

Participating for the third straight season in one of North America's top preseason tournaments, the Fire will open up the tournament with an MLS Cup playoff re-match with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, February 16 at 5:00pm ET (4:00pm CT). 

See below the full tournament schedule:

Saturday, February 16 
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 PM/4 PM CT 
Charleston Battery vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT

Wednesday, February 20 
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT 
Charleston Battery vs. Chicago Fire, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT

Saturday, Feb 23 
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT 
Charleston Battery vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT

If you've never been to the Charleston Battery's home at Blackbaud Stadium, I highly recommend heading south to catch a Fire match and take in the amazing Three Lions Pub. Tickets for the tournament go on sale next Monday, December 3 at 9am CT via www.charlestonbattery.com or by calling (843) 971-GOAL (4625)

28 November 5:25 pm

Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry aren’t the only Fire representatives at Atletico Madrid.

Earlier today Fire head coach Frank Klopas, assistant Mike Matkovich as well as President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon and Vice President Guillermo Petrei all checked in on how the Fire’s young defenders are doing in their training stint.

The group was able to see Anibaba and Berry train with the Atletico first team and even see the pair mark Colombian superstar Falcao during the proceedings.

Afterwards the Fire technical delegation held meetings Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil, Academy Director Carlos Aguilera, Marketing and International Development lead, Emilio Gutiérrez as well as Slanisa Jokanovic, the coach of Thai giants Muanghtong United, another member of the Atletico alliance.

28 November 12:12 pm

When we unveiled the #Fire15 players list in conjunction with the club’s 15th anniversary earlier this year, I spoke about how spectacular most of the goals Marco Pappa scored in a Fire uniform were. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three that the Guatemalan scored from inside of the box in his five seasons in Chicago.

Since the Fire Goal of the Year tournament began in 2010, Pappa has always had at least one entry make the final four with the current Heerenveen midfielder getting there with high margin defeats of his early-round opponents.

Ironically enough though, that support seems to wane in later rounds.

In 2010, Pappa's bending strike against San Jose (which went on to win MLS Goal of the Year) was narrowly defeated in the final by Logan Pause's equally stunning long-distance bomb at Toronto.

Last year, Pappa's hat trick clincher at Real Salt Lake (one of his four entries in the tournament that year) fell at the semi-final stage to the now legendary long-distance blast "through the guise of smoke" from Jalil Anibaba in an early round U.S. Open Cup qualifier vs. Colorado.

As of Tuesday night, Pappa will once again fall short of winning the club’s Goal of the Year honors after Austin Berry’s game-winning header (8/4 vs. Toronto) pulled yet another upset over the Guatemalan’s olimpico (4/28 vs. Seattle).

At the very least, it’s an interesting phenomenon.

I say that because having managed the Fire Facebook and Twitter accounts for nearly three years, there is no player that evoked as much consistent response in terms of Likes, Retweets and web traffic then Marco. An update on his play in a friendly with Guatemala, a photo of him from training or even a post about another player would even bring a comment or six about “El Chapin del Fuego”.

With Pappa no longer a member of the Fire, this has all died down a bit but how ironic when you consider that his latest defeat came against a player that could take on the mantel of sentimental popularity in 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.

Berry has barnstormed to today’s final, where he’s facing down another fan favorite in the team’s 2012 MVP Chris Rolfe and his stunning quick kick in little space (9/22 vs. Columbus).

While Rolfe’s goal could have been a number one seed (his strike vs. San Jose was), neither of today’s finalists were top seeds in their respective brackets. As we learn every November, anyone can win.

As we have when deciding the top 15 players, goals and matches in Fire history or just putting fans on season tickets, we at Chicago-Fire.com feel it most important to utilize fan input and engagement in determining valuable pieces of our club.

Happy voting everyone!

 

22 November 7:30 am

It's been exactly 23 days since I last did a Five Things article. Just because there won't be another Fire game until sometime in January doesn't mean this great piece of content can't be repurposed with a little holiday twist... With that, I give you "Five Fire-related Things I'm Thankful For..."

1) MLS Live – In my opinion, perhaps the most significant technological success Major League Soccer has had in 17 seasons. MLS Live is reliable, affordable and provides an absolutely crystal clear picture of up to 230 games that don’t involve the Chicago Fire.

While it was great to see the league sign a deal with NBC Sports this past year, with 19 teams now in the league, the peacock, ESPN and Univision networks simply can’t carry every game nationally. What’s more, the product even got better from 2011 to 2012 providing more interactivity.

Trust me when I say that the Playoff Math pieces that you all loved this fall wouldn’t have been accomplished quite as easy without MLS Live. Now if only they can turn the corner on local blackouts...Something to improve upon for next year perhaps?

2) The Chicago Fire PR and Digital Team – My job sort of fits me into both categories but the two sides almost always work hand in hand. There’s never an idea too wacky or too out of bounds for us to go after…

Get Logan Pause to eat a million Chewy bars to launch a Quaker jersey? Uh huh.
Pester an MLS owner to change his stadium’s flag policy? Sure, why not.
Create a Twitter campaign to beat the Crew in the digital realm? Of course.
Create another campaign to potentially get Pat Nyarko on the All-Star Team? Yup.
Partner with Quaker to help Austin Berry win Rookie of the Year? Did that.
Dress up as eachother to ease tensions ahead of a Halloween playoff game? And that.
Stupidly race Dominic Oduro with a jelly doughnut on the line? Sure.
Risk suffocation by jumping in a large equipment bag for a blog promo? Still can't breathe.
Interviewing a stuffed tiger during for a live blog piece to Columbus? Roar.

The list goes on and on but I just have to say I’m proud to be a part of this team. Thanks Emigdio, Brendan, Eunice, Leo, Nick and all of our trusted interns over the past year.

3) The Chicago Fire First Team – Getting to work with professional athletes on a daily basis is a fan boy’s dream. With that said, athletes don’t always reciprocate with the same feelings.

That isn’t the case with the Fire where there is a true sense of family that emanates from the locker room. From Frank and his staff, to stars like Arne Friedrich, Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause all the way down the roster, these guys are a pleasure to work with.

To all the players and staff, I appreciate your tolerance of a digital recorder often being in your face.

4) Having my own tifo – I’ve checked with the MLS Team Writer’s Union and discovered I’m alone among my counterparts when it comes to having their own dedicated two-pole display. Contrary to popular belief, my favorite song is not Fun’s “We Are Young” though I do think it’s an appropriate song to be sung at Fire games (just need to work on timing).

To the few fans (you know who you are) that took this from conception, made it a reality and hoisted this as my birthday present from the Section back on July 8, you are truly amazing.

Every time I see the two-pole and hear that song, I get chills, so thank you.

5)Traveling and getting to know Fire supporters – I was able to take in 11 of the team’s 18 road matches in person this season. While I was working at some, I was a fan at seven of those games.  Those matches provided me a nice release that I don’t get to have at Toyota Park -- mainly the opportunity to scream, shout and support the guys I work with on a daily basis.

Beyond just taking a game in, I came to appreciate the camaraderie that is formed by fans on the road. There’s something to be said for what a nine-hour bus ride to Toronto or Kansas City to bring folks together.

Even better are the times where the away city is so far away that you are FORCED to spend a night out on the town in a fun city such as Montreal before cramming six people into a tiny hotel room (not to say this ever happened…).

When you work for a club, you don’t ever really feel like you’re not part of it. However, I’ve gained even more love for the Chicago Fire by returning to my roots as a fan and getting to better know and understand this club’s most ardent supporters. If you can travel away next year, please do!

There are plenty of other things I’m thankful for but you’d be here all day.

Happy Thanksgiving Fire Fans!

21 November 10:48 am

I'm a morning person. So when I saw Jalil Anibaba online today, I thought why not see how things have been going through his first few days training at Atletico Madrid. We talk Ja's touring of the training facilities and stadium, how he plans to spend Thanksgiving and his picking up of the Spanish lisp. Enjoy!

Jeff Crandall: How has your training stint gone so far?

Jalil Anibaba: It’s been going really well. I’m having a great time out here and I’m really loving the experience so far. The training facilities are top class. It’s separate from the stadium which is in the city itself. Amazing grass and turf fields and really everything you could need for training.

JC: Who are you training with?

JA: I’m training with the B team. The first day we scrimmaged the first team. They provided good competition and a great experience. It is rewarding to be able to measure yourself against guys that have proven success in winning the Europa League last season.

JC: Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, so how do you plan to celebrate it there in Spain tomorrow?

JA: Of course I’m American at heart and unfortunately I’m away from home and my family over Thanksgiving. I’m probably going to Skype in with the family before they eat dinner and say hello. That’ll do for me.

JC: Have you been able to get into the city yet?

JA: Yeah, some of the representatives from the club took me into the city. I got to see their stadium and museum, the locker room and all their facilities. It was a great experience.

JC: Have you had paella yet?

JA: I haven’t had paella in Spain yet but I’ve had it lots of times because my stepmother’s mom is from Spain actually. She cooks it for us all the time. Spanish food is really nothing new to me to be honest.

JC: How is your Spanish? Are you speaking with a lisp yet?

JA: My Spanish is okay. I can speak a bit and I know enough to get by when I need to. The lisp throws me off but you have to adapt!

JC: What have you been doing with your down time?

JA: I’ve treated my down time as seriously as I do back in Chicago.  Making sure I get enough rest in between sessions is the primary focus.  However, if situations permit, I will explore.  Like I said earlier, I got the chance to tour their stadium and all their facilities and that was amazing.  From what I've seen, the city of Madrid is beautiful to say the very least.

JC: How have the players received you? Have they talked to you about what MLS is like?

JA: The other players have been great.  They have received me well and they treat me with respect and kindness.  Many are curious about MLS and how much the league has grown in recent years.  From what I have experienced thus far, it's safe to say our league's growth has expanded beyond our shores and people around the world are becoming more aware of what we are doing in the US.

JC: Any chance you’ll be able to take in a first team game?

JA: Yeah it’s looking like I’ll be able to see a few. I think definitely their game against Sevilla on the weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing them play live and just the atmosphere to see how everything compares. When you watch teams play on television from a thousand miles away, you don’t get the experience firsthand so being here will be tremendous.

JC: On Monday Austin Berry was named Rookie of the Year and Logan Pause won the Fair Play award. What is your reaction to having your teammates be recognized?

JA: I think it’s a tribute to how amazing our season was. Obviously we didn’t finish like we would have hoped but there’s definitely a silver lining to be found within our season. Austin is definitely a part of that – he had an amazing season as a rookie and we’re all very happy for him. It’s very deserving because he stepped in and contributed at a time where we needed him and never let go of his spot.

As far as Logan is concerned, winning the Fair Play award epitomizes him as a person and as a class player and captain. I feel like he does a lot of dirty work and it doesn’t always get noticed.  His approach to the game is tremendous and I’m very pleased that he was acknowledged for it.

JC: You’re going to be in Madrid until December 2 and then preseason begins again in mid-January… Are you feeling like you need a little rest?

JA: I feel great. My body feels great and I’m just trying to push myself and become a better professional every day.

JC: What are you doing once you get back stateside?

JA: I’m going to stop off in Chicago for a little bit and then head back home to California to see the family. As far as training is concerned, I’ll speak with Tony [Jouaux] about exactly the best way to go about staying fit but also getting some rest.

JC: Thanks for your time Jalil! We’ll check back in with you next week!

JA: Sounds good! Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone!

21 November 7:21 am

In the latest edition of Quaker Journeys, we sat down with Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry to his development from an all-sport athlete in Cincinnati, to a focus on the beautiful game at the University of Louisville to becoming the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire.

Be sure to check out our previous Quaker Journey with Patrick Nyarko (Part 1 and Part 2).

20 November 1:25 pm

Matt Steichen works as a Firestarter to pump up the crowd before and during halftime of Fire home games games. When he's not showing his Fire pride at Toyota Park, the St. Charles, Ill. native has been working on an amibitious project with his father Craig to visit all 32 NFL stadiums in 17 weeks.

The ultimate fan boy's dream right? 

Not so fast, the father and son team provided another twist to the project, electing to take members of the Wounded Warriors to each NFL stadium they visit. 

Check out the video below from Rick Reilly's Tour of Duty on ESPN and then give Matth and Craig a little applause...

19 November 10:54 am

When Austin Berry was officially declared the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, the Cincinnati, Ohio native became the third player in Fire history to win the award. Previously won by Carlos Bocanegra in 2000 and Damani Ralph in 2003, the Fire now hold the most Rookie of the Year honors in MLS history.

Here's a look at the Fire’s three Rookie of the Year winners.

Carlos Bocanegra - 2000

The Fire selected Carlos Bocanegra with the fourth pick in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft after a stellar collegiate career at UCLA. In his rookie season, Bocanegra started all 27 regular season matches in which he appeared, scoring one goal and adding one assist as the Fire reached MLS Cup, where they fell 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards. A week later, the Fire defeated the Miami Fusion 2-1, winning the club's second Open Cup trophy in just two seasons, though Bocanegra was unable to play after seeing red in the semifinal.

Following his rookie season, Bocanegra was named the 2002 and 2003 MLS Defender of the Year while also making the MLS Best XI both years. He was twice named the club’s Defender of the Year in 2000 and 2003.

After four seasons in which he appeared in 87 regular season matches, Bocanegra made the move overseas and signed with English Premier League Side Fulham FC prior to the 2004 season.

Bocanegra spent four years with the Cottagers, appearing in over 100 matches and scoring eight goals. He then went on to play in France's Ligue 1 with Rennes and Saint-Étienne before moving to storied Scottish side Rangers FC.

Bocanegra earned his first cap for the U.S. Men's National Team on Dec. 9, 2001 and has since made 109 appearances for the Yanks. A two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, Alta Loma, Calif. native captained the 2010 U.S. squad that won their group for the first time since 1930. Though he picked up a hamstring injury in the recent friendly in Russia, Bocanegra is expected to return in time to lead the U.S. into the final round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on Feb. 6.

Now plying his trade with Spanish Segunda División side Racing Santander, Bocanegra recently started a multi-sport training center in southern California called CB3, which this year held its first MLS pre-combine training program that focused on soccer-specific speed and agility training. All four players that trained at CB3 prior to the MLS Combine were selected in the SuperDraft, including this year’s Rookie of the Year honoree, Austin Berry.

Damani Ralph - 2003

In 2003 the Fire selected MAC Hermann trophy finalist Damani Ralph out of the University of Connecticut with the 18th pick (second round) of the MLS SuperDraft.

In his first season with the Men in Red, the Jamaican international set the MLS Rookie record for goals in a season with 11 and tallied six assists while also picking up MLS Goal of the Year honors. The Fire would go on to win the 2003 Supporters' Shield and reach the MLS Cup Final, where the Men in Red fell 4-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes.

His sophomore season proved that it wasn’t beginner’s luck, as he posted similarly impressive stats, again scoring 11 goals and adding three assists in 26 matches.

After two seasons with the Fire, Ralph transferred to Russian Premier League Side FC Rubin Kazan, where he went on to appear in 25 games, scoring two goals in three seasons.

Ralph made his international debut for Jamaica in 2002, earning 18 caps and scoring one goal for the Reggae Boyz.

Unfortunately his career was prematurely ended by a series of knee injuries. Ralph returned to school where he finished his degree in Economics from the University of Connecticut. The 2003 MLS Rookie of the Year is now working as a sports agent, where he is able to stay connected to the game while utilizing his experiences as a player to bridge the gap between young Jamaican players who are looking to make the jump to MLS.

Austin Berry - 2012

Selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, the former Fire PDL player joined the Men in Red after a standout collegiate career. After overcoming a broken leg in 2009, Berry led the University of Louisville to the 2010 NCAA Men’s College Cup championship match and was named 2010 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.  

Berry made his first game-day lineup March 24 and made his professional debut May 4 when he started against Chivas USA. Minutes after giving up a penalty kick, Berry maintained his composure and got on the end of a ball from Sebastian Grazzini, becoming just the third rookie in Fire history and the first since 1998 to score in a debut MLS appearance.

Since his debut, Berry played every minute of his 28 consecutive MLS Regular Season appearances, breaking the record of consecutive starts by a Fire rookie, previously held by Bocanegra. Berry anchored the Fire defense that held opponents to just 41 goals as the Men in Red went 17-11-6, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.  

A hard-nosed, blue collared player, Berry is sure to catch Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye and figure into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture in the coming years.