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15 September 10:51 am

So what happened there? A sequence of three controversial events stacked up to cause much of the Toyota Park crowd to boo referee Ismail Elfath and crew as they went into the interval.

The First:

With the teams locked at 1-1, Patrick Nyarko broke through the New England backline and was thought to have won a penalty just as the clock hit 44:00 after contact with Revolution defender Jose Goncalves at the top of the box.

Elfath waved play on much to the chagrin of players and fans alike but okay, no big deal...

The Second:

Maybe its conjecture but the play seemed to throw Elfath off his game.

He likely would have signaled the amount of stoppage time or communicated via radio headset to fourth official Silviu Petrescu right after that play but with some jeers raining down and the signal to play on, perhaps he forgot? Perhaps the communication wasn’t received on the sidelilne?

Either way the amount of stoppage time was never put up on the board by Petrescu and as a result, never announced in-stadium. It did however make its way into the broadcast though how, I’m still trying to deduce as no official number was ever given.

In the end, we probably won’t know why it didn’t happen as Elfath was asked via pool reporter post-game why the fourth official didn’t raise the board to signal stoppage time.

The somewhat avoidant response was, “The priority of the fourth official is to keep order in the technical area.”

Which seems to suggest Petrescu was too busy dealing with both team's coaching staffs to raise the board during any point of what ended up being three additional minutes of stoppage time. Without directly answering the question though, Elfath continues to leave the incident open for interpretation.

If it’s safe for me to put my editorial hat on: The Pool Reporter system is a definite step forward for the league and Professional Referees Organization but its only as good as the referees being honest enough to  answer the question being asked.

Though there's nothing specific about the raising of the stoppage time signal in the Laws of the Game, the signal is something universally expected at the international and professional level.

Even if there was chaos for three minutes in the technical area (which would be an overstatement), the job of the fourth official is also to inform the players, coaches and those in attendance what that number is.

That didn't occur unfortunately.  

The Third:

With no stoppage time signaled, you could make a case that the half should have ended right when the clock struck 45:00. It didn’t, and in fact saw New England score their second go-ahead goal of the night when Saer Sene received a pass from Dimitry Imbongo and finished past Johnson to make it 2-1.

Should the goal have stood? Upon further review, absolutely not...

Off the goal kick in which Bobby Shuttleworth found Imbongo, the Congolese forward was aided by the use of his hand to settle the ball before spraying towards goal and laying off for Sene.

There’s the old adage that you should play to hear the whistle but looking back on the series of events, it seems the teams should have gone into halftime locked 1-1.

Where do we go from here?

There’s no sour grapes as the Fire overcame the controversy to take a 3-2 win in dramatic fashion at home over New England. The victory sees the team into a playoff position for the first time this season, something unthinkable following the side's 2-7-1 start to the season.

Just as good, the last two games between these two clubs seem to show a revival in the once heated rivalry between the sides.

On to the next one at Columbus.

09 August 8:38 am

After a lackluster performance in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss earlier this week, the Fire must pick themselves up for Saturday’s crucial Eastern Conference match against Montreal on Saturday evening at Toyota Park (LIVE 7pm CT on My50). The Impact are still sitting pretty in third place in the East and also played at midweek, beating San Jose 1-0 in CONCACAF Champions League play.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Starting stronger – better tempo from the Fire

Jeff Larentowicz summed up the game against D.C. well when asked how it compared to the 4-1 loss against the same opponent just weeks ago. He astutely observed, “The difference between this game and the last time we played them is that we scored early.”

This might sound overly simplistic, but an early goal and a good start is extremely important.

In Wednesday’s match, the team were positive in the opening exchanges but then allowed D.C. to set the tempo. Against Montreal this weekend, the Fire must come out of the gates quickly and play a very high-tempo game.

READ: NYARKO UNAVAILABLE FOR SATURDAY'S MATCH VS. MONTREAL

In Montreal’s last game against D.C., the Red and Black had a very good opening 30 minutes and created a lot of chances. D.C.’s high-tempo start clearly caught Montreal off guard and it took the Canadian team a while to find their rhythm.

The Fire had a great start against Philly last weekend, scoring in the ninth minute. A repeat of that could put the Fire on course to picking up three more precious points Saturday night.

Attacking Montreal on the outside – wide play important

Against D.C. last weekend, Montreal looked vulnerable in the wide areas, especially when United got their wingbacks forward.

WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner

The Fire are very good at allowing Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba to get forward and help in the attack, especially at home. I look for this to happen as often as possible against the Impact.

The advancement of the wing-backs also allows the Fire wingers to come into the middle and provide support to the strikers.

With the potential absence to Patrick Nyarko after Wednesday’s head injury, the team will be relying on Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka to have big games Saturday night.

Keeping an eye on Justin Mapp – former Fire player finding his groove in Canada

Like Dominic Oduro, many Chicago Fire fans are torn over former winger Justin Mapp. He is certainly one of the most frustrating players to ever wear the badge but his skill and talent was there for all to see.

After leaving the Fire, Mapp had two quiet years in Philly but has flourished in Montreal’s 4-3-3 system, playing in one of the advanced wide positions, tallying two goals and four assists for the Impact this season.

Mapp is comfortable on both wings and is a very good crosser of the ball. He also likes to cut inside from the wing and combine with Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud and Felipe.  

BUY TICKETS FOR SATURDAY'S MATCH VS. MONTREAL

Though he might not be the fastest player on the field, Mapp is also very dangerous in the open field, often starting counter attacks for the Impact or looking for through balls to Marco Di Vaio.

Fire fans will also remember that the 28-year-old is very good in 1v1 situations and it will be up to players like Alex and Larentowicz to support the outside defenders and double team him whenever possible.

Mapp is not a physical player and can sometimes be “kicked” out of a game. Limiting the amount of time he has on the ball will be important for the Fire and a physical approach might be the answer.

Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Joel Lindpere.

29 July 10:49 am

The Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field meant that even though the Fire were in Houston on Saturday, Chicago would not be deprived of live soccer this weekend. Thank goodness. From a Fire point of view, it’s pretty special that Sean Johnson and alum DaMarcus Beasley overlapped on this USMNT squad.

The game itself wasn’t as exciting as you could have hoped from the two best Gold Cup teams. Panama’s tight defense kept the U.S. side from running at them the way they ran at Honduras and El Salvador and they never looked like they would put up the crooked numbers that defined their tournament.

BLOG: Beasley captains USMNT to 5th Gold Cup title

There were even a few times when the game looked like a cagey MLS match, with a challenger in town to try to steal the day, staying taut, and not making mistakes. But the USMNT wore down Panama, took their best (and really only clear cut) chance, held on against a barrage of balls floated into the box in the final minutes and were crowned deserved champions.

How nice would it be to see the Fire handle games like that? On Saturday, we saw the Fire come back from behind yet again. We saw them nearly nick all three points and then nearly lose them all. We saw flashes of dangerous counterattacks and Paolo Tornaghi making some big saves. Most of all, we saw despite obvious improvements over the last trip to Houston, the team is still missing one little bit of finality in both halves.

Back in April, the 2013 Fire v1.0 went to Houston with the goal of slowing the game down, playing calmly and controlling the match. The greenhouse (orange-house?) that is BBVA Compass Stadium dictated that, and we saw players run themselves dead on that afternoon, which also included a vintage Brad Davis garbage goal, Wells Thompson, and a last minute Jeff Larentowicz hit off the crossbar (HIGHLIGHTS from April 14).

On Saturday, the 2013 Fire v2.0 went to Houston with a different mindset. They went to play, to take some initiative. You could see it at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half when Lindpere and Nyarko were pushed way up the field on the outside.

HIGHLIGHTS: Fire earn tough 1-1 draw in Houston

Alas, the result wasn’t much different. Houston, one of the hardest teams to beat away in the history of MLS, controlled the game. The Fire looked absolutely spent at the end of the game, much of which they spent chasing the orange midfielders around and trying to clear their persistent crosses into the box.

But the difference this time around was the way in which the Fire actually looked dangerous at times, stealing into Houston’s half on counter attacks and nearly grabbing the lead on a late Chris Rolfe chance.

In April, we looked at the difficulty of balancing the mindset to calm the game down without sacrificing the risk-taking attitude needed to be offensive, to attack. Now, with Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee (and the Alex/Larentowicz partnership), it seems like 2013 Fire v2.0 are poised to find that balance.

As another new striker and the All-Star break arrive, maybe the Fire will find that teeny bit of difference. If so, next time we play Houston at Toyota Park in September, they’ll be the ones wilting, exhausted after falling to 2013 Fire v3.0

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

24 June 3:03 pm

The Fire start sluggishly and give up an early goal thanks to some sloppiness. The first half runs its course with a series of dreary long balls, and very little else worth mentioning. The second half begins, the Fire come out a totally different team. They move the ball quicker. They even the game. They continue pressing. They take the lead. The second half develops into a series of counter attacks on one end and dramatic blocks, saves, and misses on the other. The game ends, the Fire players celebrate.

Sound familiar? After almost carbon copy games against Colorado and in Columbus last week (not to mention similar feeling games against Portland and RSL), the Fire games are becoming something like the works of one of those airport authors - the characters change and the setting is different, but the arc remains the same.

Not that we’re lacking any drama. These comebacks are scintillating, and we deserve it after those early games that were, frankly, difficult to watch. Now Fire games are chaotic, fun spectacles.

I was pining for a hockey-like empty netter on Saturday when all possible counterattacks flamed out and, yet again, we never got the insurance goal that would let us relax and enjoy the last few minutes of the game. Just like Wednesday against Colorado, the Fire survived Columbus thanks to some great work by Sean Johnson in goal, some miscues, and a few fortunate bounces.

Of course, every comeback is different, and this time there was no Klopas Gambit. There weren’t major changes in shape or personnel. What was different was who stepped up to change the game.

Last week we talked about Jeff Larentowicz really driving the Fire upwards, and literally the first play of the second half, the play that set the tone for the ensuing comeback, was of Larentowicz tackling Oduro hard at midfield.

But all of a sudden it looks like the Fire have depth all over the place. Players that struggled to make an impact at the beginning of the season are proving their worth. Joel Lindpere had two beautiful assists, Dilly Duka was arguably player of the game Saturday against his old team, and with Magee about as hot as a player can get, it’s no surprise the Fire are charging up the table.

VOTE: Dilly Duka for MLS Goal of the Week!

The attitude in the locker room has to be refreshing. After the game on Saturday, Magee said, “We know we can battle and we fight for each other, that’s the hardest thing in soccer.” Despite the slow starts and the stressful endings, the Fire are building something.

Let’s enjoy it with another look at Duka skinning and megging Chad Barson.

04 February 8:38 am

Though he didn’t have all that much to do in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 0-0 friendly draw vs. Canada last week, it seems clear the Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson remains in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans after being one of three goalkeepers called in for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Final Round World Cup qualifier at Honduras (LIVE 3pm CT on beIN Sport).

The summons means Johnson will miss most of the team’s second phase of preseason camp in Ventura, Calif. but nearly a month of training with the national team won’t leave him out of shape.

Consistently called up since last August’s 1-0 friendly win at Mexico, the 90 minutes the fourth-year Fire ‘keeper earned in Wednesday’s draw seems to indicate Johnson is stating a strong case for the U.S. Men’s third goalkeeper shirt behind English Premier League veterans Tim Howard and backup Brad Guzan.

Should his form hold up and the U.S. Men navigate another difficult CONCACAF qualifying test, Johnson could find his way to Brazil next year.

There are still too many variables to allow anyone to get that far ahead and strong competition will remain from the likes of veteran Nick Rimando (injured for January camp), as well as Johnson’s friendly rival Bill Hamid.

While the trio wouldn't be expected to appear in this year's qualifying matches, with the U.S. expected to send a B-team to the this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament will likely serve as the next indication as to who Klinsmann favors for the presumable third spot.

Even if he’s not always playing in matches, the 23-year-old's continued inclusion in camps, working with the best ‘keepers American soccer has offer, can only help with his chances and his form for the Fire.

It should be an interesting year for Sean and the U.S...

Remember the last time the U.S. went to Honduras?

Trailing 1-0 just after the break, the U.S. used a brace from Conor Casey and a Landon Donovan free kick to eventually win the match 3-2 and qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Check out highlights below:

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

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…

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!

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

02 January 12:14 pm

In this edition of Burning Questions, we sat down with Fire left back Gonzalo Segares. A native of San Jose, Costa Rica, Gonzalo has been capped 19 times for Los Ticos. The club's Defender of the Year in 2007, Gonzalo returns in 2013 for his ninth season with the Men in Red. The newlywed took the time to answer our Burning Questions about wedding themed movies, his infamous sweet tooth and the worst actor in Hollywood.

Always on the Inside: You got married this past December. What is the best movie that features a wedding: “Wedding Crashers”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids”?

Gonzalo Segares: Definitely the first “Hangover”.


Gonzalo and Rusti married December 15

AOTI: It’s pretty well documented that you’re a fan of baked goods. If you could only choose to have one pastry for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

GS: Can it be chocolate? Chocolate bars. Like Crunch, Kit Kat or Snickers. I like chocolate with stuff in it, especially almonds or any kind of nut, except for peanuts.

AOTI: What do you miss most about Costa Rica?

GS: The weather. I love it here in Chicago during the summer but in the winter, I just hate the cold weather. Back home we only have two seasons, which is summer and winter, and the winter is only rainy. The temperature doesn’t change that much. The average is usually in the 70s or 80s.

AOTI: How often do you use the phrase “pura vida?”

GS: I use it a lot if I’m talking to Costa Ricans when I’m home. I don’t use it that often in Chicago because when the guys speak Spanish, it’s not part of their slang.

AOTI: You attended Virginia Commonwealth University with current Fire teammate Dominic Oduro. What’s one thing that people don’t know about Dom?

GS: He was very, very, very shy. And now all of a sudden, he’s not shy.

AOTI: Do you have any phobias?

GS: When it starts shaking on the plane, I definitely get nervous.


Gonzalo's not a fan of John C. Reilly

AOTI: Who is the worst actor in Hollywood?

GS: There are a lot of them. I would say maybe the guy that’s in movies with Will Ferrell. He usually has a mustache. He’s in the cartoon movie where he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, “Wreck it Ralph”. In “Talladega Nights” he’s the friend and he’s also in “Step Brothers” with Will Ferrell. I think he’s very, very bad.

Editors Note: As Gonzalo provides very good clues, we have deducted that he is referring to John C. Reilly.

AOTI: You can invite any three people to dinner. Who receives an exclusive invitation?

GS: I would definitely invite Messi. And also Michael Jordan and President Obama.