What better way to celebrate the day then by taking a look back at the men who have worn 12 for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club…
Ante Razov (#12 from 1998-99)
Ante began what would go on to be an illustrious club goal-scoring record wearing 12 in his first two seasons in Chicago. As he did almost every season he was with the Fire, the young striker led the team in goals across all competitions both years he wore the number, tallying 11 to go with an apt 12 assists in 1998 before bagging 18 and seven assists the following season.
In all, Razov wore the number 12 in 75 competitive matches over the two seasons before Jerzy Podbrozny’s departure allowed him to switch to the number 9 for the 2000 seaosn.
Carlos Bocanegra (#12 in 2000)
Many forget that the future U.S. Men’s National Team captain, who came to wear lower defensive numbers later in his career, began his rookie season in 2000 with the number 12.
It would suit Boca well, as he tallied one goal and one assist in 39 competitive matches, en route to helping the Fire to the 2000 U.S. Open Cup title, an MLS Cup final appearance and that season’s Rookie of the Year honors.
Following Sam George’s retirement in early November 2000, Bocanegra would switch to the number 4, wearing it until his departure for Fulham following the 2003 MLS season.
Justin Evans (#12 in 2001)
In 2000, midfielder Justin Evans had been a Fire call-up from the A-League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds when national team commitments left Bob Bradley with a thin lineup. The following season, the Fire actually selected Evans in the MLS SuperDraft with the defensive midfielder appearing in seven competitive matches wearing the number 12 that year.
In July 2001, he was traded to Dallas for future considerations and would go on to have a fruitful career in USL and indoor leagues. Evans has been the head coach of the Riverhounds since 2010.
Logan Pause (#12 from 2003-06, 2010-present)
After the 12 shirt sat vacant during the 2002 season, Fire rookie midfielder Logan Pause would begin occupying it the following season. In his first stint with the number, the defensive midfielder and sometimes right back would make 117 appearances, tallying five assists and would go on to win the 2003 and 2006 U.S. Open Cups as well as the 2003 MLS Supporters Shield.
Sometime between the end of 2006 and start of 2007, Pause switched to the number 7, wearing it for three seasons before switching back to 12 in 2010.
I asked Logan about the reasons behind the switch earlier this year and perhaps channeling Yogi Berra just a tad he responded saying, “At the time I felt more like a number seven and around 2010 I felt like a number 12 again.”
Pause has worn the number each of the last three seasons, scoring two of his three career goals while in it. Much like he’s one of the longest all-time tenured members of the club, Pause has occupied the 12 longer than any other Fire player, wearing it in 211 competitive matches across seven seasons.
Paulo Wanchope (#12 in 2007)
The legendary Costa Rican striker joined the Fire from FC Tokyo midway through 2007 and wore the 12 shirt in 13 matches that season, scoring two goals before bringing an end to his illustrious career.
Patrick Nyarko (#12 in 2008)
Much like forgetting Bocanegra wore the shirt, I’d forgotten Patrick Nyarko briefly suited up as #12 during his rookie year of 2008. This is perhaps because Nyarko didn’t play for the Fire in the first half of the season as he finished his degree at Virginia Tech.
Before moving to the number 14 the following season, Nyarko tallied his first-ever goal in the 12 shirt, scoring the lone strike in a 1-0 home win over Chivas USA on August 2, 2008.
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.
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!
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!
As was widely expected, Fire defender Austin Berry was named as a finalist for 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Thursday along with former Louisville teammate and D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks.
Austin becomes the first Fire player since Chris Rolfe in 2005 to be a finalist for the award and sixth for the club all-time. Here’s a breakdown of the rookie seasons the others had…
Josh Wolff (1998) – As a member of Nike Project 40 (the precursor to Generation adidas), Wolff (right)played only part-time with the Fire appearing starting just four of his 14 appearances. It didn’t keep him from tying for the then rookie goal scoring record with Jeff Cunningham, tallying eight goals and three assists en route to helping the team to the 1998 MLS Cup double.
In a strange twist of fate, Wolff was a finalist with future Chicago Fire player Andy Williams (Columbus) and his future boss Ben Olsen (D.C. United). Olsen would go on to win the award and ironically enough Wolff serves as a player/assistant coach under him at the moment…
Carlos Bocanegra (2000) – Left on the bench as the team went 1-3-0 through their first four matches, Bocanegra was used in 27 of the team’s remaining 28 matches, helping the team to the Central Division title and a tie for the most points in MLS that season. Boca would also help the Fire to the MLS Cup final where they dropped a 1-0 result to Kansas City but would have to miss playing in that year’s U.S. Open Cup final win after being sent off in the semi-final against LA.
In the only all-defensive Rookie of the Year finalist class in MLS’ 17 year history, Bocanegra went up against former UCLA teammate Danny Califf (LA Galaxy) and Kansas City’s Nick Garcia. Though he tallied just a goal and two assists on the campaign, Bocanegra’s play outshined the others as he became the first Fire player to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Kelly Gray (2002) – The fifth overall pick for the Fire in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, Kelly Gray played mostly as a winger during his first season in Chicago. The University of Portland product would go on to tally two goals and five assists across 27 of the team’s 28 matches to cap a strong rookie season.
Gray would go up against other finalists in midfielders Kyle Martino (Columbus) and Brad Davis (MetroStars) and though he and Martino shared the exact same number of goals and assists, the Crew midfielder likely won because he achieved his numbers in less matches played (22 to 27)…
Damani Ralph (2003) – Though he wasn’t even the first forward the Fire would select in 2003, future Jamaican international Damani Ralph set the highest bar for MLS rookies by tallying 11 goals and six assists en route to helping the Fire to the club’s first and only Supporter’s Shield as well as a trip back to MLS Cup and scoring the game-winner to clinch that year’s U.S. Open Cup.
Teaming with Ante Razov after the departure of Josh Wolff in the offseason, the pair didn’t skip a beat, combining for 25 of the team’s 53 goals and contributing 12 assists.
Ralph went up against New England attacker Pat Noonan and MetroStars holding midfielder Ricardo Clark for the award. Though Noonan had near identical stats to Ralph (10 goals, 7 assists), the Fire forward made bigger contributions in helping his side to the regular season title and deservedly earned the award.
Chris Rolfe (2005) – One of the lowest drafted Rookie of the Year finalists in league history, Rolfe picked up the load left in the wake of Damani Ralph and Ante Razov’s exit and surprised many by leading the team in goals with eight, adding five assists in the process.
The club’s future second all-time leading goal scorer’s competition would be Kansas City forward Scott Sealy (nine goals, two assists) and New England defender Michael Parkhurst. Though he didn’t have the stats, Parkhurst appeared in all of the Revolution’s 32 regular season matches and was long the consensus favorite to win the award.
Austin Berry (2012) – Since making his first Fire appearance back on May 4, defender Austin Berry would go on to play in 28 consecutive regular season matches, tallying three goals in the process. It was in that 2-1 win over Chivas where Berry showed his resolve, conceding a penalty early on only to score minutes later. With that goal, he became just the eighth player in club history to tally in his first Fire appearance.
On the defensive end, Austin formed a solid partnership in the middle of defense with Arne Friedrich, helping the Fire tie for the second best defensive record in the league.
Berry is the only defender among the finalists, joining D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon and Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. DeLeon tallied six goals and four assists in a season where his form certainly dipped midway while some of Mattocks’ seven were highlight reel strikes but the Jamaican international disappeared in the second half of the season.
Based on play throughout the 2012 regular season, Berry should be the winner but the voters are fickle… We’ll find out on Monday.
Following Wednesday’s disappointing knockout round exit to Houston, taking in the rest of the MLS Cup playoffs this weekend didn’t sit all the way at the top of my “want to do” list.
Being the seasoned Team Writer that I am, I decided it was a good idea to take in the four games from Friday to Sunday…
Real Salt Lake 0, Seattle Sounders 0 – Friday
With the Fire out, I have to say there are few teams in the league I would feel alright about winning MLS Cup and you know the Sounders do not fall in that category for me.
On the flip side, RSL has Fire legend C.J. Brown, defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and even former Fire beat writer Sam Stejskal slingin’ PR in Sandy, so if someone has to win MLS Cup, I wouldn’t mind for it to be our friends from the Sawatch Front?
Playing on the Seattle Seahawks outlined pitch at CenturyLink Field Friday night, it was Nick Rimando who stood tall in net, making five big saves for RSL and even suffering a broken nose and laceration in the 67th minute after a collision with the Sounders Christian Tiffert.
The display left RSL head coach Jason Kreis to say, “I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey.”
In my opinion, Rimando’s historic performance will likely go down as one of the best ever in MLS postseason play.
In the end, RSL escaped Seattle with a 0-0 draw and head back to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium for Thursday night’s second leg.
D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1 – Saturday
Knowing that one point at any time during the regular season would have had the Fire playing in this series, I had the most trouble watching this game of any during the weekend. With that said, it was nice to see D.C. switch home legs with New York after Hurricane Sandy left Red Bull Arena unplayable for the weekend.
WATCH: D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1
Come the 33rd minute of the tie, United looked to be in good shape when Red Bull defender Connor Lade was whistled for a handball in the box, forcing referee Jair Marrufo to point to the spot. Chris Pontius’ take however wasn’t the greatest, allowing Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles to make one of his five saves on the night.
Despite the save, United would get on the board just after the hour mark when Chris Korb’s dangerous cross to the six left Red Bull’s Roy Miller with an attempted clear, instead roofing into the top of his own net.
In what seemed to be a comedy of errors, Red Bull would pull level with a United own goal just four minutes later. Off a corner kick from the right, defender Heath Pearce headed the ball back across goal, catching United goalkeeper Bill Hamid wrong footed before catching the ball inside his own goal and clearly across the line.
Perhaps most comical was Hamid’s insistence that he’d been fouled on the play. A replay shows Red Bull defender Markus Holgersson ducking even as United’s Dejan Jakovic is pushing him towards Hamid.
Own goals aside, the story of the match would be DC right back Andy Najar’s sending off in the 71st minute. Shown a yellow card for his foul on Joel Lindpere in the 71st minute, the Honduran international threw the ball at Maruffo, forcing the referee to show the Honduran international a second yellow and then a red card, forcing United to play a man down the final 19+ minutes of the match.
United will definitely be without Najar as they head back to Red Bull Arena for leg two and if they advance, it’s a fair bet they could lose him throughout a potential Eastern Conference Final series.
Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0 – Sunday
In the surprise of the weekend, Houston came away with a dominant 2-0 victory over Sporting KC in leg one of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at BBVA Compass Stadium.
WATCH: Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting KC 0
Having defeated the Fire 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Dynamo were charged by the partisan crowd in Houston and went ahead in the 18th minute off of Adam Moffat’s wonder-volley from outside the area.
On the other side of halftime, Will Bruin would score his third goal in two playoff matches, connecting once again with former Fire striker Calen Carr to seal the 2-0 victory in the 75th minute.
It’s interesting to note that though the two sides finished even with 13 shots each, the Dynamo held just a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal, finishing both of their attempts for the win.
Houston can now go to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Wednesday, lose 1-0 and still advance to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking out the team with the second best record in the process…
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 0 – Sunday
While the Dynamo didn’t look like they’d played at midweek, the LA Galaxy certainly did, looking tired a times throughout Sunday night’s home encounter.
Despite that, LA threatened just as much as San Jose but as so many other teams have this season, would fall victim to a late, late Earthquakes goal.
This time the marker would come from Honduran midfielder Victor Bernardez, who hit a low free kick underneath the jumping Omar Gonzalez and past Josh Saunders in the 94th minute, allowing the Quakes to stick with their “Goonies never say die” tagline.
The star-studded Galaxy will have a tall but not impossible order to overcome the 1-0 deficit in Wednesday’s second leg at San Jose…
Second Leg Picks
New York Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 1 (NY Advances)
Sporting KC 2, Houston Dynamo 1( HOU Advances)
Real Salt Lake 2, Seattle 1 (RSL Advances)
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 1 (SJ Advances)
#2 New England Revolution vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)
Chicago Fire 1, New England Revolution 0 (Game 1)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
October 22, 2006
After finishing the regular season one point shy of second place New England, the Chicago Fire would welcome the Revolution in the first-ever playoff game at Toyota Park.
Despite being outshot 12-8, the Fire would find the game’s only goal in the 35th minute when Justin Mapp’s placed his left footed free kick over the Revolution wall and inside the right post.
Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens would come up huge in goal, making eight saves to tie Zach Thornton’s record for most in an MLS playoff game.
#2 New England Revolution vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)
New England Revolution 2 (4), Chicago Fire 1 (2) asdet (Game 2)
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
October 28, 2006
The Fire looked to have command of the series early on when Mapp beat his marker to the end line on the right before centering for Nate Jaqua who touched his effort past Matt Reis at the near post, taking the aggregate score to 2-0.
New England didn’t relent though and pulled things level in the 41st minute when Andy Dorman helped put Joey Franchino into the box on the left. The Revolution captain quickly crossed and picked out Taylor Twellman whose shot beat Pickens inside the left post.
The Revolution continued to threaten after the break and would bring things level when Jeff Larentowicz’s shot from outside the box was stopped by C.J. Brown but the ball deflected straight to Pat Noonan who calmly finished past Pickens, eventually sending the match to extra time.
Both teams traded blows in the overtime periods but couldn’t convert, pushing the game to penalty kicks.
Fire midfielder Thiago would miss the first take while New England converted each of their first four. Ivan Guerrero stepped up and saw his low shot to the left saved by Reis leaving Taylor Twellman to send home the winning penalty and the Fire in the process.
WATCH: 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinal Leg 2
After going all the way to MLS Cup 2003, the Fire missed the postseason for the first time in club history the following year, losing 2-1 on the final day of the regular season at New England. The team regrouped and finished third in the East the following season, setting up another first round clash with D.C. United…
#2 D.C. United vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)
Chicago Fire 0, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 21, 2005
In what would be the club’s final competitive match at Soldier Field, the Fire had the better of the play, outshooting D.C. 8-4 and holding United without a shot on goal.
In turn though, United played strategically, just trying to leave Chicago without a blemish and conceded only two shots on goal, both from Chris Rolfe in the 58th minute.
WATCH: Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United EC (Semi-final Leg 2)
United would get their wish, earning a 0-0 draw and leaving all to play for at RFK Stadium for the second leg nine days later.
Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 30, 2005
United’s plan for the series would backfire early on in Game #2 when Thiago’s corner from left bounced through the six yard box to find Jack Stewart streaking in at the back post. The then-Fire rookie would tally one of only two goals in a Fire shirt, sneaking his header past Doug Warren in the 10th minute.
Just before the half, another Fire rookie would help make his mark. This time Chris Rolfe danced into the box on the left and chipped in a cross from the end line before Brandon Prideaux headed away. The ball fell perfectly for Ivan Guerrero and the club’s 2005 MVP buried his left footed effort in the 37th minute.
Guerrero would show why he earned the award deep into first half stoppage time. Again Rolfe danced like a ballerina on the ball just outside the area before laying back for Guerrero who hit first-time blast that left Warren flat-footed as the ball sailed inside the left post.
#1 New England Revolution 1, #3 Chicago Fire 0 – Eastern Conference Final
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
November 6, 2005
The Fire and Revolution would begin a five-year consecutive streak of postseason meetings with the Eastern Conference final at Gillette and once again an early goal would play the part.
The Revs would go up 1-0 in the fourth minute when Daniel Henandez’s ball over the top found Shalrie Joseph in the box on the right. The veteran midfielder hit a low effort towards the back post which connected with Clint Dempsey sliding through to give New England the lead.
A chippy first half made things difficult for either team to find the goal but Jack Stewart provided the best effort in the 45th minute when he ran through midfield before unleashing a low shot that just went wide of the right post.
The Fire came close again in the 63rd minute as Ivan Guerrero collected the ball on the left before cutting inside and hitting a blistering right-footed effort that Matt Reis punched away at the far post.
A minute later Chad Barrett and Thiago played a quick combination which saw the Brazilian blast a drive towards the left post that Reis did well to hang on to.
A number of dangerous crosses and displays of Reis rolling on the ground later, the Fire found themselves with an apparent equalizer in stoppage time when Thiago’s forward ball out of midfield found Gonzalo Segares in stride and saw the rookie defender tap the ball past Reis and into the net.
Stepping out of the goal, Segares’ immediate joy turned to disbelief as linesman George Gansner held his flag up on the sideline resulting in a number of Fire players to crowd him. In the melee, Segares’ fellow countryman Andy Herron was red carded for dissent, effectively ending the Fire’s chances of sending the match to overtime.
The replay would vindicate Gansner’s call, showing Segares was just a shade past the Revolution backline when Thiago hit the ball, leaving the team to rue a missed opportunity at a fourth MLS Cup appearance in eight years.
WATCH: 2005 Eastern Conference Final
As we get set to complete yet another regular season, it donned on me yesterday to look back at this masterpiece that Fire defender Dan Gargan captured and put together with the help of MLS videographers Scott Riddell and Albert Lanzillo.
Shot throughout preseason and the team’s opening day 1-1 draw at Montreal’s nearly sold-out Olympic Stadium, Dan’s video showcased the preparation and work the team went through to get to that very monumental game back in March.
Looking back on it now, one of the most striking things is seeing how much the Fire have changed since January as you see a number of faces that are no longer with the club while also being reminded of just how many new faces have been added over the course of the year.
More than that though, this beautiful video reminds me as a fan and a writer of the cautious optimism we all had going into the year. Back then, if you’d have told Fire fans that had experienced the previous two years the team would be playing for second place in the East on the final day of the, everyone would have taken it.
Flash forward to today and that’s exactly where we are and yet we know the opportunities were there to go even higher.
Still, today the Fire play arguably the most important game at Toyota Park since the last time the team was in the postseason.
And so, re-watching this inspiring video is special to me for multiple reasons, but the most important is that it serves to remind how far this team has come in the three years I’ve been here but also the hard work that was put it back in January to get to this point.
Before heading out to Toyota Park today, take 2 minutes and 23 seconds out of your regular pre-game ritual, watch this video, and soak in how far this team has come in 2012.
With one game left and all to play for, there's no doubt that Saturday's game against D.C. United (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network) is the the Fire's biggest game of the season to date. A win and the team finishes in second place in the Eastern conference and enjoys home field advantage for the Conference Semis. A loss or tie against DC and the Fire's destiny is out of their own hands, with a place between third and fifth in the cards. That being said, lets look at some tactical points for the big match.
Andy Najar - don't fool me twice
Andy Najar's coming out party as a right back was against the Fire in August when he put in a Man of the Match performance in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium. Najar should start at right back again Saturday afternoon and the Fire will need to a much better job of containing him this time out. Against the Columbus Crew last week, Najar pushed forward constantly and provided an outlet for DC on the right. Columbus allowed Najar far too much room and he duly obliged by looking to cross the ball whenever possible.
WATCH: Fire vs. United Preview
D.C.'s midfielders look to switch the field of play to the advanced Najar whenever possible, something the Fire must look out for. For all his attacking prowess however, Najar can get caught too far up the field, something the left side tandem of Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko will be looking to exploit if the opportunity arises.
Stopping United from playing our game - target striker
D.C. sets up in a similar way to the Fire, namely with a target striker with an attacking mid/second striker playing just behind him. Against Columbus last week, Maicon Santos played just behind target man Lionard Pajoy. The partnership is still in its infancy, but should continue from the start on Saturday afternoon.
Against Columbus, Pajoy and Cesar did not combine well, often drifting too far from one another to effectively link up. DC's wide men, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon, did their best to move central and support Pajoy whenever possible. Both of the wide players tendency to move inside caught Columbus short handed on a few occasions, especially when one of the wide men failed to drop back.
D.C. are not a team blessed with many creative players who look to take on their opponents, especially without Dwayne De Rosario. If the Fire can cut the supply line to Pajoy and force United to resort to trying to take them on it will work to the Men in Red’s advantage.
D.C.'s midfield - attacking through the middle
Similar to the Fire, United set up with two holding midfielders, Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa. In last week’s game against Columbus, both players were exposed by some neat interplay between the Columbus midfielders who quite simply passed the ball around Kitchen and Saragosa at times, especially in the first half.
Part of the reason for the exposure was because D.C.'s more advanced midfield trio failed to drop back quickly enough to support the holding midfielders when United lost possession. In the second half, this happened a lot less frequently, but it certainly is an area in which the Fire can try to take advantage. If the Fire can get midfielders forward in numbers, something they haven't been able to do as often in the last few games, then they could put some real pressure on the D.C. holding midfield core.
The return of Pardo - an experienced head for a big game
Since losing Pavel Pardo, the Fire have gone 3-3-0 in his six game absence. In the six games prior, the team won five and lost one. That stat alone gives you an indication as to how important Pavel is to the team.
His partnership with Logan Pause in the Fire engine room is one big reason for the Fire being a lot harder to break down this year. Pardo also reads the game as well as anyone in MLS, constantly positioning himself well to intercept a pass or pick up an advancing midfielder.
Having Pardo, a man with almost 150 caps for Mexico, will also be extremely important for the playoffs, especially because three of the five behind him have no postseason experience. Pardo's return gives the team an added boost ahead of the biggest game of the season to date.
Prediction: This game is going to be just as intense and nerve wracking as a playoff game but a sold out crowd at Toyota Park should give the Fire the advantage. 1-0 Fire with the goal coming from Chris Rolfe.
After two runs to the MLS Cup Final in three seasons, the high-flying Chicago Fire finished the 2001 MLS Regular Season similar to the previous year, winning the Central division and tying for the league’s best record (this time with Miami) only to be seeded second, losing on the tiebreaker to the Fusion.
Things might have gone differently if not for Ariel Graziani popping up once again to spoil the day in a match that would end up being the team’s last game of the 2001 season.
In that game played September 8 at Soldier Field, the Burn came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Graziani once again the culprit, scoring the 91st minute equalizer. Had the Fire been victorious in the match, the team would have eventually been awarded its first MLS Supporters Shield.
Alas, three days later everything changed with the September 11 terrorist attacks. With all eight playoff teams known at that point, MLS decided to cancel the remaining regular season games and move to the playoffs roughly nine days later, meaning the Fire would once again face Dallas in an opening round playoff series.
WATCH: 2001: MLS Cup Quarterfinals
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Dallas Burn – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)
Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 20, 2001
With the end of the September 8 game and memories of the devastating 1999 playoff defeat to Dallas fresh in their minds, it would be safe to say that the Fire held feelings of revenge in their hearts going up against their Brimstone Cup rivals.
The team would breakthrough just before halftime when Eric Wynalda’s free kick from the left picked out Carlos Bocanegra unmarked at the six, leaving the young Fire center back an easy header past Matt Jordon in the 40th minute.
Though the Fire held an 8-3 shots on goal advantage in the match, they weren’t able to put the Burn away until very late. Dallas would be awarded a direct free kick deep into stoppage time. Desperately looking for an equalizer, Jordan came all the way up the field to provide numbers but would regret it when Oscar Pareja’s take was hit straight into the wall before Peter Nowak intercepted a pass to start the counter attack.
The Fire captain fed a streaking Evan Whitfield in alone up the field and the current Fire color analyst outpaced Dallas defender Justin Evans to tuck the ball away and give the Fire a 2-0 victory in Game 1.
Chicago Fire 1, Dallas Burn 1 (OT) (Game 2)
The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
September 23, 2001
Back home for Game 2, Dallas would take an early first half lead when Jason Kreis played a forward ball for Bobby Rhine at the top of the area. The Burn forward would find Chad Deering streaking through midfield and played a pinpoint pass into the box that the U.S. international one-timed past Zach Thornton in the 27th minute.
It looked as though Dallas would tie the series up at three points each the Fire had other ideas. In the 84th minute, Peter Nowak penetrated towards the middle of the field before feeding Dema Kovalenko into the box. The Ukrainian fired a quick effort that Matt Jordan did well to save but substitute striker Jamar Beasley was on the doorstep to equalize.
After 10 minutes of extra time, Beasley’s goal would stand to send the series back to Chicago with the Fire needing only a draw in Game 3 to advance.
Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
September 29, 2001
Back in Chicago for Game 3, there was little doubt the Fire would advance.
In the 17th minute, Peter Nowak’s corner from the left was headed down in the area by Evan Whitfield leaving Dema Kovalenko to scrap inside the six, eventually knocking home the go-ahead goal.
Needing only a tie, the Fire would go for the jugular in the second half when Nowak made one of his patented long runs through midfield. The Fire captain entered the box on the left and saw a bit of confusion when his last touch on the ball was a bit heavy, allowing for Chris Armas to bury the second goal in the 55th minute and send the Fire to its third MLS Cup semifinal in four years.
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 LA Galaxy – MLS Cup semifinals (first to five)
Chicago Fire 1, LA Galaxy 1 (OT) (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 10, 2001
The Fire had already received bitter disappointment from the Galaxy in late August when Alexi Lalas’ 94th minute “golden goal” knocked the team out at the semifinal stage.
The home side would take the lead in the 32nd minute when Peter Nowak gallivanted through midfield before sending DaMarcus Beasley down the left flank. The second-year Fire winger crossed to the back post where Eric Wynalda first-timed his effort past Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.
The Galaxy would equalize just before halftime after Chris Armas was judged to have brought down Sasha Victorine at the top of the penalty area. Vaunted Galaxy striker Luis Hernandez saw his spot kick saved by Zach Thornton but buried the rebound to tie the score in the 44th minute.
The Fire would be dealt a blow in the 60th minute when Evan Whitfield was shown a straight red card for pulling down Cobi Jones who was in alone on goal. Despite playing a man down for the final 30 minutes of regulation and 10 more in overtime, the Fire escaped the match with a point in the 1-1 draw.
LA Galaxy 1, Chicago Fire 0 (OT) (Game 2)
Titan Stadium, Fullerton, Calif.
October 13, 2001
The Fire returned to the site where the team fell in U.S. Open Cup semifinals nearly two months before and already without Whitfield due to his one-match suspension, would be dealt another blow when Peter Nowak left the game at halftime with a hamstring strain, ending his participation in the remainder of the team’s playoff run.
In eerie similarity to the the August Open Cup match, the game would head to overtime and see another Galaxy winner come in the 94th minute when Peter Vagenas tallied off a Luis Hernandez feed, giving the Galaxy a 4-1 points advantage heading back to Chicago for Game 3.
LA Galaxy 2, Chicago Fire 1 (OT) (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 13, 2001
Returning home, the Fire would once again take the early lead at Soldier Field when Chris Armas fed DaMarcus Beasley through in the 30thminute.
Again though, similarities to a previous match between the two sides would reign supreme. This time when the Galaxy’s Danny Califf would tally the equalizer in the 44th minute (the same time as Luis Hernandez’s penalty put back in Game 1) that would eventually send the match to extra time.
In the overtime period, LA’s Mauricio Cienfuegos would tally his second overtime winner of the postseason, finishing off the Fire in the 98th minute and sending the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup appearance.
For the Fire, it would mark the team’s first home playoff loss in four seasons.