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03 October 8:46 am

After a tough loss on Friday night in Kansas City, the Fire are looking to get back into the race for first place in the Eastern Conference when they face the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park on Wednesday night. Philly are also coming into the game on the back of a loss, going down 3-2 in Columbus last weekend. Though the Union are out of the Playoff race, they will be looking to play spoiler and stop the Fire from moving into second in the standings.

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

Combination plays: Stopping Philly from playing their game

After John Hackworth took over head coach halfway through this season, he has tried to get the Union away from the long ball game if possible and move towards keeping the ball on the ground and moving forward through short, quick, pass combinations.

In the first 60 minutes against the Columbus Crew last weekend, Philly worked this to perfection, gliding through the Columbus midfield on many occasions by moving well off the ball and limiting the amount of touches taken. Even though they were the away team, they enjoyed a lot of possession but for all of their pretty play, they created only a few chances. It was only when they got the wide men in behind did they cause any real damage.

WATCH: Matko's Take on Philadelphia

 

Against the Chicago Wednesday night I can see coach Hackworth deploying the same tactic but it will be up to the Fire to disrupt this as much as possible by trying to impose their game of high pressure, something that was missing against Kansas City Friday. The more the Fire can force Philly into kicking it long, the more it will take them away from their possession-based game plan.

Stopping the super sub: Antoine Hoppenot

Rookie Antoine Hoppenot has been the Union's go-to-guy when the team is looking for a spark in the attack this season. He is clearly more comfortable coming off the bench and single handily turned last week's game against Columbus in the Union's favor after coming off the bench by allowing Philadelphia to play more direct.

Hoppenot is a defender’s nightmare -- a player who is always on the shoulder of the last man and never stops pressuring the back line when he enters the game. He took full advantage against a tired Columbus defense last week, earning a penalty kick and making some brilliant runs in behind the defense. He especially likes to make runs behind the outside defenders, something the Fire were guilty of allowing Kansas City to do too often last week.

When the French striker inventively makes his appearance from the subs bench Wednesday, the Fire cannot allow him to influence the game as he did last weekend.

Fire attack: getting Fernandez more involved 

Though the Fire sat back for the most part on Friday and looked for balls to be played up to Sherjill MacDonald, the team did find some success when “Flaco” Fernandez was able to get forward and support the more advanced players.

Due to Pavel Pardo's injury, Alex has been playing in a much deeper role and must put his defensive duties ahead of his desire to support the attack. Alex's new role has also put more emphasis on Flaco Fernandez to help out in the attack as much as possible. When he did go forward against Kansas City, it resulted in some of the Fire's best chances.

Playing back at home, I expect the Fire to be much more adventurous in attack and this will mean that Fernandez will be given more license to get forward than he was against KC where he was forced to track back for a lot of the game. Fernandez has found himself in some brilliant positions this season, and if not for some lackluster finishing, he would easily have double the amount of goals he already has for the Fire. His forays forward could be the difference against the Union on Wednesday night.

Left back: A familiar face returns

Friday night’s red card to Gonzalo Segares means we will almost certainly see fan favorite Dan Gargan back in the starting lineup for the first time in 11 matches. Gargan is the first sub off the bench if anyone on the back line is injured and the team has relied heavily on his versatility, especially with the many injuries to Fire defenders this season.

That being said, the Fire have been quite lucky to avoid injuries to the back line in recent months and the team's discipline has been excellent this season with minimal suspensions. All of this means that Gargan has started in 17 games this season but none since late July at San Jose. Getting him minutes is very important, especially heading towards the playoffs where the format is longer, meaning a greater chance of someone picking up an injury or suspension.

We all know about Gargan's defensive abilities but against the Union at home, he will be encouraged to push forward and contribute to the attack. How well he combines with the Fire's left winger (assumed to be Patrick Nyarko) will be important. A good performance by Gargan Wednesday would also make a statement to coach Frank Klopas of Gargan's intent to win back a starting place as we enter the most important stretch of the season.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Fernandez.

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

01 October 9:05 am

Last week, I wrote about the backstory to why a seemingly random date in early October – the 8th – is of such importance to the city of Chicago and of even more significance for Fire fans. It is, in brief, the date the Great Chicago Fire engulfed the city in 1871 and the date the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was founded 126 years later in 1997. This week, I wanted to explain exactly what is going on this October 8th with the Fire Anniversary events celebrating the Club’s 15th birthday.

Thanks in part to the urging of effervescent head coach Frank Klopas, Fire fans, former players and other distinguished guests gather together every year on October 8th to honor the Club’s history. In recent years, Section 8 Chicago has organized a big tailgate, parties in the stadium club and welcomed several past and present players join with us on October 8th.

Everybody (Everybody! Everybody!) have been welcome at those events – the Anniversary celebration is not only for the lively young things in Section 8 with their flags and crazy chants, but for the entire Club to come together and honor the founding of the badge we cherish.

Unlike so many other teams in MLS whose insignia has changed (hi, Kansas City) or who seem to have no connection to the city they play in (hi, Chivas USA), the Fire’s identity is embedded into the epic story of Chicago’s emergence from the ashes of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. We should all cherish and celebrate this together, and remember the team’s achievements that set it apart from others (hi, New York) along with the rebuilding of a city so many others in the Midwest can only look at with envy (hi, Columbus). So what better date to do that than October 8th itself?

For the Club’s 15th Anniversary, celebrations will be kicked off when Peter Nowak, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Chris Armas are honored at the Fire-Union game this Wednesday, October 3rd at Toyota Park (TICKETS).

Peter and Chris – along with many of their former teammates - will then be in Chicago five days later on the Anniversary date itself, at a very special celebration on October 8th at a beautiful space in the Chicago History Museum, perched just west of Lincoln Park. This event has been organized and funded through a volunteer committee of fans who have been dedicating a lot of spare (and not-so-spare) time to create a fitting celebration for the 15th year.

The most daunting task for the committee has been tracking down and contacting former players and inviting them to join us for this reunion. While it was difficult for a fan-run committee to find everyone, those we have contacted have all been delighted to hear from Fire fans and a remarkable roster of names (see below) are currently packing their bags as word spread this was an event to be at in order to reminisce about past times, meet up with long lost buddies, and gather with fans to celebrate the Fire’s past, present and future.

So what exactly is happening at the Museum? The main event kicks off at 7pm in the Museum’s gorgeous Georgian Chicago Room. An expansive appetizer buffet from acclaimed caterer Blue Plate and a four hour open bar will be a (delightful) sideshow to the array of Fire legends and current players attending the cocktail reception. This won’t be a stilted seated affair, but instead is being arranged to encourage fans and players to mingle, swap stories and raise a glass together.

In addition, a silent auction with some one-of-a-kind items (such as a gameworn, signed Brian McBride Fire jersey) will be held to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation and the Museum’s Chicago exhibition itself – including its extensive interactive display about the 1871 Great Fire – will also be open for the first 90 minutes of the event.

Reminders of Club history will be all around, from trophies to jerseys to supporter scarves and memorabilia – to most importantly, the players who brought home six titles to Chicago. Speeches will be made, music will be played, and the cf97 passion this unique gathering will have is likely to be savored for a long time to come.

How can you get a ticket? You can purchase yours online at www.fireanniversary.com (Move fast: they will only be available until Friday, October 5th at 2pm). The ticket costs $97: I’m aware this isn’t a cheap date night – I certainly broke open my piggy bank for this one – but the value of an unprecedented gathering at this fantastic location certainly made it worth spending the cash for me.

I personally cannot wait to honor Fire legends this October 8th as Piotr Nowak, Chris Armas, Lubos Kubik, Frank Klopas, Peter Wilt, Diego Gutierrez, Kelly Gray, Evan Whitfield, Dasan Robinson, Brian McBride, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov and many others will be celebrating fifteen years of Fire in Chicago with fans – I hope you will be there too.

Where: Chicago History Museum
When: 7-11pm, October 8th 2012
Who: All Fire fans
Tickets: www.fireanniversary.com/tickets
PS: There’s even a swanky after-party at the stunning Filini Bar & Restaurant (221 N. Columbus Drive)
PPS: There might also be a chance for you to play a game with a few of the legends mentioned above from the ’98 team. Stay tuned to the Fire Anniversary website, Twitter and Facebook page for details.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore

30 September 7:42 am

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

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

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

HISTORICAL ANALYSIS

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

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

WATCH:  Sporting KC 2, Chicago Fire 0

 

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

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

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

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

WATCH: New York Red Bulls 4, Toronto FC 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH: Columbus 3, Philadelphia 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 September 10:21 pm

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

Balls over the top: Fire defenders beware

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

 

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Sporting KC

 

 

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

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

High pressure: harass KC

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

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

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

Playoff atmosphere: keeping a cool head

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

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

Scoring first: stopping the bad habit

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

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

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

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

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

27 September 4:03 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 September 5:05 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 September 11:51 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make sense?  Here’s the table…

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

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

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

24 September 8:10 am

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

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

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

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

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

23 September 8:49 am

The Fire and Sporting KC did their part this week to make Friday's showdown at LiveStrong Sporting Park a massive one for the national television audience on NBC Sports Network... Below is a breakdown of the Playoff Math after Saturday's games. On Monday, following today's two matches, I'll have an update, including magic numbers for all team's in the East race.

WATCH: Chicago 2, Columbus 1 (9/22/2012)

 

1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 55
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 43.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Ending a stretch this weekend in which the team played three games in eight days, Sporting manager Peter Vermes did well to manage the scenario and keep his team atop the East with a huge 2-0 win over Red Bull at midweek before playing for a point at Montreal Saturday afternoon.

The decision to go for a draw with the Impact shows Vermes' confidence in his side heading into Friday's all-important six point clash with the Fire. A win for Sporting and they'll open up a five point lead at the top, while a loss would push the Fire into first place by one point, with the Men in Red holding a game in hand.

2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 41.6
Remaining Schedule:  at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

 

 

 

 

 

The Rundown: Fans had all the reason to go into Saturday's game with chewed up finger nails. Sean Johnson's early giveaway that led to the Crew's early goal might have made you loose a bit of hair. In the end, what could have been a bogey game and a missed opportunity for three points just turned into yet another Fire win.

The club is on the brink of its first playoff qualification since 2009 and while going first on Friday is a real thing, they could also potentially clinch a postseason berth if the Crew fall next Saturday night against Philadelphia.

3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 39.2
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

WATCH: New England 1, New York 1 (9/22/2012)

 

The Rundown: Save Montreal who are almost completely out of the playoff race, no one in the East had a worse week than Red Bull. A flat effort at home in midweek against Sporting KC in a match that could have taken them to the top of the East table combined with a gut-wrenching 1-1 draw Saturday at lowly New England leaves New York in a precarious position at the moment.

The good thing is that three of their remaining four matches are at home and two of those are against the Fire and Sporting KC. The bad thing is both D.C. and Houston play Sunday. A win by United over Chivas USA would pull them level with Red Bull on points while a Houston win over Philadelphia would pull them within one. 

4) DC United
Current Points: 47
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 35.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: Not a lot to say about United until they play their match vs. Chivas USA tonight (6pm CT on Galavision). D.C. did well enough to earn three points at Philadelphia at midweek and if they can take advantage of the easier schedule over the next few weeks, they'll be in very good shape for a top three finish, even without DeRo. 

Food for thought: If D.C. were to drop a 4-0 scoreline on Chivas USA at RFK tonight, they would actually move into third place, beating Red Bull on the second tie breaker of Goal Differential...

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule:  at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Same as D.C. above. Houston should be favorites to win all five of their remaining matches, with their toughest opponent being Montreal on October 6. The favorable remaining schedules for both the Dynamo and United should give great caution to Sporting KC, Chicago and New York if they expect to finish in the top three.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 45
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Points: 37.7
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Philadelphia (9/29),  vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).

The Rundown: Again last night, the Crew continue to showed why some should be skeptical about their late-season run as the team hasn't beaten anyone ahead of them lately. For a team trying to climb up the table, dropping points against those above you won't help your cause. With three of four remaining matches at home, Columbus is far from out of the race but can't afford many more slip-ups.

The October 20 game vs. United could be the make or break of their season.

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

The Rundown: Just here because of mathematics. Montreal did the Fire and the rest of the East a bit of a favor by earning a 0-0 draw with Sporting KC Saturday but leaving two points on the field at Stade Saputo has really determined the Impact's playoff fate in their expansion season. They'll take next weekend off and the rest of the East will hope they can pull another result at Houston before they finish off the season with games at Toronto and vs. New England. 

21 September 9:37 am


(Photo Credit: Conrad Akier)

We are chewing down on some quite delicious pizza at Piece restaurant in Wicker Park, and a certain silver-haired Greek-American is practically bouncing off the walls.

When Frank Klopas is animated about something, everyone in his vicinity has little choice to not only be very much aware of it, but to embrace it: I’ve never seen one of his half-time team talks, but I can only imagine that there isn’t anywhere to hide, that Frank’s 45 minutes of side-line pacing builds into an unavoidably exuberant “talk.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I like to think goes on in the locker-room when Frank’s in charge.

What I do know for sure is that on this particular evening in the summer of 2009 – when, of course, he was not the Fire’s coach but instead its technical director – Frank had a real bee in his bonnet. The Ring of Fire member and Chicagoan wanted to know why we didn’t do more to celebrate the Club’s birthday on October 8th. It was a tie that could bind the Fire community’s past and present together, Frank said, and one that uniquely linked the Club to the City (OK, I’m paraphrasing; Frank’s enthusiasm is such that I’d need more words than you want to read to actually piece together the whole conversation).

You’re right, Frank, we said. Let’s do something on October 8th. We only have a few weeks (it was late August, if I recall correctly), but if there’s one thing those of us in Section 8 can do, it’s scratch together an event on short notice by drawing on the collective willingness of slightly unhinged fanatics to volunteer and pull together when the inspiration strikes.

And strike it did. Why wouldn’t we celebrate every October 8th? After all, whatever the ups-and-downs of the Club, the one thing anyone who says they are “Fire til I die” with a straight face ought to be keen to honor is the date of the club’s founding, the name of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced on a Fall day at Navy Pier back in 1997 on October 8th.

The date, you probably know, was not chosen by accident. It was 126 years earlier, October 8th 1871, that Chicago was set ablaze not for the first or last time, but for the defining time: a conflagration that tore a city asunder, only for its survivors to respond by building a city greater than anyone could ever have imagined possible.

“Flames! Flames! Terrible flames! What a fearful destruction they bring. What suf'fring and want in their train follow fast, As forth on the streets homeless thousands are cast. But courage! Courage! From the mid'st of the furnace we sing.”

Those words written by George S. Root come from the Chicago History Museum’s “Web of Memory,” a remarkable collection of contemporary accounts of the Great Chicago Fire. And sing Chicagoans did, of the tragedy and of survival and of reconstruction. A popular song soon emerged, one you may now hear in the Harlem End of Toyota Park, and it goes like this:

Late one night, when we were all in bed, Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed. Her cow kicked it over, Then winked her eye and said, "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!"

With this kind of folklore building, Chicagoans had determined that, however it really started somewhere around 12th and Halsted Streets , the Great Fire that destroyed nearly 20,000 homes, left 90,000 homeless and killed 300 people would not be forgotten – and nor would the monumental rebuilding effort soon undertaken to remake the city. Within a week, 6,000 temporary structures housed the homeless, as the Tribune declared CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.

Every year, as the city continued to expand in the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans gathered on the Great Fire’s anniversary to show this city had not been cowed. As G.W. Steevens put it: “Therefore the men of Chicago resolved that the twenty-fifth anniversary of her destruction by fire should not pass without such a demonstration as should convince the world that she is very much more alive than ever.”

The annual celebration in October became known as Chicago Day, and editorials in the Chicago Tribune were accompanied by gleaming illustrations, beams of light shining from the resurrected city. Great monuments were proposed: one never built was designed by William LeBaroney Jenney (a key developer of the skyscraper), a tall tower crowned by a female figure clutching a flaming torch to symbolize – as the Tribune put it – “the triumph of energy and enterprise” in the wake of disaster.

In some ways, it is difficult now to grasp just how monumental Chicago’s survival and growth in the wake of the Great Fire seemed in the late nineteenth century. But for city boosters – especially as Chicago’s business sector dramatically expanded – elegiac heights of almost absurd proportions were reached to describe the rebuilding effort. A poem by Edmund S. Holbrook on the tenth anniversary of the Fire illustrates this well. Chicago is reborn not by providence but by man’s Herculean effort, becoming a symbol of Civic beauty in the New World – the Garden City:

       The massive stones are laid below, the walls arise above.

       In strength that neither flame, nor storm, nor time itself shall move.

       Nor Use alone, but Beauty comes, and with deft hand adorns:

       See parks, and boulevards, and groves--see lakelets, flowers, and lawns.

       The Garden City, twice herself, sits as a Queen again--

       Not by Amphion with his lyre, but Man, stout-hearted MAN.

Enduring symbols of Chicago continued to be shaped by the Great Fire. It imbued the spirit of the 1893 World’s Fair: the “I Will” maiden’s bust was topped by a phoenix that, naturally, arose from the ashes. Indeed, the entire Fair – commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas – was planned by the city’s elite to showcase Chicago’s remarkable transformation into a great metropolis following the Fire. Twenty-seven million visitors duly passed a number of statues that referenced the Fire in the White City, such as Karl Bitter’s “Fire Controlled.”            

Chicago Day’s commemoration of the Great Fire at the Fair saw the presentation of a “monster concert,” a “grand chorus,” “the most gorgeous display of fireworks ever seen in America,” all forming “the Most Significant and Grandest Spectacle in Modern Times.” Actually held on October 9th (rather than the 8th), over 750,000 citizens crammed in to the gleaming White City to celebrate the city’s emergence from the Great Fire’s disastrous wake, almost triple the Fair’s record attendance.

(In a terrible irony, White City itself was left to be destroyed by fire in the coming years.)

The Great Fire would not be forgotten as the decades rolled on. In 1921, the Great Fire’s 50th anniversary was commemorated in the city as all high school soccer and football games played on October 8th were made part of the “Semi-Centennial Games.” Songs were created, pageants were held, and a play called The Seven Fires: A Masque of Chicago was held in Humboldt Park. When Chicago held its next World’s Fair in 1933, the “I Will” maiden was still adorned on top by a phoenix rising from the flames, and Chicago Day was held again in October (though not with the fanfare of its predecessor in 1893).

By 1946, at the 75th anniversary, the Fire Department itself was involved in a week long “Fire Show” held from October 4-11, with “thrilling exhibits and demonstrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.” In the local press, the spirit of the city’s rebuilding from the Fire was brought up as civic leaders were urged to tackle the post-war issue of homelessness with the same dedication that homes had been built with after the 1871 disaster.

The 100th anniversary in 1971 was topped by a gala dinner: the menu included “Mrs O’Leary’s Baked Beans,” and in 1996, a “FireBall” was held to mark the 125th anniversary in October. But it would be the next year that a new, lasting monument to the Great Fire would be announced:  the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

The news that Chicago’s new Major League Soccer club would be known as the Fire was kept a secret until it was unveiled on Navy Pier that October 8th in 1997: the club’s General Manager Peter Wilt fooled the media by feeding rumors that the team was to be called the Blues, sending invitations out to media for the event featuring a pen drawing of the Blues Brothers.

Fortunately, the club’s name also didn’t end up being the Rhythm either, as Nike – who shaped the identity of numerous late ‘90s MLS teams whose names have now been changed or disappeared into the history books – had wanted. It took a high-level intervention to ensure that the Chicago Rhythm was never born, as Peter Wilt explains:

“To the joy and relief of many, we avoided a lifetime of misspelled team references, bad Catholic birth control method jokes and just plain poor branding when at my urging Phil Anschutz intervened at the highest levels to Nike and told his counterpart Phil Knight that it was his team and he was going to name it whatever he wanted, but it sure as sheep sh*t wasn’t going to be “Rhythm”.  OK, he probably didn’t say “sheep sh*t”, but he wasn’t happy.”

And so we in Chicago have been able to embrace a Club called the Fire that speaks to the City’s greatest achievement, its restless, pounding energy, its desire to do – just the kind of spark I saw in Frank Klopas that night three years ago at a pizza restaurant, one that inspired us to hold a celebration every October 8th since.

On October 8th this year, we mark 15 years of the Chicago Fire and in the tradition of grand Chicago Day events, you are invited to a major celebration to commemorate the founding of the Club on a date unparalleled in significance for Chicago.

A Committee of volunteers, fans from around the stadium from the first Barn Burner Don Crafts to current ISA Chair Joel Piktel and numerous other old-timers, has been working round the clock to ensure the celebration is a fitting one. The choice of venue was key to this: it was on October 8, 1871 that the Chicago Historical Society’s building was burned to the ground. Their collection was lost.

Like Chicago generally, that building was not just replaced, but reborn grander, and is now the marvelous Chicago History Museum at North and Clark adjacent to Lincoln Park. Inside there is the Museum’s major exhibition to the Great Chicago Fire, one that will be open to attendees as we gather at the Museum and honor Club heroes scheduled to attend including Piotr Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Peter Wilt, Frank Klopas and many, many more.

Please join us there and celebrate fifteen years of Chicago Fire and 141 years since the city we love rose unbowed and restless from the ashes.

Click here to order your tickets to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club 15th Anniversary Celebration on October 8th 2012 at the Chicago History Museum or head to FireAnniversary.com to learn more about the celebration.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore.