Earlier Thursday morning I was once again invited back to U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters in downtown Chicago to witness the semifinal round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup coin flips.
Let me be honest, unlike the previous three rounds, Thursday's process was the simplest I've witnessed.
That's because even before showing up at Soccer House on Thursday morning, U.S. Soccer had already confirmed what the potential semifinal pairings would be earlier this week based on geography.
Combine that with all eight quarterfinal teams applying to host the semifinals, literally all that was needed was to flip the famous bicentennial silver dollar twice.
Still, Competition Secretary Paul Marstaller kept things official, handing out the same formatted paper which clearly listed the matchups and assigned heads and tails.
That sheet looked like this:
|D.C. United/New England Revolution||Chicago Fire/Orlando City*|
|Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks*||Portland Timbers/FC Dallas|
If I can be bold enough to say, every time the Fire have come up in a coin flip, I honestly get this strange excitement in my stomach. The feeling of a simple coin going a long way to deciding your team's tournament fate is a thrilling, if not brief emotion.
Luckily for the Fire, the first coin flip landed tails, meaning the winner of next Wednesday's game vs. Orlando City will host the winnder of D.C. United/New England on August 7. This is the third straight flip the Fire have won after losing the initial third round flip to the Charlotte Eagles.
In the second flip, the coin came up heads, meaning the winner of Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks will host the winner of Portland/FC Dallas. The flip was the fourth consecutive win for RSL in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup.
And that was it.
Only one coin flip remains and that's for the final which will be played in early October. I'm told that will go down at some point in July.
All intentions to host the final were due along with intentions for the semifinal on Wednesday, though U.S. Soccer will likely not make that list public until the final coin flips occur.
I can confirm the Chicago Fire have applied to host the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final.
Earlier 2013 Open Cup Coin Flips:
After a rousing comeback against Portland last time out in the league, the Fire start a busy period Wednesday night against a tricky Colorado Rapids team (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) who just their six-game unbeaten streak snapped at the weekend by San Jose Earthquakes. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Exposing the Rapids center backs: targeting Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne
Colorado's usual starting pair at the center of the defense is Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor but with the Irish-born youngster in Turkey with the US U-20 team, right back Marvell Wynne has slotted into the middle.
Against San Jose last week, this pairing had a lot of trouble, especially when the Quakes attacking players separated and isolated the center backs.
The movement of Rolfe and Magee, both very mobile strikers, could open up the Colorado defense. If the Fire’s attacking pair can draw Moor/Wynne out, it can lead to space being created behind them, something San Jose did well last weekend.
Keeping an eye on Deshorn Brown - the rookie has 4 assists this season
Similar to my thoughts a few weeks ago about D.C. rookie Kyle Porter, Deshorn Brown has caught my eye for Colorado this season.
Playing on the left of a front three he’s dangerous and a good supplier of the ball for striker Edson Buddle. Much of Colorado's chances in the past few matches have come from Brown’s side.
Larentowicz, Duka Preview Colorado
The Rapids will be without Atiba Harris after his red against San Jose last week which puts even more emphasis on Brown to step up in the Kittitian’s absence.
Right-sided players Jalil Anibaba and Patrick Nyarko will need to be very wary of the rookie on Wednesday night.
Fire squad rotation - my case in for it
The Men in Red have a tough stretch of 4 games in 11 days and it would be very demanding on the players to try and stick with the same starting XI for all four because of a risk of burnout.
A more likely approach would be one of steady and not drastic rotation meaning making a few changes each match and not starting a completely different team. This is of course assuming the team doesn't pick up any injuries or suspensions during this stretch.
Giving a few players a break Wednesday night with one eye on the tough away Eastern Conference match against Columbus on Saturday might be a worthwhile policy for head coach Frank Klopas.
Fire squad rotation - my case against
Something fans have criticized coach Klopas for is sticking to a regular starting XI and not making too many changes from game to game.
That being said, the team is currently unbeaten in four games and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The last 20 minutes against Portland last weekend was the team’s best spell all season and if they can continue that form the next few weeks could see us in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and moving closer to the MLS Cup playoff positions in the East.
With the back line finally stable and the Mike Magee/Chris Rolfe partnership starting to really gel, there is a strong case for coach Klopas to stick with the same XI during this run of games.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
The digital age we live in doesn't always allow for some nice, long-form journalism to take place.
Still, we've decided to buck that trend and are excited to show a sneak peak of the club's first-ever digital magazine, FireSide, set to be released next week on the internet, tablets and your mobile devices.
Check out some of the screenshots below...
The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week
In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.
Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.
WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly
This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.
In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.
When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.
Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.
Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian
In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.
Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.
In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.
Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.
Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson
I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.
On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.
On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.
Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.
Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
I took two MLS virgins to the game on Saturday night at Toyota Park. Takeaways the night of: Modelo and Tyskie were a plus, Section 8 is loud, my stadium blanket is missing a button or two.
But when I asked them about the game last night, the takeaways were different. “It’s like they were snakebit,” one of them said.
Snakebit is probably too kind. Cubs-related words start to come to mind when you miss the chances the Fire missed in the second half before Jeff Larentowicz finally scored in the 83rd.
Andy Greunenbaum was on fire, ok, and obviously if the finishes were a wee bit more clinical the Fire could’ve made it a laugher, but in the moment, in the stadium, freezing, it felt like the goal would never come.
Section 8 and the rest of the fans were torn between encouraging the team and letting out some boos (and grunts and groans and other moans) of frustration. In my section, a kind of supporter dichotomy emerged throughout the second half as one fan stood to admonish Chris Rolfe after a second half miss, while a soccer team sized group of young girls cheered Rolfe on, assuring him he’d get the next one.
But Gonzalo Segares had a shot from 10 feet right at the keeper in the 49th minute and Larentowicz badly sliced the follow up, Austin Berry was robbed in the 75th, Patrick Nyarko was blocked in the 51st and 54th, and Rolfe in the 56th and 75th. The crowd was exasperated and freezing and desperate to figure out what to make of the game.
Every good passage seemed to be punished or mercilessly ignored by Greunenbaum, who was scarily springy. Every time Nyarko’s hustle was rewarded with space behind the Crew or the decisive pass (which seemed like every time he was near the ball), nothing. Every time Rolfe turned his man, he booted the finish. That was what was most frustrating - it was like the game was ignoring how well the Fire were playing. It all felt sort of cruel.
And so it makes soccer-perfect sense that the goal didn’t come from a measured through ball or some quick passing, nor did it come from the high pressure that harassed Columbus all game. It came on a basically ugly long throw and an industrial finish from Larentowicz.
The game ran out of ways to keep the Fire from scoring, and the team reacted - erm, celebrated - with as much an exhale, like, “Finally,” as hysterical exuberance. Look at the gif above. After his goal, Larentowicz barely smiles!
But the game doesn’t care. In the end my friends had witnessed a fairly good introduction to Toyota Park. The game was exciting, the Fire won the day, and maybe most important, the cheering dilemma in my section was definitively decided in favor of the encouraging girls.
Between the Lines is a weekly column from Chicago-Fire.com contributor Ben Schuman-Stoler. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
After nearly a month with the U.S. Men's National Team, was good to see Sean Johnson return to Fire camp Thursday night.
This morning, he went through his first training session of 2013 with the team and got a bit of a workout from Goalkeeping Coach Aron Hyde with the reaction ball...
WATCH: Sean and the Reaction Ball
More from Sean on Saturday!
Preseason is always a lot of work and a lot of fun.
One of the best parts though is the ongoing saga of number choice throughout camp as players leave, new players come in.
Rolfe had worn the number through his first five seasons with the Fire but when he re-joined the side last April, Mexican legend Pavel Pardo had it.
“There was no need to try and shift things around then,” Rolfe told Chicago-Fire.com. “While 18 was good for me last year I thought that it would be a good idea to switch back to 17 when it became available.”
With Pardo’s retirement announcement last month, the opportunity arose and the league recently approved Rolfe’s change back to the numerals with which he’s scored 40 of his 48 Fire goals across all competitions.
Check out the impromptu and sort of awesome video of the first new "Rolfe 17" jersey being pressed by Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo below...
NOTE: All-Time Fire #17s: Andrew Lewis, (1998-2001), Aleksey Korol (2002), Dipsy Selolwane (2002-2004), Rolfe (2005-2009), Davis Paul (2011), Pavel Pardo (2011-12), Rolfe (2013- )
With the #18 left vacant, renaissance Fire defender Steven Kinney jumped at the opportunity to switch from #28.
“My whole life I had been #18,” said Kinney. “Coming here the first year Mike Banner had it and through all my injuries I wasn’t going to be switching numbers. Then Rolfie came in and had it last year but when I heard him talk about switching to 17 I knew it was time to make my move.
Asked why #18 had always been his number, Kinney said, “It’s always just felt lucky for me. I would have done anything to get my hands on it.”
To be fair, he didn’t have to do too much.
NOTE: All-Time Fire #18s: Zach Thornton (1998-2004), Matt Pickens, (2005-2007), Mike Banner (2008-2010), Gaston Puerari (2011), Chris Rolfe (2012)
Stay tuned later this week for more updates on Fire squad numbers heading into 2013.
WATCH: Rolfe #17 is BACK!
...defender Carlos Bocanegra brings to end his four-year stay with the Chicago Fire by signing with English Premier club Fulham FC on this day in 2004.
Arguably the best defender in Chicago Fire history, Bocanegra was a two-time MLS Defender of the Year and League Best XI selection (2002, 2003) as well as being the first Fire player to claim MLS Rookie of the year in 2000 and helped the club to three domestic titles (2000, 2003 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield) as well as an additional two finals appearances (2000, 2003 MLS Cup).
Bocanegra was one of just three defenders named to last year's #Fire15 player's list along with former teammats C.J. Brown and Lubos Kubik.
At the time of his Fire departure, Bocanegra had only just begun to break into Bruce Arena’s U.S. Men’s National Team squad, with the future captain scoring four goals in his first full campaign for the Stars and Stripes in 2003.
With the UCLA product proving his worth for both club and country, Fulham signed Bocanegra on a free transfer (in the same window that future Fire forward Brian McBride arrived at Craven Cottage) and the two formed the basis for a long-term American occupancy of the West London club.
He would parlay his form at Fulham into making the 2006 U.S. World Cup team and while his time there would come to an end, Bocanegra was eventually named as new U.S. captain when former Fire coach Bob Bradley took the national team reins in 2007.
Moving to a less traditional American soccer destination with French clubs Stade Rennes (2008-10), Bocanegra led the U.S. to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before moving to St. Etienne following the tournament.
A move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers would follow but after the side went into administration this past summer, whispers of the former Fire defender’s MLS return could be heard league-wide before he eventually went on loan to Spanish Segunda side Racing Santander.
Having now a decade of national team experience under his belt, the 33-year-old center back sits tied with Paul Caligiuri for sixth all-time on the national appeance list at 110 and is has scored more international goals (14) than any defender in U.S. history.
With his time for the national team and career winding down, a return to MLS could still be in his future. Remember, returning to Chicago for a U.S. friendly vs. Poland in October 2010, Bocanegra was quoted as saying this…
“This is my first choice. You never know how it works with (Major League Soccer) and allocations, but I love this city. For me, it would be cool to play for one team my whole career in MLS. I would like to come back to Chicago."
WATCH: Bocanegra Named to #Fire15