About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.
With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.
Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.
With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.
With the recent announcement of Major League Soccer's Jersey Week, a lot has been raised regarding the club's plans for future kits as well as a potential third jersey. We at Always on the Inside caught up with the club's Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla to shed some light on future jersey plans.
Always on the Inside: MLS announced that as part of a league initiative a number of clubs would be participating in a Jersey Week celebration kicking off on Monday, Feb. 25. What does that mean for Fire supporters?
Atul Khosla: The league is moving to a yearly jersey launch cycle, where every club will roll out a new jersey each year. It will rotate, primary/home one year, secondary/away the next year. Therefore, each jersey is in market for a total of two years. This new approach allows a fresh product in market every year. Since the Fire launched both new kits last year, we are on an off cycle this year, similar to a number of other teams. As of next year, we will be back on cycle, and we will launch a new home kit.
PERUSE: Chicago Fire Jersey History
AOTI: Can you talk about the merchandise progress the club has made in the past few years and how you see it developing further?
AK: We want to see Chicago Fire jerseys everywhere in Chicagoland. We want people to represent our club by wearing our colors in the community, at games and around town. It’s been a key for us to grow our merchandise and we’ve seen success over the past three years because of a number of factors.
First was design. We have tried to refresh the product line, bring back some original Chicago touches, and at the same time push the envelope in being edgier with our brand. As part of these strides the club has built a Fan Shop at Toyota Park, grown its online presence and built a partnership with Fanatics, Inc.. It has also been key for us to integrate merch and our products throughout our marketing efforts, on television and at the stadium. These actions have resulted in solid growth and we now have to continue to build on it.
AOTI: It’s a question that is raised from time to time from some Fire supporters, what’s going on with the Chicago Fire flag third kit?
AK: We hear and understand the request from some of our supporter base for a third Fire kit, especially one that from a design standpoint has strong ties to the city of Chicago. This is precisely why over the past few years we have added key Chicago elements to our uniforms. Starting in 2010 the club worked closely with adidas to have the four, six-sided stars of the Chicago flag adorn the bottom left of the white secondary/away tops.
The current secondary/away kit includes a number of elements from the Chicago flag including horizontal lines that are created by using the stripes and four stars from the civic flag representing Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. These details were created to pay homage to the city and the club’s origins. I believe it’s the first time outside of a third kit that our jerseys have ever had the municipal flag woven into the design.There is tremendous and deep civic pride, and the Club will continue to build on the traditions of soccer, our supporters, our club and Chicago.
AOTI: With that said, are you saying that Fire doesn't need a third kit?
AK: No. What I am saying is that the primary reason for creating a third kit would be to engage our fans in a unique way. Also, we need to take into account the practical considerations of the true demand for this product so we can meet the minimum requirements from adidas before we place the order. Since we just released new kits last year, we wanted to focus on our new designs and pace things appropriately to avoid flooding the market.
The most successful way to create a third kit, is for us to collaborate with our supporters, get everyone energized, and create the demand. In order to initiate this movement, in the coming weeks we will be launching a social campaign asking supporters to help us design a potential third kit, vote for their favorites, and then rally each other to make a commitment by putting a deposit down.
Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com and our social channels. We need everyone's support to make this happen and are excited to collaborate with you and create something we can all be proud of.
Feelings on joining the Chicago Fire?
"I’m extremely delighted to be drafted by the Fire. I feel it’s a golden opportunity for me to play under better conditions and show what I can do in MLS."
What are the strong suits of your game?
"I think my strengths are my speed, ability and technique. I feel like I have a lot to offer in those areas."
On coming from Cameroon…
"The training conditions I’ve had to play under in Cameroon aren’t as good as in Chicago where they have top facilities and a great stadium. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in that stadium."
On youth international experiences with Cameroon U-20's
"I feel playing with the Cameroonian team at the U-20 World Cup raised my profile a bit and gave me something more to build towards. Representing your nation in a world championship is an amazing thing and I was very proud to play a part in all four games."
On his combine performance…
"I did feel that I had a strong combine. I came in off of an 18-hour flight and felt a little tired in the second half of games but I think I did very well to prove my abilities at the combine."
His thoughts on joining the Fire…
“I’m happy for a new challenge,” Larentowicz told Chicago-Fire.com Wednesday night. “It feels good to go to a place where you’re in the plans. Frank has been very forthright in coming after and it’s something I look forward to being a part of.”
On his contentious years against the Fire…
"In the past in my time in New England the Fire were always our biggest rivals. We were very similar, very competitive teams that were hard-nosed. Its just kind of the nature of things that both teams had wanted to win in the past but now I’m part of the Fire and I still have that same competitive spirit that’s going to come and work for Chicago."
On competition in central midfield…
"I’ll be competing for a spot and its an opportunity to come in and show that I deserve to be in the lineup and that’s what I expect. I know those guys from playing against them – they’re all good players and I look forward to competing for that spot."
On ability to stay fit throughout the years…
"The way I look at seasons and playing is the more time you can be available and give the coach the option of playing you, the better off you’re going to be and the more opportunity for good things to happen. I think over the past seven years I’ve been able to do that."
On being part of championship teams in New England and Colorado…
"On all the teams I’ve been on it was never that they depended on me but it was more of a collective thing and the way I view how I play and what I try to do. The Fire are a playoff team and always in contention. I hope to add to that and be a piece that helps take the team to the next level."
In this edition of Burning Questions, we sat down with the Fire’s second year midfielder/defender Tony Walls. Hailing from Wauwatosa, Wis., Tony was selected in the third round of the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft after an impressive collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where he scored 18 goals and added 11 assists over 75 appearances.
The former Fire PDL player was one of only four players to start all 10 of the Fire’s 2012 MLS Reserve League matches and featured in both of the Fire’s international friendlies in 2012 against the English Premier League’s Aston Villa FC and Liga MX side Club Santos Laguna. Tony recently took the time to answer our Burning Questions about the Walls family soccer dynasty, life in the rookie crib and his impeccable fashion sense.
Always on the Inside: Your sister Cara plays soccer at the University of Wisconsin. How do you feel about her following in your footsteps and how often do you get to see her play?
Tony Walls: It makes me really proud. I try to go up as often as I can. I think I caught about three games last year. She’s doing really well. Last season they received an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament and she got second team All-Big Ten with 10 goals, so it makes me really proud to see my little sibling doing well.
AOTI: Last season you lived with fellow rookies Hunter Jumper and Austin Berry. Did you all split the housework? Did you have a chore chart?
TW: We split it, but we didn’t have a chore chart. If something needed to be done, we just did it. We weren’t too messy, we are all pretty reasonable. They were good roommates. They were respectful of my belongings and they’re good guys, so we got along really well so it was a good situation.
AOTI: You cut off your ‘dreads. What went into the decision to make the change and how long had you been considering it?
TW: I had been considering it for about three weeks. I went back to visit school and an old teammate cuts my hair, and I just thought it was time. They were too high maintenance and I had them for about four years so I figured I could use the change.
AOTI: How does it feel?
TW: It’s a little cold. I have to get my winter hat selection out.
AOTI: Last book you read in its entirety?
TW: It’s called “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai. I would recommend it. It’s good.
AOTI: Current celebrity crush?
TW: Alex Morgan.
AOTI: What fashion trend did you rock back in the day that you’d be embarrassed to wear now?
TW: Nothing. I’ve always been fashionable.
AOTI: What was the best part of being a Fire rookie?
TW: I think the team in general is a pretty tight-knit group. The older guys are really professional but at the same time they actually care about us as people, and we get along very well.
AOTI: [Tony was rockin’ a UVA soccer shirt during the interview] You and Hunter recently traded T-shirts. Was it a two-way trade or was it a three-way trade with Austin? How did it go down?
TW: It was just the two of us. I think Austin was out of time at the time but we’re definitely going to have to get him involved. I think I just said, “Yo, you want to trade T-shirts? I’ll give you one of my Green Bay ones for one of your Virginia ones,” and Hunter said, “Sure.”
On Monday, I rang up the Fire's latest addition midfielder Joel Lindpere.
While you should definitely read this story talking about his desire to move from New York to Chicago, I've also included some other quotes below...
What are your thoughts on the Chicago Fire coming off of last year?
"I think the team is getting stronger day-by-day and I’m just pleased to see it. They have a good crowd, good coach and good team so it wasn’t difficult to make my choice. I’m happy to join the club and I’d like to give something more to it.
"I think every player is capable of making their team stronger and so I want to give something towards the team’s improvement. They have guys in the club that have been in the U.S. National team and it shows in the quality they had last season."
With 97 out of a possible 98 MLS regular season appearances for New York, you've played in more games than any other MLS player the last three seasons. What do you have to say about your health and consistency to see the field?
"I’ve really been trying to be smart so I’ve had injury issues and I’m really trying to avoid hard fields and artificial grounds but I’m trying to take part in every training session, it doesn’t matter how.
"For every player the most important thing is to play games. To be fit you need to practice but sometimes you need to be smart to avoid all these injuries and happenings. I don’t know how its been possible but the last two seasons I took part in every single MLS game. Last year I was the only one to take part in 37 games [regular season and playoffs] and it was the same in 2011. Nobody can say I'm not giving my all to be on the field every game.
"The thing is, I just want to be useful for the team and if I can give even just a couple minutes for the team rather than push too hard and be injured, then I think its smarter to be fit and give something to the team. I think I’ve been good at it and that’s the way I should continue."
You tallied three goals in your first four matches against the Fire... I think we're all glad you're now on our side...
"(Laughs) It doesn’t matter where or who you score against so long as you score. I’ve scored some important goals and one of them was against Chicago in the opening of Red Bull Arena [in 2010].
"I’ve been scoring goals against different teams and then its good now I can try to score for them. This must be part of the reason for my move."
What have you taken away in your early discussions with Frank Klopas?
"My aim in leaving Red Bull was to play centrally and I know that I have a partner in the midfield that I would love to play with and if we find communication, I know I can play really well in the heart of midfield.
"I really think Frank welcomes me to the club as a central midfielder and that’s my wish and reason to join the club. That’s the thing I was missing at Red Bull and I’m so happy that if the coach sees me in this position that I’m ready to take the challenge."
WATCH: Lindpere scores first MLS goal vs. Fire at Red Bull Arena – 3/27/2010
In this edition of Burning Questions, we sat down with Fire left back Gonzalo Segares. A native of San Jose, Costa Rica, Gonzalo has been capped 19 times for Los Ticos. The club's Defender of the Year in 2007, Gonzalo returns in 2013 for his ninth season with the Men in Red. The newlywed took the time to answer our Burning Questions about wedding themed movies, his infamous sweet tooth and the worst actor in Hollywood.
Always on the Inside: You got married this past December. What is the best movie that features a wedding: “Wedding Crashers”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids”?
Gonzalo Segares: Definitely the first “Hangover”.
AOTI: It’s pretty well documented that you’re a fan of baked goods. If you could only choose to have one pastry for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
GS: Can it be chocolate? Chocolate bars. Like Crunch, Kit Kat or Snickers. I like chocolate with stuff in it, especially almonds or any kind of nut, except for peanuts.
AOTI: What do you miss most about Costa Rica?
GS: The weather. I love it here in Chicago during the summer but in the winter, I just hate the cold weather. Back home we only have two seasons, which is summer and winter, and the winter is only rainy. The temperature doesn’t change that much. The average is usually in the 70s or 80s.
AOTI: How often do you use the phrase “pura vida?”
GS: I use it a lot if I’m talking to Costa Ricans when I’m home. I don’t use it that often in Chicago because when the guys speak Spanish, it’s not part of their slang.
AOTI: You attended Virginia Commonwealth University with current Fire teammate Dominic Oduro. What’s one thing that people don’t know about Dom?
GS: He was very, very, very shy. And now all of a sudden, he’s not shy.
AOTI: Do you have any phobias?
GS: When it starts shaking on the plane, I definitely get nervous.
AOTI: Who is the worst actor in Hollywood?
GS: There are a lot of them. I would say maybe the guy that’s in movies with Will Ferrell. He usually has a mustache. He’s in the cartoon movie where he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, “Wreck it Ralph”. In “Talladega Nights” he’s the friend and he’s also in “Step Brothers” with Will Ferrell. I think he’s very, very bad.
Editors Note: As Gonzalo provides very good clues, we have deducted that he is referring to John C. Reilly.
AOTI: You can invite any three people to dinner. Who receives an exclusive invitation?
GS: I would definitely invite Messi. And also Michael Jordan and President Obama.
The club announced today that starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson started a three week training stint in England earlier today, beginning with Premier League club Stoke City (Dec. 5-9) before joining U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard and coach Chris Woods at Everton FC (December 10-23) for the second straight offseason.
I caught up with Sean Wednesday morning to talk how his first session went with Stoke, his third offseason abroad and what matches he’ll be taking in over the next few weeks.
Jeff Crandall: Sean, over the past three years you’ve spent parts of your offseason in Spain, Germany and England, do you feel tired at all or is the experience too good to pass up?
It’s about soaking in the experience but also getting the rest and recover enough to be ready to go 100 percent for the season.
JC: What is Stoke like so far?
SJ: I think it’s been a great experience working with guys like Thomas Sorensen, Asmir Begovic and Carlo Nash.
Training with their goalkeeper coach and getting the chance to play and train with the guys at the top level. Just seeing how another team operates gives you perspective.
JC: Have you hung out with your U.S. Men’s National teammates Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron yet?
SJ: I’ve hung out with both of them. I’m actually staying with Maurice at the moment. They’re great guys to be around and it’s just good to see familiar faces and make most of the time you have with your friends while you’re over here.
JC: Next week you head to Everton for the second consecutive offseason. How important is it for you to have guys like Tim Howard and Chris Woods working with you there?
WATCH: Sean Johnson #4 in MLS 24 under 24
SJ: Having been in with the national team a lot more this past year, training with Chris and Tim again here is a fantastic opportunity to keep some continuity and show how I’m growing.
To be in that environment day-in and day-out and make yourself a better goalkeeper will do wonders for me as a player.
JC: What games are you taking in the next few weeks?
SJ: I’m going to try and take in as many games as I can. This weekend’s lineup has Stoke going to Aston Villa on Saturday and then Everton hosts Tottenham on Sunday at Goodison Park so it works out well. Manchester United also player Man City in a derby match on Sunday so there’s a lot of excitement for that as well.
Depending on how things work out, I’ll hopefully go to a few more games while I’m here. It’s great to go to those stadiums and see everything that goes into a match.
JC: You end your time with Everton just before Christmas. What are you doing with the rest of your time before preseason begins on January 18?
SJ: I’m going to be back in Atlanta through Christmas and maybe New Years. I caught up with the family for a week over Thanksgiving and planned to be there longer.
Because I was coming over here I decided to go down to Florida for a week by myself to get away and be able to get ready for this experience.
JC: Great to hear from you Sean. We’ll talk soon.
SJ: Have a good one!
I'm a morning person. So when I saw Jalil Anibaba online today, I thought why not see how things have been going through his first few days training at Atletico Madrid. We talk Ja's touring of the training facilities and stadium, how he plans to spend Thanksgiving and his picking up of the Spanish lisp. Enjoy!
Jeff Crandall: How has your training stint gone so far?
Jalil Anibaba: It’s been going really well. I’m having a great time out here and I’m really loving the experience so far. The training facilities are top class. It’s separate from the stadium which is in the city itself. Amazing grass and turf fields and really everything you could need for training.
JC: Who are you training with?
JA: I’m training with the B team. The first day we scrimmaged the first team. They provided good competition and a great experience. It is rewarding to be able to measure yourself against guys that have proven success in winning the Europa League last season.
JC: Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, so how do you plan to celebrate it there in Spain tomorrow?
JA: Of course I’m American at heart and unfortunately I’m away from home and my family over Thanksgiving. I’m probably going to Skype in with the family before they eat dinner and say hello. That’ll do for me.
JC: Have you been able to get into the city yet?
JA: Yeah, some of the representatives from the club took me into the city. I got to see their stadium and museum, the locker room and all their facilities. It was a great experience.
JC: Have you had paella yet?
JA: I haven’t had paella in Spain yet but I’ve had it lots of times because my stepmother’s mom is from Spain actually. She cooks it for us all the time. Spanish food is really nothing new to me to be honest.
JC: How is your Spanish? Are you speaking with a lisp yet?
JA: My Spanish is okay. I can speak a bit and I know enough to get by when I need to. The lisp throws me off but you have to adapt!
JC: What have you been doing with your down time?
JA: I’ve treated my down time as seriously as I do back in Chicago. Making sure I get enough rest in between sessions is the primary focus. However, if situations permit, I will explore. Like I said earlier, I got the chance to tour their stadium and all their facilities and that was amazing. From what I've seen, the city of Madrid is beautiful to say the very least.
JC: How have the players received you? Have they talked to you about what MLS is like?
JA: The other players have been great. They have received me well and they treat me with respect and kindness. Many are curious about MLS and how much the league has grown in recent years. From what I have experienced thus far, it's safe to say our league's growth has expanded beyond our shores and people around the world are becoming more aware of what we are doing in the US.
JC: Any chance you’ll be able to take in a first team game?
JA: Yeah it’s looking like I’ll be able to see a few. I think definitely their game against Sevilla on the weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing them play live and just the atmosphere to see how everything compares. When you watch teams play on television from a thousand miles away, you don’t get the experience firsthand so being here will be tremendous.
JC: On Monday Austin Berry was named Rookie of the Year and Logan Pause won the Fair Play award. What is your reaction to having your teammates be recognized?
JA: I think it’s a tribute to how amazing our season was. Obviously we didn’t finish like we would have hoped but there’s definitely a silver lining to be found within our season. Austin is definitely a part of that – he had an amazing season as a rookie and we’re all very happy for him. It’s very deserving because he stepped in and contributed at a time where we needed him and never let go of his spot.
As far as Logan is concerned, winning the Fair Play award epitomizes him as a person and as a class player and captain. I feel like he does a lot of dirty work and it doesn’t always get noticed. His approach to the game is tremendous and I’m very pleased that he was acknowledged for it.
JC: You’re going to be in Madrid until December 2 and then preseason begins again in mid-January… Are you feeling like you need a little rest?
JA: I feel great. My body feels great and I’m just trying to push myself and become a better professional every day.
JC: What are you doing once you get back stateside?
JA: I’m going to stop off in Chicago for a little bit and then head back home to California to see the family. As far as training is concerned, I’ll speak with Tony [Jouaux] about exactly the best way to go about staying fit but also getting some rest.
JC: Thanks for your time Jalil! We’ll check back in with you next week!
JA: Sounds good! Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone!
In the latest edition of Quaker Journeys, we sat down with Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry to his development from an all-sport athlete in Cincinnati, to a focus on the beautiful game at the University of Louisville to becoming the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire.